Ghost Light Stays On

A new blog by SPARC Guest Blogger, Denise Lysak.

On stages all across Ontario, ghost lights are on.  Plawyrights, storytellers, actors, musicians, comedians, masters of marionettes, and, so many more #stayhome as COVID-19 – a coronavirus threatens the lives of many.  

A ghost light is a small, single bulbed light usually a floor lamp of some sort, that shines on the dark stage throughout the night. It is both practical and mystical. There are many crooks and crannies in theatre spaces. And, trip hazards abound, including orchestra pits and false bottom floors. It is best to keep the spaces lit and on more than one occasion, you will hear theatre techs, grips and gaffers – telling the last one to leave for the night, “to turn on the ghost light”.  

For others, the ghost light takes on a more, mysterious meaning. If it is true that every theatre has a ghost, then the ghost light illuminates and defines the shadowy world that people from our past inhabit. According to Playbill.com, it is said that the Palace Theatre is one of the most haunted theatres on Broadway.  There is an old Masonic lodge in Winnipeg – on the corner of Ellice and Donald – that has been home to many a theatre production and it is known to be haunted by a ghost. More than a century ago, one of Canada’s largest unsolved mysteries occurred. Theatre tycoon Ambrose Small, who owned The Grand London and many other Canadian theatres, sold his empire, deposited the money in the bank, and then disappeared. Eerie encounters with this grand ghost continue and the ghost of Ambrose Small has been seen as he continues to haunt The Grand Theatre, in London, Ontario to this day. Whether it is fact or fiction, the tradition lives on.  And, as emergency measures and shelter in place orders mark these trying times, ghost lights stay on.

In the heart of Ontario’s bread basket, The Blyth Festival has postponed its season but has not yet cancelled any of its shows, the first of which is scheduled to open June 10, with the world premiere of Airborne: The Life and Legacy of Lorne Bray.  Port Stanley Festival Theatre postponed its first two shows of the season, The Crooner Show (May 19-23) and A Legal Alien (May 26-30).

The list goes on. The Stratford Festival has suspended its 2020 season indefinitely.  The Shaw Festival has now cancelled all events until after June 30th as the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake extends its state of emergency and ban on all public events and meetings. The curtain has also fallen on smaller outdoor summer music festivals including The Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls and the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in Nestor Falls, far off the beaten path in northwestern Ontario.  

The revenues lost from non-existent ticket sales, fundraisers, and membership drives may prove to be insurmountable for many festivals, theatre, galleries and museums. Tourism dollars will not be flowing and the ripple effect will be felt at lodges, resorts, restaurants, and retail shoppes from James Bay to Point Pelee and all places in between. The livelihoods of artists, musicians, painters, ticket takers, and arts practitioners lay in the balance. 

As not-for-profit organizations and people pivot, stories of wardrobe mistresses making masks and sewing garments for front-line workers and musicians streaming live online are coming to light. And, even in the midst of a global health pandemic, we are all connected. To something bigger than ourselves. To causes and challenges that were only known by generations before us.  Times have changed. Are we all standing at the portal? In the days before COVID-19, this was a familiar hymn heard at New Year’s and a song of praise and worship.  

Today, Standing at the Portal represents a before and after: pre-COVID and the new normal. For now, we are all striving to find a new rhythm. To navigate uncharted waters, with ways and means seldom called upon before. When will musicians play live onstage again?  When will actors and actresses leave small gifts in dressing rooms, just before they take their places to perform beloved classics or world premieres?  When will festivals occupy city spaces, open fields and forested glens – connecting people to places again? Only when we turn off the last ghost light…

 

 

How COVID-19 Has Impacted 4th Line Theatre

Kim Blackwell, Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre, shares how COVID-19 has impacted their season.

It was so unfathomable to imagine on March 8th of this year that the public reading we held at the Peterborough Museum and Archives would be the last in-person art presentation that 4th Line Theatre would be doing for the foreseeable future. We ended the public reading of D’Arcy Jenish’s new work The Tilco Strike and the audience present was so excited by the excerpt public reading we had presented. Everyone dispersed and I went off on a planned family vacation early in the morning of March 10th. And of course by March 12th the entire world had been turned upside down.  Things changed radically for the entire world, in almost an instant. 

For me, the initial stress was getting my family safely home from out of country and then doing the two-week isolation period was only the beginning of a stressful realization that the theatre, where I have spent the past 26 seasons would be altered drastically for the near future.  After that initial personal stress, it was time to regroup with the administrative staff and Board of Directors of the theatre and me wondering, “Is it possible that we might not have a 2020 summer season at 4th Line.” 

Since theatre was now closed, we were doing these meetings and musings online over Zoom. We were madly learning the technology and trying to keep in touch. The immediate focus of the theatre administration and the Board of Directors was the financial health of the organizations. We all know that eventually COVID-19 will end and people will be free to move around freely and meet in groups. And we have to ensure that our arts organization was still around to welcome the people back. There was a period of grieving I had to do, as I came to terms with the possibility that the theatre would not have all or part of its summer season. After 28 seasons of producing large-scale new Canadian plays, it caused me incredible sadness to imagine that the 29th season might not happen. As I came to terms with this very real possibility, so many other ideas of how to engage with our audiences started to percolate. 

