Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium

The following post was written by Carey Nicholson, a member of the Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium planning committee. This event was held on April 11 & 12, 2019 and it received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program in October 2018. 

The next deadline to apply for support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program is Friday, June 28th. This will be the final deadline for 2019! For more information about the program email . 

The Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium was held Thursday, April 11 & Friday April 12 at the Wellness and Resource Centre of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN). This first ever multi-arts symposium in Scugog was hosted by the Scugog Council for the Arts (SCA) with the generous support of the MSIFN and SPARC – Supporting Performing Arts in Rural and Remote Communities.

The idea of a multi-disciplinary event developed in mid 2018 as an action to support the SCA’s strategic goal to reanimate the SCA and reconnect the organization with the community and each other. A planning committee was created and included artist and SCA president, Marion Meyers, SCA Board member and Theatre on the Ridge artistic director, Carey Nicholson, arts management consultant, Karin Eaton, Scugog Chamber of Commerce executive director, Kenna Kozak, MSIFN band council member, Della Charles and community representative, Louise Bardswich. Arts administrator, Allena Litherland was engaged as the symposium project co-ordinator. Through conversations and tasks identified in the SCA’s strategic plan, the committee began work in October 2018 and was able to quickly settle on a theme that had universal appeal and value, not only to the local artists and arts organization, but other sectors in Scugog.

The theme of the event was audience building for arts and culture practitioners and organizations, and the overarching message, carried through the event and echoed by all the guest speakers, quickly became apparent – “Engage your heart to inform your mind to build your audience”. And hearts were engaged on the opening Thursday evening of the symposium as 60 plus delegates, representing all facets of the local arts and culture community, were guided through a smudging ceremony and a Talking Feather Circle by MSIFN cultural coordinator Matthew Stevens. Also in attendance were representatives from the local business community and municipal government, including Mayor of Scugog Township, Bobbie Drew.

In the context of the Talking Feather Circle, an activity that could have been a basic networking exercise became a much more meaningful and impactful experience. The Talking Feather Circle gave permission for participants to become present, and enabled them to listen and to share. Scugog artists and community leaders also experienced their community reflected back through the eyes of newcomers and visitors, and were reminded that Scugog has a unique arts community of strength, connection, diversity of interests, and passion. The experience was a gift that reminded attendees that the strengths of Scugog as a community can too easily be taken for granted. Afterwards, there was a collective sense of having slowed down and become aware of the great density and “noise” of our lives and environment that can block our abilities to connect to ourselves, and each other.

The sense of the circle continued on Friday through the symposium presentations and break out sessions, including a keynote speech by Jason Maghanoy (playwright and Director of Membership and Partner Success with Toronto Life Magazine) and panellists Marion Meyers (Scugog Council for the Arts, Artist, Branding Specialist), Kim Blackwell (Managing Artistic Director, 4th Line Theatre), Leslie Hughes (Social Media Guru – PUNCH!MEDIA) and Heather Kanabe (General Manager, Hamilton Fringe Festival).

In every presentation, amidst the vast practical information and expertise shared by the panellists, participants were encouraged to utilize the circle and come back to the heart and truth of their own stories. Time and again, the encouragement and message was to use those stories to speak to audiences through brand messaging, to be genuine and passionate about their work, and remember that relationships built on authentic stories build strong partnerships. The key to connection? We need to know ourselves and our values, and it is through our stories that we speak about our work, our past and our future.

After a day and a half of information, inspiration, new ideas, connections and open hearts the symposium came full circle with a performance of dancing and drumming by the MSIFN, concluding with an intertribal dance inviting all participants to take part and join the circle with the performers.

The success of the symposium was apparent in the conversations at the end of the day on ideas shared, skills to be developed, actions to be taken, and a greater connection with existing and new friends and associations. The symposium also provided the SCA with valuable feedback to fuel new ideas as it moves forward and continues its own revitalization. The SCA will build on the success of this event and plans to bring the community together again in 2021. Until then, the circles created at this inaugural symposium will continue to ripple outwards into the community and beyond.

To learn more about the Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium, future similar events, or to become involved with the SCA, visit or contact the SCA directly at



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