SPARC’s Network Summit Recap

It has been two months since the SPARC Network Summit, and while the actual, wonderful weekend feels so long ago, the content and its effect on SPARC makes it seem like it was just yesterday!

The Network Summit was conceived and executed under the main principle that SPARC, to be successful and hold to its ideals, needed to bring in its target users – rural creators, producers, presenters, and animateurs – to engage in discussions about what they wanted SPARC to be, what they needed it to be and to find ways for those who wanted to get involved to be involved. SPARC had begun with a rural, performing arts group in Ontario’s Haliburton Highlands who came together to connect, share ideas, brainstorm solutions and make their local performing arts industry stronger (read about SPARC’s evolution here). This grassroots, rural effort led to SPARC and its founders were firm in their convictions that SPARC would continue to be grassroots and inclusive.

The Network Summit was announced in September 2014 with a call for applications. The intent of the applications was to ensure that geography, age, experience and disciplines (dance, theatre, media arts, music) were as widely represented as possible and also to gauge potential participant’s personal interest in becoming an active contributor to SPARC. Over 35 applications were received and reviewed by SPARC. They were a wonderful mix of newcomers and SPARC Symposium delegates with strong interest from youth(ages 16-29). In the end, conflicts, health and snowstorms all had their part to play and just over 25 individuals attended the Network Summit. And as the saying goes, those that were there were the right people. Participants came from across Ontario and were generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Individuals from across Canada were welcome to attend as well.

The Network Summit was co-facilitated by Jim Blake and Inga Petri. Jim is a founding member of SPARC, a community animateur in the Haliburton Highlands and an experienced and noted facilitator. Inga is president of Strategic Moves, as experienced facilitator and the author of “The Value of Presenting: A Study of Performing Arts Presentation in Canada” which was commissioned by CAPACOA and presented at the SPARC Symposium.

The Summit began with a quick look of the draft vision, objectives and guiding principles for SPARC. Then the activities began in earnest starting with individual reflections that lead to discussions within groups about participant’s personal experiences focusing on challenges and opportunities. Some challenges mentioned: volunteer burnout, individuals fulfilling multiple roles, getting the work out to the audience, growing the audience, the perception that art is free, the perception that rural means cheaper, succession, youth being recruited and accepted etc. The opportunities: a successful youth board model was shared, the ability to use technology to increase arts access and promotion, conferences and events like SPARC allowing for connections that can lead to collaborations and so on.

From there participants moved to examining existing supports and analyzing gaps in current services. They were also asked about what they could personally contribute and what they needed from a Network. There were nine categories (based upon information gleaned from previous SPARC surveys) and the participants were asked to identify specific needs, possible contributions, gaps and existing supports within those categories. The categories were: access to tools and templates, information, access to experts, share ideas/innovations/solutions, training and professional development, face-to-face network events, online knowledge exchange, cooperation and collaboration, and information about arts, artists, audiences and community.

Existing networks and organizations within the performing arts sector were then discussed. This had several purposes: to determine the supports already in existence and who was providing them, assess the gaps and also begin to start talking about organizational structures.  Four main organizational structures, with applicable examples, were discussed: a non-profit corporation, a virtual network, a collaborative model and becoming a program of an existing organization. Participants were asked split into 4 groups, with each group championing a particular model. Pros and cons of each model were discussed. Discussions centred upon membership, finances, communication and administration. The day ended with a review in light of the day’s discussion over the draft vision, objective and guiding principles for SPARC with amendments and additions from the group.

Sunday, the final day of the Network Summit, began with the revised vision, objective and guiding principles for SPARC. Find them here. (Note the proposed Vision statement turned into a Mission statement.)

Co-facilitator Jim Blake then presented an organizational model for consideration based upon the response from the previous day. He also accomplished this with the wonderful telling of a story about SPARC as house built on grounds fertilized with the performing arts mediums, with a foundation of collaborative partners and supportive neighbours. Participants were then asked to examine the proposed organizational model for pros and cons which incited riotous and passionate conversation. It was wonderful to see such a high level of engagement and investment in SPARC’s development.  Within the discussion, the scope of the SPARC Network was also considered as the SPARC Symposium was a national event whereas the current funding for SPARC is provincial.

There was clear consensus that creating a network the size and scope of Ontario was in itself a significant undertaking and that developments in Ontario will be shared with other provinces/networks. The intention that Ontario’s network could be a model and starting point for a future national rural and remote performing arts Network to connect provincial/regional network hubs across Canada. Networks like SPARC exist or are being shaped across Canada; keeping in contact and sharing developments helps support everyone’s efforts and growth. There was also the consensus that SPARC, for the time being, would remain as a collaborative and focus on building the network with the understanding that it may transition into another organizational model at some point in the future.

Three working groups were identified by participants to reflect the three main activities that the Summit participants identified as next steps. The three working groups are Symposium, Outreach and Communications. Summit participants signed up for these working groups and further members are welcome – find the terms of reference for the working groups here.

Overall, achieving specific outcomes while collecting a huge volume of applicable information made this weekend a huge success.  In the near future, much of the information will be made available on SPARC’s website.

Thank-you to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their financial support and the attendance of a representative.  Another thank-you to Canadian Heritage for their continuing support of SPARC and the attendance of a representative. (A representative from the Ontario Arts Council was scheduled to attend but ultimately could not).

And thanks to all that participated! And those who applied as well:)

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