From Typical Country Hockey Kid to Emerging Artist

By SPARC Youth Blogger Darian Willis-Maddock

Have you ever wondered where to find local, young artistic and creative talent in your rural community? Have you ever considered checking at your local arena?  What could a young typical country hockey kid have to do with the arts? Well, let me tell you my story.

As a young artist growing up in the rural area of the Haliburton Highlands, I was exposed to lots of different things, but I was especially directed towards activities like hockey, basketball and other sports. In my home town everyone really prides themselves with our athletic culture. I really love that our community, and most rural communities, have this passion, but I later discovered in my high-school years that there is another component to our community that often gets put on the back burner –  the arts!


 a headshot of Darian Willis-Maddock. He wears a dark spots coat over a white t-shirt. His hair is short and he looks directly at the camera.

Image Description – a headshot of Darian Willis-Maddock. He wears a dark spots coat over a white t-shirt. His hair is short and he looks directly at the camera.


When I was in elementary school, I hated the thought of anything to do with the arts!  Whether it was visual art or drama or even music, I dreaded going to those classes, and in rural schools I don’t think this was an isolated case. All throughout elementary grades my friends and I despised the arts, but once we hit high-school, for most of us, the narrative changed. In Ontario you are required to take an arts credit in grade nine, so I joined drama and I quickly realized… I actually like this!  I apparently had a hidden talent that I never knew I had. I loved to be in front of people, to tell stories and playing different characters. In my grade nine year I received the junior drama award and my career in the arts confidently grew from there!

In the summer when I was fifteen, I decided to try guitar class instead of drama, and once again, surprised… I fell in love with music. Music became my favorite pastime outside of hockey. I sat in my room for hours practicing songs and learning chords. In grade ten I met Greg Sadlier who was doing various arts education programs at my school, and he saw a lot of artistic potential in me. That  summer I was asked to  join his  organization Camexicanus as their assistant director.  Camexicanus is a non-profit organization that connects rural youth artists around all North America and Central America. During my time working for Camexicanus I have learned incredible amounts about myself as an artist and I have  fallen more and more in love with the arts as a whole. Last summer we toured Northern Ontario and visited a town that really struck me, a small town called Wawa- there’s a lot more to it than just “the goose”! In this past year getting to know Wawa I have met so many passionate young artists that are struggling to find their way due to the same roadblocks that all rural artists face. I have learned that it is a common theme for rural artists to experience challenges, such as not having enough public support and not having proper funding.


Two white males stand together holding a sign for Camexicanus. There is a car behind them

Image Description: Darian stands with Greg Sadlier.They hold a sign for Camexicanus Backroad Arts Collective. They are both smiling.


These types of issues are enormous “show stoppers” for young artists in rural areas. It usually begins with a lack of interest due to the lack of normalcy the arts have in rural communities. Often in rural communities such as Haliburton and Wawa there is a  stigma that the arts are reserved for retired folk and cottagers, but my own experience proves that this is simply not true! Once young artists can realize their initial potential, they quickly run into yet another roadblock. Rural communities (or other levels of government) do not invest heavily in local arts and culture. There are very few significant arts programs/facilities that are able to be funded by the municipal governments for kids. Without these spaces where youth can grow and feel safe to pursue their art, they will struggle to become accomplished artists or feel good about themselves and be proud of who they are and what they create.

On a larger scale I have also learned that there are a lot of artists in my home town of Halliburton that I didn’t even know about!  Artists that are great mentors for youth and young adults. I have come to believe that the arts in small towns like mine and Wawa are not normalized enough. For youth like myself, who have hidden passions and a love for the arts, it is so important that we are exposed to it from an early age. I consider myself very fortunate to have been surrounded with such amazing artists and role models, and my passion is to help bring more attention to rural arts so that other kids like me can have life changing opportunities. As adult artists allow me to ask on behalf of all the hidden, rural youth to reach out within your own communities and find all of the young creators. The arts have changed the life path of this country, hockey kid and I believe it can change it for so many more!

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