Performing arts thrive in rural communities

SPARC-TheHighlander
FEATURED, The Highlander
By Mark Arike
Thursday May 1, 2014

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That was one of the messages that Inga Petri, one of the keynote speakers at Haliburton’s first Symposium for Performing Arts in Rural Communities (SPARC), left an audience at the Haliburton School of the Arts with on April 28.

Petri, a consultant, presented her findingsĀ  from “The Value of Presenting: A Study of Performing Arts Presentation in Canada.” The study took two years to complete and was commissioned by the Canadian Arts Presenting Association, in partnership with the regional and other presenting networks and an advisory committee of sector representatives.

“It’s been a really excellent tool to help the performing arts sector understand itself a little bit better, and understand how it’s different in different places and how it’s also the same,” said Petri.

One of the big questions she wanted to answer through the study was: “How do I get art to an audience?”

Petri revealed that while rural communities may face unique challenges, many are thriving when it comes to the performing arts. She said that vibrant communities are “fueled by the performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships.”

“In the performing arts I’ve been finding that… audience development is really important. It basically says that we need audiences to show up. How do we get them to do that?”

Audiences need to understand the art being presented in order to appreciate it and want to see it, she said.

That’s where “contemporary marketing” comes into play.

“Yes, we must educate through the arts, but that’s not going to translate into a paying, ticket-buying customer this season.”

Petri called the performing arts “one of the most intrinsically creative sectors.”
“We solve the most unbelievable problems with virtually no money every day. Right?”

She pointed out that performing arts presenters bring forward an incredible skill set, which allows them to unite audiences and come up with solutions to complex problems.
During her travels across the country, Petri located the most creative rural area in Canada. It’s a place known as XOA and can be found on Baffin Island. A total of 3.4 per cent of the population is comprised of working artists.

“I got to spend a week in Iqaluit working with the Alianait Arts Festival, which has been around for 10 years now.”

Funders wanted to support the event because it was a community-initiative that was started to introduce the Inuit population to the performing arts and create a sense of hope.
“Their mission is to build a healthier Nunavut through the arts,” said Petri, who revealed the area’s high suicide rate.

“If you think about a community that has 35,000 people in it with very large families, you
understand that there’s not a single person that I met while out there who did not know someone who killed themselves in the last year.”

In addition to live performances, the festival features training and workshops for the community. Petri referred to this event as a perfect example of community-engaged.
Although it would be a significant revenue generator, alcohol isn’t served at the festival because of the number of residents who abuse the substance, she said. Gambling-based fundraisers have also been eliminated because they simply don’t make for a healthier community.

One of the statistics Petri provided was that one in six small communities attract more than 5,000 people per year through the performing arts.

“I’m all about the proportions, because proportions are all about impact,” she said.

“I think it makes the rural story tremendously powerful.”

To view Petri’s full report visit www.valueofpresenting.ca.

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