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Kicking Horse Culture Golden Opportunity

Folk icon and social activist, Pete Seeger, gave Bill Usher a message he’ll never forget.

“It was the 70s, the hippy era, a time when people were looking for these great spaces, these hot spots where there was community,” Usher says.  “We were backstage at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Ontario and Pete’s rant that day was, ‘you don’t find community, you make community’.”

That message has informed Usher’s life. As executive director of the Golden District Arts Council, or Kicking Horse Culture, as well as board member of the BC Arts Council, he brings that energy to the forefront every day.

“When you’re in a career, you follow the good ideas and then you huff and puff to get the work done,” he says. “You take the original vision and carry it to the end.  What I’m doing here in Golden is what I’ve done all my life, pursuing a great idea.”

If you don’t count an acting stint when he was five, Usher started his arts career in music. As a teenager at Danforth Technical School in Toronto’s east end, he played clarinet.  After high school he gravitated to percussion, playing hand drum, kit drum, and then West African drum.

Usher, a self-taught percussion player, honed his skills when timing and opportunities in the folk movement were ripe. He earned his chops jamming, playing on the streets, and when short of cash, crashing at other musicians’ houses.  Hard work and playing next to greats like Canadian folk music icon Stan Rogers added to his talents.

The 1980s saw Usher producing records, and winning four Junos in the process,  then move into organizing folk festivals, writing music, touring across Canada, as well as working in TV and acting. But by the end of the 1990s, Usher moved over to more administrative roles with the Ontario and Toronto arts councils, and the Ontario Ministry of Culture.

In 2002, he heard the beat of a different drum.  When his wife Maggie Calladine, a performing arts specialist, was offered a job in Golden, Usher packed up his kit and followed.

When he arrived in Golden in 2002, Usher kept a low profile, first volunteering as chair of the arts council and working from home. He became executive director in 2006.

“It’s a great community organization, that’s attracted more than 550 members. We support a wide mix of artists and events, like Live Kicks, an ongoing concert series, the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and exhibits at the Art Gallery of Golden.”

Usher thinks the arts council has delivered on all fronts. Increasing attendance and involving the whole community is key to their approach.

“Arts councils are for the whole community, and many community members have contributed to the arts in Golden,” he says. “Local government and business, volunteers, and the school district have all embraced the vision and rolled up their sleeves to get the work done.”

For Usher, the pay-off is the positive economic impact of the arts vision coupled with people’s experience. A recent festival called the Masque Parade that featured a colourful mosaic of masks, lanterns and giant spinning fire artists was a perfect example of cooperative spirit.

“It was the most spectacular thing,” Usher says. “Almost 800 people were there, four generations, all gathered together celebrating community and creating community.”

Golden District Arts Council is funded in part by the BC Arts Council, supporting artists and arts organizations in communities across BC.