Personal and Interconnected: On Remembering, Keeping Busy, and the SPARC Symposium 2018, Cobalt

By Felicity Buckell, SPARC Symposium 2018 Coordinator

Heatwave in Northern ON, July 4


I’ll dive right in, the personal and interconnected: here I am early yesterday evening in my garden (thank you, Bohdan, for the photo), during this intense heatwave, (clothed, but at least) barefoot in the soil (pretty much where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to for the past six weeks).


Heatwave in Southern ON, early July 1974

And then there’s me in 1974, helping my father in our neighbourhood’s shared garden, just behind our fenced-in backyard.

When I was 12 my father passed away, and we had to move from that garden and the house in which I grew up, the home that held all my memories of my dad. I recall the intense fear I had, the fear that I would lose all my memories of my home, my life, my dad; I didn’t want to forget a single thing, and so devised a method of remembering: for about a year after we moved, I would lie in bed each and every night, close my eyes and open that purple front door, walk from room to room, recalling and burning into my memory map, in inordinate detail, every single feature, with an earnestness perhaps unique to lonely, rather reclusive, twelve year olds, caught between childhood and adulthood in the saddest of ways.

So here we are, Thursday July 5th 2018, 35 years (almost to the day) that I left 2288 The Collegeway, Unit 3, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 3Z5, phone number 828-5064, our beige Ford station wagon (that had quickly replaced our short-lived Pinto) in the driveway, licence plate MHM 594, and effortlessly I can be six years old again, in my yellow flannel pj’s with top button missing (swallowed while being chewed in a moment of anxiety), feeling the moss-green soft wool wall-to-wall carpeting beneath my bare, should-be-under-the-blankets-by-now feet, and the cold and twists of the wrought iron stair railings as I cling to them at the top of the landing, eyeing that ragged tear in the pinstripes of lime-green wallpaper (where my sister picked at it unconsciously one rainy day while telling me tales of the Wombles and the Magic Roundabout), straining to hear even a snippet of my mum and dad’s grown-up conversation between their bouts grown-up laughter as they watch The Two Ronnies and Upstairs, Downstairs on our in-cabinet TV (very much like this one, with doors that close to leave you with a ‘beautiful piece of furniture’ when not in use).

To this day, I use that method of remembering: if I close my eyes, I see not darkness, but a myriad of miniature doors waiting to be opened; with eyes closed, the possibility of entering into one of those intricate worlds opens before me (my own mind palace? Certainly not a new concept, and I would never suggest I have the genius of Sherlock, but it’s definitely something like that, although perhaps slightly more akin to an heart-palace, full of feelings, not just facts).

SPARC Symposium 2018 Welcoming Ceremonies, May 24th 2018 at the Miner’s Tavern; photo credit Chandel Gambles


And so yes, here we are, Thursday July 5th, 2018. Exactly 35 years since I left my childhood home; it also happens to be exactly 6 weeks since the SPARC Symposium 2018 Welcoming Ceremonies at the Miner’s Tavern, with the Ironstone Singers of our Temiskaming First Nations.




It feels like, with eyes closed, both my entire childhood and waiting in line for a pulled pork sandwich from The Roaster on Saturday May 26th were just yesterday, but also, they feel a lifetime ago.

JJ celebrating her 3rd birthday, June 28, 2018, and awaiting the arrival of her little sister


Well, for Marie and Roger and Jemima Jane, our Symposium Food Family, soon the Symposium will indeed be more than one lifetime away; their little one is expected to arrive any day now. And, at 1 day old, 6 weeks is in fact 42 lifetimes, so there you go.

I wonder if, waiting in her cozy nest, so close to greeting this world, their little one also felt that magic surrounding us in Cobalt that weekend?


It certainly ran deep within me; as I close my eyes and open my SPARC Symposium 2018 mind’s eye door, I first hear music: the drumming of Teajai, Lara, and Trevor as we prepare our Saturday evening meal, a little David Bowie as Jack leads us in our shared dance, Tanner’s awesome rendition of ‘Grace, Too’ on Voyageur at the Miner’s Tavern. Then I hear words: Aengus’ inspiring talk on leadership, Chris’ warm welcomes and fond farewells, Wayne’s

Tanner at the Miner’s with Voyageur

phrase ‘tickling of the soul’. I also see movement: people moving toward each other in greetings and goodbyes, the Paula Davey Dancers marching proudly in to the Hall Saturday evening, 100 of us getting up from our chairs to applaud, sitting down again to eat, and back up to walk the room, trying to keep Myra’s equilateral triangle, as well as bodies

