Growing Together through Intergenerational Arts

By Chandel Gambles, SPARC Northern Outreach Consultant

As arts organizers, we are constantly striving to engage, maintain, and grow our arts communities. To do that we must create unique experiences and opportunities for connections. With so many other options available to community members how can we compete for their free time? One avenue that is ready for development is the creation of a strong intergenerational arts practice!

As our society has developed, it has naturally moved away from a community and family based centre. Intergenerational family homes are less frequently seen and opportunities to converse with those of other ages in public forums are infrequently found as religious gatherings are attended less often.

Although we may bump into older and younger members of our community on a daily basis, what opportunities are provided that may facilitate friendship and bond-forming exchanges? Our daily activities form siloed communities in many ways. Preschoolers go to day care. Kids are in schools. Those in their 20s are in post-secondary schools. 30 – 60 year olds primarily work within businesses with established, age and experience related hierarchies. Stay-at-home parents bond with other stay-at-home parents. And seniors often find time to travel and volunteer in their communities before some move into isolated elder care facilities or seniors only living centres.

When was the last time you attended a dance that didn’t have age restrictions? Outside of church gatherings, when was the last time people of all generations and backgrounds came together to share a potluck meal? When you last hosted an arts performance event, were there any supplementary community building activities geared towards encouraging dialogue or skill building? Or did everyone simply sit in a dark theatre and stare at the performers on stage together?

Fortunately, new intergenerational activities are emerging in many forms. For example, senior’s centres and child care facilities have been opening up all over the world promoting intergenerational day care opportunities. These sorts of cross-demographic programs offer opportunities for members of each community to look at life in a new way. Although most of the currently established programs are created to connect seniors and children, the core intergenerational concept is valuable for uniting groups across any major age range.

The focus of these programs primarily revolves around the active sharing of skills, knowledge, history, cultures, and experiences. These programs can occur at both a small or large scale and can happen in a venue primarily operated for one of the two parties, or at a “neutral” third space that both generations can discover together.

The Manitoba Association of Senior Centres has a list of resource ideas and community activity examples on their website. Videos and images from other projects can also be found on the Intergenerational Manitoba resource page.

One brilliant toolkit to help you plan a new intergenerational project or program is the Creating Caring Communities guide. This document will help you introduce your project team to the big ideas, planning advice and implementation techniques that will speed you through the development stages.

Many great projects have come out of these basic concepts:

Adopt a grandparent/family member: Much like a big sister/big brother program, helping to pair up members of your community to make outings and arts events about connection. Some seniors may wish to go to the theatre but no longer have their license to drive. Meanwhile, some kids may not be allowed to go to a children’s arts performance without supervision. Why not join forces? Consider connecting with your municipality to help discount bus travel for outings or community carpooling options.

Rent a crowd: If all the world is a stage you should be able to perform your art anywhere and everywhere. Bring your art to different groups in the community. You can take one group to the other’s venue (ex. elders to a school) to enjoy a special program or performance, or select an accessible location and build an arts event around it and the community it serves.

Tech Buddies & Tech Classes: Not only can youth educate their elders about using social media and technology, but you can take those devices into the theatrical world. One can teach each other the merits of using different technologies in the theatre. How would lighting be effected using different lighting tools past and present? Have youth help connect seniors to different entertainment systems or explore these systems to share their art live over the internet to destroy accessibility barriers. Just teaching each other the basics of our communication tools past and present truly helps us each learn how we interactive with the world around us. Communication lies at the heart of art in all its forms.

Story, character, and performance creation through research: Have one group learn about the other character’s lives and then portray their stories through songs and performances onstage. They can be directed to learn action, history, cultural practises, and movement from their senior partner. Some examples include:

Workshops and skill building sessions: Music, art, theatre, and dance classes do not have to be limited to certain age groups. Some may find comfort in learning particular styles alone, but there are many training techniques that can be used across age ranges and experience levels. Young People’s Theatre in Toronto has frequently held intergenerational theatre workshops. Puppeteria , featured at the 2014 symposium, has also created workshops to help caregivers, elders, and families communicate with each other through puppetry and play.

As arts organizers, we are the creators of events. Whether it is a volunteer, amateur, or professional activity, the organizers will decide how community oriented an activity will be. It is we who decide how the arts will affect our communities. We know the amazing benefits of intergenerational projects range from new learning opportunities, to emotional support, to socialization, to building a sense of belonging. However, these experiences will not blossom by themselves. We must curate them, grow them, and encourage our community to step beyond the lonely silos we have built for each other. If art is meant to create, then it’s time to create new bonds, new purpose, and a new sense of community through our programming.

 

 

We are where we live…

by Olivia Whiddon. Olivia Whiddon is the artistic director of Kenora Opera Theatre (KOT). She and Ruth Girard, chief advisor, founded the KOT.

Kenora Opera Theatre: “How’s that for a cultural wasteland?”  They may not know it, but our audience created this tagline.  After every concert in Kenora someone always comes up to me and says “How’s that for a cultural wasteland?”

KOT’s inaugural production “Classical Music in a Cultural Wasteland”. From left to right: Olivia Whiddon, Eleanor MacDonell, Wendy Paton and Denique Adams

When I started Kenora Opera Theatre (KOT) I just couldn’t get that phrase out of my head.  Several years ago Kenora, Ontario was given that title by MoneySense Magazine’s Best Places to Live List, not because we don’t have art here, but because of the low number of individuals who make a living at their art.  In reality, we do have a thriving community of artists. However, in a place where hydro prices are the highest in Canada, gas prices sit around 139.9 a litre, and rental costs run up to $900 plus hydro and water for a bachelor apartment, making a living as a “full-time artist” is incredibly difficult here.  Most artists supplement their income by other methods, such as teaching… and that’s where things start to get interesting.

