SPARC Presents @ 2015 CAPACOA Conference

SPARC was thrilled to present at and attend CAPACOA’s annual conference recently in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A 4-day gathering of the arts presenting and touring sector of Canada, this year’s CAPACOA conference was entitled “The Culture of Convergence”. It featured an excellent and engaging schedule of presentations and activities for its participants that also challenged the sector with ideas of change and innovation.

SPARC was represented by its Network Coordinator, Elisha Barlow, who presented in the very first slot of CAPACOA’s schedule on “Rural Performing Arts: Stronger Together”.

The attendance at SPARC’s session was incredible – every seat in the room was full! Over 25 people came out to hear about SPARC’s efforts and share innovations they know of and/or were doing in their rural and remote communities. Participants represented rural Nova Scotian arts councils, rural performing arts organizations (as far as from British Columbia!), presenting and/or performing arts networks that represented/served rural communities (from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and Atlantic) as well as funders such as the Ontario Arts Council and Canadian Heritage.

Elisha started by providing a history of SPARC’s development (you can read about it here) highlighting SPARC’s highly collaborative beginnings and community support that still make up its core today. SPARC does not exist as an incorporated entity but rather is a collaborative supported by a core committee of individuals, some of whom represent organizations, in the Haliburton Highlands. These individuals and their organizations believe in and support SPARC’s mission and have successfully sought funding on its behalf to help achieve its objectives. The successful SPARC Symposium was due to many factors but certainly a large part is due to its highly engaged steering committee, an extremely competent Symposium Coordinator, the financial support and guidance of multiple funders, and the engagement of the local community. Local presenters/creators were involved in multiple performances and presentations, local community animateurs were on hand as volunteers, and local restaurants and accommodators provided special rates and hosted special community performances.

The uniqueness of the SPARC Symposium in its focus was also touched upon. Unlike many performing arts conferences and gatherings, the Symposium did not focus on showcases. Rather, it focused on the business of creating, presenting, producing and animating performing arts in rural and remote communities. Elisha used the SPARC Symposium Magazine (find it here) to highlight the numerous sessions that were offered such as “A Crash Course in Site-Specific Theatre Making in Rural Surrounds”, “Community, Connection, Collaboration: Key Elements for Successful Partnerships” , “It Takes a Village to Raise a Rural Dance Arts Event” and so many more. Sessions were led by individuals and organizations working in rural performing arts who focused on talking about innovations in programming, presenting, collaborations and overcoming challenges in such areas as funding, volunteers (recruitment, engagement, burnout), venues, community (engagement, apathy, adversity) and much more.

Elisha then lead the CAPACOA attendees in the 1-2-4-All activity from Liberating Structures to talk about innovations happening in their work, organizations, communities or that they felt were applicable to the conversation in the context of rural/remote performing arts. Delegates started by writing down an innovation on a card to be collected and added to the data that SPARC is collecting to share. Here are some of the shared innovations:

“Collaboration with other groups in the way of reciprocal ads in programs, ticket give-aways, reciprocal discounts for concerts”

“Make each experience new for the audience, change the intermission snacks”

“Concerts in Care – concerts in rural long-term care”

“Hiring and training a young local artist/creator to learn how to build our touring productions”

“CAPACOA’s The Value of Presenting Study included rural perspectives, equality and integrated communities of various types seamlessly in report”

“The formation of Yukon Arts Presenters Summit (YAPS) continuing with the development of N3 – Northern Network. The Summit itself was innovative in its inclusion of our diverse.”

Elisha also  discussed the involvement of youth (16-29) in the SPARC Symposium and shared some of the thoughts that youth had focused on (find them in the Youth Magazine under Summation, pg. 25).

The SPARC Symposium had also been viewed by its committee and funders as a potential model for future/other gatherings. Elisha took a moment to highlight the efforts of the Yukon Arts Presenters Summit(YAPS) who had adopted several elements of the SPARC Symposium. Michelle Emslie of the Yukon Arts Centre attended the SPARC Symposium and was also present at SPARC’s CAPACOA presentation. The similar elements included the Symposium’s opening activity, 2 keynotes speakers and other organizational elements – all of course adopted to fit YAPS’s focus and needs.  Commitments to removing attendance barriers, such as accommodation and transportation costs, were also common to the two events. Somewhat excitedly different from the SPARC Symposium was that YAPS  convened with the specific intention to start a Northern Network and participants arrived with a high level of engagement and interest in starting a Network. YAPS focused on interactions and actions within all of its presentations and sessions to help determine next steps and it finished with 6 self-formed working groups who are now connecting and exploring the Wiggio platform.

