By Mike Straus/Contributor
Sandra Kochan says that arts and culture is a fundamental expression of community identity, and it’s that guiding belief that has led her to her position as cultural services manager for the City of Kelowna.
“I don’t really work in arts and culture – I’m a public servant. That means I’m more involved in managing the public sector budget and finding ways to support and enable arts industry non-profits. I work on some of the broader issues involving the city’s role as a funder,” Kochan said.
Kochan’s work typically involves liaising with local arts organizations, community members and city officials to determine how the city can best nurture a growing arts industry.
Over the course of thelast seven years, Kochan’s largest project has involved significant contributions to the city’s official strategic plan for arts and culture, which city council adopted in 2011.
Kochan says that working on municipal projects for the arts industry presents a variety of opportunities, the biggest challenge being the city’s cultural services division faces is in pursuing multiple opportunities at the same time.
“All of us at the City of Kelowna are very aware of community needs, and we’re always juggling competing demands for time, attention, and resources. It’s partly a pacing issue – you can’t get to everything right away, and some projects will take longer than others. Some projects have resource challenges – assembling resources for a large project (like the Rotary Centre for the Arts) will take years, maybe even decades. So it’s important to be patient and plan carefully,” Kochan said.
Part of that careful planning involved the creative spaces consultation process, which took place earlier this year. While the city is still compiling the results for an official report, Kochan says the eight focus groups presented a series of unique insights as to what an ideal creative space would look like.
“Every single focus group gave us at least one ‘aha’ moment,” Kochan noted. “The next step will be a gathering next year to bring everyone back together to share information. We’ll also be looking at examples of shared facilities to learn more about co-located models, and then we’ll talk about what a made-in-Kelowna solution would look like.”
The focus group results will also be used to provide insights for an update to the cultural plan that is slated for 2018.
Not content to simply manage the public policy side of art, Kochan is also an avid creator herself. When she’s not managing the city’s arts agenda, she can be found busking on the streets of Kelowna as part of the local ukulele ensemble Ukenagan.
“I also have lots of projects on the go around the house – I like to cook and preserve a lot. Plus, this time of year I’m an enthusiastic gardener. We’re harvesting tomatoes and beans right now.”
Lately, Kochan has been contemplating the value of mentors and role models.
“This has been on my mind, partly because this is the Women to Watch series and partly because I was involved in a presentation through the Chamber of Commerce’s Inspire series. As a public servant, there are several women who stand out to me. They speak truth to power, and they’re admirable because of their determination. One of them is Cindy Blackstock, a First Nations advocate for childcare. She’s had to face a lot of backlash speaking out on government policies,” Kochan said.
“I also admire Sheila Fraser for her ability to be impactful, to speak uncomfortable truths, but to do it in a fair manner.”
Kochan says that her three careers have taught her a variety of lessons that are now helping her to promote arts and culture in Kelowna.
As a lawyer, she quickly learned the importance of having accurate information.
Her career in sales and marketing for wineries impressed upon her the importance of storytelling, as it’s through stories that work takes on meaning.
And as a public servant, Kochan discovered that providing the best possible advice to civic leaders involves creating innovative solutions based on the facts at hand.
Kochan is now putting those skills to use to encourage Kelowna’s residents to explore the city’s arts amenities.
“Don’t take it for granted,” she said. “Our citizen surveys tell us that people are very satisfied with what’s available, but we also know that event organizers don’t always get the levels of participation they hope for. That’s why community support and involvement is important – artists need to have audiences for what they do.”
Kochan says that much of the struggle arises from Kelowna’s great variety of arts events—often, there are so many options available that would-be arts supporters don’t know which events to attend.
“Get out there and support what’s happening. If artists can’t make a living here, they’re not going to stay – and without artists, we don’t have a cultural scene,” she said.
Crowe MacKay’s Women to Watch program is a weekly feature that profiles remarkable women in our community. This feature series is a joint initiative between Crowe MacKay, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and the Kelowna Capital News. To nominate the exceptional woman in your life, email firstname.lastname@example.org.