KOT arose from a need to give performance ready students a project and venue to both perform and learn in.  Our teachers are highly trained performers sharing their knowledge with students through workshops and masterclasses, before finishing off their teaching week with performing. Other professional artists also perform with us. This arrangement allows our students to learn not only by participating, but also through observation. Meanwhile, our professional musicians are given more opportunities to share their knowledge and practice their craft.

Eleanor painted sets for a production of Hansel & Gretel

While student tuition fees go towards paying our teachers and pianists, the concert tickets go towards each show’s production costs.  This allows every show to pay for itself.  Initially we tried applying for funding, but we quickly discovered that this was not a practical approach to running our company.  We wanted to create something sustainable that could run on its own legs.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a singer is that when it’s show time, the audience is far more important than the performer.  When Kenora Opera Theatre began, many people questioned whether we would find an audience in town.  The answer was an unequivocal YES!

We have learned in this past year that our Kenora audience base is a loyal and supportive one, and they are more interested in seeing local performers than visiting artists.  Perhaps that’s because the person they go to see on stage also happens to be the girl next door. Or maybe it’s because when there is only so much disposable income to go around people will chose to support someone they have a personal connection to, whose quality is equal to any visiting artist. Or maybe it is because we both create and evolve together in our audience-performer relationship. As our singers progress so too does our audience, and as our singers continue to learn our audience can share in the knowledge.

Singer Eleanor MacDonell with Ruth Girard & violinist Jan Boutwell in opening concert.

Our productions are also carefully tailored to suit the needs of our company and our community. Consideration is always given to the singers, audience, performance space and the length of rehearsal time required for each show. For example, our limited (but beautiful) performance venue does not have the capacity for sur or sub titles, but that does not mean we need to perform everything in English.  Some of the ways we have worked around this dilemma is by eliminating recitatives and replacing them with a narrator, storyteller, or master of ceremonies, to give poetic translations during concerts.  We also sometimes shorten lengthy operas into more manageable productions, by eliminating pieces of music and inserting text to preserve the story. These alterations do cause our productions to become more like operettas, but that makes the work more accessible to our singers and more interesting for our listeners.  Our operas may not be for purists, but they are made for the people.  After all, opera was originally written to entertain. That’s one of the best reasons to create with the community in mind.

The Impresario was the pilot project to see if there was a market for opera in Kenora.

Being an opera company “made by the community for the community” means things run a little differently here than in other places.  Diva behaviour is not accepted, nor is backstage drama.  We are a company based on mutual respect and cooperation.  Our leads rotate per show, and they must audition for each and every show. Singers are accepted for roles based on their audition as well as their behaviour in past productions. Upon applying for any role in our productions each student must sign an “etiquette form” detailing unacceptable behaviours. Young students with the Olivia Whiddon Academy of Music (KOT’s parent company) are given stage etiquette lessons as part of their regular voice lessons. Our singers take great pride in their ability to act as professionals and take our mandate very seriously. This makes a safe learning environment for students of all ages.

Our teaching style accepts no nonsense and every student is made to pull their weight and learn about all production elements.  This means students also participate in the backstage portion of the productions, learning how to do stage make-up, build and decorate sets, create and properly store costumes and clean-up.  Leads, small roles, and chorus members all participate in these tasks. Students are generally allowed to take on backstage roles where they are most comfortable. Our chorus often does the set-up for a production while the leads take care of the after clean-up. Adding your own signature to the costumes or set has become a point of pride for many people. In fact, many students volunteer their time and talents long before they are asked. This all-encompassing “community mentality” enhances our artistic skills beyond the opportunity to sing. It also gives participants a knowledge of the backstage workings of a production that many singers often do not have. The shared workload across disciplines reminds our entire team that every aspect of a show is just as integral as the others.

Kenora’s Trylight Theatre Company and the Lake of the Woods Concert Series were both already established before Kenora Opera Theatre began. Not only did they pave the way for us, they supported and assisted us in our first year. In many ways our productions are bigger and better than they could ever be without this amazing community support.

Dancers from Dance Works Kenora with singers from KOT in Hansel & Gretel.

Kenora’s thriving artistic community does not solely consist of classical singers.  In fact, we seem to be a minority here.  That reality has inspired us to regularly collaborate with Dance Works Kenora and numerous local visual artists. This infusion of diversity adds additional elements to our productions.  Many of these collaborative artists are either students or teachers, and they want to create art as much as we do.

So perhaps being a “cultural wasteland” is not such a bad thing. We may not be making money hand over fist, but we are constantly creating sustainable projects that can run for years on the project’s own merit. We enrich the lives of students, teachers and the audience in our very own way. Our culture is one of community creation. It’s a culture Kenora has in spades.

Leaping into Rural Arts

A reflection on the 2018 SPARC Symposium in Cobalt, Ontario by youth bursary attendee Katy Grabstas

On March 21st, my dear friend Chandel Gambles reached out to me over Facebook. “OH! You are into arts promotion and admin. Do you want to apply for a youth bursary to attend the SPARC Symposium in Cobalt? It’s about performing arts in rural and remote communities.” I was intrigued. I asked what I could expect there, and Chandel promised me a diverse gathering of people united by the passion of creating and nurturing the arts in rural Ontario.

I was already typing that I would definitely apply, when she messaged “Also you’ll be the envy of all the kids on your block, because you’ll get to stay in the land of the “Hardy Boys”. 😉 The first ghost author wrote the series from here and used the area for inspiration!” Well, how could I say no now? Also, how could I have ever known that SPARC would become such a formative experience, and that I’d fall in love with the town of Cobalt?

As a former theatre and television actor, now gaining Arts Management certification at the University of Toronto, I had no idea what exactly I was getting into as I made the long drive up north. All I knew was that I had recently become disillusioned with the role that performing arts played in my life. Over the last six years I had become swept up in the “big city’s” desperate goal of monetizing your passion. Much like many artists before me, I discovered that this was an entirely unsustainable way to live (both spiritually and economically) and so I began this new degree in hopes of rekindling my passion and inspiration.

