Jason attends Creefest 2019

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jason attends Riddu Riddu: An International Indigenous Festival

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

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

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

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

Painting of Buffy Saint Marie on side of teepee

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

Musical performers on stage

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

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

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

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

Sunrise over lake in mountain valley

About The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film

The following post was written by Miranda Bouchard, Acting Artistic Director of Thinking Rock Community Arts. Thinking Rock’s community-created documentary film received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program last June. 

This program has now closed for 2019. To read more about past projects that were supported, login to the Member Network and click on the Collaborative Community Initiatives tab in the menu! 

The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film is a vital legacy document of The Rivers Speak Project and of Gigidoowag Ziibiik I The Rivers Speak: A Community Play, which marked the culmination of a five-year collaborative community-engaged process, led by Thinking Rock in partnership with Jumblies Theatre, AlgomaTrad, Timber Village Museum, Mississauga First Nation, Blind River, Elliot Lake and Serpent River First Nation.

The Rivers Speak Story Project – supported by SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund, along with the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program and in-kind contributions from project partners at Village Electric and AlgomaTrad – resulted in the creation of a mini-documentary film that recounts the dynamic, multi-faceted, cross-cultural, intergenerational, multi-year community-engaged art-making process, and the vibrant relationships and experiences that resulted throughout the making of the play.

The mini-documentary film shares the impacts of The Rivers Speak Project with a wider audience than the play alone could have reached while building on the project’s legacy. It shows and tells the Rivers Speak story from foundation to production and beyond, offering viewers – those who were part of the process, as well as newcomers to Thinking Rock’s work – a look at the activities and processes involved, the relationships created and sustained, and the challenges and joys encountered along the journey.

Throughout the filmmaking process, Thinking Rock and the project team engaged many of the partners, participants and volunteers who were involved throughout the Rivers Speak. This included conducting additional interviews (of participants, Elders, artists and others) and filming Rivers Speak legacy activities (notably, reunions and gatherings, as well as the evolving gallery and art-making sessions) across the Central Algoma region during the summer of 2018. Additional amateur and community-generated video footage, along with audio files and photos documenting the multi-year project, were incorporated in the film to represent the breadth of community-generated content and offer a sense of the project’s collaborative creation. Existing Rivers Speak production video footage and interviews captured by Village Electric, as well as a professionally-recorded, community-generated soundtrack from the play (featuring community participants, AlgomaTrad musicians, Grandmother Marly Day and others) further enhance the resulting film while speaking to the play process.

The creation of The Rivers Speak Story mini-documentary film fostered exciting experiential learning and mentorship across the team, from Thinking Rock staff to filmmakers to musicians to participants. It expanded our perspectives about documentary filmmaking’s potential as a tool for exploring narrative and conveying the specifics of community-engaged artistic practice; the final mini-documentary film communicates the integral involvement of many hands, hearts and perspectives throughout the process. Making this film increased the capacity of all involved to work collaboratively across communities, cultures, languages and artistic disciplines. Despite a few challenges and having to alter our plans and timelines somewhat, we collectively carried the project forward towards an impressive outcome we are excited to share.

This project had many wide-reaching, short- and long-term impacts. We learned a lot throughout the process that will impact our respective work in future. The final mini-documentary film will continue to impact the Rivers Speak partner communities, whose contributions are reflected in it. The Rivers Speak Project engaged more than 4,000 people as participants, performers, partners, audience members and more between 2013 and 2018. As a record of this process showing many formative moments along the way, the mini-documentary film celebrates and acknowledges the contributions made by participants and community partners to the successful play, from pilot to production to legacy, each time it is viewed at home and elsewhere.

