You Are Never More Dangerous Than When You Are Trying To Help

The following post was written by Trevor Malcolm about the work being done by the Lollipop Guild in Windsor and Essex County. This group (and several other collaborators) received support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program to pay artists living and working in rural areas outside of Windsor to participate in the Lollipop Guild’s May Day event – which Trevor discusses nearer to the end of the post. 

The next deadline to apply for support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program is next Friday, June 28th. The third annual deadline will be October 28, 2018. For more information about the program email

By Trevor Malcolm

I’ve never written a blog before, though I have often said what I thought, so here goes.

We could tell our regional culture was rich in talent in all types of disciplines concerning performative arts and emergent forms thereof. After having a SPARC initiative on Pelee Island it became apparent that the real innovation in our community would be getting paid to do this cultural work. Most artists that we have engaged with have done work for free for causes they felt strongly about.

I have personally done benefits as a musician for cancer (every type), mental health (from depression to schizophrenia), poverty (working and abject), nuclear disarmament, and environmental initiatives, just to name a few. I personally have made and donated thousands for the mission downtown and am going broke doing it. I don’t think I should jump the line for soup because of my good works, but I also shouldn’t be thought of as a villain for expecting a stipend of some type for my efforts in putting these benefits together. I have been approached at a paying day job to do a free gig. It is sort of an honour. This is the crux of our problem. We want to assist with our art to a meaningful end, but by giving it away we have contributed to a regional devaluation of our own creations and the training that goes into developing it.

To be fair, our region is very generous to obvious charitable situations, and I don’t disagree with volunteering and donating time and money. I just think it should be a choice, rather than the only expected option. It’s an important distinction, because when you criticize unfair trending situations, people think you are suggesting that they are always unfair.

The people who volunteer their energy and time are not criminals, but their kind deeds are hindering the creative community they think they are supporting and representing. Toward this end our first PROtest as the Lollipop Guild was at a show of our own, where everyone got paid. By “walking the walk” we can help guide others to the path of financial arts appreciation that we see.

It is still important to make the participants in the current system feel heard, even though I think they are wrong, or at least right for the wrong reasons. Anytime you want to change a common practice you are going to have to change how people think, and this is the main challenge. How do you show people their actions are wrong without making them feel wrong themselves? It’s an “emperor’s new clothes” type of thing where everyone can tell we value these fine things, but no one wants to acknowledge it by paying.

Our second PROtest was held at a show where none of the artists on stage got paid. I was called by the executive director of the Windsor Symphony, who administers the venue, and was admonished for this action. All we do is audience education, telling people that the performers either are or are not getting paid. It is impossible to change this region’s professional cultural practises without everyone on board. Do we have to find a way to do this that doesn’t make the current power structure feel threatened? It is a delicate and thankless dance.

Unfortunately, it may require another heroic effort, so, thanks to funding from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program, we co-ordinated with the Bloomfield House project, Making Waves and May Works Windsor to assemble non silo-ed artists from many disciplines. This group included people from the show we PROtested and artists who work on Pelee Island through the Stone & Sky series. Each individual was paid to either perform or speak to their situation in a celebration of Art as work. By reaching out to the labour community we were able to contextualize “artists as labourers”. Making Waves’ Patrick Hannon spoke eloquently on that concept. Tea Jaey from the Bloomfield House performed and spoke of the Arts in the west end maturing from the ground up, through the help of their neighbours.

All the performers were paid and took a small survey administered by Patricia Fell, Artistic Director and charter member of the Lollipop Guild. The survey results gleaned, in essence, that every artist has been asked to work for free and been depressed at one time or another. With artists working across so many disciplines echoing the same experiences, this is a remarkable trend.

We know we are being watched and that our education efforts are being recognized by the amateur theatre in town. The language used in their casting calls has begun changing. They are starting to self-identify as “non-paying” and “non-union”, which is a big step in audience education. By continuing our affiliation with labour councils and May Works, we hope to maintain this pressure to cause change in our community, so that all may recognize the negative impact that the current “free art” system has on our local artists.


Prologue & DuffleBag Theatre’s Trip to Aroland First Nations

This blog post first appeared on the Prologue to the Performing Arts Blog earlier this year. We are sharing it on the the SPARC blog as a follow up to Frank Dzijacky’s post on touring a few weeks ago, and as a way to promote Prologue, as they are currently accepting applications from artists interested in joining their roster (deadline June 22). We hope to see more artists from rural and remote communities joining Prologue in the years to come!

For more information visit: 

By Tamara Weisz

On Tuesday, January 24th, Prologue to the Performing Arts company DuffleBag Theatre had the immense pleasure of performing Peter Pan at Johnny Therriault School in Aroland First Nation. The school is located in the Thunder Bay district, and as a small community, these students and families are not often privy to performing arts experiences. As DuffleBag is currently on a tour of Northern Ontario venues, Frank Dzijacky of Geraldton Children’s Entertainment Series let us know about this rare opportunity to perform in this community, and Prologue and DuffleBag jumped at the chance! With the generous sponsorship of The Rotary Club of Kitchener (via Cheryl Ewing), Robert Baird, Geraldton Children’s Entertainment Series, and Prologue, DuffleBag set out to visit the Aroland school on a beautifully sunny, snowy afternoon.

We spoke to one of DuffleBag’s performers, Christopher Darroch, to hear about this exciting day: “We were so pleased and honoured to be the first performing arts group to perform at Aroland First Nation School. Knowing that this was something unprecedented for these great kids, we were hugely impressed by the excitement of the audience for the show, and even more for the courage and willingness of both students and staff to participate as actors in our production of Peter Pan. It was a show none of us will ever forget.”

The principal of Johnny Therriault School, Bill Beaucage, invited parents and community members to experience the show along with the students. He further explained the value of bringing DuffleBag’s performance to their community: “Being able to provide our students with a variety of theatre experiences and opportunities is a priority for the staff at Johnny Therriault School. Being a First Nation school in remote Northern Ontario, our students have had minimal exposure to live theatre….Thank you for making this experience happen in Aroland First Nation. Your thoughtfulness and kindness has not gone unnoticed.”

