Rebecca Represents SPARC at the N3 Arts Presenters Summit

By Rebecca Ballarin (Network Coordinator)

If you follow us on Twitter or Instagram, you may have seen some of my updates from the N3 Arts Presenters Summit in Whitehorse last week. Michele Emslie (who facilitated our 2016 symposium) invited me to attend this gathering alongside several other national delegates, as well as international delegates from Norway, Greenland and Finland. I am so grateful I had this opportunity, both on a personal level (going to the Yukon has been on my traveling “wish list” for a few years) and a professional one. At the summit I met so many incredible people doing incredible things in rural and remote areas. It was inspiring to hear their stories, and I made a number of great connections that I think will be beneficial for SPARC as we continue to build our network. For this blog post I’m going to share some of the activities I participated in and sessions I attended, including as many links as possible for your clicking pleasure!


I joined a group of “non-Yukoners” who were flown in early so that we could do some networking and partake in a culture tour around Whitehorse. On the shuttle we were greeted by Suzanne de la Barre, who presented us with a task that required us to take “field notes” on both our expectations before entering, and experiences after leaving each cultural site. These notes would then be used as part of Suzanne’s Cultural Tourism workshop on Friday. Our journey took us to

With only 17 minutes at each stop, this “sampling” of different locations didn’t allow for deep engagement, but was a great way to introduce tourists to a new city. It encouraged us to explore places we may not have otherwise found, and to support local businesses and organizations during the rest of our trip.


The Summit officially began Thursday evening with a gallery opening at the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC). It was really neat to be included in this event, where I could connect with other summit attendees and members of the local community. A highlight for me was the Youth Gallery, which exhibited a number of works by a seven-year-old artist named Owen. Owen was there for the opening and we had a long discussion about his favourite pieces, how he created them, and why he loves doing art. It was so cool to see local youth showcased in this way!

After spending time at the YAC, we all went to Antoinette’s, an incredible local restaurant, for dinner and networking. It was packed that night as Antoinette (the owner) was also hosting an International Women’s Day event !


The first full day of the conference started with a networking activity and a Yukon First Nations Welcome which included the incredible Elijah Smith Dancers from Elijah Smith Elementary School. (Click here for an article about how culture, traditions and language are shared among Yukon First Nations and non-First Nation students at this school)

This was followed by Pecha Kucha community presentations by students from the School of Visual Arts in Dawson City, Melissa Shaginoff (curator of contemporary Indigenous art and culture at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska), Dennis Shorty and Jennifer Frohling (artists working in Ross River who have  created their own cultural centre in the area), Joonas Martikainen (Managing director of the Silence Festival in Finland), and Ellen Hamilton and Julia Ogina (representing Qaggiavuut, a non-profit society dedicated to strengthening the Nunavut performing arts, and currently campaigning to raise support for the construction of a performing arts centre in Nunavut).  If you aren’t familiar with the Pecha Kucha format, you should click the link above and read more. It offers a neat way to approach presentations that pushes presenters to be precise and image oriented!

Following these presentations we were invited to listen to an artist’s talk with Reneltta Arluk (who you might recognize as one of the keynote speakers for our upcoming SPARC symposium!). Reneltta  discussed her experiences as an Indigenous actress and theatre creator; from the different training programs she completed, to the companies she has worked with across the country.

After an afternoon workshop and discussion on the complexities of cultural tourism, we headed back to the YAC for an artist showcase. Singer-songwriter Lazarus Qattalik opened for Diyet and the Love Soldiers. Lazarus came to the summit from Igloolik, Nunavut, and this showcase was the first time he had performed outside of his home community. It was truly very special to be there in the audience supporting such a talented musician.


If you attended our 2014 symposium, you probably remember Inga Petri and her presentation on the research paper “The Value of Presenting”. Inga led us through a Digital Innovation workshop on Saturday morning, and offered many useful tips to easily improve the information that appears when your organization is “Googled”. She also presented some big ideas about the development of a digital distribution platform for the performing arts in Canada along with plans for a Digital Lab Collaborative in the Yukon.

Before lunch we were treated to four “theatre pitches” by Yukon-based companies: Gwaandak Theatre, Nakai Theatre, Open Pit Theatre, and Ramshackle Theatre.

In the afternoon I acted as “rapporteur” for the Youth Engagement table at the “Knowledge Café”. Two facilitators (in our case Jona Barr and Andrea Simpson-Fowler) led the discussion as different people joined the table intermittently to talk about youth outreach. Some of the key action steps I pulled from our discussions were:

  • Space: Youth need a safe and open space which they can use and make their own.
  • Relationship building: Staff or volunteers working with youth need to love working with them and be dedicated to long-term relationship building. Too often youth outreach involves someone coming to do work and then leaving again. Youth should feel liked and appreciated; when they do, they will stick around.
  • Leadership: Provide opportunities for youth to take on leadership roles. Providing leadership training opportunities for youth who participate in your programming will lead to more well-equipped staff for you to hire in the future! This also encourages youth to give back to the community, and can be inspiring for younger participants to see how they may be able to apply their skills and experience in the future.
  • Partner: If someone is doing youth outreach/programming well – get in touch with them! Partner with them. Collaborate with them. You don’t have to start from scratch.

We had another INCREDIBLE showcase Saturday evening (kudos to Eric Epstein- Artistic Director of the Theatre program at the YAC for putting this one together). The lineup featured The Sweeties, Soda Pony, Leela Gilday, Calla Kinglit, the Dakhká Kwáan Dancers, and Quantum Tangle. This showcase ended with another performance by Lazarus, who was accompanied by Leela and Quantum Tangle for an awesome finale number.


The main focus of this final half-day was action plans and next steps: Asking ourselves what we would be taking away from the summit.

Our two Elder Witnesses gave reports at the beginning of the day, reflecting on what they had witnessed over the weekend. We then had some focused discussions in small groups, looking at the big themes in our action plans (which we had been asked to fill out prior to the last day). We worked together to identify concrete action items that we could pursue upon returning home. I joined a group discussing relationship building with First Nations communities. Witnessing Elder Shirley Adamson, a member of the Wolf Clan and citizen of the Ta’an Kwach’an of the Tagish Kwan, joined us and provided some thoughtful insight about building relationships both with organizations and individual artists. I’m looking forward to receiving a summary of the notes that we handed in at the end of our discussion. I intend to add the action items we brainstormed to my work-plan for the rest of the year.