At the heart of what we do at 4th Line Theatre, is an exploration of the relationship between art and audience. It is at the core of the art practice at 4th Line. For me, the idea of missing even one season of this delicate and important interaction was too much to imagine. And so we started to devise ideas for continuing to engage with our audiences remotely. Equally as important for me is to look to our artists, most of whom are now without work and think of how to engage them as well. 

We decided to start slowly, with a series of informal artist talks online in the month of May. We have a program at 4th Line entitled the Epic Women’s Directing project, which focuses on training and giving directing opportunities to women of all levels of directing experience. The program offers women directors the chance to work in the epic milieu of our theatre with large casts of actors in the outdoor setting. For several years, I have wanted to create a podcast series, talking to women theatre leaders about their lives, careers and artistic ethos. But like so many ideas you have as a leader of a busy arts organization – there was never enough time to set-up such a podcast series. And now suddenly we have nothing but time, so the idea of finally developing the series as a weekly live online chat was borne. We also wanted to try online readings of plays as an offering for our audiences. The challenge with readings, specifically of our plays, is that there are so many characters and actors in a typical 4th Line play. It would be a real challenge to do an online reading with say 25 actors. We wanted to try something smaller and so have gone with a one-woman show as our first offering. And we are also exploring an online development workshop for a script in development. We will be putting together 12 or 13 actors for a 1/2 day reading/workshop of our new Halloween play. 

We continue to look across the globe at what other theatre companies are doing online to engage theatre audiences for ideas which might be applicable to 4th Line. Many large companies have excellent video of their plays and are making them available online. We simply have never had the financial resources to pay for excellent quality video recordings of our productions. But it is interesting to imagine capturing our plays in this manner going forward. We will also be exploring online workshops for the general public including acting, directing and playwriting – to name only three. There are many possible electronic engagement activities we will be creating over the weeks and months to come, especially if our entire 2020 season is shuttered. 

The biggest challenge with creating online content is figuring out if there is a way to monetize the content. Presently, most artist content being offered online is being offered free of charge. I am not sure that audiences are interested in paywalls for our type of artistic content. It will be important to observe how it goes for the first companies who try to get audiences to pay for access to online content. For now, at 4th Line Theatre, we wait and watch the rest of the world for best practices and we dream of a time when we can congregate again in large groups.

 

Gone Fishing with Lake of the Woods Brewing Company

A blog post about Community Collaboration by Denise Lysak (SPARC Guest Blogger)

Where the road ends is where this adventure begins.  Here in northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country, 14, 522 islands and more than 100,000km of shoreline create the quintessential winterscape for finding the honey hole, fishing for perch, pike, crappie, whitefish, trout, small mouth bass, lake trout, walleye and reeling in the ever, elusive musky best enjoyed with catch and release. Warm sun rays and bright, blue skies are the perfect foil to cold, weather days opening every door to exploration and discovery. 

 Photo Courtesy of Tom Thomson Photography

Collaborations are central in the creation of arts and cultural activities in rural and remote communities.  As an arts practitioner, I am no stranger how performing arts organizations and artists of all disciplines can at times exist in silos and for good reasons. There is always a project to develop, there is always funding to be sourced, and there are always reports to be filed. The very idea of making room for a “collaboration” can be daunting.  But when you do, amazing outcomes are just a few “more” steps away. This collaboration is between the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, as the hosts of the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency program and Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, a local and regional craft brewing company that acts in spirited ways to carve out new opportunities.

Photo Courtesy of Shawn Bailey

Out here the crisp and cool ales, lagers and stouts are brought to you by Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, a local, craft brewery named after the fabled, and very same Lake of the Woods that you find yourself walking on. Yes, it is springtime and we invite you to find your true north on this hard water heaven, before it all melts away.  Party kegs of Forgotten Lake Blueberry Ale, Sultana Gold, and Lakeside are the perfect pairing for hearty bread bowls filled with hot and smoky chili.  Crafting these cultural experiences by encouraging collegial conversations around open campfires – best enjoyed with food and drink are community builders and leaders. They have names and families. They are serious entrepreneurs, thoughtful professors, aspiring students and what they all have in common is an inspired love and passion for Lake of the Woods – connecting people to nature. 

Adding colour to the icy white canvas are people of all shapes and sizes, covered from head to toe, with pom pom toques and Sorel boots. Giving shades of grey to the art at play are black sleighs filled with the essentials: orange ice fishing bait minnow scoop, Canadian Tire 5-gallon pails, augers, HotHands hand warmers, 2-litre milk cartons filled with minnows in cold water, mittens, scarves, and parkas. 

Pack your coolers, start the snow machines, and blaze a trail across the frozen water heaven that is Lake of the Woods in winter and spring. What better place to gather than in an ice-hut, crafted with pride and passion by Faculty of Architecture students from the University of Manitoba, under the tutelage of Professors Sinclair, Bailey, and Aquino. Digging deep and doing the work propelling the vision forward with the design/ build are the leaders of tomorrow, students from ED3 / AMP (Aquino) and ED4 (Boreal). Setting the stage for this partnership were Taras Manzie and Dee Lysak, from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company carrying out the progressive social impact investing policies of a craft brewery battling for the heart and soul of beer enthusiasts everywhere. 

The Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls has teamed up with Lake of the Woods Brewing Company to re-imagine the use of the tiny ice-huts – and, in this way the tiny structures are of benefit to artists from near and far away. The tiny shelters will serve a dual purpose and in the summertime, artists participating in the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, hosted by the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, will use them as glamping quarters.  These tiny shelters provide accommodation for the artist-in-residency program and in this capacity, fulfill a much-needed niche market.  Since 2016, nineteen professional and practicing artists have been a part of the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency.  This multi-disciplinary program has invited, through a merit-based open call for applications, performing arts, playwrights, poets, and potters (just to name a few) to further develop their art form. 

The Bridge & Falls Creative Residency has invited three artists to participate in the summer series in 2020.  They are chosen by a jury, following an open call for applications. These same artists will use tiny studios, during the day to advance their respective portfolios, and in the evening the TINY ICE HUTS will provide shelter and sleeping quarters. As a small Township in rural and remote northwestern Ontario, and I am sure this is true for many others, there is not infinite dollars to advance every programming goal.  Collaborations can play a pivotal role in determining if a project moves from the proverbial “page to the stage”.  The Bridge & Falls Creative Residency program is stronger because of the support and in-kind sponsorship (use of the tiny ice huts as shelter studios) of the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company.  

Glamping in the tiny ice huts is meant to create a symbiotic relationship with the great outdoors. This is the nexus where art and architecture meet. To learn more about the multi-disciplinary, self-guided artist-in-residency program, please visit createinsnnf.ca

Professor Aquino adds, “the structures address the small in architecture. The project responds to the practical, experiential, and social dimensions of ice fishing on the Lake of the Woods. These propositions explored the possibilities of architecture within the context and program of ice fishing, adding new values that included the following design criteria: Gathering, Lightness, Recycling, the Simple, Branding, Maintenance, and Twinship or the conversation between the two huts as both different structures but resembling in nature and aesthetic appearance – two born as one. The projects focused on the full experience of ice fishing and the wholeness of the winter including the winter light, the ice, the atmosphere, the cold, the social life and the body.” 

Collaborations, both figuratively and literally create new trails to explore.   Collaborations serve to strengthen arts and cultural programming and I hope this inspires you to forge new partnerships and to build new external alliances that help to move your project forward.  

There is a new trail to explore and the invitation is only a click away. Follow Lake of the Woods Brewing Company as it heralds in a new era of impactful change. This little biggish brewery is proud to be Ontario’s northernmost brewery and how it creates and carves out authentic experiences in rural and remote places is commendable. So, in the spirit of cultural spaces the twin ice huts deliver on both the practical and philosophical levels. If you have never GONE FISHING on the ice, I encourage you to do so. And, if you are an artist, of any discipline, looking to further develop your art form, please consider the opportunity to join us, here in rural and remote northwestern Ontario in the summer of 2021. We can’t wait to say “hello”!

Postscript. Your next cultural experience is just a click away, to learn please visit www.lowbrewco.com

 

New Date for Symposium 2020

 

Important News Regarding SPARC Symposium 2020

It is with an overabundance of caution and concern for public safety that the SPARC Steering Committee and the SPARC Symposium Host Committee have decided to reschedule the SPARC Symposium 2020 due to the ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus).

While we are disappointed, we feel that our responsibility for the safety of our communities, attendees, volunteers, presenters and staff is of paramount importance. We hope that by rescheduling to a later date will help put attendees minds at ease, and create a renewed

environment to share, explore and celebrate performing arts in rural communities.

The rescheduled date for the SPARC Symposium 2020 will be October 22 – 25, 2020 at the Gathering Place by the Grand in Six Nations, ON. We hope that you can join us. If you have any questions, please contact the SPARC Symposium Coordinator at sparc@gatheringplacebythegrand.ca.

More information about the Symposium, including presenters and registration, can be found atwww.sparcperformingarts.com.

SPARC looks forward to celebrating with you in October 2020, as we work to connect creators, presenters, producers, and animators to sustain and grow the performing arts in rural and remote communities.

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Finding the Moments You Seek, Whatever That May Be

A blog post about the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival by Denise Lysak (SPARC Guest Blogger)

“This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon,” are lyrics from Walk on the Moon by Great Big Sea and words that bring us back to earlier days – when the world had it sights on outer space and the wonders of planets, stars and solar systems far, far away. Discovery and exploration and the nature of science helped define a generation of thinkers, engineers, astronauts and so much more. People on planet Earth, in lounges and sitting rooms everywhere, huddled together as spaceships touched down on orbiting globes and for many, those first images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and uttering the words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, are moments in time forever etched in our individual and collective memories.

I have been lucky enough to channel that same spirited energy, drive, and zeal for discovery while curating the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival for the past seven years. I do not do this alone and it all started with a bold resolution by Mayor & Council of the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. They have been our biggest fans and strongest advocates from day one. And, I would be remiss if I did not mention by name, a few key players: Wanda Kabel, Jeff Port, Mike Salvador, Jerry O’ Leary, Bill Thompson, Phil Hudson, Bill Stunden, Scott Cottam, Maureen Hanson, Bob Irvine, and Heather Gropp. They have all been instrumental in making the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival infinitely more possible. This cast of characters all pulls in the same direction and sets the stage for the return of the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in Nestor Falls, Ontario, Canada on August 21st and August 22nd, 2020.