Marcus Lundgren, Artistic Director of DuffleBag let us know that the troupe travels to Northern Ontario every few years and enjoys every second of the journey. He said, “DuffleBag Theatre loves performing for Northern Ontario audiences! They’re always so much fun and appreciative. We get a really good sense of their wonderful communities as we stay and travel through the region as well.”

Students from Johnny Therriault School wrote to us to let us know what they enjoyed most about the performance – see the quotes below! Thank you to everyone involved, especially our sponsors, for providing these students with their first Prologue and DuffleBag performance!

SPARC Interviews… Robin Sutherland and Miranda Bouchard of Thinking Rock Community Arts, Thessalon ON

Back in April, Rebecca (SPARC’s Network Coordinator) had the opportunity to speak with Robin Sutherland and Miranda Bouchard – the Founding Artistic Director and General Manager of Thinking Rock Community Arts. They discuss how Thinking Rock approaches community-engaged arts, their practice of “radical inclusion”, ‘The Rivers Speak’ project, and other resources for those interested in community-engaged arts. 

 Tell us a little bit about Thinking Rock Community Arts

Miranda: Thinking Rock is a non-profit community arts organization based out of Thessalon Ontario that makes art with, for and about the people of Central Algoma; from Bawating – that’s Sault Ste Marie – to Genaabaajiing – that’s Serpent River First Nation – and all points between. We specialize in very participatory, collaborative, cross-cultural and intergenerational art projects that take many forms.

What do “community arts” look like for Thinking Rock? What does that mean for the work that you do and how it is created?

Miranda: As it has been explained to us, community-engaged arts can take many forms and it’s certainly a very emergent field of practice. Typically it involves a connection to and collaboration with diverse community members, focusing on a particular community. It is a process that is led by professional artists in a paid capacity. And, for us, it has also taken on a multi-year residency model that we have learned from Jumblies Theatre; projects unfold over a longer timeframe.

The first part of our process is getting to know the community and getting the community to know us; developing deep and trusting relationships not only with the community participants, but also with partner organizations within the community.

The second portion is developing and producing the project. And that can take many forms and involve many different forms of media.

And the third phase is usually a process of evaluation and reflection – on the process and the project; things that have gone well, trying to spark spin-off projects, making sure the project continues in some form in the community if there’s interest, and feeling out some directions for the next project.

Robin: I think that at the core of community-engaged arts is the idea that the process is just as important as the final product. Community members are engaged in the creative process, as well as being presenters of the final product. It’s a co-created work and is also co-presented.

Miranda: Community is a really intrinsic part of it, but we do try to maintain a very high artistic standard of quality – which is why bringing on professional artists is extremely important. And not just professional artists, but those who have experience within that very specific community engaged environment. Our community is rural and there are a number of First Nations communities here, so we really focus on using the work to build bridges between those communities. It’s really collaborative between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, while making sure that we are centring Anishinaabe culture, knowledge, and language in the work as well.

You’ve used the term “radical inclusion” to describe your practice on your website. What does that term mean to you?

Robin: It’s the idea that everyone is welcome, which is a really difficult thing to actually make happen, but that’s what we strive for.

Are there any specific practices that you have developed over time that help increase project inclusivity and accessibility?

Miranda: I think creating and sharing in a very open and welcoming environment is key. Something we have found really successful is serving tea and sharing some kind of a meal or a snack.

Robin: Emphasizing that it really doesn’t matter where people are in terms of their artistic skills is important too– ensuring they know that’s not as important to us as their willingness to dive in, try things out, and be a part of the work. We really try to get to know people, and what their skills and interests are. Then, over time, we can cater to those communities and the strengths and the interests in the room.

Can you tell us about The Rivers Speak project as an example of your approach to community-engaged arts and the different practices you follow?

Robin: The Rivers Speak started in August 2013 with a pilot project in Mississaugi First Nation. We partnered with Toronto-based community arts organizations SKETCH and Jumblies Theatre to bring their artists to help us facilitate a week of drop-in art making. We had about 200 people participate in that. We did oral history with Elders that came to visit, we did story sharing circles, made lanterns, and we had the local youth drum group participate. With permission from local Anishinaabe Elders and story keepers, we also made a big river serpent puppet that came out of some of the stories that the Elders told us, about a river serpent who lives in the rivers of this area. We then put it all together as a big river pageant along the banks of the Blind River. It was really well received.

From there we decided to go forward with the ‘Rivers Speak’ theme, which I chose because central Algoma is such a rural area and the rivers are so central to everyone’s life here. They’re also very central to the Anishinaabe history, culture, traditions, and way of life, so that seemed like an idea that many people could relate to.

Over the next four years we spent a lot of time building relationships in the community. We developed an advisory committee of local Anishinaabe Elders, youth, and community members to help guide the process and make sure that we were following traditional protocols and practices. We also did more story sharing circles and oral history with Elders and youth, as well as skill building workshops.

Then we brought it all together last summer!

We hired 30 artists – people who were recommended to us, and people we had worked with. A lot of them were from Toronto but local artists were also hired. Miranda acted as the main designer, and we hired Varrick Grimes as our Director who led the 3-month rehearsal process. Throughout the production period we held open houses as an opportunity for the community to come in and get a sense of what we were doing, and to help us find ways to get them involved.

We had 8 performances of the final play at the Mississaugi First Nation’s Pow Wow grounds. It was an unconventional format – kind of a combination between a play and a pageant in that the audience actually went around the Pow Wow grounds in a circle, following the action of the play. It wasn’t really one plot, but multiple storylines from people who had shared their stories.

About 600 people came to see it – we were pretty taken aback by how many people showed up. Word really spread and the last performance was packed with about 150 people.

That’s awesome! Are you connected to any other organizations in other areas that do community-engaged arts work? I know you’ve mentioned SKETCH and Jumblies…

Miranda: Both SKETCH and Jumblies Theatre have supported the creative aspects of what we’re doing, as well as the administrative and organizational capacity aspects, which has been extremely helpful. Jumblies Theatre – and particularly their Artistic Director Ruth Howard – has worked closely with us as a mentor throughout the Rivers Speak process.

