The following article recently appeared in Business in Vancouver newspaper.

Business in Vancouver May 20-26, 2008; issue 969

UBC to host largest conference in its history

Social sciences gathering highlights rise of cultural industries in the province

Glen Korstrom

The University of British Columbia is preparing to host the largest conference in its 100-year history later this month.

Approximately 10,000 researchers and academics from around the world will converge on UBC’s four campuses for a nine-day conference that starts May 31.

It will also be the largest Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences conference in that event’s 77-year history. Last year, about 5,000 academics who attended the congress converged on Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan.

Organizers expect the event will raise UBC’s standing in the academic world and stimulate recruitment efforts by introducing delegates to Vancouver’s high livability and the university’s Point Grey, Robson Square, Great Northern Way and Okanagan campuses.

Dave Gazley, Tourism Vancouver’s vice-president of meeting and convention sales, estimates that the congress will generate approximately $5 million in direct visitor spending.

“The congress is very important for recruitment,” said Richard Cavell, who helped organize the event and is the congress’ academic convener.

“But I would say that if you’re interested in the economic impact, it goes way beyond that. We have 10,000 delegates coming to Vancouver. That represents a multimillion-dollar infusion into the Vancouver and British Columbia economy.”

Cavell believes the conference’s academic focus – social sciences and humanities – is particularly relevant in the wake of recent B.C. Liberal government moves to support arts and culture.

In March, Premier Gordon Campbell announced cultural initiatives totalling $209 million, including $50 million toward a new home for the Vancouver Art Gallery, $150 million for an arts endowment fund and $9 million for an expanded and renovated Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
“Why did [Campbell] do that? said Cavell. “Because he’s aware that forestry is dead. Mining is dead. Fishing is dead. Where’s the economic action? It’s in cultural production and that’s what we [as social scientists] do.”

Cavell believes the social science congress symbolizes both a shift in society and the relevance of internationally acclaimed and Toronto-based theorist Richard Florida’s ideas.
Florida wrote the 2002 best-seller The Rise of the Creative Class. The book argues that talented, creative people, not resources or strategic locations, drive knowledge-based economies.

The Congress’ launch is at the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC’s Kelowna campus, and it will be simulcast to the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC’s main campus.

“It’s significant that it’s kicking off in the Okanagan where Ike Barber made his fortune in the lumber industry,” Cavell said. “That’s a beautiful symbol of how the resource-based economy of this province has now slipped into this brilliant cultural economy.”

But Barber believes that’s an exaggeration. He accepts that knowledge-based and cultural industries are both a growing and significant part of B.C.’s diverse economy. However, he thinks the province’s future remains rooted to the land.

“I expect [forestry, mining and fishing] to stay as bedrock parts of our society. They’re going through significant transformation, there’s no question on that,” Barber said. “But the roots of our lifestyle come from the planet and the earth on which we live and the things that flow from that.”

Barber said there could just as easily be an academic conference with 10,000 delegates in the next few years that focuses its attention on resources.

Meanwhile, Barber remains active ensuring that the nearly $25 million he donated to UBC is spent as intended.

“My mind is racing. It’s my feet that are in slow gear,” the 85-year-old told Business in Vancouver.

Barber’s money has helped create UBC’s:
•Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences in Kelowna;
•Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at the Point Grey campus.

Separately, Barber provided a $5 million contribution to a scholarship endowment fund on the condition that the B.C. government provides $10 million. That program could annually provide 150 $5,000 scholarships for students at 24 regional colleges across the province. •

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

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