I also trust that this blog will highlight how the Festival is a microcosm that exists within an ecosystem that has a much larger context and higher purpose. The Moose n’ Fiddle is but one outdoor summer music festival – a small dot in rural and remote northwestern Ontario and if you google “moose and fiddle” you will find it amongst a sea of others. In that good company, we proudly rest.

Who puts this festival on its feet? Who ensures its financial health? The short answer is the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. But there are others. The list of stakeholders continues to grow, as does the reach and profile of this “cool little festival at the lake”. Our supporters, donors and sponsors return year after year. The Festival has a healthy ratio of earned revenues (>50%) to government grants (30%) to donors/ sponsors (20%) and this helps ensure its viability. Creative economies and cultural tourism contribute to the greater good and not just on the weekend of the Festival itself: The ripple effects can be felt days, weeks, months and even years later. Here is one shining illustration of that tenet: One of the very first musical acts that we booked at the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival was the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir. In the very beginning, they did not have merchandise to sell to a now loyal and growing fanbase. In their third appearance at the Moose n’ Fiddle, they had some branded clothing, underwear to be exact, and we have endearing pictures of adoring fans wearing them as headbands and as outerwear. In their fourth appearance, the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir had boxes of EPs with them. It was a testament to their capacity to grow, to market, to promote, to brand…alongside of their incredible and unwavering talent. And, now here in 2020, they are part of #CBCMusic Spotlight Search. The video that is attached to their spotlight search is “Chekov’s Dog” and it is a crowd pleaser at the Moose n’ Fiddle and I am sure it will fast become even more famous now that it is on CBC. The Festival is a driving force that helps artists like the 10 that comprise the Fu Fu Chi Choir exist on a different plane.

As we get set to hum, sing and dance along with eight genre crushing acts – we honour the sometimes lonely world of the traveling musician. And, as we come back from the atmospheric highs, way beyond the clouds and touch down on terra firma – we are once again surrounded by the natural beauty and the great outdoors that is the eastern shores of Lake of the Woods. The Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival all happens under a canopy of towering white and red pines and along the water’s edge: a wilderness jewel where uniquely, Canadian crafters, wild life, loyal audiences, and spectacular musicians come together to stay and play awhile.

Before we hear the first notes sung by the opening act act, take a look around to see some familiar faces. The Moose n Fiddle brings and keeps the idea of crafters-of-all-sorts front and centre. The Black Oven Pizza Truck (Vermilion Bay, ON), Gropps’ Meats, and Iron & Clay from Sioux Narrows are back this year, bringing incredibly tasty wood-fired pizza, tempting street eats, and some of the best tea, coffee and sweet treats, on this side of the 49th parallel, to the back woods in Nestor Falls. And, our friends from Women’s Shelter Saakaate House (Kenora) return to share craft beer that is always, fresh, local and handcrafted from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, with some ciders and coolers to keep everyone happy and refreshed. We will partner, once again, with Leaning Tree Arts Council as they assemble an incredible array of local and regional crafters – some new to the Festival and some old friends. With the food trucks, craft beer tent, and Artisans Village we wrap the Festival experience with the care and commitment that comes from artists who have spent years mastering their craft.

We curate the Festival with local and regional crafters of all sorts. From the potters to the felters to the pizza makers and the craft beer enthusiasts. In this way, the Festival matters to the region, to the landscape that is rural and remote northwestern Ontario. We have dedicated volunteers coming back year after year, we have artists asking to perform, we have sponsors who are willing to give back and make a difference, we have community organizations who share of their time and expertise and in return, they share in the profits and proceeds from the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. Local shops, resorts, lodges, restaurants, and taprooms  stay open longer in the all too often too short tourist season and this in turn makes them more resilient, stronger, productive and profitable.

Keeping it all real are the musicians that have traveled from near and far to create this “cool little Festival” that is a little FOLK, a little INDIE, a little JAZZ, and a whole lot of fiddlin’ fun! Hello, to Sierra Noble, Little Miss Higgins, Black River Drifters, Siouxperboat, Belle Plaine, The Mad Trappers, Sarah Jane Scouten, Fred Penner, and The Slocan Ramblers.

Wait, there’s more! What makes the Moose n Fiddle really stand alone in the busy Festival scene? Here you can bring your Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), your cooler and your camping trailer! You can fish off a dock in the morning, enjoy the Festival all afternoon, and as the sun sets know that at the summer’s end, you have been a part of something bigger – something that happens in this great country, from sea, to sea, to shining sea. The audiences have grown with the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. From its very first year, the numbers have climbed upwards, in a true trajectory…from just shy of 300 in 2014 all the way to north of 1,100 in 2019. Each and every Festival-goer has their own story to tell. From the man who abandons his hunting party to sit a spell and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Moose n’ Fiddle to the family of three (four if you include Daisy, their golden retriever) who have come each and every year, never missing a beat. This same family of four now brings their whole block of friends (thirty something strong) from Winnipeg, Manitoba to camp for a week at beautiful Caliper Lake Provincial Park and take in the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival at the week’s end. Now, that is a nod to audience development.

Everything starts somewhere. And, the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival started out with three prodigious phone calls: the first went to Jessee Havey (at that time she was with the folk band, The Duhks), the second call went to Taras Manzie (President & CEO of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company who came on board as the first sponsor of the Festival and this little, biggish craft beer company is still with us today), and the third call went to Daniel Jordan with Red Moon Road. We have had the good luck to programme Red Moon Road (and some of their friends) for three of the seven festivals and they truly are supernovas.