After these break-out discussions, we all joined a sharing circle for another artists’ talk, this time led by the artists of Quantum Tangle – Tiffany Ayalik and Greyson Gritt. Tiffany and Greyson focused the discussion on the responsibility of presenters to create safe spaces for artists – specifically Indigenous and Two-Spirit artists. They spoke about some of their negative experiences at music festivals – experiencing abuse, experiencing misuse of personal pronouns and experiencing a lack of support and accountability from festival organizers. They offered actions that everyone could implement to create safer spaces. Their honesty made for a very impactful discussion, and I don’t think I’m the only person who left the circle thinking about what I needed to do in advance of our next event.


It’s a few days after the summit has ended, I’ve returned home, and I’m still processing my experiences. After catching up on emails (and publishing this blog post!) I’ll be making time to reflect. To go back through all my notes to find all the places where I jotted down “maybe SPARC could…” or “an opportunity for SPARC to…”. I’ll be putting together a list of follow-up calls and emails to make, organizations to research further, and relationships to build. I’m so grateful to Michele and her amazing team, as well as all the presenters and facilitators, and all the other attendees, for everything they did to make this summit a success. Opportunities to get together and share are so important; they challenge, inspire, and invigorate. I look forward to continuing the discussions had in Whitehorse with the delegates that were there. And I look forward to building on these discussions with the SPARC community and at our symposium in May!

A group of us after returning from a visit to the Takhini Hot Springs on Sunday afternoon. A great way to unwind after the end of an amazing summit!





SPARC Interviews… Steve Kozinski of Temiskaming Shores, ON

For the next interview in SPARC’s new series, Steve Kozinski offers insight about his experience working with youth in one of the Digital Creator North labs in in Northern Ontario. While chatting with Chandel Gambles, Northern Outreach Consultant, he reflects on his experience promoting and developing new projects, engaging with youth, and exploring the many uses of film for networking and arts creation.

C: You are in the Temiskaming area working with youth. Can you tell us where you are from and what brought you here?

S: I’ve been in Temiskaming for just over a year. I am working as the Digital Creator North Program Lead for Temiskaming Shores. It’s a two year initiative that was created by the Near North Mobile Media, a non-profit organization based in North Bay.

I am originally from Russel, Ontario, a place just outside of Ottawa and I’ve always wanted to be in the north. There wasn’t much of a media arts scene in Russel growing up, so as a kid I wasn’t very interested in the arts in general. But I decided to go to school in North Bay at Canadore College and took television, video broadcasting, and cinematography courses. One of the teachers there, Chris Kosloski, invited me to volunteer at an art exhibit that was curated by the Mobile Media. I did some work with them on different occasions, and after I graduated I learned about this new program they planned to launch in six locations across Northern Ontario. I applied and said I would go anywhere in the North, so they sent me to Temiskaming!

You say you weren’t really interested in the arts as a youth. What’s your perspective on drawing in high-school youth compared to young professionals?

I remember being a teen and thinking how it wasn’t “cool to care”. That changes when you head into college, were the coolest thing you can do is care about as much as possible. Youth are keen to do new and exciting projects, but it may not always look that way from the outside.

Offering the youth a designated space to feel comfortable lets them be themselves and explore new ideas alone and in groups. In those spaces, they don’t need to worry about what others think or where they are in their learning process. They can create projects based on their interests. This gives students room to explore and discover new ideas and art they care about. You’re not asking them to care about something you’re interested in. In our lab, their ideas and art lead the projects. Having a designated space for youth is key to making this possible.

Meanwhile, young professionals want to work on creating new and exciting projects, I know I do. They have just graduated and are keen to take on challenges. Young professionals often go where the jobs lead them, and youth migration is a reality. But if you give them chances to help lead on projects while they are around, you can benefit from the skills they have to offer in the short term – it may just inspire them to access those young entrepreneur grants or arts project grants so they can stay in town!

You are working with youth all of the time. Do you have any insight for our members about how we can reach out and connect with them?

When I started working with the youth, I thought that Facebook was one of the best mediums to connect with people. But as I spent time working with the teens, I quickly realized that “Facebook wasn’t cool” and “that’s where parents hangout.” The youth are on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, so those are the media platforms you need to connect with them.

That being said, I’ve found that it’s through word of mouth, school presentations, and one-on-one chats that you actually make the most initial headway encouraging youth to join new initiatives. Its old school, but it works. It starts slow, but once you get a few youth, they bring friends, and then those friends bring their friends. Then you can use the social media tools to maintain those connections and conversations over the long term.

How did you manage to connect with students in the schools and what new opportunities did that outreach lead to?

I spoke to the principal at one school and sent her a bio about myself and the Digital Creator project. She was onboard, and sent the information along to the teachers, who in turn invited me to come in and do presentations. You always say yes to every invitation, because collaboration, help, and interest can turn up in the most unexpected places. For example, some teachers began designing workshops using my skills and resources in their classes, which was really cool. Going into the First Aid class, which you wouldn’t think would be a promotional outlet for a Digital Creator’s workshop, I was asked by the teacher to help students design a 3D trachea that the students then used to practice puncturing holes. You can find connections to art in the strangest ways possible.

If a person wanted to create a popular new program for youth in the area, how would you go about doing that? What would you want to create? How would you then make it financially possible to run that program in the long term?

I think it’s important to consider the needs and interests of your community when developing programs and events. You need to talk with people. In New Liskeard, I like to reach out to the teens and youth and find out what they are interested in. A lot of the youth in this area want to know about video game design.

If I were to create that project, I would find funding to bring up workshop presenters with professional experience on certain topics, like video game design, to work with them. The cost might be expensive if the presenter were only doing a workshop for us. But if I connected with other interested communities along the route here, I bet we could share the cost. That would also allow many more presenters to come to the area. Creating networks and forming presenter circles really allows your money to go further. I’d like to see communities team up to make that possible, like they do for touring theatre productions.