Robin: We’ve been connected with other community-engaged arts organizations across Northern Ontario and across Canada as well, not as direct partners but as colleagues. 4Elements on Manitoulin Island, Aanmitaagzi in Nippissing First Nation, Vancouver Moving Theatre, and Runaway Moon Theatre in Enderby B.C work in this way too. Runaway Moon has probably done the work most similar to what we do because they’re also in a rural and First Nations context.

I understand that you are both available to do consulting with groups. Are there any other resources that you would also recommend to people interested in learning more about community-engaged arts?

Robin: Art Bridges is really great, they hold a lot of information. The International Centre of Art for Social Change just did a huge research project on art for social change. I think that they’re going to have a lot of resources for people who are interested in getting into this kind of work.

Miranda: The OAC has also published a couple of papers about community-engaged arts, including Framing Community – A Community Engaged Art Workbook which is very helpful. There are so many ways to approach a community-engaged project and this manual has a number of examples of community-engaged work in it, as well as a number of working definitions of what it means.

Robin: And Jumblies’ Art Fare Essentials is also a really great resource. We both trained through it, with Ruth Howard, and also apprenticed with Ruth through Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program.

One final question: What drew both of you to this kind of work?

Robin: I was introduced to the world of community arts when I was at U of T in the Arts Management program and did my first year co-op placement at Clay and Paper Theatre. I was always interested in social justice and, specifically, building more positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I saw how the work of Clay and Paper and similar groups could bring diverse people together to witness each other’s stories and create relationships. I always knew that I wanted to go back home to Northern Ontario and do work that involved creating opportunities for artistic involvement and building relationships. The idea of using the arts as a way to gently and surreptitiously bring people together is my form of… activism, I guess… in a very gentle sense.

Miranda: I grew up here in the North as well, and from an early age I was actively involved in my community. I was really interested in visual art, gravitated towards volunteering, and was really interested in gatherings and fellowship – doing things together.

When Robin told me about the project she was working on, I had finished my schooling to become an individual visual arts practitioner, and was working at an art gallery. I was really hungry in the work that I was doing for ways to more directly and immediately engage with the public. So I hopped on board and my mind was totally blown by the idea of community-engaged arts practice. My journey for the last few years has been about finding the meeting place between being an independent visual artist and being a more collaborative and community-engaged designer for theatre. This work combines my passion for the arts with my passion for community in a way that has a lot of impact.


Presenting & Touring in Rural and Remote Ontario: A Presenter’s Perspective

By Frank Dzijacky, of the Geraldton Concert Series and Geraldton Children’s Entertainment Series

Dufflebag Theatre performs their show “Peter Pan” to a school at Aroland First Nation

I am writing as a presenter from a small Northwestern Ontario community. We have a long history of presenting adult concerts and now also run a children’s series of performances. Our venue is a school gym with a stage at one end with all the blacks and curtains and basic pre-hung lighting that transforms it into quite a reasonable auditorium for performances.

There are many reasons why a performer should consider the touring Northwest Ontario, and aspiring presenters should join presenter networks!


1. Artists can book fuller tours with united presenter networks.

Firstly we rarely book a show individually. The adult series block books with 5-7 other communities in the northwest. The children’s series does the same with about 7-10 other communities. We all realize that block booking is the best way to attract performers as we are proposing a tour that could run 1 or 2 weeks. This co-operation between communities has been very successful for both presenters and performers in the past. Although it means some travel between the venues, most presenters accommodate date scheduling to make it work. Travelling through the northwest in any season can be the most scenic in our province.

2. Rural venues offer both audiences and performers intimate performance experiences.

In many of our communities we are the only presenter of live professional artists for a family experience. Travel to larger centres would require time off work and overnight accommodation so the performance in town is greatly preferred and for many the only opportunity. This usually means a much more appreciative audience. For a new performer looking for experience or a seasoned artist looking to reconnect to the grassroots of their audience, the small towns of the northwest are ideal. Most of the venues are small and so the experience can be more intimate and personal.

Adult Series presenting “Dirty Dishes” – a country folk group from Ontario

3. Technology requirements can be simpler than you’d think.

Most of the communities have the basic tech required by the artist. For larger groups that require addition sound requirements, we are willing and able to bring in a professional sound tech to meet any special needs. We also traditionally include accommodations and hospitality in our contracts. In my experience most performers, especially larger groups, prefer hotel accommodation. We always try to meet their requirements, but usually hope that they consider doubling up to reduce the number of rooms. Also when a performer is planning on coming here we ask that they send us a realistic basic tech requirement in their rider. Although we always do our best to meet the performer’s needs, our audience is just happy to have them here, so we actually don’t need all the fancy specials that a large auditorium can supply.

4. Winter conditions are not a deterrent – they just create more grateful crowds.

Many artists seem to fear travelling in the north in the winter. Although our temperature can be a little colder than southern Ontario be assured that all our venues are heated. Snow storms are just as likely in the south as they are in the north but we can clear our highways a lot faster here. Since most are 2 lane highways, one trip up and down by a plough can clear a route quickly. This is the time of the year that our communities need and appreciate the joy of live performances.

Axis Theatre’s “Hamelin” that was part of our
children’s series

5. Rural communities allow artists to unite their tours across the country.

Some artists seem to feel that Northern Ontario is a vast area of nothing between Southern Ontario and Western Canada. We suggest they look at it as a bridge or stepping stone from the south to the west. We have had many performers stop and perform here as they work their way across Canada.



6. Through united marketing and sales decisions, audiences are encouraged to try new things.

Our community has a unique way of selling tickets as we only sell series tickets. No individual tickets are sold. This has a lot of benefits. People buying a ticket for 1 or 2 specific artists they want to see also have tickets to performances they may not have thought they would like. Artists are thus exposed to a new audience. It’s also amazing how often the audience enjoys a performance they may not have thought they would have liked. This works so long as we offer a diverse cross section of the performing arts – and we make every effort to do so.

Some artists may feel that there isn’t a lot of interest in the arts across the North. We definitely disagree. In my community we get 10% of our population out to our shows. I would challenge Toronto to do the same.

