Land-Based Arts at 4elements

By Kirsten Nelson, Executive Director

4elements Living Arts was founded in 2002, making it a relative old-timer among northern Ontario arts organizations. Our vision is engaged experiences of land, arts and community, and our mission is to nurture and inspire community engagement in land-based arts on Manitoulin Island.

Workshops remain one of our favourite ways to engage the community in land-based art, and remind them that the divide between artist and audience is an artificial one. 4elements has offered workshops by local and visiting artists and artisans in areas as diverse as audio art, biology, clay, clowning, dance (ballet, latin and modern), doll-making, drumming, dying with indigo, fibre, geometry in nature, jewellery making, mapping, mask-making, meditation, mural painting, photography, poetry, printing, sculpture, shadow puppets, watercolour, writing, and yoga.

Our biggest excitement of the year comes with the Elemental Festival, a celebration of musicians, artists, films, and performers of all kinds, responding to our land-based arts theme. Held in late September each year in Kagawong (“Ontario’s prettiest village”), people can wander between the Park Centre, Old Church on the Hill, Riverbend Stage and Billings Connections Trail to listen, watch, create, and eat for three full days. There are big-stage musical performances in the evenings, and rotating performers and workshop leaders with more intimate or child-friendly setups in the afternoons. You might choose between a needle-felting workshop using fleece from local alpacas, or learning about Indigenous hand drumming and singing.

We have quieter, more contemplative missions as well. We have three beautiful books that continue to surprise us with sales out of proportion to the marketing we do for them. Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements is an inspiring look at land-based engagements, written for community arts animators, artists, environmental art educators, and community members. The Art of Land-Based Early Learning (volumes 1 and 2) offer concrete, yet inspiring guidance for teachers, parents, and facilitators who work with children.

In the past year, our Walking Waters program was an unqualified success. Uniting indigenous and settler students from Sheshegwaning First Nation and C. C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay, we took groups on water walks to find and engage with the water in our community. In the winter months this entailed snowshoeing on the lake, where the students watched, listened, thought and talked about their experiences. Bookends of smudging, drumming, and teachings from local elders created context for the movement. A rich output of drawings, photos, and videos resulted.

Our longest-lasting contribution to the land is undoubtedly our outdoor sculptures, most notably the Billings Connections trail, which garnered us and our partners a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award in 2017. Ten sculptures and 32 historical interpretive plaques dot the land along the Kagawong River and the main street of town, inviting visitors to partake of a deeper conversation and understanding about the complexities of Truth and Reconciliation.

If you’re interested to learn more, we hope you’ll visit our website, and maybe even plan to come to the Elemental Festival this year! September 26-29, 2019.

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