It is our hope that the mini-documentary will extend the Rivers Speak project – and our work generally – to live on and make impacts well beyond the life of the play, in places farther afield than our Algoma District home. We hope that the film will inspire others across Turtle Island to start and continue their own paths toward community-building, respectful collaboration and reconciliation. The Rivers Speak Story mini-documentary film is nearing completion, and we look forward to sharing it widely soon! Follow us on Instagram (@ThinkingRockCA) and Facebook for details about this and other projects. Thinking Rock is thankful to the SPARC Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund, the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program, and in-kind contributions from project partners Village Electric and AlgomaTrad for making this project possible.

Land-Based Arts at 4elements

By Kirsten Nelson, Executive Director

4elements Living Arts was founded in 2002, making it a relative old-timer among northern Ontario arts organizations. Our vision is engaged experiences of land, arts and community, and our mission is to nurture and inspire community engagement in land-based arts on Manitoulin Island.

Workshops remain one of our favourite ways to engage the community in land-based art, and remind them that the divide between artist and audience is an artificial one. 4elements has offered workshops by local and visiting artists and artisans in areas as diverse as audio art, biology, clay, clowning, dance (ballet, latin and modern), doll-making, drumming, dying with indigo, fibre, geometry in nature, jewellery making, mapping, mask-making, meditation, mural painting, photography, poetry, printing, sculpture, shadow puppets, watercolour, writing, and yoga.

Our biggest excitement of the year comes with the Elemental Festival, a celebration of musicians, artists, films, and performers of all kinds, responding to our land-based arts theme. Held in late September each year in Kagawong (“Ontario’s prettiest village”), people can wander between the Park Centre, Old Church on the Hill, Riverbend Stage and Billings Connections Trail to listen, watch, create, and eat for three full days. There are big-stage musical performances in the evenings, and rotating performers and workshop leaders with more intimate or child-friendly setups in the afternoons. You might choose between a needle-felting workshop using fleece from local alpacas, or learning about Indigenous hand drumming and singing.

We have quieter, more contemplative missions as well. We have three beautiful books that continue to surprise us with sales out of proportion to the marketing we do for them. Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements is an inspiring look at land-based engagements, written for community arts animators, artists, environmental art educators, and community members. The Art of Land-Based Early Learning (volumes 1 and 2) offer concrete, yet inspiring guidance for teachers, parents, and facilitators who work with children.

In the past year, our Walking Waters program was an unqualified success. Uniting indigenous and settler students from Sheshegwaning First Nation and C. C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay, we took groups on water walks to find and engage with the water in our community. In the winter months this entailed snowshoeing on the lake, where the students watched, listened, thought and talked about their experiences. Bookends of smudging, drumming, and teachings from local elders created context for the movement. A rich output of drawings, photos, and videos resulted.

Our longest-lasting contribution to the land is undoubtedly our outdoor sculptures, most notably the Billings Connections trail, which garnered us and our partners a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award in 2017. Ten sculptures and 32 historical interpretive plaques dot the land along the Kagawong River and the main street of town, inviting visitors to partake of a deeper conversation and understanding about the complexities of Truth and Reconciliation.

If you’re interested to learn more, we hope you’ll visit our website, and maybe even plan to come to the Elemental Festival this year! September 26-29, 2019.

Theatre Night in Merrickville’s ‘Theatre in the Making’ : A Collaborative Playwright Journey for the Whole Village

By Tia Lutes


Have you considered becoming a playwright or wondered how much love, blood, sweat, and tears go into writing a play? You are a talented actor who enjoys arts and writing so being a playwright should be second nature….right? Wrong! There is so much more to becoming a playwright than meets the eye, and nine budding playwrights in the Ottawa Valley can certainly attest to this.

It all started with a premise, a gathering of artists, and the courage to take a leap of faith!

