Making Things Count: Pandemic Postcards Documentary

Graeme Bachiu takes us inside his pandemic documentary journey.

I decided fairly early on in the pandemic (late March or early April) that I was going to have to do something while I was stuck at home, projects cancelled and clients gone radio silent with 4 and a half year old twins trying to grasp junior kindergarten delivered by hardworking teachers suddenly thrust into an uncomfortable situation. Yet I noticed on social media some interesting stories in Haldimand Norfolk as the pandemic progressed.

Of course, I knew that I’d have no real ability to produce content in the conventional way, the before pandemic way…I’d have to come up with a new way of doing things. I collaborated with some close friends on some text message brainstorming and put together a bit of a plan.

on left is a photo of a senior man, on the right he stands at a window, with assistance, and looks at guests outside

Roy Alton, a long term care home resident in Dunnville who appears in the documentary, visiting with his family through a window.

 

For over a year I had been delivering low-key one-on-one cellphone filmmaking training sessions and I figured that would be the most likely way to capture content and stories for a documentary film. I created a six minute tutorial video which I sent to my eager potential storytellers and asked them to answer some questions by speaking directly to the camera at a quiet moment. I wanted the end product, a series of vignettes about how people were coping or in some cases thriving, to be personal and introspective. I set them loose on shooting some b-roll and asked for everything to be uploaded to Dropbox at which point I would begin to do some editorial.

Of course, there’d be some revisions and re-shoots and I enlisted my regular team of professionals to do an audio mix, colour correction and some motion graphics. We accomplished this all on shitty rural internet, using Slack to keep the team in touch and the wonderful folks at frame.io to pass our footage back and forth. We shot some footage ourselves, observing strict distancing, leading me to believe that this is the first 100% socially distanced documentary series produced during a pandemic in Ontario…and possibly in Canada?

split photo - on the left a photo of a man in an audio recording set-up, on the right the same man sits at a desk

Filmmaker and Musician Craig F. Watkins, from Delhi, has made hilarious music videos from his basement during the pandemic.

 

After I finished a provisional edit on the first episode (I had about 4 planned) I contacted Bell Media who I had a previous business relationship with and they were very excited, opting to purchase and air three episodes. In the middle of a serious public health emergency I was able to produce an hour and a half of interesting stories with a rural perspective, get it sold and aired on a national broadcaster and pay my crew. We turned the entire production around in 5 weeks…timely, quick, entertaining and poignant. It featured child care workers, a long term care facility, songwriters, cafe owners, people thrust into working in agriculture and some of the first people in Canada to test positive for COVID-19, all told in intimate stories and knitted together with sea shanties, old-timey banjo music, brass quintet music from 150 years ago and funk songs about not showering in 10 days. I figured what the hey, the broadcasters have never been more desperate…time to up the weirdness. If I didn’t have kids I would have shaved two weeks off the turnaround.

Executive Producer Carole Aeschelmann and I have a passion for telling stories about the rural areas of Ontario and Canada and, aside from the thrill of creation and the pride of doing something different and unprecedented I take great pride in generating some revenue for the people who work with me.

A blonde woman in a light green top plays guitar and sings. She is sitting in front of a wood pannelled wall.

Singer/Songwriter Whitney Fowler from Cayuga talks about running her cafe during the pandemic.

 

Making Things Count: Pandemic Postcards is now available to Bell Fibe subscribers on Bell Fibe TV1, channel 1.

The Elephant in the Room

A blog by guest blogger Denise Lysak on COVID and its impact on the Arts

poster of elephant holding an umbrella over a flower - text says - In a world where you can be anything, be kindPhoto Credit: Be Amazing

I live in rural and remote northwestern Ontario. I live off-the-grid on a small tea-coloured lake that is home to more fish than people and the most common species are northern pike, pickerel, perch, large and small-mouth bass. The fish share their space with an abundance of wildlife – from water mammals like beavers and otters to large birds of prey. Almost every day in the summertime, you can see rabbits, pine grouse, painted turtles, red squirrels, geese, ducks, blue jays, woodpeckers, loons and if you are lucky – trumpeter swans.  On rare occasions, our paths have crossed with white-tailed deer, foxes, lynx, wolves, black bears, and yes, even moose. 

