SPARC ignites excitement for performing arts

FEATURED, The Highlander
By Mark Arike
Thursday May 1, 2014

Creative minds from across the country – and some from even further afield – recently travelled to the Haliburton Highlands to immerse themselves in the performing arts as part of the first Symposium for Performing Arts in Rural Communities (SPARC).

The four-day event, which was held between April 24 and 27 at various locations across the county, featured workshops, keynote speakers and live entertainment. Over 130 delegates, including 20 youth, were in attendance.

According to those involved with the symposium, SPARC met and exceeded their expectations.
“It was a resounding success,” said Lesley English, chair of the SPARC organizing committee and general manager of The Forest Festival.

With participants from far-away places such as Gabriola Island, B.C. to Pouch Cove, Newfoundland to the Yukon and southern Ontario, English said the country was well-represented.

“We got a lot of positive feedback and the energy throughout the event was just amazing,” she said, adding that each participant she spoke to left feeling inspired with ideas to take back to their own community.

Two years ago, the SPARC organizing committee decided to “organize a symposium to explore the challenges and benefits of making performing art in rural communities.” The symposium brought together people from all areas of the performing arts to “spark inspiration, exchange knowledge, learn new skills, network and develop partnerships.”

The event received $105,400 in funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF). This money helped bring young people (ages 16-30) from across the province to the symposium as part of a youth summit.

Other funders included the Haliburton County Development Corporation and Canadian Heritage.

Jack Brezina, SPARC committee member and president of the Highlands Summer Festival, said that as a result of the symposium, he is now re-thinking his organization’s involvement with youth.

“Our [youth] track record is good in certain areas – actors, stage manager, crew and front of house, for example – but there are other areas where youth are not well represented and I think we should be looking at that,” said Brezina.

He said he made many new contacts at SPARC.

“There are many other groups, not just in the theatre field, who struggle, believe and succeed. I think making those contacts and knowing there are others we can contact for help is extremely valuable.”

Barrie Martin, SPARC committee member and president of the Haliburton County Folk Society, noted that between May 1 and the end of September, the Highlands will host 64 concerts.
“That’s a conservative estimate because it doesn’t include the weekly things that happen,” said Martin, referring to open stages and gigs at resorts.

“If you add those things to it, we’re approaching 100 live performances in that period of time. It’s quite remarkable.”

Chris Lynd, chair of the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands, found the symposium informative and beneficial to local arts organizations.

“We have so much to offer here in the way of nature, history, the arts, food and outdoor adventure that if we shine the light on all these things in a collaborative way, people
will come,” said Lynd.

“I enjoyed a number of the presentations that highlighted the use of unique performance venues and got very excited about a couple that I could see happening here with collaboration amongst members of the Arts Council – musicians, dancers and visual artists.”

As for going forward, English said the plan is to develop a province-wide network with the contacts that were made at the symposium and launch an online SPARC magazine. Part of the funding that was received from the OTF will be used to hire a coordinator for one year to establish the network.

She also said that while it’s unlikely that SPARC will become an annual event, it was suggested that it needs to happen again.

“At this point whether it happens in Haliburton County or in or in another rural community somewhere in Canada is a question that hasn’t been answered yet.”


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