This was my headspace when I entered The Cobalt Community Hall, and put on my nametag. Over the next few days, I felt absolutely welcomed into this new community. I met people from all over Ontario and I heard life stories that were all the more incredible because they were true. Conversations started with ease – after all, even though our lives may be very different, as participants at a performing arts symposium we already had one passion in common!

Each day began with a hearty breakfast coordinated and run by Roger Sumner and Marie Manchester. It showcased the best local food that the Temiskaming District has to offer! I was so impressed that I brought home a bag of buckwheat flour and a bottle of local haskap berry syrup so I could recreate the amazing pancakes at home!

During the days of the symposium, I got to witness and participate in several workshops covering a wide variety of subjects. For example, I enjoyed a talk led by youth leaders from the Digital Creator North Program, who discussed how bringing digital art tools to kids in northern communities has created a safe-space for creative and personal exploration. Then I attended an intimate gathering in a board game coffee shop where Jack Langenhuizen (Motus O Dance Theatre) and Jowi Taylor (Six String Nation Guitar) chatted about using performing arts as a jumping off point to foster community engagement. After this particular workshop, symposium attendees were invited to have their photo taken with the Six String Nation Guitar. This photo session allowed us to become part of the cultural mosaic of 15,000 people who have had their portraits taken with this “instrumental” (see what I did there?) piece of Canadian history.

I do have to take a moment and relive wandering through the streets of Cobalt while I write this. I had heard a lot about how we as Canadians should be proud of our country’s natural beauty and history, but I hadn’t had a picture in my mind’s eye of what that meant until I came here. I kept seeing subtle signs of Cobalt’s rich history, and hints of what it may have been like living here during the silver mining rush at the beginning of the 20th century. Streetcar tracks run through the forest just outside of town, while state-of-the-art (for its time) mining equipment lives by the banks of the lake. Entrances to mining tunnels dot the ridges around Cobalt, hinting at the separate underground world that runs beneath the town.

                                             Photo by Colin Harris

A definite highlight of this region was a guided hike leading through the trails to Devil’s Rock. This sheer cliff face plunges 150 metres down into Lake Temiskaming, with an unforgettable view of the Canadian landscape. Not only did our guides tell us about the local history and ecology of the forest, we were also led through a mindfulness meditation as we sat on the cusp of the cliff’s edge.

While visiting the Temiskaming District, I was struck by how deeply proud the local inhabitants were of their rural town. The natural beauty, the town’s history, and of course the amazing local food all spoke to the unique experience of visiting this corner of Canada. This cohesion across communities (even those separated by long stretches of highway through dense forests) is unlike anything I have experienced during my years in Toronto.

This communal mentality was reflected in the participants at the symposium. Everyone there held similar passions which were simply separated by geography. SPARC provided us with a gathering place to find collaborative partnership and inspiration. I overheard many networking conversations and job proposals during meals. Considering how huge our province is, a gathering place like the one that SPARC created in Cobalt is invaluable for arts workers across Ontario.

During my time at the symposium I recalled my earliest memories of being entranced by performing arts and storytelling. In the push to make my acting career financially stable, I had completely forgotten that my first love was neither television, nor even theatre. As a child I was fascinated by the concept of time travel, and so discovering that there was a community of costumed historical interpreters dedicated to making local histories come alive was a revelation to me. I would not have been reminded of this had I not both participated in the Rogues in Partnership workshop, which talked about producing plays about local history, and witnessed a historical reenactment of voyageur life on the banks of Cobalt Lake.

Besides reaffirming my love for the performing arts, the SPARC Symposium also provided practical opportunities. As I approach graduation, I have begun to watch for where I can best put to use the knowledge I have gained through my program. I am now in contact with several rural arts organizations who are interested in hiring me as a consultant once I graduate, in order to help create a strong administrative foundation for their performing arts companies. I will definitely be recommending this symposium to my classmates!

Although it’s been a few months since the symposium ended, I know I will be carrying the experience with me once I return to classes in the fall. I want to learn more about bringing Canadian history to life by facilitating storytelling events. I also feel more in touch with the performing arts across this wide province. In the coming months I plan to bring that awareness of underrepresented arts groups to fellow students and colleagues. I feel revitalized, and I owe it all to a Facebook message from Chandel and a leap of faith. Sometimes that leap turns out to be a six hour drive north.

                                  Photo by Colin Harris

SPARC Interviews…Mark Oliver, Tamworth Erinsville Community Development Committee Concert Series

Earlier this year, Mark Oliver posted some information in the SPARC Members’ Facebook group about the Tamworth Erinsville Community Development Committee Concert Series. SPARC staff wanted to learn more (and share more!) about this initiative, so Rebecca connected with Mark and they chatted about the roots of the concert series, how it operates today, some of the organizational challenges associated with the series and the positive impact it has had on the community.


You mentioned that you do not have a background in the arts. How did you become engaged with the arts community in Tamworth?

I’ve always been interested in music – through high-school and University, and I’ve owned a restaurant and a bar that hosted musicians – I’ve always dabbled around in that kind of stuff. I began running the concert series because of my involvement with the Tamworth Erinsville Community Development Committee (TECDC).

Back around 2005, like many small towns, our community was feeling the impact of big box stores, so a group of active volunteers started the TECDC. We received a RED (Rural Economic Development) grant through OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), and to publicly announce that we had received this grant, we decided to hold a concert in the community. We brought in The Good Brothers, and the concert was received very positively in the community. The RED grant was focused on things like physical improvements – parks and gardens – which we needed in our community, but we also started to realize that the arts were as important to community vitality as any of those other things. So, we revisited our mission statement and we included a clause that said we were going to do what we could to support the performing arts.

I’ve been the chair of that community volunteer group since its inception in 2007, so I guess my role would be ‘local arts community supporter’!