As a northern presenter I would like to ask performers of all forms of the arts to consider touring the north. They will find out that northerners are friendly and accommodating and very appreciative of any live performance. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Frank and some of the cast of Frog Mountain Puppeteers 

5 Rural Touring Ideas for Presenters: A Performer’s Perspective

By Trevor Copp, Artistic Director of Tottering Biped Theatre, Performer, Actor, Teacher


I’m writing as a performing artist who’s had a great time touring to some Northern communities and I wanted to share some thoughts on what works best from this end.

I love to get up North because, ironically, I like people. There are millions of people in the GTA, but when I perform down here I really have to work to meet them. I can get out in front of hundreds of people and do a show, then not have a soul to have a drink with when it’s over. Up North it’s the opposite – and that’s exactly what keeps me coming back. Northern presenters have the appeal of being in the hospitable and personable culture of the North – and it’s an advantage that can make all the difference for visiting artists.

So here’s a couple of ideas that aren’t expensive – or actively cheaper – than the charges that often come up for visiting artists. Of course these are my preferences and not every artists’ – but you may be surprised how many take you up on this if given the chance.

1. Billeting over Hotels

I prefer to stay with a friendly little family who’ll take the time to show me around and explain the sights and places I’m at over being in another lovely and empty hotel any day. Yes, a door that locks and an internet signal that works are necessary, but beyond that many would be glad of some company.

2. Family meals over Restaurants

Same idea as above. I am totally “restaurant-ed out” by weeks’ end when I’m on tour.

3. A local host

Even if we billet at one place but have a local with the gift of gab come take me around from another – still works. I love having someone with some local pride introduce me to where I’m at, otherwise I’m liable to miss the place despite having driven or flown such a long ways.

4. Hire the Artist, not just the Art

I think that it’s only with multiple visits that a real sense of a relationship occurs – and it pays dividends in all senses. If you bring in a show that has a good commercial angle to it, I can guarantee you that the artist/company has more shows that are even closer to their heart – and probably stronger work – in their repertoire. So if you’ve had a group in once and you and your audience like what they do, don’t bring back just their next show – market that you’re bringing THEM back, whatever they are doing. If you are always trying to market a show you need to reinvent the wheel every time. However, if you can convince your audience to back artists themselves, then the shows are secondary and will sell themselves. The best stuff out there isn’t the most marketable – and this is a way to get to that work. This allows you to present the stuff that the artists care deeply about, without having to stick to what will seemingly market the most easily.

5. Revolving doors are not as fun as they look

At the end of the day, showing up to a community just in time to leave forever isn’t fun for anyone. We don’t get a real connection to the community and you don’t get a real connection to us as people. It’s a lot of work without the sense of relationship that makes it all worthwhile. If I know that we’re in it together for some kind of longterm (arts development plan) I work very differently – and communities respond the same way. This is the kind of sincere energy you want to work with. You’re out there putting in countless hours in to make this work and this is a way for the work to have a long term pay off that makes all the difference.

As a mime maybe I don’t talk a lot, but the difference it makes when a community responds this way is tremendous – and I am keen to give back when it does.

To connect with Trevor and learn about his work, go to .

The Ontario Classical Music Network: Connecting and Supporting Classical Music Presenters

This week’s blog post is a little bit different. It is dedicated to providing information about another network in our province that is working hard to support the performing arts – specifically the presentation of classical music – in rural and remote areas. We hope that this post, which includes content from a blog post written by Natalie Dewan at Ontario Presents and some information from network member Stan Passfield, will provide insight into another form of network and will reach others across the province who may be interested in joining this group! Enjoy! 

The Ontario Classical Music Network (OCMN) began with a meeting at Ontario Contact in October 2006. Approximately 30 presenters, artists and agents took part in this meeting, all with a common concern: Classical music had almost no presence at the conference. Following this initial meeting Warren Garret (Executive Director of Ontario Presents) organized another in April 2007, and invited a group of especially engaged people to begin exploring what could be done to remedy this problem.

Fast forward to almost ten years later. In 2015, the Department of Canadian Heritage funded a series of meetings in Ottawa which enabled the official formation of the OCMN. The network was formed to facilitate information sharing and mutual support among volunteer presenters with a shared commitment to bringing high-quality classical music to their communities. According to network member Stan Passfield: “The key word here is ‘Network’. The real value is that the OCMN  has made it possible for classical presenters to get to know one another and to share ideas and experiences. We now work together instead of all by ourselves.”

As stated in their mission, “The Ontario Classical Music Network exists to help each other survive and thrive in a respectful, caring and sharing environment.”

As well as keeping in touch via email, the OCMN holds frequent conference calls, which provide an opportunity for members to ask questions, air concerns, and share information freely.

OCMN Group Photo- Ottawa 2015

The OCMN currently includes:



All members are volunteer-run groups and all are deeply committed to supporting the presentation of classical music in Ontario.

After the official formation of the network in 2015, Ontario Presents was able to begin providing digital marketing support to five members of the OCMN after the network received further support from the Department of Canadian Heritage. This work, coordinated by Robyn Chan-Kent, has enhanced the member’s ticket sales through new social media, email marketing, and web-based ticketing solutions. Stan says that the group is “now moving toward online ticketing systems for the small presenters. But the main action at this point is to help with web-sites, e-blasts, and social media. Small volunteer operations generally do not have access to digital tech stuff.

When asked about the trends he sees in the presentation of classical music, and why the network’s existence is important at this moment in time, Stan responded

Over that past few years several previously healthy organizations have ceased operations. We are working slowly to try to prevent this as we believe that there is a place and need for this type of music in the smaller, rural centres.

There is a considerable portion of society that understand and value art. Many still admire architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, drama,  literature and music that has been created over many centuries and is still being created today. The arts are the manifestation of the incredible imagination and intellect of human beings. This is being submerged in a world that is focused on materialism and instant gratification. It is important that some are willing to fight to preserve the best of that which represents the finest achievements of mankind.

