The Culture of Community: Rebecca attends CAPACOA’s annual conference

I’m sure I’m not alone in my belief that sometimes the best way to learn is by jumping in. One week after joining the SPARC team I had the opportunity to attend CAPACOA –(Canadian Arts Presenting Association / l’Association Canadienne des organisms artistiques)’s annual conference on behalf of our organization…and jump in is exactly what I did.

CAPACOA serves the performing arts touring and presenting community – artists, agents, managers, venues, networks of presenters – and is focused on integrating the performing arts into the lives of all Canadians, as well as improving communication and understanding between presenters across the country. They provide many useful toolkits for presenters, host networking opportunities, and  conduct vital research on, and advocate for, the importance of the performing arts. If you attended our first symposium in 2014, you may remember Inga Petri’s keynote address, which included references to The Value of Presenting – a study commissioned by CAPACOA that sought to identify the benefits of performing arts presentation in communities and society at large.

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Culture of Community”. I attended a number of interesting workshops focused on building connections between artists and presenters; between artists and technology; and between artists and the community. I’d like to share some highlights and a few links you may want to check out…

Some of you may already be familiar with FIXT POINT Theatre and their Tale of a Town project – I know their “storymobile” visited our friends in Cobalt and Temiskaming Shores this past summer. For three years the Tale of a Town team has been touring Canada – and has successfully visited every province and territory! They’ve been gathering stories about cities’ and towns’ main streets, and using these stories to inspire performance installations created in collaboration with local artists for site-specific downtown locations. They focus on preserving local heritage and promoting neighbourhood culture – merging the performing arts and community engagement seamlessly. You can check out the work they’ve done by watching their “Main Street Ontario” series, or listening to some of the interviews collected online.

Representatives from the National Film Board’s Interactive Studio and the Society for Arts and Technologies’ Metalab presented tips for digital integration into performance projects, collaboration between artists and technicians, and navigating new kinds of performer/audience relationships. They talked about some really cool projects including the Compassion Machine, which explored the effects of surveillance in a public place, and Journal of Insomnia, which used a shared experience to connect people from across the globe and allowed them to create a piece of art, online, together. The NFB is currently connecting artists looking to explore a question through technology with tech companies with the hardware needed to do so. The aim? Getting technology into the hands of artists who may not have access to it otherwise.

Finally, I attended a session about community engagement and community-engaged arts practice by presenters from Arts Engage Canada and Art Bridges. If you’re interested in community-engaged work, Arts Engage is a fantastic resource. They have lots of straightforward guides and toolkits about the practice of engaging community members in your work that would be helpful to have at hand when envisioning a new initiative, or evaluating an existing one. Art Bridges’ site functions more like a hub – similar to the network hub SPARC is building – and I will be reaching out to them in the new year to see if we can help each other in our aims to connect and spark more dialogue.

This offers a taste of just a few of the sessions I attended while in Ottawa. I met many people, both in and outside of these workshops and panels, who were interested in and excited by the work that SPARC is doing. It was nice to be a “new face” at the conference and to focus on trying to meet as many new people – artists, administrators, innovators – as possible, always with SPARC and potential collaborations at the forefront of my mind. What an exciting way to start my time with this organization! Networking and connecting – it’s what SPARC is all about!

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