Other than the success of that initial concert to announce the grant, were there other reasons why your committee felt a concert series would be a good fit for the community?

We seemed to go with the concert series for a few main reasons:

  1. It was something that I could do- that I had the skills to orchestrate. We have a small group of volunteers, so the project needed to be manageable.
  2. It was something we could accommodate. We use the Legion hall, which seats 120 people. It doesn’t have facilities that lend themselves to full theatrical productions – it’s really ideal for this sort of thing.

The concert series itself, how has it evolved over the years?

We’ve definitely learned some things.

One is that we’re a really small community – we might have 500 people living here if you count all the dogs and cats – so we can’t ‘go to the well’ too often. I think there was a year when we had a few extra events (before it was a clearly defined series we were just producing events as opportunities arose) and we saw that impact our numbers. Now we consistently schedule 6 shows every year; that seems to be the number that doesn’t let the shine wear off the nickel. We stay away from the summer because it’s hard to keep the hall cool, and it’s busy – it’s festival season.

We’ve also created a subscription option – people can buy season tickets if they want to. And that’s been really interesting. Our strategy has been that if you purchase season tickets, you receive a public thank you and a saved seat. There’s no discount; there’s no space in the ticket price we charge to discount. Ticket prices are based on selling out 120 seats to a show, and the proceeds cover the artists’ fees, the venue cost, advertising costs, and hospitality costs – there’s no profit.

It looks like there are also a lot of sponsors within the community.

I think there are about 20 or 21 right now. They pay $50 to be a sponsor, and they’re required to buy two seasons’ passes. For the extra $50 they get their logo on our poster, in our print ads, and in a PowerPoint presentation that I run prior to every concert.

We’re not very flashy and we try to be transparent about where all the money is going, and I think that helps.

Do you do outreach to secure sponsors, or are they primarily subscribers who own businesses and come to you wanting to support the series? 

It’s both right now. I send out an information package to the existing sponsors and the existing season ticket holders about ten days before the next season goes public. They have those ten days to tell me if they are interested in securing their place for next season or not. If not, I’ve got room for additional sponsors and can sell to incoming people. If I can’t fill the vacancies it’s not the end of the world, but it sure is nice to have over 50% of the house sold for every show!

Your RED grant ended around 2011. Do you receive any other funding for the series now?

Yes, we receive CAPF (Canadian Arts Presentation Fund) funding now through Canadian Heritage. I first approached them around 5 years ago, and David Barnard was so supportive. He was so interested in helping us out because of our rural location. It’s absolutely a joy to continue working with him.

And what is that funding used for?

We’ve received around $5000 a year for a few years now, and that just goes into the talent pool to help us pay artists’ fees. We’ve also received a grant from the SOCAN Foundation, which is also for artists’ fees.

Who organizes the concerts?

My wife and I do. We pick the artists, we pick the dates based on what we think would work well with the calendar, I write all the grant applications, we do the printing of the tickets and posters, we arrange everything – and we’re both volunteers at the legion now, so we’re often the ones there cleaning up before and after. I provide the PA and the lights. It’s a pretty small operation!

Small maybe, but a lot of work and big outcomes! Do you have a consistent team of volunteers?  

We have a core group of 6 people between the legion volunteers and our TECDC. And that’s all we need. We can run the show with 6 volunteers.

What have been some of the challenges of organizing the series ?

 There are definitely a few. One has to do with the urban centric focus of the music business. Some agents would rather have young artists play two nights a week in Toronto for free beer than to risk sending them out to a place like Tamworth. That’s how it seems to me sometimes.

Along with that, there are issues with communication sometimes. When I make an offer to an agent or an artist I send along a four-page document that spells out everything that we can do for them. It includes what we do for meals, what we have for PA, what we have for accommodations – I put the financial details on there – and I would bet that quite often the artists or managers never get a chance to look at that. So suddenly, a month before the show, I get calls asking for things I can’t provide.

So communication within the industry has been a big issue. Making sure the artists understand why we can only provide what we offer in the contract; that we aren’t making a profit – everything is calculated to the last dollar.

I think it’s way better to get all that stuff worked out before you have a signed contract, instead of having an artist showing up and getting something they weren’t anticipating or not getting something they were anticipating. This year I’ve been trying my best to contact performers directly to try to help improve this communication piece.

Other than that, just convincing artists to come out to our community can be a challenge sometimes. For the 8 years we’ve been doing this we have the artists back to our place to eat, and we understand that they’re working and we’ll give them quiet space. But that’s something that I think some artists are uncomfortable with or just aren’t used to doing.

What about positive outcomes? How has the concert series positively impacted the community?

It’s hard to quantify, but it’s interesting when you get into larger, neighbouring communities and you bump into people and they say: “Oh there’s interesting stuff going on back in little Tamworth!” We’ve had people come from quite a long way away to take in shows –  from London, New Jersey – and I know they’re often coming here to visit people as well, but it’s making the community members think ‘Hey, there’s something special going on’. Seeing the number of community members who are bringing friends out is great. Any kind of traffic you can get coming to and through a small community, I think, is good.

One of my other observations about things like this is that they always seem to need to be started by a group of people that have some sort of burning desire to make something happen. And then, hopefully, somebody will pick it up and run with it after they burn out. That’s the struggle here. There are islands of energy where groups of people will come together and really make something sparkle for a while; the tricky thing is to get somebody to come in and not be intimidated by what came before but to put their own spin on it and keep it going. That will definitely be the case with the concert series.

Do you have any tips for people who want to start a similar initiative in their community?

Don’t plan on it being a fundraiser. If you make money at it, bonus. But I think that’s the magic. When we started, my wife and I put our own money on the line. After 8 years I bet we are plus or minus $400. And that sucks if you’re trying to make an income off of that. But if you’re not, it doesn’t matter. It’s just about developing the performing arts community, or your own residential community, and it’s okay to do it that way.