Dancing Amongst the Tables; photo credit Chandel Gambles

dancing: Roger releasing some pent-up kitchen energy, 200 feet moving in our shared ‘Dancing in the Streets’ with Jack (well, Dancing Amongst the Tables), and even Chandel’s dance (without movement) during James’ mad moves of ‘The Bench. And as I look close, I can see dozens of pairs of eyes, and dozens of smiles: Reneltta’s sorrowful smile as she talked about Shannon’s Dream, the tears in Isobel’s eyes as she

Ceilidh and Gordon; photo credit Chandel Gambles

spoke of how much it meant to her students to be there to hear Reneltta speak, sweet Zoë’s smile as she laughed during our dinner, wearing our origami napkin hats, Frank’s dark and caring eyes during our intense two minutes during ‘The Light of Leadership’, and so many, many more smiling eyes and authentic expressions of joy and connection.

And so, within the May 24-27 2018 room of my heart-mind palace, there lives music, movement, dance, words, expressions: hmmmm… the definition of performing arts? Yet, it seems it was the genuine (exactly non-performative) nature of our interactions that weekend, an absolute absence of ‘performance’ with each other, that was in fact key to the magic of our performing arts gathering. I like that thought.

          The Lollipop Guild doing their thing

Well, that’s me of late; lots of thinking, perhaps just a little bit of bookkeeping (!), and not moving very far at all from my garden. I do wonder what others have been up to since late May; I’ve heard from a few: Frank Blanchet has been busy rehearsing not one, but two plays with the Brighton Barn Theatre, as well as preparing for concerts with his band. Patricia Fell and the Lollipop Guild are busy making changes in their community; Patricia writes, ‘I thought you may be interested to know that we have made some progress in our community.  The company producing the “Dreamgirls” show that we PROtested has very recently offered one of our members (Kianna Porter, she was a part of May Day) a paid gig with their upcoming production of HAIR…’. Rebecca Ballarin continues to be very busy with SPARC, but also has been managing to attend rehearsals for a Fringe Festival play.

Morning view in Isafjordur; photo by David

A few have had (and are having) great traveling adventures: Kevin Closs and David Newland, those two musical, adventuresome souls, are somewhere in the oceans near Svalbard (Kevin) and Isafjordur (David) with Adventure Canada, and Reneltta Arluk has been back and forth across the country; she writes:

[Since the Symposium] I was in Toronto for two speaking events. I sat on a panel for WalrusLIVE to talk about The Future of Arts. I was with Molly Johnson, musician, and Cameron Bailey, TIFF. It was a quick and in depth conversation with Q & A.

The other event was at the ROM for Franklin Expedition: Moving Forward. I was one of the speakers there as well. I spoke about my experience of bridging culture and artistic practice in directing The Breathing Hole at Stratford.

I am back at Banff Centre but am working with Corey Payette, New Liskeard is his home town, and we are co-creating a play using the themes of Sedna. Very exciting stuff!

Then we have our Aengus Finnan, another intrepid and dedicated traveler, who has barely been home long enough to do a load of laundry since last we met: from Cobalt he flew, via Toronto, back to Kansas City for some Folk Alliance International (FAI) planning, then to Raleigh, North Carolina for three days of FAI board meetings and strategic planning, then to Denver, Colorado for the Americans for the Arts Convention, and back again to Canada for Embassy and Canadian government meetings in Ottawa, and from there north to Iqaluit, Nunavit for the Alianait Arts Festival, before finally heading back home to Kansas (was he wishing for red shoes to click together at some point?).

Yet, Aengus somehow found the time to share this with me: ‘What lingers with me from our time in Cobalt is how personal and interconnected the rural arts presenting community is, and how many wonderful people have held torches high for so long. I am reminded of the many events and organizations that exist and operate on the sheer passion and energy of a few dedicated leaders and volunteers, which in turn highlights the need for our continued conversation about sustainability, community engagement, and succession planning.’

I wonder what lingers with others? How were each of us touched by the magic of SPARC, the magic that we made happen by being open to, and genuine with, each other? What embers will continue to burn low, ready to brighten our days and warm our spirits when they receive the breath of our attention as we open that mind’s eye door, embers that will no doubt spark amazing arts-related activities in our lovely little communities?


Okay, it’s back to my garden for me, digging in again. I hope to keep my heart open to all that life has to offer, celebrating the fact that here I am on Thursday July 5th, 2018: one more day that I can.



My four main sources of joy (back-to-school, 2007)

Helpful creatures in my garden, around the time of the Symposium

Late summer 2017, what I have to look forward to again this year!


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