This journey began in September 2018 for Theatre Night in Merrickville. Brian, one of TNIM’s members, approached the executives about Trafalgar 24; an event he attended and presented as a possible basis for a TNIM production. The premise of Trafalgar 24 was that 6 professional playwrights composed and performed 6 script synopses in 24 hours. The purpose of the event was twofold: fundraising for Driftwood Theatre and allowing the audience to choose which script would be developed into a full play. Brian’s presentation ignited interest and the executive began strategizing how to transform this initiative into something our own restricted resources could support. At the same time, Helen (another TNIM member) and I had the honour of attending a SPARC Community Gathering in Almonte. Here, we were introduced to SPARC and were amazed with the sense of community, networking, and support given to artistic groups within rural areas. We were surrounded by kindred spirits and rejuvenated by the spirit and energy present in the hall. That afternoon, we discovered how we could combine the idea of Trafalgar 24 with the SPARC collaboration initiatives to create a memorable event for everyone.

Utilizing our new found connections, Helen contacted Michael Clipperton of SPARC and Theatre Ontario to ask if he would do us the honour of facilitating a playwright workshop. To our delight he agreed…yahoo! Everything was falling into place as if fate had destined it to be!

Hearing back from Michael we continued planning our journey: A four day playwright workshop in February and March, then periodic write-arama meetings, and finally excerpts from the plays produced in early June in a gala evening. Akin to Trafalgar 24, the winner of our gala, which we titled Theatre in the Making, would be our Theatre Night in Merrickville entry to the Eastern Ontario One Act Festival in November 2019. It was also at this point that we decided this was the ideal time to reach out and form some collaborations with other artistic groups in the surrounding areas. We opened the workshop to other thespian groups as we welcomed both old and new faces to our green room and within our Thespian Tale family. We then reached out to the Merrickville United Arts Centre (the old united church recently restored into an events centre) with the hope of developing a relationship with the owners and using this as our event venue; strengthening our sustainability within the community and forging new relationships that foster a broader sense of community within the village we call home.

The weekend of February 9th-10th we welcomed Michael to our green room to start our writing journey. Nine talented individuals eagerly and enthusiastically gathered around the tables equipped with pen, paper, laptops, and of course cups of coffee/tea and goodies. They all seemed confident in their abilities to be a playwright and excited to commence writing. Nonetheless, as Michael spoke and shared the basics of writing a strong dialogue their sense of confidence began to waiver. Have no fear! Michael presented them with a tool box filled to overflowing with suggestions and tricks of the trade.

Over two weekends, with Michael’s calm and quiet guidance, these playwrights became parents and gave birth to their plays. Subsequently, like parenthood, these playwrights learned that there is no right or wrong way and there are always moments when that blank page stares judgmentally back at you. Then there are the unwelcome visits from Mr. Writer’s Block, Miss Busy Body, and Mother Nature which results in self consciousness and doubt. Nevertheless, no matter what, these playwrights learned the most important lesson, to be tenacious! For that is the true definition of a playwright – or any artist really – someone with tenacity and courage! With those two essentials in one’s tool box anything is possible!

The moment of truth came on June 8th, 2019 when the playwrights took a deep breath and shared their babies with the world in their premier staged readings. In the sanctuary of MUAC, with a sense of tranquility, energy, excitement and anticipation, 21 talented actors ranging in age from 11 to 70 brought the 6 plays to life. The evening was a smashing success as an audience of 88 thespian lovers and aspiring thespians alike engaged to the fullest and the unthinkable happened… a tie for first place! Despite having a winner (or two) each play is deserving of further attention and love as they all hold immeasurable potential!

Through this endeavour, not only did the playwrights learn about tenacity and courage, but so did the Theatre in the Making team. There were many trials and tribulations along the journey, but in the end it was a great initiative that created numerous relationships. These relationships will only grow stronger as we encourage the village and other artistic individuals and groups to join us on future collaborative journeys.

Northern Arts Events Bridge the Gap

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

This spring, arts events held in Sudbury and North Bay helped to showcase Northern talent across many disciplines, ultimately working to bridge the gap between the higher populated urban areas of the province such as Toronto and Thunder Bay.