How have you been able to offer such a breadth of resources and workshops in your media lab?

You have to be open to working with other people. Every single collaboration I’ve worked on has come about by sitting down and having a coffee, or meeting with people online. There are some terrific people in the area to work with, and they are keen to share their skills, like Drew at Good Gauley Productions and Alexander Rondeau. Everyone around here is so willing to participate and they have a lot to offer. That lets us do so much more.


And sometimes the specialized topics students want to cover don’t have resources nearby. I’ve found that collaborations can also occur over long distances. We get artists from Toronto to come up north too. Organizations like LIFT, Liaison International Filmmakers of Toronto get grant money to do workshops in remote communities. The Near North Mobile Media Lab reached out to them over the internet, and they said “hey, we like what you’re doing”. I choose the workshops I want to showcase, and they send up the presenters to do it twice a year. LIFT is a great resource. They say “hey we have the resources, we have the money, and we need to spend it by the end of the year.” They offer really unique workshops that you are unlikely to find elsewhere. They have a mandate they need to fill too, and sending people to the north helps them meet those goals. The only trick is, you have to network. You have to ask around. That’s how you make the best connections.

How would you suggest building your own film community, if you don’t have resources or funding like that of the Digital Creator Labs?

Resources aren’t a big blocking point for film creation anymore. You can make movies on your cellphone and access lots of editing tools online. There are movies at the Sundance Festival that have all been shot on a cellphone, like the film Tangerine. That group has a lot of suggestions about tools you can use. So you definitely have the resources in your pocket these days. You can even send your video content across the world to have it edited.

Your biggest hurdle is getting people to get on board with you. You have to meet like-minded people. You might use social media as a start. Make posters. Go to events. Just talk and find out about other people’s interests. Media is great, but human interaction also needs to happen, especially at the beginning. If you can’t meet regularly, send emails, hash out your ideas. Then start meeting over Skype video and keep everything rolling.

Sometimes a person can’t find others to team up with them on a project. Do you have any suggestions on how to use film and media to collaborate on various arts projects?

There are many way to use your networking tools and film resources to create connections across communities. I recall seeing one woman covering songs on Youtube. She worked together with another Youtube presenter and made online duets, where they appeared in a stylized way on shared video screens. They never met each other, but they created work together online, using side by side screens, sharing audio and music files. Their shared screen video creation looked just as smooth as a “regular” video. Entire symphonies have been recorded and shared online with different musicians recording their work at the same time on separate continents. Some musicians even use tools like Jamkazam to connect. You can even do live shows in one area and have it streaming in other remote communities or local care facilities at the same time. The video and media world is filled with resources to help you break barriers and translate your art ideas across your community and beyond. It really is what the SPARC Translations Symposium theme is all about! Video is the medium of networking enthusiasts and community minded presenters.

SPARC Interviews… Gordon Duff of Minto, ON

For the first interview in a new series that will appear on our blog, Network Coordinator Rebecca Ballarin spends some time chatting with SPARC member Gordon Duff. Gord has been engaged with SPARC since it began in 2014, and is leading an active team of volunteers in Minto that are very engaged with SPARC and are organizing a regional “mini-SPARC Symposium” in October of this year.  

R: Tell us a bit about yourself, the many roles you play in Minto, and your connections to the performing arts community.

G: I am a native of Waterloo, Ontario and a graduate of the business admin program at Wilfred Laurier University. After a career in public accounting, I joined the municipal sector (in 2002), so officially I am Treasurer/Deputy CAO and I also assist with cultural planning and economic development, sitting on various committees.

I have also been the treasurer of the Minto Arts Council since its inception in 1997 – not that I have any artistic talent, but I support the work of artists in the town by keeping the books, filing the reports and I help to run the Basement Café (a coffeehouse-style music event hosted by the Arts Council), and I am on the Ontario Task Force for Culture Days.

How long have you been on the Task Force for Culture Days?

About five years – and this is a direct product of SPARC, because Aubrey Reeves attended the presentation we made [at the 2014 SPARC Symposium] and she followed up and asked if I would like to be on that.

And how did you get involved with the arts council when it started? How were you brought on board?

I had a friend who is an artist and there was maybe a group of 8 people or so, and I was still in public accounting, and I remember he came in to the office and said “Hey! Do you want to join this? We need somebody to keep the books!” So that’s how!

And that’s how I got into doing the [TIFF] Film Circuit too – I’m the programmer for the Minto edition of the Film Circuit. And what makes our theatre unusual is that we’re one of the few municipally owned movie theatres. So there are some hours worked by a paid staff member, but it’s all volunteers who take the tickets and run the concessions stand and all that.

So prior to getting involved in the Arts Council, did you have any involvement with arts organizations? Were you an avid patron of the arts? Or was that really the beginning of your involvement with the arts community?

I used to go to TIFF on my own before I was involved with that, but otherwise no, this was probably the beginning. I wasn’t involved in the arts at school or anything like that.

How would you describe the performing arts community in Minto?

I’d say for a community of our size, which is about 9,500, we have a pretty vigorous arts community. We have a local theatre guild [the Grey Wellington Theatre Guild] that just celebrated it’s 40th anniversary a few years ago, and our Arts Council is 21 years old, and there’s a Minto Dance Academy that’s been around for 40 years too. So even though this is a traditionally agricultural community, we have these organizations that have been around for a long time, it’s not a recent development. So, you know, you build on what you’ve got.

What does communication and collaboration look like in the community?

I think collaboration has gotten better in the last few years. Frequently, the theatre guild would hold something the same night as the Legion, and stuff like that. So the Town, we’ve tried to put together meeting places – both electronic and real – to try and communicate more, and we’ve put up a calendar so everyone can see what’s going on.

You’ve got to buy into the concept that we’re not really competing, we’re trying to compliment… and then we can continue to grow.

What was your first introduction to SPARC? 

Minto held a Rural Creative Economy Summit in the Fall of 2013 and Rachel Gillooly [2014 & 2016 SPARC Symposium Project Coordinator] attended that summit. She approached us afterwards and asked if we would like to do a presentation at the first SPARC symposium in Haliburton.