Other notable items that were mentioned about the SPARC Symposium: currently SPARC is seeking funding and support for another Symposium in April of 2016 in the Haliburton Highlands. During the planning process, a how-to guide will be written documenting the steps and efforts taken to create the SPARC Symposium. This will enable the SPARC Symposium to move locations and showcase other rural and remote communities in Ontario.

Elisha then discussed SPARC’s transition from “Symposium for the Performing Arts in Rural Communities” to “Supporting Performing Arts in Rural Communities”. A month before the SPARC Symposium, SPARC received funding to support the exploration into developing a network for rural performing arts. This funding supported a full-time Network Coordinator position, a Network Summit, upgrades to the SPARC Website and marketing, promotion and training. Elisha once again stressed the collaborative structure of SPARC and the partnerships that developed in order to support SPARC’s development.

SPARC is currently supported by an Ontario Trillium Foundation(OTF) grant that was successfully obtained by the Haliburton County Community Co-operative (The Co-Op). The Co-op has 3 members who sit on SPARC’s Network Steering Committee. As the recipient of the OTF grant, the Co-op is the fiduciary (ultimately the Co-op is responsible for fulfilling the terms of the OTF grant and proper financial accounting). But the Co-op has minimal administrative supports and so entered into an agreement with the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands to provide the day-to-day grant accounting, administrative support and office space for SPARC. In return, the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands receives enhanced office support due to the full-time SPARC employee and the OTF grant admin fee to help support its capacity.

Elisha then discussed SPARC’s Network Summit – click here for a full recap. She spoke to several factors – a fairly fast turn-a-round from announcing to the Summit to its occurrence (2 months) and the fact that SPARC’s current funding from OTF did not allow for financially supporting individuals from outside of Ontario. But while these items were unfortunate, ultimately the size of the gathering at the Summit (just over 25) meant that the group was able to dig deep into the content of the Summit and also connect to each other in a very real way.

Elisha also spoke to the information that formed the jumping off point for the Summit – 2 surveys that gave lots of great information but still left SPARC with questions (find them within the Pre-Summit package here). Elisha expanded upon the need for an in-depth exploration that an in-person experience like the Summit provided by explaining that while the surveys were helpful, there were also gaps. Often, when respondents were asked about what a Network could provide they tended to provide generalized responses such as “information”, “support”, “best practices” etc. The Summit was intended to drill down into specifics so that SPARC could start to form a more complete idea about services and gaps in services. SPARC wanted to know what information exactly (which would also help to determine if something actually already existed,  SPARC is trying to fill gaps not duplicate existing services).  Elisha also showed a cut of a video about the Network Summit (the video is being edited and will be posted online when it is complete).

The session ended with the remaining 10 minutes offered up to participants for clarifying questions and to bring something to the group that had not been addressed. There was a discussion about how to attract audiences and communities to unfamiliar acts/programming. Generally involving the community in the programming, whether a local group as an opening act or encouraging adjunct-programming that involved local children, was the room’s response.

Also discussed was SPARC’s long-term vision for a national network that connects together rural/remote performing arts. SPARC is currently focusing on building a network in Ontario but will be sharing its efforts and encouraging them/connecting with them in other places. SPARC envisions regional/provincial networks coming together to form the national network but that each network will come from within their local, grassroots efforts. There are existing networks like  the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils (OSAC), Manitoba Arts Network and forming Network such as SPARC and N3 in Yukon. SPARC believes that keeping in contact and sharing developments helps supports all of these organizations while laying down the foundation for more formally connecting as a national network in the future.

SPARC would like to thank everyone who attended its presentation and CAPACOA for the opportunity to talk about its efforts and help bring together those who are interested and invested in strengthening and growing the performing arts in rural and remote communities.

SPARC would also like to thank the Ontario Trillium Foundation for its continuing support.

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