Festivals are a curious thing. So many moving parts, from extraordinary stage managers and box office mavens (Kara, Brooke, Jess) to emcees (Patrick Kane and Woody Linton – are the two that move the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival from the opening act to the closing act), to supporters, sponsors, and funders, to volunteers – now numbering more than 40 strong. Not too long ago, we invited artists and audiences to come as strangers and now I am happy to say… they return and leave as friends. The Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in 2019, was reviewed by Roots Music Canada. It was a highlight of the Festival and the dispatches by Heather Kitching (Managing Editor) can be read here. On that note, I will sign off with a call to action – to come and see for yourself – what the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival is all about. There is so much to explore and experience, to inspire the moment you seek. Whatever that may be. To learn more, visit moosenfiddle.ca

At the Point of Convergence; A Meeting Place

Art by Alexandra Dvornikova

By Denise Lysak, Guest Blogger 

In the wilds of Northwestern Ontario, creative residencies dot the landscape with hundreds of miles in betwixt and between. Rural and remote places are creating new pathways for discovery and exploration as artists travel from near and far away to take deep dives into their artistic practices. Old logging roads are now being used by nemophilists and in these deep, dark woods – artists are finding themselves inspired by the great outdoors, surrounded by lakes, canopied forests, and rocks that have been here for hundreds of millions of years.

In 2016, the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency (BFCR) set down new roots in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. Since its inception, more than 20 artists have explored their artistic disciplines with time and space away from their usual environment and everyday life. Kindred spirits and soul friends best describe the artist-in-residency (AIR) programs that form a loop, a point of convergence with Whiteshell Provincial Park bordering the west, Quetico Provincial Park marking the southern border, Lake Superior demarcating the eastern end, and the programs in between are the AIRs in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, the City of Kenora, and the Experimental Lakes Area.

These artist-in-residencies provide a time of reflection, research, presentation and, when possible, production and community engagement. It is a complex system, not unlike the process of photosynthesis. AIR programs are not cookie cutter in nature. Some of the residencies are housed within larger institutions, others are part of museums, while some are hosted by municipalities. What the programs all have in common is that they exist in rural spaces, remote villages and small cities – deep in the heart of our natural environs.

The photo above is part of a new work in development by Ms Laura Malacart, who was an artist-in-residence with the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, summer series 2019. Laura Malacart calls London, England home and her sojourn across the big pond afforded the BFCR the opportunity to host their first ever artist from the United Kingdom! And, what a treat it was. There was a never-ending stream of consciousness that bubbled to the surface as Ms. Malacart explored, discovered, and created. Laura took full advantage of a small and very rural community and in the absolute quiet and solitude of a tiny “built” dedicated floating studio – she sought to create connections to history, heritage, the oppressed and the marginalized. She tackled the strangeness of a new land and the inhabitants, both wild and human, with a gusto. Her rare and spirited energy, lifted up new narratives and important conversations, all about our time – contextually connecting our community to the larger, global world. Wait there’s more…

In 2018, Falcon Trails Resort welcomed local artist and good friend, Chrissy Sie-Merritt as part of their Artist Residence Program. Chrissy runs South Moon Studio, an amazing artist-run space out of East Braintree, a neighbouring community. In Chrissy’s own words: “My intention when I arrived was to create a quiet space, connect with the land and allow images and ideas to come through. The quiet and peacefulness of Falcon Trails supported these intentions. Most artists are trying to create in those in-between moment of our busy lives. To be able to really step out of the busyness and into myself felt like the spark I needed to ignite my creative fire. Connecting with nature and that quiet within are my two main sources of inspiration and guidance. This truly was the perfect setting to settle into this process and explore. I had no ideas how much I needed this solitude, not just time to be creative but to really connect with my work and myself. It really was a treat to step away for awhile and be free to just simply paint.”

Chrissy Sie-Merritt: Photos from Falcon Trails Resort Artist Residence Program, Spring 2018

 

 

For many of the artists, the solitude that they seek is all here, in rural and remote Northwestern Ontario. The time and space afforded to the artists to focus on their work is balanced by natural inclinations to share their new experiences with the larger public. Many of the artists have engaged with community members through talkback sessions, open houses in the tiny studios, painting workshops, readings, and concerts. And, the response from the general public is always warm and welcoming with an eagerness to learn more about the artist and their art. Early on in the residency program, on a very, rainy day – more than 2 dozen people attending a folk art painting workshop by Tyler Boyle. While the rain came down in sheets outdoors, people of all ages, from 8 to 78 were warm and dry indoors, exploring a creative process individually and collectively. Moments like this, leave indelible marks and for all of the right reasons. The arts, in any form, help people connect: to a place and a people. An ambiguous aphorism, comes to mind. And, it has captured my attention for decades and decades. The towering giant and journalist Mr. Peter Gzowski once challenged his listeners to complete a saying “As Canadian as…” and Heather Scott answered that call with “…possible under the circumstances.”