The world we live in is the boreal forest and it spans 50 million hectares in the Canadian Shield.  The physical features of the Canadian Shield include rocks, bares and plateaus. The Canadian Shield has uplands which are high or hilly areas, and there are also a lot of rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.  Here social distancing can be the norm, 365 days of the year and that is certainly true pre COVID-19. But to be sure right here, right now, COVID-19 is the elephant in the deep, dark woods.  

I have been at home in the performing arts for decades.  My church – for many, many years was the theatre at MTYP at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where two rivers meet. My favourite seats were in the balcony and from there I could watch the artists and the audience. There are other sacred spaces, homes to creative endeavours and incredible works, that hold me and keep me…the ruins in St. Boniface, the cage beneath the 232-seat black box Gas Station Theatre in Osborne Village, the Leighton Artists Studios at the Banff Centre, the number 14 bus in Vancouver, BC, the Oodena Circle at The Forks, the On The Rock tiny studio in Nestor Falls, a long ago rehearsal hall on the 5th floor of the old PTE building on Princess Street (that is now the downtown campus for Red River College), and the Cargill Theatre in St. Paul/ Minneapolis– just to name a few. 

The elephant in the room is like the house hippo. Real or imagined? Well, it must be real. Each and every space listed above is shuttered. Artists are at home. Creators in a “gig economy” are facing financial hardships with no end in sight. Seasons are cancelled. Symphonies are not playing music and the only sound you hear, is silence. Careers are on hold. Our makers, our artists, our musicians all have names.  They are not just statistics or numbers on a pie graph.  

On the radio today, I heard that after four months – The Louvre is opening. The Louvre Museum, is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s 1st arrondissement. This good news story sent me on a google expedition to see what else might be opening in the near future. It turns out that much closer to home, both the Lake of the Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Arts Centre is now open to the public. I love the Lake of the Woods Museum and I have yet to visit the Douglas Family Arts Centre.  I will put that on my must-see list for later this fall.  Why, wait – you might ask?  Back to that elephant in the room and the coronavirus that when somewhere, can be anywhere. 

My personal choice is at odds with the very tenets I hold most dear.  Art and culture live in a continuum. Without either we wither – we are simply empty shells existing across time and space. Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences. Research has shown art affects the fundamental sense of self. Painting, sculpture, music, literature and the other arts are often considered to be the repository of a society’s collective memory. I know so many people who need each and every one of us – to take up space in galleries, studios, theatres and museums. Their very livelihoods depend on it. And, yet – like the willow I bend. I fear that if I act too much like the oak – I will break.  For me, for right now – the elephant looms large and is still very much in the room. The pachyderms have taken over the very spaces that I once entered and exited with freedom, excitement and wild abandon. I am going to wait this out, with patience and kindness. I will find ways to act – to help keep the lives of people I know, as intact as possible under the circumstances.  There are “donate now” buttons to google. And, there are gift cards and subscriptions to purchase. I will also join in important conversations with leaders in the industry, with elected officials, and with arts and cultural funders. 

Now is the time to act, boldly and swiftly.  During this very, long pause – this unscripted intermission we need policies that support professional artists and arts organizations from all disciplines.  Guaranteed incomes for artists and operating funding for organizations should replace the old standby that is often called “project funding”. I once sat in a room filled with people – back when workshops and conferences happened without hesitation. One of the sessions encouraged us to look at the outline of a purple cow. This purple cow represented what could be – if only we allowed ourselves the free will to get past the very idea, that the cow was purple.  Imagine how different our world could be, if we challenge each and every one of us, to come to this new normal with every good idea that has ever been raised. To change perceptions and to challenge the status quo.  Let’s strive for something better, fairer and more just.  Let’s dig deep and do the hard work.  I am happy to say that the elephant in the room has now been replaced with the purple cow.

 

Rural Arts Advocacy

A blog by Fanny Martin, Executive Director & Creative Producer – Art of Festivals

It started with frustration. In March 2019, Mass Culture hosted a Digital Gathering on cultural planning in rural & remote communities in response to feedback from SPARC Steering Committee member Felicity Buckell, who attended the first city-focused webinar of the series. 

In conversation with Annalee Adair, Felicity highlighted some challenges of rural cultural planning, from the lack of genuine local political support for the arts to limited resources to effectively advocate for that support.   