OCMN Digital Marketing MeetingThe OCMN encourages anyone with an interest in presenting classical music to get in touch with them. The network is happy to support dedicated classical music groups, as well as anyone looking to present classical music, whether through a dedicated series, a one-off concert, or as part of a multi-disciplinary series.

New members and questions are warmly welcomed.

Inquiries can be directed to Stan Passfield at

All Things Technical: Event support, video production & live streaming of the #Cobalt2018 symposium

By Drew Gauley (Member of the Symposium Planning Committee)


The Kobold: Superstitious miners believed these creatures to be expert metal workers who could be heard constantly drilling, hammering and shoveling. Some stories claim that the kobolds live in the rock, just as human beings live in the air. Legends paint them as the mischievously evil creatures blamed for accidents, cave-ins and rockslides. Other tales make them out to be beneficial creatures, at least if they are treated respectfully.


I see many parallels regarding the challenges of technical requirements awaiting us at the 2018 SPARC symposium. With the mythology of the Kobolds in mind, we venture forward respectfully working with the modern Digi-Kobold. We hope for their blessings or, at the very least, their indifference towards our activities.


As a member of the symposium planning committee for the 2018 SPARC Symposium, I took on the role of both coordinating the event’s audiovisual needs and overseeing the live streaming/video producing of the workshops and presentations. In this blog, I’ll talk a little bit about both of these topics, why they are important, and how we plan to pull it off.

Most performers would agree that the work that happens behind the scenes to prepare a show is as much a part of the production as the performers are. We are keeping this in mind as we coordinate the details for all of the events. The activities during the four day symposium fall under a few main categories, including: live music entertainment, daily plenary sessions, workshops and mobile workshops.

First up on Thursday, May 24, during the evening at the Miner’s Tavern, there will be a performance by guitarist extraordinaire Jamie Dupuis . Jamie grew up in the area prior to pursuing a full seven years of study dedicated to his craft. He is presently based out of Sudbury and performs fairly regularly in the Cobalt area. He has gained some notoriety for his command of the harp guitar, with his YouTube videos regularly surpassing 1 million views (over 1 million EACH that is!). This performance, in a casual local venue, will provide the perfect atmosphere to meet new people, network, enjoy light snacks, and unwind after a presumably long travel day. This is in the realm of a live music venue and the in-house PA system will be more than enough for a sole guitarist with occasional vocals. With Jamie’s permission, we may attempt some live streaming and will also document the performance as we kick off the weekend.


Side note: Rumor has it that “back in the day” a mineshaft was dug which strategically exited in close proximity to the Miner’s tavern. Some miners were known to take advantage of a quick drink or two while they were still on shift.



Friday morning will see us tending to what will become part of a two day routine. (A two day routine…can that be a thing?)

After (if not during) breakfast, there will be one of three plenary sessions in the Cobalt community hall. This is where our major technical coordination will manifest. The plenary sessions will be well attended and will call for an appropriately sized PA system, microphones, and video projection for PowerPoint etc. We are choosing to outfit the room with numerous audio speakers so that all audience members are relatively close to a sound source. This is a trick of the trade that allows audio levels to be lower and more direct, which increases intelligibility while minimizing ear strain during long days.

The plenary sessions may also be recorded using multiple cameras and live streamed to the Internet for those who are not able to attend.

In addition, the video content will be recorded into each camera and transferred into the computer for further editing and refining.

These sessions and any other recorded workshops will be translated into English, French and a First Nations language for their long-term availability on the web. Each finished video will also be “enhanced” with descriptive video – a feature for the visually impaired that describes what is happening during a program. We realize that the information being presented during the symposium will have a “shelf-life”, due to the speed at which information and technology advances. For that reason, we recognize how useful it is to quickly make recorded workshops available to those not in attendance (and to give attendees a taste of other workshops that occurred concurrently). Making these resources available online in numerous languages and accessible for those with visual challenges will hopefully make our resources more helpful throughout our diverse SPARC community.

There are morning and afternoon workshops at various venues in Cobalt on Friday and Saturday morning. These workshops and panel discussions promise to provide various perspectives, insights and opinions from a number of sources, while each session focuses on a singular subject or theme. Throughout the symposium, we will use single cameras with microphone feeds to record many of these workshops.

On Friday night there will be a presentation by Jowi Taylor on the Six String Nation project at the Miner’s Tavern. With Voyageur (the Six String Nation guitar) in hand, Jowi will explain how it was made and the historic significance of where each of the instrument’s pieces came from (it even contains some silver from Cobalt!).

The evening will include video projection and a live performance using the Voyager guitar, followed by some talented local performers and an open mic to finish the day.

Saturday starts bright and early again at the Cobalt Community Hall with breakfast and another plenary session, followed by workshops at various venues in Cobalt. But just when you start thinking that a two day routine can actually be a thing, it all takes a turn…for the better! Our small event’s support and technical crew will be running to keep up with the crowds as we relocate equipment to all new locations for the afternoon workshops. To give attendees a change of scenario, Saturday afternoon workshops will be held at various locations in the Haileybury and Temiskaming Shores locales. (Our lunch will most certainly be “to go” on this day!) Once settled, we will continue to record many of these various offsite workshops.

We have put some feelers out through the Digital Creator North program at our local library, to hopefully connect with youth and employ some assistance. This could be mutually beneficial, as I’m sure we will be run off our feet without them, and this event will supply some very real world experience for the right person. Fingers crossed!

To conclude, we see the importance of ensuring that each and every event is tended to with technical support, a strategically planned setting, and the needs of the live audience and on-line spectator in mind. Our goals include: high-quality presentations that are both easily seen and heard; locations that are comfortable; and thorough coordination with presenters so their information may be received in a positive way. Early set-up and rigorous testing beforehand will hopefully keep the Kobolds at bay. If all goes as planned, perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to impress the Kobolds and share a drink or two with them at the Miner’s one evening…

#Cobalt2018 Symposium: Workshop Announcement!