Building Volunteer Capacity Lays the Foundations for Community

By Autumn Gambles, 2018 Sponsorship Director, New Liskeard Agricultural Society; 2018-19 Vice-Chair, Classic Theatre Cobalt Board of Directors

 

Through my experiences as a customer service representative, performance arts patron, and long-term community volunteer, I have noticed the often-underestimated role that volunteer inter-personal dynamics play in determining overall organizational success in goal achievement, and long-term patron/sponsor retention.

To begin with, many arts organizations are very fortunate to have recruited two distinct groups of volunteers. There are those who are able to help for shorter-term projects, and those that incorporate the activities of their arts organization into their regular monthly schedule of community volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

Recognizing that most people are very busy, and have limited time to dedicate to a volunteer-driven initiative, many volunteer coordinators encourage their volunteers to pick “something they are good at or would enjoy”. This method is indeed a great way to initially introduce new participants into the organization’s activities through a position within their comfort zone. However, there is also wisdom in then encouraging the volunteer to gradually take on new and diverse challenges as they become confident in their existing roles.

While volunteer staffing changes may at times seem counter-intuitive, there’s a lot of value in encouraging volunteers to try a broader array of positions than just one single role, like “ticket taker” or “usher”. Sometimes the person who is adamantly against being a “front-facing” customer service representative turns out to be a superstar when it comes to telephone fundraising. For better or worse, it is important to recognize that volunteers do not always know where they excel. In some cases, they may actually have personal characteristics that undermine the positive customer experience the organization tries to create for its patrons.

For example, I had the opportunity to work closely with one volunteer who insisted that their preferred role was handling Front of House ticket sales, where they operated solo. It was absolutely clear that this person had a special skill for quick price calculations. However, it soon became evident that their brusque manner with the public did not help foster a warm and friendly environment for our patrons (many of whom were attending the theatre for the first time). Instead, patrons were leaving the ticketing area feeling slightly miffed and unwelcome, which set the tone for their evening. We therefore needed to find a way to gently improve the volunteer’s customer service skills while allowing them to excel at the tasks they enjoyed.

A good solution to this issue was to enthusiastically ask the volunteer whether they could run the concessions cash. This position placed them with more experienced volunteers that encouraged friendly banter with patrons. The new role allowed the volunteer’s numeracy skills to shine, while fostering an environment to improve their interpersonal skills. This strategy allowed us to retain our volunteer and provide them with experience, while reducing their overall impact on patron relations during their growth.

From this experience, and other similar circumstances, I have come to the following conclusions about volunteers in community organizations, and the responsibilities of organizational leadership:

  • It is absolutely vital that a volunteer feels welcome and accepted in an organization.
  • Every effort must be made to find a role that suits the volunteer’s availability, skillset, and interests.
  • It is equally important that a volunteer’s personal disposition and ability to get along well with others further supports a positive patron experience, as well as positive experiences with co-volunteers.
  • Although it takes many years for an organization to build up trust, goodwill, and collaborative relationships within its community, a SINGLE negative personal interaction is sufficient to permanently drive other volunteers, sponsors, and patrons away from an organization;
  • In situations where a volunteer does not prove to be a “good fit” for a role, leadership must quickly take steps to remove the volunteer from that role, and place them in an alternative role more suited to their personal abilities.
  • It is OKAY to stop scheduling volunteers for customer-service facing roles, and simply include them in building/cleanup projects instead (which do not typically engage customers/patrons). Once the required skillsets are further developed through training activities, you can always reintroduce them to a previous role.
  • It is OKAY to recognize that some volunteers may not currently have the capacity or interest to work towards creating a warm, positive, and collaborative environment within the organization. If a volunteer ultimately proves to be antagonistic to the detriment of an organization’s culture and working atmosphere, it is OKAY to stop requesting that volunteer for event opportunities.
  • A good leader recognizes that their choices in volunteer staffing impact the organization as a whole. By choosing to neither proactively remove volunteers that are not a “good fit”, or quickly enroll them in new training opportunities when challenges arise, a leader risks the loss of many more volunteers who are alienated by negative interactions.
  • Ultimately, volunteering should be a warm, rewarding experience for all individuals in an organization. Many volunteers have an expectation of receiving some minor recognition and appreciation for the gift of their time and effort within the community. Most desire an up-beat and positive fellowship with their fellow volunteers.
  • A good leader will foster an environment that encourages friendly collaboration and the development of respectful relationships between volunteers, patrons, and sponsors. To do this, one must always lead by example.

By expanding a volunteer’s capacities within an organization, it is easier to build a connected community that can share the many pieces of institutional knowledge. Multidisciplinary training ensures smooth, trouble-free transitions as various volunteers come and go from a community arts organization. Most organizations rely on an ensemble of supporters in different stages of life. As the years pass, life commitments and personal priorities may limit the amount of time lead organizers have to participate. A time may come when many volunteers shift away from the organization at the same time, leaving little institutional memory in their wake.

One successful strategy to support both the change and rejuvenation of a volunteer leadership team is to create boards of directors and subcommittees. Each committee head/director will have an associate that essentially “shadows” or assists them in all of their tasks. While a lead committee head/director might stay in their leadership role for many years, the associate gradually gains experience and insight into the complexities of the leadership role. (Alternatively, some groups run lead directors and associates in overlapping 2-year terms. At the start of the last year of a director’s 2-year term, an associate director is appointed to shadow the director and assist with the director’s duties.)

When the incumbent director’s term is complete, the associate automatically moves into the director role, equipped with a wealth of experience to draw from. Through the use of these kinds of structural mechanisms, communication between older and newer volunteers can be enhanced. This ensures reduced workloads on often over-taxed leaders, as well as fostering knowledge transfer. A built-in turnover process also allows new volunteers to bring fresh ideas to the table while allowing older volunteers to explore different aspects of the organization without “burning out”.