The Community Presenters’ Network took up the baton and, with the support of SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program, put out a call to start unlocking the network’s collective advocacy potential. This was the beginning of my work with SPARC and the CPN. I had produced the Digital Gathering that spurred this desire for action and wanted to dig deeper into these questions, so I embarked on interviews and research to understand how deep the disconnect is and what steps the network can take to rewrite the narrative. 

Advocacy is a long game, and context varies widely from one rural community to another. Success stories are inspiring but often dependent on structural conditions that take years to shape. So how do we get started on a change process with lasting power? What can we achieve with a concerted effort? The Advocacy Starter Guide I produced outlines 5 key steps to mobilize and amplify the network’s potential for making its case: 

  1. WHY: What is our VISION? 

Compelling advocacy is driven by strong values and ambitious shared desired outcomes. Change doesn’t start or end with more money: what is required is a lasting, genuine shift in attitudes and perspectives that reshapes power relations and priorities. This vision could take the form of a manifesto, charter or set of principles, like the HIGH FIVE framework for children’s sport and recreation programming, which promotes cross-sector collaboration to create the conditions for children to thrive. 

  1. WHAT: What are our key MESSAGES? 

Vision and values need to be translated into messages that are clear, compelling and consistent. We need to rewrite the script: it doesn’t have to be hockey or theatre, and there are enough resources for both sport and culture in a well-rounded society if we shift our assessment of what matters. 

  1. HOW: What are our TACTICS? 

Advocacy is a long-haul journey that requires a tactical approach: a series of campaigns and actions, sustained by research projects and monitoring mechanisms. Making these efforts visible and transparent through “advocacy diaries” – for example a shared open blog – could amplify the network’s impact and support ongoing dialogue between stakeholders. 

  1. WHO: Who are the PEOPLE we are working with, for and against? 

Identifying who holds power and how to reach them is a key step in designing a campaign. Strategic alliances with other networks, organizations and individuals with overlapping agendas can also help leverage third-party advocacy and reach targeted decision-makers.

  1. WHEN: What is our STRATEGY to make systemic change happen? 

What is the anatomy of a good campaign? Who does what – and when? What resources should be allocated to which actions? What constitutes success? How can progress be measured and milestones celebrated? Creating an advocacy checklist and timeline can help focus efforts and track outcomes: this could take the form of a step-by-step approach to crafting and delivering effective messages and a regularly updated calendar of important dates for the different levels of campaigning (Council meetings, regional conferences, budget reviews…). 

_ _ _ 

The Advocacy Starter Guide, finalised in February 2020, expands on these questions, with quotes, checklists and additional resources, to provide a foundation for customized toolkits and campaigns. But what does this all mean now, in the time of the pandemic? 

With remote working now an option for thousands of workers, urban density perceived as a risk, international mobility patterns affected by health, cost and environmental considerations, we know there will be changes to the ways we live, work and play.

We don’t know yet how deeply the performing arts sector has and will be impacted, how our gatherings and celebrations will be modified in the short and long-term, or how artists will make a living. But we heard official declarations of support for artists; we saw grant conditions overturned to accommodate shifting new contexts, and public funding fast-forwarded to organizations at risk. 

How will this impact rural and remote areas? What opportunities are emerging to make a powerful case for rural arts as the beating heart of vibrant, attractive, caring communities? 

The Advocacy Starter Guide is the first step in exploring these questions and rewriting the narrative. I invite you to read through it and share your thoughts! How can we channel our frustration into collective action? 

 

Follow this link to the Advocacy Starter Guide or email Rachel (rachel@sparcperformingarts.com) for a copy to be sent to you.

reIMAGINE What Is The Way Forward?

A blog by SPARC guest blogger Denise Lysak exploring one festival’s way forward during COVID-19.

Kitchen Party poster - August 22

All across the country, companies struggle just to survive. Theatres, galleries, museums, and festival sites sit empty. So many artists, musicians, painters, actors, directors, guides, technicians, carpenters, janitors, marketers, designers, and arts practitioners face crippling financial strain, professionally and personally, as well as uncertain futures. Spaces AND people are in unprecedented times. Museums, galleries, playhouses are all cultural gems and losing them would hurt our shared history and heritage. 