Excitement has been mounting amongst members of the SPARC team and Symposium Planning Committee as the final few pieces of the workshop schedule have been falling into place. Today we want to share that excitement with you! Instead of a traditional blog post this week we have decided to share 13 of the 22 inspiring, educational, thought-provoking, motivating, all-round-AWESOME workshops that you can attend at this year’s gathering. The full workshop list and schedule will be added to the SPARC website over the next week. Keep checking back or watch our social media platforms for updates! 


Rogues in Partnership

Kate Butler, Co-Founder, Rural Rogues Production; Director, Haliburton Highlands Museum; SPARC Steering Committee member, Haliburton Highlands, Ontario

Michael Clipperton, Co-Founder, Rural Rogues Production; SPARC Outreach Coordinator, Haliburton Highlands, Ontario

In this interactive workshop, participants will have the opportunity to learn about overcoming common challenges of rural performing arts through unconventional partnerships, hear about successful ways in which local stories have been used to engage new audiences, and share ideas about keeping rural theatre relevant and sustainable through diversification.

Collaboration, Communication and Reconciliation through the Performing Arts

Frank Blanchet, Musician, former VP of the Brighton Arts Council, retired Teacher/Facilitator in the Correctional Services of Canada, Brighton, Ontario

John French, Executive Director, Brookside Music Association, Midland, Ontario

During this presentation, Frank will share a collection of stories (some humorous, some not) about his experiences using the arts to break down barriers in order to establish meaningful and productive communication with inmates during his career with Correctional Service of Canada. John will share his experience with the conception, creation, and performance of a musical work that was both historically accurate and culturally sensitive and had an objective of providing hope for reconciliation. The work was commissioned to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Champlain in Huronia.

Organizing for Success

Inga Petri, CMRP – Principal, Strategic Moves, Ottawa, Ontario and Whitehorse, Yukon

A frank discussion on boards, community, leadership, and oversight.

Growing Up Rural: The Importance of the Arts

Alyssa Kostello, Idea Machine (writer, producer, performer, facilitator, event planner, Assistant Manager at SmartyPantz Escape Rooms) and grew up in the Tri-towns!, Vancouver, British Columbia

Exploring personal experiences, participants will be guided to consider what the arts do for human development, particularly in rural and remote communities.

Arts in Education and Community

Linda Albright, founder and Executive Director, Arts Network for Children and Youth, Toronto, Ontario

Jessica Sokolowski, elementary educator, arts-based researcher and PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

Tiina Kukkonen, artist, arts educator, PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

In this panel discussion, Linda, Jessica, and Tiina will review research, models, and emerging practices in the ‘children and youth arts and creative sector’ within both the classroom and the community at large.

You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried

Katie Huckson, Digital Creator North Program Lead, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Nathaniel Marchand, Digital Creator North Program Lead, Kenora, Ontario

Steve Kozinski, Digital Creator North Program Lead, Temiskaming Shores, Ontario

Laine Helbling, Digital Creator North Program Lead, Sioux Lookout, Ontario

Brittany Sheridan, Digital Creator North Program Lead, Elliot Lake, Ontario

Tyler Levesque, Digital Creator North Program Lead, Timmins, Ontario

Engaging and motivating teens in a digital world: in this interactive and participatory discussion, we will be guided by the youthful leads of the Digital Creator North Program to reflect upon what it means to be working with young people today.

Poetry, Puppetry, and Performance: Making Theatre Work in Rural Settings

Joshua Bainbridge, Actor, Writer, Director, and Artistic Director, Proscenium Club, North Bay, Ontario

Jay Wilson, Actor, and Director, Pandora’s Sox and Project-to-Project Theatre, Guelph, Ontario

Covering a myriad of topics from low budget marketing in the modern age and how to make the aesthetic of a minimalist set feel boundless, Joshua will present his session ‘Theatre is a Visual Medium: so look like you know what you’re doing’, followed by Jay’s part lecture, part performance deliberations (with the assistance of poetry and a couple of puppets) on making a living in the performing arts in rural communities: ‘It’s a Living, Never Constant: adapting to one’s surroundings.’

The Lollipop Guild Formation: We’re Not Suckers, We Don’t Work for Free

Patricia Fell, Artistic Director, Windsor Feminist Theatre

Patrick Hannon, Navigator, Making Waves

Trevor Malcolm, Professional Composer and Musician

TJ Travis, Executive Director, Bloomfield House

All participate in The Pelee Island Stone & Sky Music & Arts Series in various capacities, and work in the Windsor-Essex Pelee Island region of beautiful south-western Ontario. An open discussion identifying, amongst other realities, the regionally common cultural assumption that artists work for free because ‘we love what we do’, exploring ways in which to alter this misconception through accessible, sustainable, and culturally acceptable models.

Canadian Network for Arts and Learning: Get on the Map!

Jennifer Petrilli, Managing Director, Canadian Network for Arts and Learning/Le Réseau canadien pour les arts et l’apprentissage

The Canadian Network for Arts & Learning / Le Réseau canadien pour les arts et l’apprentissage (CNAL/RCAA) is creating a digital map of arts and learning and we want YOU to help guide the development of this vital tool. In this session, CNAL/RCAA will take you on a tour of the map and lead discussions on this innovative resource for artists, educators, arts organizations, schools and the public. Join this session to get on the map, and to let us know how the map can support the important work that you do in your community.

AfterWhys: Breaking the Silence on Suicide and Seniors

Catherine Frid, Playwright, Puslinch Township, Ontario

Paula Frappier, member of the Suicide Awareness Council of Wellington-Dufferin, Wellington and Dufferin Counties, Ontario

Ross Coulter, Creation Group Member, Guelph, Ontario

This combination panel discussion and theatrical performance will reveal how sharing stories and co-creating a play with rural seniors whose lives have been touched by suicide helps in breaking down the barriers to conversation.

What We Measure Counts, What We Count Matters

Inga Petri, CMRP – Principal, Strategic Moves, Ottawa, Ontario and Whitehorse, Yukon

A practical proposal for meaningful performance measurement for rural, volunteer-driven organizations.

The Power and the Magic of the Mask

Teodoro Dragonieri, Multi-disciplinary Artist and Educator, Toronto, Ontario

In this interactive presentation, attendees will become acquainted with the artistic nature, cultural connections, and universal significance of the mask, gaining insights into ways of utilizing masks in their own communities through theatrical presentations, educational programming, and carnivalesque celebrations.