I truly believe the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, the newly minted residency at the Experimental Lakes Area, the Lighthouse Residency on Lake Superior, et al that form the loop in Northwestern Ontario are products of this ubiquitous saying “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.” There is a beauty and a vague-ness that together captures exactly what our vast nation is all about. We celebrate the spirit of the true north, strong and free with artists from Canada and beyond our borders. That’s enough. Our expectations are not too high. We expect to manage rather than lead, except in the sport of hockey.

If you are looking for a meeting place, an artist-in-residency program to further your aims, aspirations, and artistic goals – then google AIRs in northwestern Ontario. Here you will most certainly find the endless potential to spur on your creative impulses and fuel your artistic endeavours.

 

Stratford Arts and Culture Collective : Adventures in Feasibility Studies

The following post was written by Ron Dodson, a member of the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective, who received support through SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program as they completed a feasibility study.  

To learn more about the projects the CCI program has supported, log into the Member Network site, and click on “Collaborative Community Initiatives” in the menu on the left! 


Taking on a feasibility study is a major undertaking, as the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective found out. It involves a lot of preparation, clarity and commitment, as the project moves from the “How do we know if this project is a good idea?” stage, to the “Now we know we are on the right track” results.

That was the general evolution of the process which the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective followed. Of course, each project is slightly different, and depends greatly on the project’s scope, the people involved, finances and many other factors. Our situation was unique to us, but generally similar to many others, we suspect.

The Stratford Arts and Culture Collective (SACC) is an umbrella organization that comprises 30 community-based arts groups of all kinds (community-based, semi-professional, professional) in all arts genres: theatre, dance, music, visual arts, media, interdisciplinary arts and emerging arts – in fact, all of Stratford’s arts groups are members, except for the Stratford Festival, which is very supportive in other ways. Our goal is to create an arts hub for community use, where local and touring talent feel equally at home and where the theme “Healthy, Wellness and Learning” unites its programming on many levels.

This idea surfaced in late October 2016, and a steering committee of interested supporters has been working quietly in the background to create the right conditions for its development. It was logical that in the past year, our idea needed to be tested: is there enough interest in our arts-rich city to build and support an arts and culture centre? A feasibility study is the best way to find out.

We did a lot of groundwork and asked a lot of questions. Who funds such studies? What conditions are placed on them? Who would do the work? A lead partner was found. In our case, it was Stratford Summer Music, which volunteered to administer the funds, should we be so fortunate to get them. Several funding sources were identified: the Ontario Trillium Foundation would supply the bulk of the funds, plus SPARC, and the City of Stratford. Some of our own budget would top off the needed funding.

After identifying and pre-qualifying several consultants, a Request for Proposals (RFP) was written and distributed. The proposals we received were uniformly excellent! They were scored against pre-established criteria, and the winner was identified: TCI Management Consultants of Toronto. They had provided a thoroughly professional response to the RFP with three levels of inquiry, a multi-faceted line of research and clear deliverables.

After a very long delay through no fault of our own, which caused the SPARC funding to expire and ultimately be reduced, we found out in mid-July that the Trillium application was successful. TCI got down to work in early September and wound up the project at the end of November, 2019. The final report (less the appendices, because of privacy issues) has been posted on our website: stratfordacc.com. We invite you to take a look. Contact info for the SACC is also posted there.

The answers we got to our questions about viability and sustainability were answered in clear, contextualized form. We found out a lot more about our own community and each of our member organizations. The proposed Arts and Culture idea has legs! We are moving to the next level of development, finding out which of two possible sites has the better chance of serving the community’s needs. We have the confidence in ourselves that we can do the work, and we have the backing of a dispassionate, well-organized and well-researched study.

We are very grateful to SPARC for being a partner in this work. Without SPARC, it would have been much more difficult to leverage money from Trillium and others. The work increased the capacity of our organization to work collaboratively and to move such a large project to the next level of development. As a result, we look forward to building the Centre as soon as possible.

Collaborative Event Creation as a Model for Living in a Time of Crisis

The following post was written by Emily Pearlman, about ‘Almonte Lights the Way’; one of the projects that received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program in June 2019.  

To learn more about the projects the CCI program has supported, log into the Member Network site, and click on “Collaborative Community Initiatives” in the menu on the left! 


“We invite you here to see some people who have never met before, working to build a thing they have never seen before”

Collaborative Event Creation as a Model for Living in a Time of Crisis

On October 17th and 18th, 40 Mississippi Mills community members age 10 – 65 assembled in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum to perform 9 short shows about the Climate Crisis. Of these shows, 4 were scripts from the international Climate Change Theatre Action project, and 5 were new works created for the event. The performance ended with a rousing call for participation in our community, and then the audience was let loose in a room to share delicious snacks, and chat with local environmental organizations to see how they could get involved in existing projects, and seed new ideas. With the collaboration of 14 local environmental organizations and 5 contributing business, we sold out both nights and raised over $2000 for local tree planting initiatives.

The project sprang from a desire to build something as a group that activated intergenerational dialogue on the climate crisis, with a focus on creating something rather than stirring up existing divisions and anxieties. We chose stubbornly celebrating a sustainable future as the event tagline, as an invitation to collaborate, but it wasn’t until the event was over that I started to understand what that meant.

The pieces, many of which were written and performed by young people, did not offer solutions to climate change, but acknowledged that it was messy complicated business that affects our relationships with other people as well as the planet. “I never knew they felt that” whispered one audience member after one piece saw a young actor ask her mother “But Mom, if we are the future, what are we supposed to do?” The question hit hard. What is anyone supposed to do?