The 2019 Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards, produced in association with Music and Film in Motion, offered a 3 day schedule of film, music and nightly showcases in Sudbury, Ontario. Sessions included a Safer Bars & Spaces training program, and workshops on screenwriting, radio and streaming, navigating film funding, and film technologies. There were also short film showcases and a screening of the “Goalie” biopic of goaltender Terry Sawchuck. Nightly music performances by Melody McKiver and Darius Gray, Mclean, Rose-Erin Stokes, Kalle Mattson, Nick Sherman and Rico Littledeer,  Frank Deresti and the Lake Effect, Greyson Gritt, Jennifer Holub, The Honest Heart Collective, MC Silvertongue and TESSA complimented the daytime programming.

Sudbury has a long history of showcasing Northern talent and, at the same time, makes a great stop for high-profile acts that tour through Ontario, including John Fogerty and Snoop Dogg recently. Sitting in the heart of the province, Sudbury offers a convenient link from North to South and is a diverse city of representation and exploration.

North Bay hosted the Cold Waters Media Arts Symposium & Festival on June 12-15. Sessions and workshops took place at Nipissing University and showcases were held in local venues including the Capital Centre and White Water Gallery. Presentations included MANO (Media Arts Network of Ontario) Mornings that featured expert talks on relevant industry topics, such as: Policy, Advocacy, and Strategy in the Arts, Making and Thinking Alongside the North, and Preserving Indigenous Knowledge within the Digital Domain. The Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council had regional representatives lead workshops and offer insight on granting programs. Evening Programming featured Nearly Far Away // Far From Near (by Rihkee Strapp with Tejhler Leadbeater and Jeremy Saya in collaboration with Amanda Lindenbac) and Ways of Listening (with Darren Copeland, Anyse Ducharme, Zoe Gordon & ElizaBeth Hill), which were wonderful compliments to the knowledge-packed daytime presentations.


North Bay is conveniently located within 4 hours of Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury and Manitoulin and has a rich Indigenous history of the Anishnabek whom call the area home. Its rich medicine producing grounds have long provided for the people of the land. It was refreshing to see the digital era of art showcased with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous representation, with showings and sharings of medicines, culture and professional artistry.

Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium

The following post was written by Carey Nicholson, a member of the Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium planning committee. This event was held on April 11 & 12, 2019 and it received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program in October 2018. 

The next deadline to apply for support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program is Friday, June 28th. This will be the final deadline for 2019! For more information about the program email rebecca@sparcperformingarts.com . 

The Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium was held Thursday, April 11 & Friday April 12 at the Wellness and Resource Centre of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN). This first ever multi-arts symposium in Scugog was hosted by the Scugog Council for the Arts (SCA) with the generous support of the MSIFN and SPARC – Supporting Performing Arts in Rural and Remote Communities.

The idea of a multi-disciplinary event developed in mid 2018 as an action to support the SCA’s strategic goal to reanimate the SCA and reconnect the organization with the community and each other. A planning committee was created and included artist and SCA president, Marion Meyers, SCA Board member and Theatre on the Ridge artistic director, Carey Nicholson, arts management consultant, Karin Eaton, Scugog Chamber of Commerce executive director, Kenna Kozak, MSIFN band council member, Della Charles and community representative, Louise Bardswich. Arts administrator, Allena Litherland was engaged as the symposium project co-ordinator. Through conversations and tasks identified in the SCA’s strategic plan, the committee began work in October 2018 and was able to quickly settle on a theme that had universal appeal and value, not only to the local artists and arts organization, but other sectors in Scugog.

The theme of the event was audience building for arts and culture practitioners and organizations, and the overarching message, carried through the event and echoed by all the guest speakers, quickly became apparent – “Engage your heart to inform your mind to build your audience”. And hearts were engaged on the opening Thursday evening of the symposium as 60 plus delegates, representing all facets of the local arts and culture community, were guided through a smudging ceremony and a Talking Feather Circle by MSIFN cultural coordinator Matthew Stevens. Also in attendance were representatives from the local business community and municipal government, including Mayor of Scugog Township, Bobbie Drew.