Which Way Does Your Compass Point?

David Newland, Ambassador, Adventure Canada, Cobourg, Ontario

Heidi Langille, Performer/Presenter, Siqiniup Qilauta (Sunsdrum), Plantagenet, Ontario

Lynda Brown, Performer/Presenter, Siqiniup Qilauta (Sunsdrum), Ottawa, Ontario

Drawing on their experience performing extensively in rural contexts, David, with Heidi and Lynda of Sunsdrum, will explore, through slides and performance featuring both Inuit traditional and contemporary music, lessons they have learned about collaboration and reconciliation, and what it means to be Northern.

Connecting Community Members Through the Arts: The Friendship Project

By Kaitlyn Patience, Arts Coordinator, Arts Milton

In the summer of 2017 Arts Milton became aware of project funding under the Government of Ontario’s Multicultural Community Capacity Grant Program. The motivation to apply for this funding came from a renewed goal to offer greater inclusion in our programming. The timeline of the project fell perfectly between Milton Culture Days in September and our Summer Days musical performance series.

With the goal of capacity building for newcomers in mind, members of the board who were once newcomers themselves – Sanjay and Aparna Rangnekar, and Susana Silva (from India and Colombia) gathered together with Board President Auleen Carson to brainstorm program ideas. Their hope was to bring newcomers into the arts community in Milton – a town which is growing quickly and welcoming new cultures.

From this gathering the concept of the “The Friendship Project” was born. The premise was simple (though the logistics would be a different story!). We planned to connect 30 newcomers to Canada with 30 volunteer hosts from the community, and together they would attend a series of free arts and culture activities. Activities would include dance classes, music lessons, arts and craft workshops, as well as tickets to dance and theatre shows. The objective of the project was to build relationships between newcomers and members of the community through shared arts and culture experiences. Other goals included fostering friendship, increasing intercultural understanding, creating awareness about local recreation activities and businesses, and offering an opportunity to experience some of Milton’s culture first hand.

The grant required that we match the 80% project funding with 20% cash or in-kind from our own organization and local contributions. Arts Milton put forth additional funding for staffing costs and marketing materials, and we partnered with the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton who provided in-kind meeting space, workshop space and tickets to theatre shows. The role of Coordinator was assigned to me, and my contract extended into the new year.

The first and most important step was outreach to find our newcomer and host participants. As the confirmation of funding was not received until mid-November, the time of year proved difficult for reaching out to local organizations. We approached the Halton Multicultural Council, the Centre for Skills Development & Training, the Milton Community Resource Centre and various elementary schools in the hopes of signing on newcomer families. The final 32 newcomers hailed from a variety of countries including Mexico, Egypt, China, Turkey, Kenya, India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

In future, we would like to advertise host positions and conduct interviews. But for this first iteration of the program we wanted to feel confident that the hosts were outgoing, passionate people with a love for the arts within their community. We sent out invitations to friends of the organization, and Culture Days participants and ended up with 29 hosts. I did my best to match families with children of similar ages. I hoped that doing so would create lasting connections and offer the families a good point of contact within the community.

Each participant was slated to attend three arts activities as either a spectator or participant, followed by a final dinner celebration at the end of the program. I’m a planner and scheduler by nature but the multi-leveled coordination of partner families (each person with their own unique work, school and extracurricular commitments) proved to be a challenge! In addition to this I had to factor in the schedule and availability of show times, instructors and locations. The resulting schedule was beautiful, but precarious. I knew from the beginning that a single case of cancellation, no show, or inclement weather could cause a portion of the planning to collapse. And so, I resolved to relax, and adopt a “deal with it as it comes” attitude. As was expected there were a number of situations that arose: locations were full last minute, activity instructors became ill, participants had other commitments arise, and some families arrived in part not in whole. My goal was to have the integrity of the program remain intact (meaning there was a selection of both hosts and newcomers which met the workshop minimum capacity). In most instances this meant proceeding with the activity, but some had to be rescheduled.

We realized immediately following the first activity that it would be imperative to have some sort of icebreaker for participants. We set about planning one as soon as possible – an afternoon of refreshments and board games. Although it was a last-minute addition to the program, we found it to be one of the most successful components! All generations enjoyed the variety of board games and moved from table to table trying their hand at something new. Like all of the activities it was ideal in that it allowed conversation to flow naturally. One of our volunteer hosts said “We really enjoyed the board game event as it allowed us to spend quality time with our newcomer family and have fun.”

Some activities were larger with up to 30+ participants, others more intimate with just two families of eight people total. There were three activities in which all participants were invited to – the board game afternoon, the final closing dinner, and a Nia body movement class. Of course, not all families were able to attend these three events but they had an excellent turn out. A sampling of the other activities included cooking classes in which students crafted individual cheesecakes and quiche, music exploration that allowed everyone to attempt guitar, ukulele, piano and drums, an exuberant Bollywood dance class, a handmade paper-making workshop, and a theatre show about a travelling family who visited Main Streets all across Canada – A Tale of a Town.

It was difficult to find and plan activities which would appeal to both children and adults but I thought it best to speak to the sensibilities of the younger generation as most of the adults were participating in a family format. We also faced last- minute issues of adult content which we navigated by developing an additional activity for children at the same time, in the same location.

In addition to the success of the group activities and the organic nature of busy hands allowing for easy conversation we have already seen relationships develop! Participants took steps on their own to foster friendship by driving one another home after activities, arranging future play dates, inviting each other to their children’s upcoming sporting events, and attending recreation activities organized by host families.

We hope to run the program again. However, the funding terms and timelines of this particular granter have changed and thus we will need to look elsewhere for the financial support required. We believe the Project was an immense success. And thanks to marketing efforts (magazine and newspaper articles) while the program was in effect, we have received numerous inquiries from willing participants for the next cycle!