When I look back at the form of the event however, (5 directors who had never met, working with small groups of people who had also not always met), I start to see it as a collaborative model for co-existing in a time a crisis . The participants, did not know what the bigger piece would be until it happened in real time. The event allowed participants to see their contribution was not the whole event, but rather an integral note in the song of the evening. For the audience, watching community members of all ages who have never met before, come together to build something from scratch, presented a working model of the benefits of a community mindset to “Build up” rather than “Tear down.” I believe this mindset is key if you want to be able to get out of bed when the world is on fire – you can decide that your actions won’t make a difference, or you can decide that they are part of a much bigger puzzle that may take a long time before it takes shape.

I do not have the signing authority to make policy changes to benefit the future. But in this project, I identified some guiding principles that I think are useful to any group looking to harness the energy of people to build change.

Everyone is invited. Let every step in the process be an open call that invites people to self identify as interested. If they have mentioned they are interested, but then don’t show up, call them back (but just once), to give them faith in their ability.

BUT ALSO

No one is obligated. Give people graceful outs if they offer to participate, but then find they can’t. People are busy. People have ambitions that reach beyond their available hours. People are doing the best they can. It’s not about you.

Notice people’s skills. It is way easier to ask for participation from a person if you have a specific thing you would like them to do. Asking “Anyone want to help” is never as effective as “Hey Julie, based on your great eye, do you think you would be willing to take photos?” This requires attending and making spaces to listen and ask questions about people’s interests. Our auditions, were a two hour long affair where we hung out and chatted as well as read scripts – it was not an exercise in figuring out who was in or who was out, but a place to imagine how we could use the skills of everyone who showed up.

If you trust people, and act like you trust them, they will rise to the occasion. At the auditions we mentioned that some of the pieces were yet to be created. A 17 year old auditioner responded by saying “I have always wanted to write a play. Can I?” The collective of directors debated whether this was a good idea or not – “We don’t know this person! We want to make good art! Can we trust her to deliver?” We ultimately said yes. Her piece was a hit. But also, it could have not been and it would have been fine. If you have enough folks working towards a goal, you also have the people power to cover if people need to drop the ball. The best way to build a room that has more ball picker-uppers than ball droppers? Remind everyone of their ability to pick up the ball

Jason attends Creefest 2019

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

Part of my role as the Northern Outreach Coordinator is trying to understand, as best I can, the conditions that Northern artists work in. Therefore when I was planning a networking trip this summer, I wanted to experience exactly what it takes to live as an artist, producer, presenter or animator in truly rural and remote communities. I chose to visit Kashechewan: The host of Creefest 2019.

Creefest is an annual festival that travels around the different communities of the James Bay area. Kash is the definition of a Northern Ontario community – another 50 minute plane ride and I would have been in Peawanuck, the northern most community in Ontario. It is so far up into the wilderness that some refer to it as “Extreme Northern Ontario”

To give you an idea of the travel required to reach Kashechewan… I jumped into my car in Manitoulin on a Wednesday morning. I drove for 5 hours to Timmins (where I met with a few artists) and then continued to Cochrane (another hour and 20 minutes North). From Cochrane I needed to wait for the one train that runs between Cochrane and Moosonee; a 5 hour train ride. In Moosonee I headed to the airport where I boarded a plane that went to Fort Albany, picked up some additional passengers and then dropped me off in Kashechewan. Just under 14 hours of traveling with one overnight stay on the way. For context, it took about 13 hours to travel from Toronto to Oslo, Norway where I was 3 weeks earlier!

To give you an idea of the struggles that our fellow Northern Ontario residents have to deal with everyday – without even considering the travel required to go to work or school – in Kashechewan, Hydro Dams and deforestation cause severe flooding; E. Coli is a large problem in the community and the chlorine used to fight it causes skin dryness that contributes to itching and worsens conditions like eczema. Since 2004 the community has also experienced regular flooding and water contamination when ice melts on the Albany River. Members of the community were evacuated for six consecutive years before 2019. I had been worried that Creefest might not happen because of flooding, however the resilience of this community is apparent: Creefest was amazing!

Breakfast was served at 9am each morning and was immediately followed up with programming. Some of the daily programming included hand drum making, Cree syllabics, leather mitt making, beading, fish filleting and prep for cooking, goose feather plucking, cleaning, prep and cooking, moose meat prep and cooking. All of the food cooked on a daily basis was shared with the community, which has a population of around 2500; around 700-1000 of them attending the festival everyday.

I saw all of the amazing bands and musicians perform over my 4-day 3-night stay (many of them rotated around each night and were featured more than once). Some of the headliners were stars in their own right in the Cree Community. Thursday featured Midnight Shine, a band from Attawapiskat. The lead singer, Adrian Sutherland, was recently featured in an article about the water crisis in his home community. It is a statement of his resilience and determination to spread inspiration to his community to overcome any obstacle in the way to follow his dreams. The band’s sound seamlessly mixes roots, classic and modern rock with touches of Mushkegowuk Cree. Crafting a musical soundscape that gives a glimpse into their remote landscape, they continue to push musical boundaries and boldly take new strides, while staying true to who they are and where they come from. Mr. Sutherland also speaks his language fluently and adds this into his music. He does a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” that features verses translated into Cree. Quite the exciting performance!