Ultimately, one of the greatest ways that arts leaders can inspire patrons and sponsors to continue supporting the arts is by giving them the gift of happy, friendly, confident volunteers that are excited and passionate about the long-term success of their arts organization. It is such a joy to walk into a community arts event where everyone, from the ticket sellers to the cleanup crew, is happy to be there and where everyone is obviously enjoying one another’s company. Such an experience really makes your patrons think… “Hey, I’ve got some spare time… this would be a great place to VOLUNTEER!”

 

 

The Gathering: Pluralism in Arts Practices – Contemporary Intersections

By Chandel Gambles, SPARC Northern Outreach Consultant

The month of May was a great time to meet people. It seems networking opportunities have been flowing like maple syrup in April ever since! As soon as the SPARC symposium in Cobalt closed, we packed our bags and headed to Toronto just in time to participate in “The Gathering”.

During the week of May 29th– May 31st, representatives from across Ontario descended on Toronto to “collaborate on addressing pluralism in the arts.” Together, we discussed the importance of equal representation by empowering our cross-cultural community, to both create and provide equal opportunities in the arts. Through panel discussions, strategy sharing sessions, and performing arts showcases, academics, artists, and arts leaders “gathered” to learn from each other.

The event’s success depended on many organizations collaborating, pooling their resources, contacts, and event plans. In fact, the list of organizations helping to make this event a success was quite extensive, and included:

  • Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO) (a movement of Indigenous and racialized artists engaged in empowering the arts communities of Ontario),
  • Dream Big North (a theatre summit that gathers professionals from the provincial theatre community to create and encourage relationships through networking between rural and urban theatre producing companies and organizations),

  • Small World Music Society (celebrating cultural diversity through music, showcasing Toronto’s multi-cultural talent, and educating and promoting understanding between cultures),
  • Polyphonic Ground (a group of Toronto presenters who bring the sounds of the world to the stages of Toronto),
  • Feminist Art Collective (FAC) (a collective that inspires sharing, networking and collaboration through art based programming),

As SPARC’s Northern Ontario Consultant, I was pleased to represent the interests of our members throughout the event. I was also quite honoured to be invited to specifically express the experiences and arts environment of our northern SPARC members, while acting as a panellist for a discussion about “The Dynamics of Rural and Urban Arts in Ontario”. My fellow panellists included Rihkee Strap (a visual artist from Sault Ste. Marie), Lisa O’Connell (founding Artistic Director of Pat the Dog Theatre Creation – the only playwright centre in Ontario open to theatre creators at all stages of their career ), Aylan Couchie (an interdisciplinary Anishinaabe artist and writer from Nipissing First Nation) , and Joshua Bainbridge (the Artistic Director of the professional North Bay theatre company Proscenium Club).

As both artists and promoters of the northern arts, we shared many ideas about the benefits and downsides of working in rural communities, and how that relates to urban centres. For example, in rural and remote northern communities, one of our strongest resources is our people. When a problem or conflict arises it is unhelpful to avoid that person, like one could in a city. The community is only so big! Far more imperative than in large city centres, both parties must put aside their differences and focus on the bigger picture of what the community needs.

Alternatively, if one finds themselves “on the outside” of a particular arts community, they may need to consider new collaborators to work with outside of their immediate arts community. Groups may find they have more in common with those in other regions across the province, or in other artistic (and even non-artistic) disciplines working nearby. The main conclusion remained the fact that community is a core element of the arts in Northern Ontario. This means that finding ways to ensure everyone is equally heard, appreciated, and supported, is vital to the success of healthy arts communities.

On the first day of the conference, participants were among the first to receive a new research report on “The Role of the Arts in Immigrant and Refugee Settlement”. This report was created by Charles C. Smith, Michael Scafo, and Helen Yung, with the support of Humber’s Cultivate Fund and their School of Creative and Performing Arts . Looking into this highly under-researched area, Helen Yung noted that the team gathered a plethora of articles “pointing to international work at the intersection of settlement and the arts”, direct advice from newcomers on how to improve the settlement process, the insight that “respondents felt their information, language, social/mental health and career development needs are not being adequately met”, and the feedback that virtually every respondent desired social and cultural experiences to improve the settlement process. This report is complete with easy-to-read charts and lists of arts based newcomer programs in Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA. To learn more about these programs and to learn how to create newcomer arts programs in your community, you should definitely call us to request this report. (As soon as it’s available online, we’ll share it with you virtually too!) It would benefit all of our rural and remote communities to find programming solutions that help newcomers and refugees find their feet within our country.

Robin Sokoloski and Monique Renaud from the Playwright’s Guild of Canada  walked participants through a Purpose to Practice (P2P) exercise, which many of our SPARC members could use to help develop and implement their projects and activities. At this conference, participants analyzed their own projects and developing initiatives, and worked together to find the missing elements. Incorporating “outsider” feedback and reviewing the project from new perspectives proved very helpful for participants in our workshop. To learn how to lead this activity within your community or organization or to access the materials to do it yourselves, go here.

After a range of delightful presentations from artists including: The Life and Death of John The Milkman,  Artists of the Aurora, Joseph Recinos, Cole Stevens, and Clayton Windatt, Shula Strassfeld (CPAMO’s Project Facilitator) facilitated Critical Response feedback sessions. Using Dance Exchange  Liz Lerman’s “Critical Response Technique and Process”, artists and audiences were encouraged to reflect on the artistic presentation they had shared together. This questioning structure provided a framework to allow critical dialogues to occur in an emotionally safe manner. Used for over 25 years by artists, educators, and universities have used the “Critical Response Process”  to navigate both social, opinionated, and informed community dialogues.

Shula facilitates

In essence, the facilitator asked 4 questions. First, the audience was asked to finish the sentence “I observed.” Then the artist is invited to ask the audience questions about the work. Thirdly, the artists were allowed to ask the artists neutral questions. Lastly, audience members asked for the artist’s permission to give critical opinions on any aspect of the piece (which the artist could always choose not to hear). The previous link gives a detailed explanation of this feedback process, which SPARC members may wish to use after live performances, within project feedback sessions, during a rehearsal process, or for volunteer project “wrap-up” meetings.