As we, the audiences, wait and hope that soon: a) world premieres will come back; b) new exhibits will open; and, c) festivals will find their way forward.  So much hinges on science and discovery – therapeutics or a vaccine and until then, arts and culture are on hold as the coronavirus silently waits. What is the way forward?

Is there a new temporal home for a new season? Can people pivot? Can musicians make a living with live streaming concerts?  Can playwrights, directors, designers, and actors sit at tables, not in the same room, and create new works? Can art exist without audiences – in halls, in seats, in unusual spaces and places – on street corners, on buses or on roof tops?  Can the home, for now – be online?  

If you had asked me this, ten years ago…I would have said no. If you asked me this same question, two years ago, the same response would have been uttered – just no.  And, today, I am still uncertain.  My head says “yes” and yet, my heart says “no”.  Stay with me for just a moment.  Imagine if you will – a kitchen table littered with newspaper headlines and images, cut from free presses.  What do you see?  

THE SHOW GOES ON(LINE): AS EVENTS CANCEL DUE TO COVID-19 

EVENTS ARE GOING DIGITAL: SHOULD YOUR COMPANY FOLLOW?

MUSIC STARS ARE LIVE-STREAMING AT-HOME CONCERTS

OTTAWA FACING SILENT SPRING AS FESTIVALS, EVENTS CANCELLED

EDEN MILLS WRITERS’ FESTIVAL CANCELLED, REPLACED BY ONLINE EVENTS

The headlines bring more questions than answers.  Will the shift to online events forever change the experience that exists between the artists and the audiences? Will people pay to listen to a live-streaming concert online?  Will dialogues be silenced as gallery guides no longer stand in front of a large canvas, discussing the feelings evoked by a series that begs for critical thought and freedom of expression? My simple answer is “I hope not”. 

How then does that square with a decision to curate an abridged version of the now cancelled Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in 2020 and produce a 90-minute online event? I hope this is temporary. I hope the online home is truly a temporal home. Let’s focus on the idea that the online platform is simply a tool. A resource to connect to audiences. A way to move through a time and space – until we can all be together again.  

The KITCHEN PARTY is aptly wrapped by the idea of standing together, while staying apart. What does that mean for the artists and the audiences who have put the Festival on its feet? 

In ordinary times, it would mean: a very, long pause.  But these are extraordinary times and we wanted to meet the moment.  So…we have assembled a small group of the who’s who of Moose n’ Fiddle past and present.  We will mark COVID-19 with an abridged version of the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival.  

On Saturday, August 22nd, we invite you to continue to shelter in place, to stay home and be safe while enjoying the sights and sounds of an online KITCHEN PARTY.  In the spirit of standing together, while staying apart, this Kitchen Party will be 90-minutes in length and it will kick off at 8pm. Say hello to Siouxperboat, Belle Plaine, Adrian Sutherland from Midnight Shine, and Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir! Our narrators will be Wanda Kabel and yes, me – Dee Lysak.

The KITCHEN PARTY, online event will be hosted by 89.5 The Lake [Acadia Broadcasting] and the link will be on the moosenfiddle.ca website.  So, grab a cold brew from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, order up some wood-fired pizzas from Black Oven Pizza, kick off your shoes, and tune in! This KITCHEN PARTY will be in the cloud and we invite you to join us. Yes, things are going to look and feel different. 

The online platform is a virtual room, to see – to hear – to learn – to entertain – to reIMAGINE. 

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.  

Dark, empty theatre seating with one bare bulb shining

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.  

Image of sheet music St Alban 65.65 refrain

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.

Kim stands in front of closed box office

 

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 of ice fishing hut on frozen lake 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.

Image of group of people looking out of a windowPhoto 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. 

Group of snowmobilers on lake

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.  

Fish on iceIce fishing - numerous perch on ice beside hole

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

SPARC Symposium 2020 poster

 

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.

Image of crowd sitting on lawn chairs

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.

Group of women holding letters that spell fufuchichi

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.

Moose n' Fiddle Music Festival poster

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

Music line up banner

At the Point of Convergence; A Meeting Place

Artwork - woman standing on tree roots holding a bird

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.

Image of video editting software on computer monitor

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.”

Woman painting on canvas

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

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.