Friday night featured The Relic Kings, a three-piece rock band based in Moose Factory. In May of 2018 the group travelled to Germany for their first performance outside of Canada, and that same month they won Rock Album of the Year at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards! They also had the opportunity to open for The Sheepdogs, Monster Truck, and The Trews: Three of Canada’s top touring rock acts! In October their single “The Drive” hit #1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown.

The Saturday night headliner was none other than Randy Bachman. I love the way he explains how he wrote some of his songs just before performing them. It adds to the feeling you get when you listen to the songs as well as gives you a better understanding of them. He also brought his son, Talmage Charles Robert “Tal” Bachman to the stage with him. Both gentlemen impressed the crowd and embraced them with several phrases in Cree, which I found admirable.

Sunday was set for a Powwow and I was on a plane at 4:30 pm, starting to make my trip back home.

I had a wonderful time on this trip. I was fortunate to know that, even though the further North you go, the colder the weather gets, the warmer the people are. Even though I was walking into several communities I had never been into and did not know anyone in, I was welcomed and quickly lost the initial homesickness that is always involved.

With this trip, I gained a full understanding of many struggles and challenges that those in Northern communities face. There are obvious needs that we can address and areas we can provide assistance, resources or at least lend knowledge to.

 

Jason attends Riddu Riddu: An International Indigenous Festival

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

“Would you like to attend the Riddu Riddu Festival next month?”

As a new presenter, I’m starting to get more of these opportunities lately; Nipissing for the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance Intertribal Gathering, Mississauga for Folk Music Ontario, and Montreal for Folk Alliance International – all conferences I have been invited to or recommended to attend by newly made contacts such as Cynthia Lickers-Sage, Kerry Swanson and David Barnard. So when Cynthia sent a message asking me if I would like to take part in another cool opportunity, I said yes before even thinking about it. It wasn’t until 4 days later that I clicked on the attached link and saw that Riddu Riddu is an International Indigenous Festival — in Norway!

So here we go: Toronto to Copenhagen, Denmark, to Oslo, Norway, and then one more flight. Once you are about to land in Tromsø, you can see the snow in the mountains as you fly into the small city of 75,000. The next morning we head into Kåfjord. Picture a Mountainesque village of 600 people where the melting ice on top of each surrounding mountaintop pours ice-cold glacier fresh water streams from all sides. At one point, several of the streams combine to form a wondrous and mystical river that crosses through the middle of the valley with houses surrounding the ridges. At the North end of the village in the valley of brush, lilacs, and yellow birch trees, sits a welcome/community centre and library. Down into the lower grounds sits a 30×20 MainStage, a smaller 15×15, and several breakout and workshop tents. On the South side of the grounds there is a tandem Nordic Tent with Buffy Saint Marie painted on the side!

The opening night on Thursday is dedicated to the Children’s Festival. I find out later that the Children’s Festival started as a small side event to keep the organizers’ children occupied for the weekend: Now it has grown so big that people from all over the country bring their children and dedicate their whole trip to this Festival! Hundreds of children are spread out at stations learning life skills. Some are building traditional huts; debarking logs and hearing lessons and stories of the importance of each process. The style, structure and materials are very similar to a wigwam – the traditional lodge of the Anishnabek. There are workshops on gardening, storytelling, food preparation, fabric weaving and rope making. Of course, in the centre of all of this, sits a Children’s Stage featuring Indigenous performers from all across the Northern half of the planet! Also present were some traditional Tibetan musicians! Their throat singing style is almost similar to what you would hear in the Northern parts of this country.

Friday featured some Nordic Sami musicians. The Sami people, much like the Indigenous peoples of Canada, are still on their way out of the colonization period. While there were not many Sami performers presented, it was great to hear that the amount presented every year is growing as more and more Sami are becoming inspired to discover and follow their roots.

Saturday was the final day of the Festival. I took in the “Northern People of the Year” featuring the Inuit from Nunavut. Their songs were extremely powerful, ending with throat singing and chanting over an acoustic guitar and a spoken word piece that hit very close to home. It included pieces and points of residential school and assimilation. Many of the Canadian Indigenous attendees were brought to tears, including myself, from the beauty and emotion of the moving melodies and the heart-breaking reminder of history. After sharing some traditional seal stew, a delicacy of the Inuit, the delegate group moved into the Artist Cafe and met with some of the previous organizers of Riddu Riddu. It was inspiring to hear how the early years were an ongoing struggle of locating source funding, maintaining volunteers and securing artists and programming and how the event grew to become what it is today. Definitely inspired me to keep going through the struggles that I personally face in my ambitions as an Arts and Music festival back home in Northern Ontario.

Saturday night’s final performer was the one and only Buffy Saint Marie. Hearing her always inspiring words in between her amazing, world-renowned songs is something that I never tire of. A red dress flew in the wind on stage to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: A powerful image striking a powerful message. Saint Marie also brought Tanya Tagaq onto the stage with her and a few other guests. All in all the final Main Stage performance was invigorating and a true celebration of Canadian Indigenous Artists!

My trip, offered and sponsored by both the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance and the Canadian Arts Presenting Association, was the experience of a lifetime. It was really empowering and inspiring to see how other communities – and countries – work together to maintain a world-class festival in an extremely rural area.