 

A few final interesting resources that were brought up during panel discussions, which might interest you, include:

  • An artificial assistant: It’s a virtual assistant built to help you schedule meetings and coordinate events using lifelike technology.
  • The Northern Indigenous Artists Alliance: a new provincial arts service organization being formed, with a mandate to support, promote, and advocate on behalf of Northern Ontario Indigenous artists. They will help foster collaborative projects and share ideas across the province, so that artists may access new markets to showcase their work and attract new audiences. The organization is currently seeking board members to represent Northern Ontario. To find out more information about this Artist Alliance, or how to participate, send an email to contact NorthernIndigenousArt@gmail.com
  • PACT rural caucus: – The Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT) has a number of advisory committees to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Each group’s input is offered to the board to help make recommendations that will benefit the membership. The existence of a rural caucus ensures that the interests of rural theatre communities are both heard and considered.
  • CPAMO Resource Kit: Not only does this resource provide us with a clear understanding of how CPAMO came to be, but it also gives a number of examples, suggestions, and materials to help other organizations and initiatives function and flourish. This kit can be used to advise collaborative practices, and address demographic challenges. Meanwhile, the included online materials, such as Model Action plans, resource materials, and needs assessment formats help with project planning. The kit also offers a number of examples of these practices occurring across the globe, providing us with great models to explore these ideas. To receive your own copy of this resource kit, contact CPAMO.

The SPARC staff was thrilled to be invited to partake in the week’s activities. Many conversations focused around how we might work together to improve the arts in Canada. The questions that we were encouraged to continue considering include:

  • How can we change and adapt our funding systems to ensure that the system of granting and funding is accessible to all?
  • What resources and programming can we create to support and engage our most marginalized artists and community members?
  • Can we each implement and follow strong community engagement practices (such as those offered in the CPAMO Resource Kit) to improve the arts in our communities?
  • Can we keep these discussions going within our network, to create a strong, inclusive, and equitable arts community for all cultures and communities to participate in?

Some of the questions are easier to answer than others. Some just require us committing to an ideal mandate. Others will take a lot more networking and discussions. Either way, the conference left each of us with a bright future to aspire to. Together, we are on our way!

Clayton Windatt, Artist and Executive Director of the Aboriginal  Curatorial Collective

Personal and Interconnected: On Remembering, Keeping Busy, and the SPARC Symposium 2018, Cobalt

By Felicity Buckell, SPARC Symposium 2018 Coordinator

Heatwave in Northern ON, July 4

 

I’ll dive right in, the personal and interconnected: here I am early yesterday evening in my garden (thank you, Bohdan, for the photo), during this intense heatwave, (clothed, but at least) barefoot in the soil (pretty much where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to for the past six weeks).

 

Heatwave in Southern ON, early July 1974

And then there’s me in 1974, helping my father in our neighbourhood’s shared garden, just behind our fenced-in backyard.

When I was 12 my father passed away, and we had to move from that garden and the house in which I grew up, the home that held all my memories of my dad. I recall the intense fear I had, the fear that I would lose all my memories of my home, my life, my dad; I didn’t want to forget a single thing, and so devised a method of remembering: for about a year after we moved, I would lie in bed each and every night, close my eyes and open that purple front door, walk from room to room, recalling and burning into my memory map, in inordinate detail, every single feature, with an earnestness perhaps unique to lonely, rather reclusive, twelve year olds, caught between childhood and adulthood in the saddest of ways.

So here we are, Thursday July 5th 2018, 35 years (almost to the day) that I left 2288 The Collegeway, Unit 3, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 3Z5, phone number 828-5064, our beige Ford station wagon (that had quickly replaced our short-lived Pinto) in the driveway, licence plate MHM 594, and effortlessly I can be six years old again, in my yellow flannel pj’s with top button missing (swallowed while being chewed in a moment of anxiety), feeling the moss-green soft wool wall-to-wall carpeting beneath my bare, should-be-under-the-blankets-by-now feet, and the cold and twists of the wrought iron stair railings as I cling to them at the top of the landing, eyeing that ragged tear in the pinstripes of lime-green wallpaper (where my sister picked at it unconsciously one rainy day while telling me tales of the Wombles and the Magic Roundabout), straining to hear even a snippet of my mum and dad’s grown-up conversation between their bouts grown-up laughter as they watch The Two Ronnies and Upstairs, Downstairs on our in-cabinet TV (very much like this one, with doors that close to leave you with a ‘beautiful piece of furniture’ when not in use).

To this day, I use that method of remembering: if I close my eyes, I see not darkness, but a myriad of miniature doors waiting to be opened; with eyes closed, the possibility of entering into one of those intricate worlds opens before me (my own mind palace? Certainly not a new concept, and I would never suggest I have the genius of Sherlock, but it’s definitely something like that, although perhaps slightly more akin to an heart-palace, full of feelings, not just facts).

SPARC Symposium 2018 Welcoming Ceremonies, May 24th 2018 at the Miner’s Tavern; photo credit Chandel Gambles

 

And so yes, here we are, Thursday July 5th, 2018. Exactly 35 years since I left my childhood home; it also happens to be exactly 6 weeks since the SPARC Symposium 2018 Welcoming Ceremonies at the Miner’s Tavern, with the Ironstone Singers of our Temiskaming First Nations.

 

 

 

It feels like, with eyes closed, both my entire childhood and waiting in line for a pulled pork sandwich from The Roaster on Saturday May 26th were just yesterday, but also, they feel a lifetime ago.