So our Mayor, a community member, and I ran a workshop titled “The Cultural Roundtable – Empowering and Engaging the Rural Community”. We were talking about who makes up a cultural roundtable and what they do and the process of taking a municipal budgetary allocation and translating that to try to meet the needs of different stakeholders.

After that I attended the Summit in the fall of 2014, and the 2016 Symposium as well.

What made you want to host a community consultation in Minto?  

I had remained involved with SPARC, and I thought that would be a good way to raise interest and inform people in our area about SPARC. I’d say no one [here] was engaged with SPARC to a great degree at that point.

What was learned at the first consultation? What were some exciting outcomes? 

There are so many community theatre groups within an hour and half of Minto! There were many, many groups that I didn’t know existed. I found that overall there was a willingness to work together, but a difficulty in knowing how. And that has shifted as we’ve continued to meet and talk, we’re finding more ways “how”. And network building was definitely positive – connecting with people working in other communities. For that consultation I reached out to everyone who had attended the SPARC symposium from about Stratford to Owen Sound, as well as other people that I might have known locally. And we had about 42 people there in attendance. I would like to keep doing that – bringing some groups here to learn from what they’re doing.


What is the group in Minto planning now? 

We’re planning a mini-SPARC symposium for October of this year. We are in the process of solidifying what topics we want to cover – probably audience development and marketing – and what speakers we will have in. We are hoping that the reach (in terms of attendees) will be similar to our first consultation.

Are there any other initiatives happening in the community right now that you would like to share with SPARC members? 

Hopefully we will do Culture Days again. We did a Culture Bus in the past – what will happen this year is still in development.

Harriston used to be the site of a Canada Packers ice cream and butter plant that closed in the early 90s. They’re having a reunion this summer so a couple different committees are working on a public art campaign to put metal ice cream cones down the main street that will be painted by different artists.

And our Arts Council just had a very successful concert last week. Everything we did in 2017 wasn’t necessarily the most successful in terms of attendance, so we mixed it up. We held it on a Friday instead of a Saturday, we served wine – it went really well. So one of our colleagues pulled together a quick survey to try to determine what we did right. We’ve done a few things wrong [in the past] obviously, not always connecting with the audience, so looking at that survey is one of the things we’re working on.

And that survey, did it go out after the fact?

Actually a board member pulled together a survey that very day, and we put it out on tables and we had the emcee announce that you would have a chance to enter a draw for free tickets if you filled out the survey. So we did a personal approach and got a pretty good response rate.

What is one tip you would give, or something you would like to say, to others working in the performing arts in rural and remote areas?

Keep an open mind and be alert to involving newcomers into existing arts organizations and try to meet the challenge to overcome volunteer burnout and replenish retiring workers. We are getting a lot of city people coming up here and may have a lot of skills and interests to offer: How do you reach out to them? How do you know they’re here? How do they know you’re here? And engaging youth as well. There are lots of Youth Action Councils that have sprung up over the past few years – we have one and there is a young woman on it who has an interest in the arts so we have her acting as the student liaison on the arts council. So that’s hopeful.

Have you found anything helpful in terms of managing volunteer burnout in the past?

We had Reva Cooper in from Waterloo and she did a whole series of chats on volunteer recruitment and retention and I guess the biggest thing we learned was to try and shift our thinking from getting “lifetime volunteers” to finding people that maybe want to work more on a project by project basis. They don’t want to make a big commitment but there’s still interest there. So that’s one way that organizations can maybe be a bit more flexible. But you do still need those long-term volunteers for continuity too.

Cobalt’s Symposium Committee Is More Connected Than You’d Think

Today, we introduced the SPARC network to the faces and names behind the 2018 SPARC symposium planning committee, based in Cobalt, Ontario. Without these active volunteers, we would never be able to organize such a large and complex event.

Similar to rural communities across Ontario, organizations often find their volunteers linked to many other projects and initiatives throughout their community. Looking at the symposium planning committee members, and the groups they represent, gives us some insight into the idea that a strong performance arts scene relies on networking ties throughout the community. To give you an idea of this community spirit, let’s look at a few of the arts related projects and organizations these individuals are involved with.

Village Noël Temiskaming, is an event very near and dear to the heart of Réjeanne Bélisle-Massie, who acts as co-president of its host francophone organization, Le Centre culturel ARTEM. This annual tourism event immerses the community in a New France themed Christmas Village that brings together the local French, First Nation, and English communities. With the help of costumed performers, fire pits in the streets, arts and crafts vendors, evening entertainment, old-fashioned games and contests, huts, drum circles, sleigh rides, and decorations that could make any environment look a couple hundred years older, this organization succeeds at uniting the community through the performing arts. ARTEM recognizes that the history, cultures, and industries that the Temiskaming area is built upon offer a lot to inspire performing arts initiatives and community events.

By connecting to local businesses, throughout the region on both sides of the provincial border, as well as volunteer organizations, clubs, and government sponsors, this organization encourages everyone to pool their resources and skills to keep the entire community at the heart of its endeavours. Just check out the sponsor list to see that diversity in outreach can sometimes be a great key tosuccess! ARTEM is known for its wonderful ability to collaborate and network, while ensuring strong representation of French Culture. Be sure to connect with them to learn more about uniting art with cultural outreach!

Similarly, Pied Piper Kidshows is another group that consistently encourages diversity and culture through their events and arts programming. The shared desire to host a spectrum of high-quality family-oriented touring productions is what has drawn five of the symposium committee members to this organization. The company regularly chooses to showcase performers that offer cultural diversity onstage, workshop learning opportunities throughout the community, and high-caliber performances that are engaging, exciting, and inclusive. This open-minded organization is thrilled to have partnerships with local businesses, community organizations, school boards, and government funders that support education, arts, and culture. It is through these connections that they are able to stretch their services across their entire community. Thinking outside the box, Pied Piper has collaborated with the New Liskeard Agricultural Society and The City of Temiskaming Shores to present art in new venues and outdoor spaces, offering performances that highlight the local industry and community spirit.