In the context of the Talking Feather Circle, an activity that could have been a basic networking exercise became a much more meaningful and impactful experience. The Talking Feather Circle gave permission for participants to become present, and enabled them to listen and to share. Scugog artists and community leaders also experienced their community reflected back through the eyes of newcomers and visitors, and were reminded that Scugog has a unique arts community of strength, connection, diversity of interests, and passion. The experience was a gift that reminded attendees that the strengths of Scugog as a community can too easily be taken for granted. Afterwards, there was a collective sense of having slowed down and become aware of the great density and “noise” of our lives and environment that can block our abilities to connect to ourselves, and each other.

The sense of the circle continued on Friday through the symposium presentations and break out sessions, including a keynote speech by Jason Maghanoy (playwright and Director of Membership and Partner Success with Toronto Life Magazine) and panellists Marion Meyers (Scugog Council for the Arts, Artist, Branding Specialist), Kim Blackwell (Managing Artistic Director, 4th Line Theatre), Leslie Hughes (Social Media Guru – PUNCH!MEDIA) and Heather Kanabe (General Manager, Hamilton Fringe Festival).

In every presentation, amidst the vast practical information and expertise shared by the panellists, participants were encouraged to utilize the circle and come back to the heart and truth of their own stories. Time and again, the encouragement and message was to use those stories to speak to audiences through brand messaging, to be genuine and passionate about their work, and remember that relationships built on authentic stories build strong partnerships. The key to connection? We need to know ourselves and our values, and it is through our stories that we speak about our work, our past and our future.

After a day and a half of information, inspiration, new ideas, connections and open hearts the symposium came full circle with a performance of dancing and drumming by the MSIFN, concluding with an intertribal dance inviting all participants to take part and join the circle with the performers.

The success of the symposium was apparent in the conversations at the end of the day on ideas shared, skills to be developed, actions to be taken, and a greater connection with existing and new friends and associations. The symposium also provided the SCA with valuable feedback to fuel new ideas as it moves forward and continues its own revitalization. The SCA will build on the success of this event and plans to bring the community together again in 2021. Until then, the circles created at this inaugural symposium will continue to ripple outwards into the community and beyond.

To learn more about the Scugog Cultural Connections Symposium, future similar events, or to become involved with the SCA, visit www.scugogarts.ca or contact the SCA directly at info@scugogarts.ca.



Community Spaces in Places of Faith Survey

There are 27,000 faith buildings (defined as a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or gurdwara) in Canada.

One third are set to close in the next ten years.

Having visited and worked with many faith communities, Faith & the Common Good postulates that most places of worship are home to at least one not-for-profit organization. Twelve step groups, the foodbank, blood donor clinics, arts groups or community meetings, are all occasionally housed in places of faith. Where will all these activities go in the absence of faith buildings?

Faith & the Common Good has partnered with a number of other organizations, including the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Ontario Not-for-Profit Network, the National Trust, Cardus, the Rural Ontario Institute, ArtsPond, ArtsBuild Ontario – and SPARC! –  to conduct a two year study that aims to enumerate the following:

How many not for profit and community groups currently run programming out of faith buildings?

If you, or a group you know, conducts activities out of a place of faith please complete the ten minute survey by going to  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/communityspacesinfaithplaces . We appreciate your help in this endeavour to strengthen the not for profit community and save our affordable spaces.


The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film

Thinking Rock Community Arts is receiving support for their documentary film project through SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program. This project has a longer timeline than some of the others that have received support, so instead of only writing an end-of-project reflection post, Miranda is updating the SPARC community partway through…

By Miranda Bouchard (Acting Artistic Director)

For the past several months, Thinking Rock Community Arts has been working on a documentary film-based legacy project to celebrate and commemorate the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak project. What is this project, you ask? And what is Thinking Rock Community Arts?