JJ celebrating her 3rd birthday, June 28, 2018, and awaiting the arrival of her little sister

 

Well, for Marie and Roger and Jemima Jane, our Symposium Food Family, soon the Symposium will indeed be more than one lifetime away; their little one is expected to arrive any day now. And, at 1 day old, 6 weeks is in fact 42 lifetimes, so there you go.

I wonder if, waiting in her cozy nest, so close to greeting this world, their little one also felt that magic surrounding us in Cobalt that weekend?

 

It certainly ran deep within me; as I close my eyes and open my SPARC Symposium 2018 mind’s eye door, I first hear music: the drumming of Teajai, Lara, and Trevor as we prepare our Saturday evening meal, a little David Bowie as Jack leads us in our shared dance, Tanner’s awesome rendition of ‘Grace, Too’ on Voyageur at the Miner’s Tavern. Then I hear words: Aengus’ inspiring talk on leadership, Chris’ warm welcomes and fond farewells, Wayne’s

Tanner at the Miner’s with Voyageur

phrase ‘tickling of the soul’. I also see movement: people moving toward each other in greetings and goodbyes, the Paula Davey Dancers marching proudly in to the Hall Saturday evening, 100 of us getting up from our chairs to applaud, sitting down again to eat, and back up to walk the room, trying to keep Myra’s equilateral triangle, as well as bodies

Dancing Amongst the Tables; photo credit Chandel Gambles

dancing: Roger releasing some pent-up kitchen energy, 200 feet moving in our shared ‘Dancing in the Streets’ with Jack (well, Dancing Amongst the Tables), and even Chandel’s dance (without movement) during James’ mad moves of ‘The Bench. And as I look close, I can see dozens of pairs of eyes, and dozens of smiles: Reneltta’s sorrowful smile as she talked about Shannon’s Dream, the tears in Isobel’s eyes as she

Ceilidh and Gordon; photo credit Chandel Gambles

spoke of how much it meant to her students to be there to hear Reneltta speak, sweet Zoë’s smile as she laughed during our dinner, wearing our origami napkin hats, Frank’s dark and caring eyes during our intense two minutes during ‘The Light of Leadership’, and so many, many more smiling eyes and authentic expressions of joy and connection.

And so, within the May 24-27 2018 room of my heart-mind palace, there lives music, movement, dance, words, expressions: hmmmm… the definition of performing arts? Yet, it seems it was the genuine (exactly non-performative) nature of our interactions that weekend, an absolute absence of ‘performance’ with each other, that was in fact key to the magic of our performing arts gathering. I like that thought.

          The Lollipop Guild doing their thing

Well, that’s me of late; lots of thinking, perhaps just a little bit of bookkeeping (!), and not moving very far at all from my garden. I do wonder what others have been up to since late May; I’ve heard from a few: Frank Blanchet has been busy rehearsing not one, but two plays with the Brighton Barn Theatre, as well as preparing for concerts with his band. Patricia Fell and the Lollipop Guild are busy making changes in their community; Patricia writes, ‘I thought you may be interested to know that we have made some progress in our community.  The company producing the “Dreamgirls” show that we PROtested has very recently offered one of our members (Kianna Porter, she was a part of May Day) a paid gig with their upcoming production of HAIR…’. Rebecca Ballarin continues to be very busy with SPARC, but also has been managing to attend rehearsals for a Fringe Festival play.

Morning view in Isafjordur; photo by David

A few have had (and are having) great traveling adventures: Kevin Closs and David Newland, those two musical, adventuresome souls, are somewhere in the oceans near Svalbard (Kevin) and Isafjordur (David) with Adventure Canada, and Reneltta Arluk has been back and forth across the country; she writes:

[Since the Symposium] I was in Toronto for two speaking events. I sat on a panel for WalrusLIVE to talk about The Future of Arts. I was with Molly Johnson, musician, and Cameron Bailey, TIFF. It was a quick and in depth conversation with Q & A.

The other event was at the ROM for Franklin Expedition: Moving Forward. I was one of the speakers there as well. I spoke about my experience of bridging culture and artistic practice in directing The Breathing Hole at Stratford.

I am back at Banff Centre but am working with Corey Payette, New Liskeard is his home town, and we are co-creating a play using the themes of Sedna. Very exciting stuff!

Then we have our Aengus Finnan, another intrepid and dedicated traveler, who has barely been home long enough to do a load of laundry since last we met: from Cobalt he flew, via Toronto, back to Kansas City for some Folk Alliance International (FAI) planning, then to Raleigh, North Carolina for three days of FAI board meetings and strategic planning, then to Denver, Colorado for the Americans for the Arts Convention, and back again to Canada for Embassy and Canadian government meetings in Ottawa, and from there north to Iqaluit, Nunavit for the Alianait Arts Festival, before finally heading back home to Kansas (was he wishing for red shoes to click together at some point?).

Yet, Aengus somehow found the time to share this with me: ‘What lingers with me from our time in Cobalt is how personal and interconnected the rural arts presenting community is, and how many wonderful people have held torches high for so long. I am reminded of the many events and organizations that exist and operate on the sheer passion and energy of a few dedicated leaders and volunteers, which in turn highlights the need for our continued conversation about sustainability, community engagement, and succession planning.’

I wonder what lingers with others? How were each of us touched by the magic of SPARC, the magic that we made happen by being open to, and genuine with, each other? What embers will continue to burn low, ready to brighten our days and warm our spirits when they receive the breath of our attention as we open that mind’s eye door, embers that will no doubt spark amazing arts-related activities in our lovely little communities?

 

Okay, it’s back to my garden for me, digging in again. I hope to keep my heart open to all that life has to offer, celebrating the fact that here I am on Thursday July 5th, 2018: one more day that I can.

 

 

My four main sources of joy (back-to-school, 2007)

Helpful creatures in my garden, around the time of the Symposium

Late summer 2017, what I have to look forward to again this year!

 

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 rebecca@sparcperformingarts.com


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: http://www.prologue.org/join-our-roster/ 


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.