Their willingness to connect with a northern family presenter’s network across northern Ontario has also allowed them to stretch their budget to regularly offer a series of high-caliber acts. With the help of Network and Touring Coordinator Ceilidh Wood at Ontario Presents, they team with other presenters like Dryden Children’s Delight Series, Kids Kaleidoscope Entertainment Series in Sioux Lookout, Sunday Smiles Entertainment Series in Kenora, and Razzamataz Kids’ Shows in Haliburton, Kids and Company in Fort Frances, Atikokan Children’s Entertainment Series, Over the Rainbow Children’s Entertainment Series in Sault Ste. Marie, Kirkland Lake Family Entertaiment Series, Geraldton Children’s Entertainment Series, and Red lake Children’s Entertainment Series. Together, these groups coordinate their interests, booking schedules, and wallets, to ensure that each community gets the entertainment they want and deserve. Pied Piper is thrilled to have a network of support and hope others will contact Ceilidh, or reach out to them, if interested in learning more about this great presenter’s network.

Meanwhile in the world of film, Good Gauley Productions is always keen to collaborate on various community events and programs. Bringing video and film expertise to every project, Drew Gauley’s company regularly supports initiatives that engage the community through co-productions, and education opportunities. Teaming with The Temiskaming Screening Room , March break film camps were created to allow local youth to capture their own stories on film. This positive environment for creative film development was the precursor that made Temiskaming an ideal area to host one of the new northern Digital Creator Labs , which gives youth year-long access to film equipment and education.

The Screening room has also been responsible for ensuring that local film enthusiasts witness a range of edgy, independent, avant-garde, local and Canadian content, that would not otherwise be made available to them through Hollywood dominated cinema programming. It is through this shared desire to collaborate, support independent Canadian filmmakers, and offer educational resources to future generations, that film has become more accessible locally.

Cross-disciplinary collaboration also happens often in this region, as this symposium planning committee can attest to. Most recently, Roger Sumnar, Pied Piper, and Good Gauley Productions collaborated with the Temiskaming RockWalk Park and Lake Temiskaming Rift Valley Aspiring UNESCO Geopark to offer live entertainment and educational film outreach to help support geological tourism and job-creating opportunities in the region. These local performance groups recognize that supporting the growth of local initiatives often help the arts to flourish in kind.

It takes many hands to make a community thrive. It is the dedication of volunteers, an eagerness to collaborate, and a willingness to cross-promote, that ensures our communities grow together. We hope that you will reach out to some of these groups, or similar organizations in your community, to discover how you might work together in the future. There are so many skilled people in your community, across a range of industries and backgrounds. This means there are a million different ways to support each other! The first step to begin the process is to network – you’ll be inspired when you see it grow!

Rural Youth Shine at ROC’n’Revue

Written by guest blogger Krista Dalby

In the heart of Prince Edward County, Ontario, youth are finding their voices – and the community is listening! It’s all thanks to The ROC, an organization that provides opportunities and creates connections for youth ages 6 through 18. In early 2017 The ROC opened the Prince Edward County Youth Centre on Picton’s Main Street, quickly becoming a hub for local teens and home base for many of their creative pursuits.

The ROC’s highlight of the year is ROC’n’Revue, a performing arts showcase. Young musicians are mentored by professional artists who perform with them onstage at Picton’s premiere venue, The Regent Theatre.

Former ROC staffer Hilary Fennell started this initiative four years ago, drawing inspiration from her extensive background in theatre and her passion for supporting young people. She reached out to local musicians and asked if they’d be interested in mentoring a young performer. Many agreed, and a group of young people began rehearsing with their mentors, working towards an evening where they would share the stage. In its first year, The ROC formed a partnership with the historic Regent Theatre and there were about a dozen kids involved. With each passing year the community has become more involved, and in 2017 the ROC’n’Revue took a great leap forward, with attendance skyrocketing to 400, and more than 100 kids involved in the production. It was a dream come true for Fennell and The ROC staff. “We wanted the kids to step out on stage and see that their community supported them,” said Fennell. The evening included a large-scale visual arts piece, spoken word, as well an improv performance. An entrepreneurship class from the high school helped with promotion and gathering raffle prizes. This tremendous community effort paid off in spades, creating an uplifting evening that inspired performers and audience alike.

Some of the young performers involved have experienced music lessons while others are self-taught, but all benefit from working with professional musicians. True collaboration is encouraged, with both kids and adults contributing ideas to the partnership. When pairing youth with their mentors, interests and personalities of both parties are taken into consideration; shyer kids are sometimes paired with more introverted artists, while at other times the exact opposite match is made, as more extroverted mentors might be able to draw out the shyer kids.

Fennell put a lot of energy into ensuring successful mentorships. Once she’d made the initial introductions she spent plenty of time travelling around the community to their rehearsals. She checked in on what songs they’d selected to avoid duplication, and made sure the lyrics were age appropriate; if not, they were altered. Most importantly, she made sure the mentor/mentee relationships as well as the mentor/parent relationships remained positive. She refrained from micromanaging the mentors, acknowledging that there are different styles of mentoring. Throughout the experience, the youth are developing skills beyond just performance, including how to deal with adults other than their parents and teachers; they learn how to advocate for themselves and improve their ability to communicate. Parents are encouraged to give the youth and mentors space to develop their own rapport, and Fennell has only ever seen those connections flourish as the teams worked towards the big night where they’d perform together on stage.

ROC’nRevue has become such a highly-polished professional production, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching kids perform. At the 2017 showcase, two local elementary schools performed numbers from their school plays, including one school’s rendition of The Lion King’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight? This performance by young costumed kiddies was so sweet and heartwarming, it let the audience step out of that professional experience for a moment, reminding them that they were, in fact, watching children. Fennell teared up when recounting an interaction with a petrified kid who was trying to bail from performing at the last moment. “I had to let them know that this is one of the safest risks they would ever take; the worst that could happen is that they would be loved and applauded by their community.”

Before the evening is even over, kids, parents, and mentors are already asking to be involved the following year. This is a far cry from those first years when it was a challenge to get the community on board with something they hadn’t experienced before. While the event has now proven itself, Fennell and her team still had to hustle to get bums in seats. She recalled the early years and how she’d had a problem finding kids to participate; this clearly isn’t an issue any more. If anything, the showcase’s success may become a challenge, as each year more kids want to be involved and those who have previously performed are keen to return.

