In 2009, approximately over 20 representatives of groups involved with the production, presentation, and creation of performing arts in the Haliburton Highlands met to explore how performing arts groups might more effectively work together for their mutual benefit.

In March 2010, this group coalesced as Highlands Performing Arts (HPA) and did some work to develop a logo, branding and a website www.highlandsperformingarts.ca to highlight performing arts in the Haliburton Highlands – Dance, Music, Theatre and Film & Media Arts.

The challenges facing rural performing arts organizations are different than for organizations in urban areas, but the differences have not often been understood by key funding agencies and supporting organizations. For example, most urban performing arts organizations are run by professional staff, and rural groups are run by volunteers. Urban groups have access to a much larger pool of corporate sponsors and individual donors. They also have access to a wider variety of venues and technical resources. As a consequence, rural areas often face challenges accessing resources. At the same time, there is growing evidence that rural performing arts organizations have unique advantages, which, if they were nurtured and given proper recognition, could invigorate the art forms, promote healthy communities and contribute to economic development.

In October 2011, the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands hosted a meeting with HPA, a regional program officer from Canadian Heritage, and the executive director of CCI Ontario Presenters Network to discuss ways to support the performing arts in rural areas. The meeting proved successful, and all were impressed with the amount of collaboration and cooperation in play among the performing arts sectors in Haliburton County. Those involved felt that HPA was well positioned to consider developing an event at which other rural performing arts creators, producers and presenters could get together and explore their challenges, best practices, and opportunities in depth. The idea was to develop the skeleton of a network for continued performing arts communication and collaboration. A working committee was struck and met several times to further develop the idea. The vision evolved into a 4-day Symposium in Haliburton County in April 2014 that will bring together rural creators, producers, and presenters from Central Ontario, Eastern Ontario, and even further afield in order to share experience and expertise on how to grow and sustain the performing arts in rural settings.

This working group formed officially under the auspices of the Haliburton County Community Co-operative as the Symposium for the Rural Performing Arts Working Group.

This group was comprised of:

Lesley English, Chair, General Manager, Forest Festival
Chris Lynd, Chair, Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands
Fay Martin & Michael Fay, Conjurors of County Town
Jim Blake, Chair, Dusk Dances Haliburton
Barrie Martin, President, Haliburton County Folk Society
Tammy Rea, Principal, Sticks and Stones Productions and Those Other Movies
Sean Pennylegion, The Forest Festival and Haliburton County Folk Society
Jack Brezina, Highlands Summer Festival
Rachel Gillooly, SPARC Symposium 2014 coordinator

Collaborating partners were the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands, Conjurors of County Town, Highlands Summer Festival, Dusk Dances Haliburton, Forest Festival, Haliburton County Folk Society, Sticks and Stones Media Productions, Those Other Movies, and Fleming College – Haliburton School of the Arts.

The first of its kind in Canada, the SPARC Symposium focused on the business of performing arts in a rural setting, and featured three streams of exploration – creation, production and presentation – with a focus on four broad sectors of the performing arts – dance, theatre, music and media arts.

The 2014 SPARC Symposium (click here for the comprehensive, media-rich SPARC |Symposium Magazine) took place on April 24-27. 139 delegates registered to attend and participate (including 11 partner-organizing committee members). Although the majority of delegates were from Ontario (117), participants from British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Scotland and the USA also attended.

The 2014 SPARC Symposium provided a stage that shone a spotlight on the unique opportunities and challenges faced by those who create, produce or present the performing arts in rural settings, the work that is taking place and the need to profile rural performance art.

AOTFVERTcolourt the 2014 SPARC Symposium, MPP Laurie Scott announced funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for $105,400 for SPARC through collaborative partner the Haliburton County Community Co-operative. This funding allowed SPARC to support over 15 Youth from across Ontario to attend and participate in the Youth Caucus at the Symposium (click here for the comprehensive, media-rich SPARC Youth Magazine). It also gave SPARC the opportunity to explore the formation of a Rural Arts Performing Network by providing financial support for a one-year network coordinator position and a Network Summit.

Following the 2014 SPARC symposium, a Network Steering Committee was formed to explore and implement the formation of a rural performing arts network.

Members of the Network Steering Committee:

Chris Lynd, Chair of the SPARC Network, secretary of the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands
Rachel Gillooly, SPARC Symposium coordinator
Lesley English, General Manager, Forest Festival
Fay Martin & Michael Fay, Conjurors of County Town
Jim Blake, Chair, Dusk Dances Haliburton
Barrie Martin, President, Haliburton County Folk Society
Tammy Rea, Principal, Sticks and Stones Productions and Those Other Movies
Amanda Virtanen, Director of Haliburton County Tourism

The Haliburton County Community Co-operative collaborated with partner, the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands to provide administrative support and office space to house the SPARC Network.

Co-op logo colour          Arts Logo colour

Elisha Barlow was appointed by the Network Steering Committee as Network Coordinator. Elisha previously worked at Fleming College – Haliburton School of The Arts and served as the Youth Facilitator at SPARC’s Symposium. Visit here for the media release.

On November 14th-16th,  the Network Summit took place in the Haliburton Highlands at the lovely Bonnie View Inn.

SPARC Summit from Sticks and Stones Productions on Vimeo.

SPARC invites all those who want to be kept informed and get involved to join SPARC’s New Online Network, “Like” SPARC on Facebook, “Follow” us on Twitter and Instagram, as well as join the SPARC Forum and subscribe to our mailing list.  Building a rural performing arts network is based on our common rural values – community, collaboration and communication – and we can’t do it without you.

For more information on the SPARC’s next steps, visit News.