About Thinking Rock Community Arts

We’re a nonprofit community arts organization – and SPARC member – based in Thessalon, Ontario that creates art with and for the people living along the North Shore of Lake Huron, from Spanish to Sault Ste. Marie and all points in between. We invite people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to join us in playing, making and dreaming about this special place we call home – as it was, as it is, and as it might be. Our governance, staff and artistic teams represent professional established and emerging rural artists of First Nations, Métis and Settler descent who share a burning desire to explore how we can together begin to create spaces for dialogue and mutual understanding through multidisciplinary, multi-generational, cross-cultural community-engaged art projects.

About the Rivers Speak Project and the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play

Between 2013 and 2017, Thinking Rock engaged more than 3,000 people in the multi-year process of co-creating and presenting a participatory, cross-culturally collaborative community-engaged play – Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak. The culminating performance was presented in September 2017 at the Mississaugi First Nation Pow Wow Grounds by a cast of over 40 Anishinaabe and Settler community members aged four to eighty, and led by a team of 20 professional Indigenous and Settler artists (musicians, dancers, theatre and visual artists) from Algoma and beyond. The play was developed in partnership with local Anishinaabe Elders, knowledge holders, youth and community partners, and was performed in Anishnaabemowin, French and English. It combined art forms, stories and histories from local Anishinaabe and Settler traditions, welcomed over 600 audience members from local towns and reserves, and was performed to much local media acclaim.

Following the play, Thinking Rock launched three projects to document and celebrate the legacy of the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play – including the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film, which received support from SPARC’s Community Initiatives Fund, as well as the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program.

About the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film (so far!)

The Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film is a crucial legacy component of the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play, in that it will provide an invaluable audio-visual record of the dynamic, multi-faceted, cross-cultural, intergenerational, multi-year community-engaged art making process that was the Rivers Speak. The project left in its wake a vibrant array of new relationships, experiences, memories and impacts for individuals, communities and partners who participated in it – including Mississauga First Nation, Blind River, Elliot Lake, Serpent River First Nation, AlgomaTrad, Timber Village Museum, SKETCH Working Arts and Jumblies Theatre. Through its production and distribution, this film will capture and share those experiences with a much wider audience than the play itself could have hoped to reach, and potentially inspire other similar projects in other communities.

The Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film is being led by Thinking Rock’s professional artistic team, which includes local media company Village Electric, professional musicians from AlgomaTrad (both fellow SPARC members) and Jon Cada – SPARC youth delegation member, resident of Mississauga First Nation, Rivers Speak participant and Thinking Rock Board Member.

Together with Village Electric, we have been working with the partners, community participants and volunteers who have been involved in the Rivers Speak project since 2013 to create a professionally-produced documentary film short that tells the project’s story from conception to completion: how it came about, the process of its making, the relationships created, the challenges and joys encountered on the way.

The film will explore this journey by incorporating amateur in-house footage and photos we’ve gathered throughout all five years of the community-engaged process leading to the final Rivers Speak production – including Elders’ sharing circles, community art-making and skill-building workshops, community outreach sessions, casting and rehearsals. It will blend this amateur footage with professional documentary footage of the play itself shot by Village Electric, as well as interviews they conducted with key artists and community participants about their experience taking part in the project. Finally, it will incorporate professional footage of our other legacy activities related to the project, including the Rivers Speak Evolving Gallery and the Rivers Speak Soundtrack recording project.

The documentary film will also feature a unique component: a professionally recorded, community-generated soundtrack. Concurrent to the Mini Documentary Film Project, during the summer of 2018 we reunited the original Rivers Speak community cast at AlgomaTrad camp and the Mississaugi First Nation Pow Wow Grounds to professionally record the original soundtrack to the play, which featured powerful music – created in collaboration with practising musicians, Anishinaabe traditional singers and community members – that draws on Anishinaabe, Scottish, Irish and French Canadian musical traditions. Last month, key members of the Rivers Speak musical team reunited to mix those recordings and begin the mastering process. Once ready, this original soundtrack will be incorporated into the film.