The impact of such a positive performing arts experience for youth cannot be understated. Fennell says, “I’ve seen so many kids come out of their shells by having the opportunity to perform in a supportive environment… and the performing arts will continue to grow here as new opportunities are provided.”

The fifth annual ROC’n’Revue will return to The Regent Theatre May 17, 2018. The ROC hopes to make it even bigger and better, continuing to include other art forms. The ROC staff would be happy to speak with anyone interested in starting a youth performing arts showcase in their own rural community.




**We are currently seeking guest bloggers and/or vloggers from rural and remote performing arts backgrounds to contribute their experiences, wisdom, struggles and ideas to our online blog.  Please get in touch if you feel like you have an article, story or hot topic to share! 

Memberships, Symposiums, and Funding Support: Paying Off in Both the Long and Short Terms!

By Chandel Gambles, SPARC Northern Outreach Consultant

Registration for Translation: The SPARC Symposium is now open, and we can hear the sharp intake of breath across Ontario.

“How will we afford the registration?” “We are volunteers.” “We want to attend, but don’t have a conference budget!”

Never ye fear! With the generous assistance of the Government of Ontario, Ontario Trillium Fund, Canadian Heritage Grants, and Ticketpro SPARC is able to bring the conference cost down by 35- 45% for our members.

“How is that possible?”

Although conference attendance is valued at over $260, the support of our generous funding agencies allows us to make the cost more accessible by offering a subsidy. It doesn’t mean we are pretending the conference is worth more than it is, because the original price is indeed the cost (EEK!). Fortunately, there are tremendous supporters out there who think that this networking opportunity is so vitally important that they are emptying out their pockets to get everyone there.

“That’s great news! But what’s the catch?”

There is indeed one slight catch, and we think it is a rather good one. To access the discount prices, you must become a MEMBER.

“A Member? A MEMBER! I would never join any club that would have me as a MEMBER!”

But we most certainly think you should! We want each of you to join our FREE rural network – because the thing that SPARC and our funders know, is that more important than that discount cost is the value of a supportive network.

To develop these connections, we need to know more about our members. We need to know where you are working, and what you are doing in Ontario, so that we can help you, and pass along all of the wonderful information about you to your fellow rural artists and organizers. Making a team is no use at all if you don’t know what everyone’s skills are and what games they’re interested in playing. It would be like creating a soccer team without giving them a field, names, contact numbers, or a ball to play with. (Worst. Team. EVER!)

Oh yes, it’s true WE know who you are. We have seen some of you at symposiums and conferences, and had the absolute delight to come to your towns and help develop networking connections on a local level. But we want those connections to reach further. It’s not enough that we know you – we need you to know each other.

Once you are members, we’re going to give you the tools, services, and resources to collaborate on projects, find like-minded organizations and easily stay in touch. We want you to support each other’s initiatives, share project ideas, and promote and showcase artists in each other’s communities. We want you talking to each other, so that we’re suddenly the third wheel in your relationships.

Over the past few weeks you may have noticed some new opportunities offered to SPARC members to help your initiatives. We have revamped our member network site and moved discussion to Facebook to make conversation more accessible and tailored to your interests. We have added a resources section to the member network site and posted lists of Arts Councils and Funding Sources. And, last week, we announced our Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund (Blog posting January 19th, , 2018), which will provide funding that will help you develop unique projects and resources within your community and beyond! That program will also help create resources and project ideas that can be shared to help other members and communities.

We have seen what rural and remote communities have to offer and we’ve met the inspired brains that are backing these local initiatives. SPARC believes that the needs and interests of our members should continue to guide the development of the resources, services, and tools we create for you. We know that if you become members and are offered the tools to work together, sustain a network, and thrive, then together we will knock down barriers, rally members, and build a strong performing arts community. Attending Translation will be key to doing that.

Our symposiums offer a coming together of minds to discuss current issues and concerns, while sharing knowledge and examples about how communities and organizations have overcome those challenges. Each symposium we’ve hosted has a completely unique focus while allowing you to meet and develop working relationships with likeminded individuals. This networking event offers a place where discoveries and connections are made. That is the core purpose of any membership and a primary reason to attend this year’s symposium.

We know of all sorts of travel partners who want you to be there too! The OAC has special working in Northern Ontario and in Dance . 



To help you with these applications, we are creating three of the requested grant documents for you to access, so you can zip right through your paperwork! In the next few weeks, you’ll be able to access those documents through our website so you can send out travel grant request with plenty of time to spare! Stay tuned for that!

There are also general grants available for Media Arts, Multi and Inter-Arts, Theatre Arts, and Music that includes assistance funding for conferences and training. If you are unsure about what grants would be appropriate for you to apply for, call the OAC program coordinators, who are knowledgeable and willing to offer advice. The Canada Council for the Arts also offers Professional Development for Arts Professional grants to help artists attend conferences.


We are also incredibly thrilled to say that Ontario Northland, the main transportation network linking regions across Northern Ontario, is a proud supporter of the SPARC Symposium 2018! They are therefore offering a 20% symposium discount for attendees travelling to and from Cobalt between May 22nd – May 28th, 2018. VIA Rail is also pleased to offer a 10% discount for attendees travelling to Toronto to make the connections northward to Cobalt between May 22nd – May 29th, 2018. As other travel partnerships and discounts become available, we will also announce those updates on our member’s pages.

We have your backs! We have your pocket books supported! The only thing we don’t have yet….is you. We hope you will consider all these options, and plan to join us in Cobalt this May!


But if you KNOW you can’t come – and we hope that ain’t true! – We hope you’ll still get a free membership too! 

Show Swappers: A SPARC Collaborative Community Initiatives Project

By Eric Goudie

The goal of SPARC (Supporting Performing Arts in Rural Communities) is to be a catalyst for the collaboration of creators, presenters, producers and community animators in rural and remote communities across Ontario. This past Fall I joined forces with emerging presenter Bethany Brown to bring some (free) performances to our respective towns as part of the Ontario Culture Days festivities.

