SPARC Shares… The Ontario Shebang

In anticipation of our Expert Chat with Catherine Frid on Community-Engaged Play Creation (which will be on Wednesday, October 31st at 12pm), we are sharing this piece from Arts Engage Canada‘s “Idea Box” (posted April 16, 2018). We love the project’s focus on relationship building, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and public participation! Is this a model that could be replicated in a rural community? Why not?! 

The Ontario Shebang is a multi year, inter-arts, inter-cultural journey into a process that brought together artists and individuals from diverse backgrounds to be supported in a space for creative discoveries, and to explore collaboration and shared experiences. TOS creates a legacy of new and deepened connections, and the capacity to collaborate successfully across differences in perspectives, training, orientation, and practices. The Ontario Shebang is developed and presented by Dreamwalker Dance Company and guided by instigator Andrea Nann.


The Ontario Shebang took place in four Ontario communities and was hosted by each municipality and their local performing arts organizations:

  • St. Catharines (FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and Brock Centre for the Arts)
  • Guelph (River Run Centre)
  • Burlington (Burlington Performing Arts Centre)
  • Kingston (City of Kingston, The Grand Theatre & The Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning).


The process in each community evolved over an extended period of time to allow participants to develop meaningful relationships, and to allow Andrea time to adapt and grow the process in response to feedback and reflection from participants. As a result, The Ontario Shebang uniquely manifested itself in each host community, creating an environment for discovery, exchange, collaboration and bridging. Each process concluded in a public, participatory, multiarts event/presentation that featured artists/people from various walks of life and lived experience.

There were a number of different methods that the host presenters adopted to identify and connect with community partners and local artists. Guelph, for example, brought together programming directors from 5 local arts organizations, representing a wide range of art forms, and they each nominated an individual to form the core group of participating artists. This collaborative nomination process expanded the community of support for The Guelph Shebang from it’s very start.


The Ontario Shebang’s discovery process began with the commitment to do something that had never been done before with everyone participating in the learning and exploration. Andrea explains, “Much of our journey was focused on getting to know one another, cultivating trust, and discovering and practicing new ways of maintaining a strong sense of self while being a member of a partnership or a group. Every meeting session included dialogue and activities to cultivate an explorative practice to ‘move forward’ while ‘not-knowing’ what was going to happen next. The process offered participants tools and strategies to activate states that included ‘arriving, awakening, sensing, discovering, responding, connecting, togethering, and reflecting.’


Individuals were asked to make choices ‘in the moment’ with an intention to further the process, thus further the evolution of the group. As the process deepened and the core participants entered unfamiliar territory, we observed amazing changes, amazing outcomes. We started measuring the impact of people’s experiences, and looked for ways of translating what the process was and how the impacts might ripple out. How they would translate into the community or how the process might impact individuals directly and indirectly.


The process demanded another layer of observer to become involved in the form of ‘translators’, who tracked the artistic process through 2 lenses – the needs in the community and the experiences of the participating artists and arts organizations.


Reflection was a crucial aspect throughout the Shebang process. Reflection guided the shape of each project.


The timeframe of each Shebang project ranged from twenty-two months to four years.

Communities Involved

Community members were introduced to the project in various ways. In general community members connected to each project via the participating artists or via the host presenters.

Genre/Art Form

The Shebang Process is a dynamic practice for diverse people to come together to co-inspire trust, consciousness, and connectivity. At the heart of the process is a practice that called The Conscious Body, discovering the body as the instrument through which we open new avenues of perception and awareness, widen our imagination, and realize new ways to communicate and BE together. With this body, we can explore how our experiences and ideas can interrelate with authenticity; this becomes the basis of how and what we can create together.


The nature of the final public performances varied. Some coincided with celebrations of the opening of new community hubs like The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines and the re-opening of The Tett Centre for Creativity & Learning in Kingston while others were celebrations in and of themselves in which the community could gather, connect and participate. For the artists involved, The Ontario Shebang created an opportunity to share and grow their artistic practices in ways that they may not have achieved while working in isolation. The process also allowed for the artists involved to discover new aspects of themselves while exploring different artistic mediums in a process oriented, non-judgemental space. The success of The Ontario Shebang can be attributed to the overwhelming generosity from the core artists, participants, partners, guest artists, supporting organizations, and hosting communities; to all those who said “yes” and dedicated their time, energy and imagination to the project.


The project received multiyear public support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Ontario Arts Council (Ontario Dances) with project support from Canada Council for the Arts, host city presenting organizations, arts organizations, and community groups.

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