At Thinking Rock, the use of community-engaged artistic processes to build bridges of understanding and create pathways toward reconciliation is fundamental to our work. The Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film has allowed us to continue bringing our community participants along that journey with us by co-creating a legacy project that centres their Rivers Speak experience and conveys our shared ownership and pride in what we’ve built over the past five years. Hopefully it will inspire others across Turtle Island to start and continue on their own journeys toward reconciliation.

We look forward to continuing the process and sharing the final outcome of the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film project in the near future!

A Work(shop) In Progress: Skill Building for Our Collective and the Community

by Andy King and Laura Cameron

Five weeks and five events later and our series of capacity building workshops have come to an end. Through the support of SPARC and their Collaborative Community Initiatives program, we were able to gain facilitation experience, create leadership roles, and explore different aspects of what those in the community would be interested in participating in. Collaboration is something that we value at the core of Youth Elevating Youth.

While our collective is still new and there are a few things we’re still working out, there has never been a question of whether or not we should place a heavy focus on creating opportunities for people to collaborate through projects or through skills sharing. So we were happy to receive the support of SPARC in helping to create spaces of capacity building and partnership.

We reached out to local facilitators with varying lived experiences and were lucky that so many creative people were excited to join us. Veanna and Tamer from the Laidlaw Foundation led a workshop on grant writing for us and for people of all ages who were interested in furthering their artistic community-focused endeavours that might require funding or seed money. It was clear that they love inspiring others to make changes in their community through the arts and that is something we will take with us through our process as well. This workshop gave opportunity for participants to share their ideas for the community and it was exciting to see so much passion for change.

We are fortunate to have the support of Sheatre to assist us and were happy to welcome members from their organization to facilitate as well. Joan Chandler led a very meta workshop about leading workshops. She was able to walk us through an uplifting and engaging workshop that conveyed the ins and outs of facilitating and how to structure an event, drawing on her experience. We hope to be able to use this knowledge in our future workshops. Warren Bain, also of Sheatre, led participants through a workshop inspired by Theatre of the Oppressed, Image Theatre, and Theatre for Living. This workshop, Theatre for Conversation, opened an inquisitive dialogue about ourselves and how we communicate with others, effectively or otherwise.

We reached out to Michael O’Connell from Toronto’s Sketch and Winston Boudreau, a community youth mentor for the Saugeen First Nation; both agreed to sit with us to discuss anti-oppression and how it affects each of us, not only within the community but in all facets of life. This workshop was designed to facilitate a healthy dialogue without inadvertently or subconsciously adding to the oppression that marginalized people face daily. This was important to us because we have all seen or felt oppression in one form or another so working together to learn about areas where we, or others, have been hurtful is one step toward putting a stop to it. The process of unlearning can be complicated and isolating but joining others on a similar journey is crucial, and hearing the voices of those who our words have hurt is even more so.

Through this experience, YEY was also able to create facilitation opportunities for local artists who have yet to have that experience. Youth Elevating Youth members Skye Cormier and Maxine Iharosy facilitated a Mindfulness and Intuitive Arts workshop that was fun, inviting, and challenging. Giving space for new facilitators to make their start in sharing their knowledge and particular area of interest, in turn, gave attendees an opportunity to explore their inner selves through meditation, a collage inspired by SoulCollage, and write a poem or prose based on the results. In a survey we created we asked: “What did you take away from this workshop?” and we got some great responses. One respondent said they learned to: “Be more okay with being uncomfortable. Be open to vulnerability,” and another said “Be more thoughtful. Try to realize why you do the things you do.”

Though there were bumps in the road and a couple of dates had to change, we were pleased to see everything run as smoothly as it did. We have learned from this experience and are so grateful to SPARC for the opportunity to create these workshops as spaces for people to learn and gain experience, something that we feel is not offered enough in this area. We hope to continue working with the people and spaces with which we made connections as we grow and expand on our vision to create leadership roles and art projects for the youth in our community.