By Krista Meckelborg

The recent passing of Stuart McLean of CBC’s The Vinyl Cafe reminds us how art brings people together. The Canadian radio host, humourist, and author has, once again, given us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of art in our communities. Canada is filled with people reminiscing over road trips with their families, and Sunday evening get-togethers spent listening to McLean’s brilliant stories.

This sense of community that comes from the arts is even more clear when it comes to music. Has a song or line of melody brought you back to a memory of a specific moment in time? For most people, music creates powerful connections between moments and people.

Live music can have this effect not only on families and groups of friends, but also on whole communities. Live music can bring thousands of people together. That feeling in the middle of a concert where you seem emotionally connected with every single person in the room; the energy that comes at a music festival when everyone standing on the grass with you is feeling the same thing you are.

Cathleen McMahon, founder of Mission Management Group in Ladysmith, has seen this effect first-hand. With years of experience in the music industry, McMahon is the current manager of internationally-renowned local folk band, Lion Bear Fox.

“If you turn the stage around,” says McMahon, “and you look at the audience instead, you are able to imagine how many people of different religions, of different political views, all congregate when music or some form of art brings them all together. It makes the generations disappear.”

Music opens hearts and breaks down barriers. Bringing people together through music not only creates a sense of community, it also allows for greater economic development within that community.

“A happy community spends more in their community, does more in their community,” says McMahon. “To create moments of joy within a community is hugely important.”

When people feel a sense of belonging and togetherness, they tend to stick around because it feels good. These people then go on to spend money in their communities, and attract others who also come and want to spend money.

Destination venues, such as the Carleton in Halifax, or the Waverly in the Comox Valley, are internationally known for providing unique, exciting music. People are willing to travel from all over the world to attend music events, bringing with them their tourist dollars.

“Arts and tourism are huge economic builders,” said McMahon.“A community that supports their multifaceted art projects can draw people from all over the world.”

Additionally, money spent on local artists tends to stay local. The musicians who play in the pub down the street are the same people who buy groceries in the local supermarket every week.

“If you’re celebrating your music and your arts,” said McMahon, “those people don’t go very far to spend their money.” By spending money on music and other arts, communities invest in themselves. Money spent locally stays within the community and allows for continued economic development. Without opportunities for local music, the same artists will move on to other communities where there are opportunities. Music also helps develop communities right from the start. Studies have shown that music can help children develop certain learning capabilities, such as listening skills, communication, and self-confidence.

“It builds your ability to take in information through different perspectives,” said McMahon. “Music can build teamwork, it can build logistics skills, and it provides many facets for other learning capabilities.”

Local initiatives within Nanaimo, such as the Vancouver Island Symphony Fabulous Fives Choir for children in grade five, are a great way for young people to get involved with music on a personal level. Other more widespread programs, such as Music for Young Children, can also help build these skills in developing years.

Communities that come together and show that they can support emerging artists in Canada often receive many sources of funding. The BC Music Fund, Canada Council of the Arts, Canada 140 Fund, and Factor are only a few of the organizations that provide grants to communities who value music.

“There is a massive amount of funding out there if people are willing to write the grants,” said McMahon.

Within the city of Nanaimo, music may be the very thing we need to create a stronger sense of community and begin greater economic development locally. But it takes everyday people to take the initiative and support local, live music. What is the purpose of music if not to be heard? The arts are a celebration of life, an opportunity to open up our hearts, a chance to connect with one another. Take these opportunities; let’s celebrate life together through music.

As the beloved McLean once said, “We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day.”