The idea behind this show was to do an “artist swap” between Hastings, Ontario and Fergus, Ontario, staging a free performance in each town. We applied for Collaborative Community Initiatives funding  from SPARC  to cover travel, accommodation, marketing, venue and production costs. Initially we considered doing two completely separate shows, with artists from one town playing in the other and vice versa, but soon found that it was both easier and more collaborative to put all artists into a single show, and give everyone two chances to perform.

Running time for the show was over 2.5 hours, so there was no shortage of content. During the set-up time in between acts my co-producer and I acted as hosts; we talked about SPARC, talked about Culture Days, and about the performing arts in our respective communities.

The show definitely hit its target, and built creative capacity in both of our communities. It allowed venues in both towns be included in Ontario Culture days, and it offered two free concerts to appreciative audiences, which is never a bad thing. But more importantly it became clear by the end of the show that it was the performers themselves who had grown the most. I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Artists from both towns had a chance to perform in a new location, for an unknown audience, and they gained valuable experience playing in a venue where family and friends didn’t make up the largest part of the audience. Artists from different disciplines (music, theatre, etc.) came together and collaborated. One musician who has written a play now wants to follow up with the theatre performers to get some feedback on his script. Another chose to drive himself instead of taking the transportation provided so that his videographer could come along, and several hours of promotional footage were shot during both shows. Those are the spin-off projects you can’t predict, let alone specify in a funding proposal, but that mean so much to the people involved.

Bethany and I learned a lot too, of course. We both gained a much deeper understanding of what it takes to collaborate to put on a show with another community, how important it is to be clear from the start about our respective visions, and to make sure logistical challenges are adequately addressed prior to show day. We also learned how important it is (and actually, how totally feasible it is) to calmly but rapidly adapt to changing production conditions, switching up the order of performers when someone is stuck in traffic or adding another microphone when the band invites another singer to join them onstage.

Would I do it again? In an instant. Would I do few things differently? Probably, but not too much – it was, ultimately, a great adventure, and I’m actively exploring ways to do this or something similar to it again soon. I’m open to suggestions!



**We are currently seeking guest bloggers and/or vloggers from rural and remote performing arts backgrounds to contribute their experiences, wisdom, struggles and ideas to our online blog.  Please get in touch if you feel like you have an article, story or hot topic to share! 

2018: New Year, New Fund! Introducing SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund

Collaboration is at the very core of SPARC. Our belief is that the performing arts in rural and remote communities across Ontario flourish when people are connecting, communicating and collaborating. Our mandate reflects this: To be a catalyst for the collaboration of creators, presenters, producers and community animators of performing arts in rural and remote communities across Ontario.

SPARC has been working hard over the past few years to fill this role; from our online communications platforms to our symposiums, we continue to look for ways to connect our members. And now, we want to help enable our members to connect with each other. Enter the Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund! (And yes, “fund” means money!)

Starting this year, SPARC is offering financial support (a maximum of $3,000) for capacity building initiatives that involve collaboration between disciplines of the performing arts (music, theatre, dance, film/media arts) and between communities. This might look like running a series of workshops that allow performing artists and arts administrators in your area to develop new skills. It might look like convening a regional gathering to discuss joint marketing initiatives or paying a consultant to help with the development of a strategic plan. Maybe it looks like producing an artistic project that brings together artists from different disciplines and different communities.

Is there a project your community wants to pursue that sounds like it fits the bill? Have some collaborators in mind or know where to start looking for some? Head to the SPARC website, sign up as a member (it’s FREE!), and take a look at the funding guidelines today! There are three annual application deadlines and the first is fast approaching on February 28th.

If you read over the guidelines and have questions please don’t hesitate to email me – Rebecca Ballarin, Network Coordinator ( – to set up a time to chat over the phone about your project.

Not exactly sure what a CCI Project might look like? Stay tuned! On our blog next week we share a piece written by Eric Goudie about the pilot project for this fund: an “Artist Swap” between two communities – Hasting and Fergus. From Eric’s blog…

“The show definitely hit its target, and built creative capacity in both of our communities. It allowed venues in both towns be included in Ontario Culture days, and it offered two free concerts to appreciative audiences, which is never a bad thing. But more importantly it became clear by the end of the show that it was the performers themselves who had grown the most. I was pleasantly surprised by this.”

Check back next week to learn more about this project! And I hope to see some exciting project proposals landing in my inbox soon…



**We are currently seeking guest bloggers and/or vloggers from rural and remote performing arts backgrounds to contribute their experiences, wisdom, struggles and ideas to our online blog.  Please get in touch if you feel like you have an article, story or hot topic to share! 

Re-Generation: A Haliburton Tale

By Michael Clipperton

Theatre is not for the faint of heart. And that’s one of the reasons why I love the theatre. It’s all about the risk.

With that in mind, I began writing a script in 2013 that focused on the history of Canada, as seen through the eyes of a multi-generational family. This eventually became RE-GENERATION: A HALIBURTON TALE. How did it get from A to B? Therein lies the tale.

When this idea first occurred to me I was living and working in Simcoe County, and doing some work with Gaslight Community Theatre in Collingwood. Gaslight produces a highly successful annual theatre tour that incorporates four 20-minute plays in four different locations into an evening of theatre. The tour has a different theme each year. Previous years had focussed on “Hearth and Home,” “The Ship Yards,” and The Great War. In anticipation of the approach of Canada’s 150th Anniversary, I thought it might be interesting to look at the development of Collingwood as seen through the eyes of a multi-generational family over those 150 years.

Fast forward to 2016: I am now retired and living in Haliburton. As I began to acquaint myself with fellow theatre-geeks in the area I found my way to Fay Martin, who has a long-standing interest in place-based historical theatre. She and her husband Michael Fay had produced a number of shows in Haliburton between 2005 and 2011.   Fay and I, along with other like-minded folks including Jenny Reiger, Marla Force, Kate Butler, David McGill and Adele Espina met in early January to discuss the possibility of mounting a production of my script, which was fast-developing into a full-length play.