SPARC Interviews … Marie Zimmerman about the Guelph Fab 5

The Guelph Fab 5 are five arts festivals in the Guelph area that have formed a unique collaborative model founded on co-presenting and co-producing. Comprised of the Guelph Dance Festival, the Hillside Festival, the Guelph Jazz Festival, Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, and the Guelph Film Festival, the Guelph Fab 5 has been over ten years in the making, has overcome many challenges along the way, and is a great example of the power of true collaboration.  This week Rebecca chats with Marie Zimmerman (current Executive Director of the Hillside Festival) about the evolution of this collaborative model. 



How did the Guelph Fab 5 start?

It happened organically. The managers of all five festivals were all in contact quite a bit, and we thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could do one big festival all together?’ That was too daring a concept, really, and would take a lot of funds and organization, so instead we started talking about doing some marketing together. This was in about 2006. We were all united by the fact that we were promoting contemporary, cutting edge art of some kind; each festival had established itself as a presenter that pushed boundaries. So we started developing a postcard that would tie all five festivals together and establish us as a group: The “Guelph Fab 5”. Once we had designed the postcard (on the front was a poster image from each festival, with each festival’s name, and on the back was a quote or byline from each) we got in touch with a woman who was part of Tourism at the City of Guelph, and she ended up funding the distribution, which meant that the postcard went out to a whole bunch of tourism outlets around Ontario (in addition to local and regional sites). Our first campaign as the Guelph Fab 5 was “a city for all seasons”: Hillside Inside in February, the Dance Festival in May, July is the Hillside Festival and then in September it’s the Writers’ Festival and the Jazz Festival, and in November, the Film Festival.

So it really started as a marketing idea.

How has the collaboration evolved since?

Well, we applied for a Strategic Initiatives grant through Canadian Heritage to support further marketing endeavours. It provided funds for us to hire a consultant – somebody who could work on getting a campaign together – so that’s what we did. With the consultant we developed a sponsorship package for the Fab 5 to use collectively. We faced a lot of challenges with collective sponsorship, however, because different festivals had different policies surrounding promotion at their festivals. So we ran into many different kinds of problems, but the whole experience was really rich for us, educationally. And through all of these efforts to market and secure sponsorships together, we stumbled on co-presenting, which is our current model. Having each festival present acts at the other festivals.

We got funding from Ontario Trillium Foundation to create a manual about our model, and the manual basically condenses ten years of our learning about how to negotiate and operate very smoothly a collective of five imaginative, interesting, opinionated festivals. It’s a bit peculiar perhaps, but we’ve applied it to other festivals that want to partner with us and it works really well.

In brief, the host festival always provides hospitality and technical production support, and the incoming festival pays the artists’ fees. And both festivals are promoting the co-presentation.

Is that manual something that others can access?

Yes. If people are interested in looking at it they can just contact me.

You’ve mentioned some challenges throughout the evolution of the model – I would imagine that others arose because of the different organizational structures of the festivals?

Yes – some came from philosophical differences. Some festivals were more protective than others and that was problematic because we really needed people to be motivated by the bigger picture: We are going to serve our community better if we cooperate. This means we all need to be open and divulge information about how we work, and what we pay and so on. It’s unfortunate that not-for-profit festivals and events see each other as competitors because they are competing for funding. So we had a hard time overcoming that.

Transitions in staffing continue to pose challenges sometimes. If somebody is leaving a festival and has someone succeeding them, they really have to make sure they are passing along the right information about the model and the responsibilities of each festival.

How do you negotiate the co-presentations? What does that process look like?

Ideally, one festival will pick an act that they feel represents their festival and will also work with the infrastructure of another festival. They approach that other festival and present their idea and things move forward from there. Sometimes festivals are approached by artists. For example, Hillside might be contacted by a dancer who wants to perform at our festival. We would then reach out to the Dance Festival and ask if they would like to co-present the dancer at our festival. And then the Dance Festival makes the decision based on the artist and how they align with their mandate, etc.

We negotiate these co-presentations throughout the year. We start talking in September for the months ahead and we have conversations about what we’re doing and ideas that we have.

The important thing with a collaborative model is to keep it all out on the table. All the potentially difficult and awkward conversations – you need to have them.

Are there any plans for new collaborative events or expansions on the current model?

We did try to do a cabaret night where each festival presented something – so five different art forms in one evening. It didn’t really work – I think that was partly the venue and partly the format being so different from what each festival usually does.

Going forward we will be changing our name from the “Guelph Fab 5” to the “Guelph Fab Festivals” to enable us to partner with other festivals that have come to the area. As soon as you announce yourself to be a ‘city of festivals’ you attract people who are in the arts. So now we have a fringe theatre festival, a comedy festival, we’ve got a couple of other music festivals. Festivals are proliferating and we would be happy to co-present things with them.

What are some positive outcomes you’ve seen as a result of the collaboration?

We’ve seen audiences at each festival increase for sure – anywhere from 22-74%.

A smaller festival like the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival has been able to advertise their festival more throughout the entire year–something that they weren’t able to do as much of in the past because of limited resources.

We also did some surveys that looked at the economic impact of the five festivals – how much money we were bringing into the region collectively. Having the quantitative value of the festivals certainly garnered some positive attention.

And what those surveys also revealed was that people were surprised at the beauty and the value of other art forms that they were able to see at other festivals. They felt that that was a real gift.

Are there any tips that you would give to others interested in pursuing a similar kind of collaborative model? What sorts of conversations should be had before they come to you for the manual?

There are a number of principles and practices outlined in the manual itself in terms of where to start and what each festival needs to do (i.e. designate one person who will represent the festival and have the power to make decisions, ensure each festival rep can contribute about 120 hours/year to the partnership etc.).

I would say the most important thing to do when you’re entering into this kind of collaboration is to establish whether or not the collaborators are on the same page philosophically about the value of the arts and about the value of getting their art form in front of new audiences. I know that must sound oxymoronic – when you talk about developing audiences everybody wants to do that – but you have to be willing to collaborate in a really open way. You can’t just try to attract someone else’s audience and not be willing to give back. Everyone has to want to collaborate and share resources and share audiences, and recognize the value in that.


To learn more about the Guelph Fab 5, visit their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and feel free to get in touch with Marie, at