And we did just that! Each of us took on various responsibilities for the production, including marketing, directing, acting, costumes, props, tickets, programme, ushers/herders, and donations (including insect repellant from the local Home Hardware). Through the generosity of the Haliburton Highlands Museum, we had access to a rehearsal space, and a performance venue (the grounds of the Museum). In addition, the Museum agreed to include our production in all of their marketing materials.

We gave ourselves a name: RURAL ROGUES PRODUCTIONS, and hired a young graphic designer to create a logo and a poster.

Through the generosity of neighbouring community theatre companies like Highlands Little Theatre and Mariposa Arts Theatre we had access to a wealth of costumes and props. No set pieces were necessary other than a few chairs and tables, since we used the historic buildings on the Museum grounds as the back-drop to each scene.

Each scene was about 20 minutes in length, and set every 50 years apart: 1867, 1917, 1967 and 2017. Historical characters from each time period set the scene and provided the details of what had gone on over the intervening 50 years. A cast of 8 played all of the roles. Fast costumes changes were achieved during the transitions, while three local musicians led the audience to each new location.

We estimated that we would be able accommodate a maximum of 40 people, and that was almost exactly the number who attended each of the two performances. Our biggest concern was the weather: Fortunately the weekend of July 29/30 was one of the best of the entire summer, with evening temperatures in the low 20’s, and day-time highs in the low 30’s. Nary a cloud showed its face – and the mosquitoes stayed away.

We set a budget of about $2500.00 for the production. Because so many items were donated, loaned (or begged, borrowed and stolen), our actual expenses were only about $500.00. This was an unexpected and happy result that left us with some dollars in the bank. We also joined the Haliburton County Community Co-op, which allowed us to take advantage of their book-keeping services and liability insurance protection, two very important items that new organizations often overlook.

Of course there were challenges. As the playwright, completing the script prior to rehearsals was uppermost in my mind. After burning some midnight oil that task was accomplished. As the director, the biggest challenge was assembling a full cast. Some actors don’t want to work in the summer because they have full-time jobs and summer time is sacred for vacation and family-time. Or they’re already in a show, or they live too far away, etc. But after much searching solutions were found – I wound up taking on two of the small roles in the show. And there were the usual challenges that we face in any theatrical production: memorizing lines, costume fittings, wig fittings, assembling props, fast costume changes, mosquitoes, rain, etc., etc., etc.

As I said, theatre is not for the faint of heart – and it’s all about the risk. Will people show up? Will they buy tickets? Will the weather cooperate? Will the actors know their lines? Will the costumes fit? Will the wigs retain their look? Will we break even? The answer to all of these questions (and more) was a resounding YES!!!

None of this would have happened without the enthusiasm and the hard work of my fellow-Rogues, and without the various partnerships that were developed along the way. Theatre is a team sport, and we had a great team.

What is next for Rural Rogues? We are discussing several possibilities, including a playwriting workshop, play readings, partnerships with other organizations in the Highlands, and others. Where will it all lead? Who knows?

And that’s the fun of it… We never really know.

The Culture of Community: Rebecca attends CAPACOA’s annual conference

I’m sure I’m not alone in my belief that sometimes the best way to learn is by jumping in. One week after joining the SPARC team I had the opportunity to attend CAPACOA –(Canadian Arts Presenting Association / l’Association Canadienne des organisms artistiques)’s annual conference on behalf of our organization…and jump in is exactly what I did.

CAPACOA serves the performing arts touring and presenting community – artists, agents, managers, venues, networks of presenters – and is focused on integrating the performing arts into the lives of all Canadians, as well as improving communication and understanding between presenters across the country. They provide many useful toolkits for presenters, host networking opportunities, and  conduct vital research on, and advocate for, the importance of the performing arts. If you attended our first symposium in 2014, you may remember Inga Petri’s keynote address, which included references to The Value of Presenting – a study commissioned by CAPACOA that sought to identify the benefits of performing arts presentation in communities and society at large.

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Culture of Community”. I attended a number of interesting workshops focused on building connections between artists and presenters; between artists and technology; and between artists and the community. I’d like to share some highlights and a few links you may want to check out…

Some of you may already be familiar with FIXT POINT Theatre and their Tale of a Town project – I know their “storymobile” visited our friends in Cobalt and Temiskaming Shores this past summer. For three years the Tale of a Town team has been touring Canada – and has successfully visited every province and territory! They’ve been gathering stories about cities’ and towns’ main streets, and using these stories to inspire performance installations created in collaboration with local artists for site-specific downtown locations. They focus on preserving local heritage and promoting neighbourhood culture – merging the performing arts and community engagement seamlessly. You can check out the work they’ve done by watching their “Main Street Ontario” series, or listening to some of the interviews collected online.

Representatives from the National Film Board’s Interactive Studio and the Society for Arts and Technologies’ Metalab presented tips for digital integration into performance projects, collaboration between artists and technicians, and navigating new kinds of performer/audience relationships. They talked about some really cool projects including the Compassion Machine, which explored the effects of surveillance in a public place, and Journal of Insomnia, which used a shared experience to connect people from across the globe and allowed them to create a piece of art, online, together. The NFB is currently connecting artists looking to explore a question through technology with tech companies with the hardware needed to do so. The aim? Getting technology into the hands of artists who may not have access to it otherwise.

Finally, I attended a session about community engagement and community-engaged arts practice by presenters from Arts Engage Canada and Art Bridges. If you’re interested in community-engaged work, Arts Engage is a fantastic resource. They have lots of straightforward guides and toolkits about the practice of engaging community members in your work that would be helpful to have at hand when envisioning a new initiative, or evaluating an existing one. Art Bridges’ site functions more like a hub – similar to the network hub SPARC is building – and I will be reaching out to them in the new year to see if we can help each other in our aims to connect and spark more dialogue.

This offers a taste of just a few of the sessions I attended while in Ottawa. I met many people, both in and outside of these workshops and panels, who were interested in and excited by the work that SPARC is doing. It was nice to be a “new face” at the conference and to focus on trying to meet as many new people – artists, administrators, innovators – as possible, always with SPARC and potential collaborations at the forefront of my mind. What an exciting way to start my time with this organization! Networking and connecting – it’s what SPARC is all about!