Save Picton Town Hall

The following post was written by Sarah Moran about the work being done by the Prince Edward County Arts Council and a grassroots coalition called ‘Save Picton Town Hall‘. This group (and their many collaborators) received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program to complete a strategic plan for a proposal to keep their Town Hall in the hands of the community. 

The next deadline to apply for support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program is Thursday, February 28th. For more information about the program email . 


A story of loss?

credit: Tim Snyder & Wellington Times

This story starts when our community heard that council was thinking of selling our Town Hall, in Picton, Prince Edward County. Its sale would be a huge loss to all the people using it: art exhibitors, dancers, musicians and theatre groups as well as community groups.  It’s an outstanding public space. The heritage property was built on land donated to the community in 1866 for a hall and farmers’ market. The hall is a precious, publicly owned asset: downtown, affordable accessible space. As such, it was also coveted by developers in this newly valuable real estate market of Prince Edward County..

It would be a battle to save our town hall from developers; many believed it to be a lost cause.

But could this be a story of opportunity?

We knew, from a SPARC symposium held in Prince Edward County in 2016, that local performing artists considered space a top priority for the performing arts to thrive. And we knew from council deputations that there was a strong voice in the broader community to save Picton Town Hall. People were excited to learn of its long history, to discover that the upstairs auditorium had been an opera house, a theatre, a concert hall, a dance hall; the downstairs area was recently vacated, with the possibility of more uses for the community.

A coalition of county citizens started on the job. Called “Save Picton Town Hall”, we’re a diverse group of volunteers: ex-councillor, heritage expert and artist, small business owner, community activists, arts council director, entrepreneur consultant, engineers. We all rolled up our sleeves for what turned out to be many, many months of work.

Save Picton Town Hall Headquarters

With no money and not even a space to meet in, headquarters for all this work has been a hair salon, kindly offered by local business owner, Margaret Watson.

It was clear that no single, not-for-profit or arts sector player in a small rural community like ours could go it alone. In order to keep and enhance the space we’d have to build a viable proposal to council that was multi-stakeholder and multi-use. For that complicated beast, we needed a good strategic plan.

With money from SPARC we forged a strategic plan

Strategic plan you say? Yawn you might think. But building the plan has been at the heart of the effort. All important, and hugely inspiring was the community consultation, with 50 people brimming with ideas for creating a vision of the best possible Town Hall. Local artists volunteered to bring these ideas to life with drawings of the many visions. People had so many ideas for arts presentations of all kinds as well as community events and a farmers’ market. There were suggestions for income generating ideas to support the vision like a food co-op and pop-up businesses such as cafes and other tenant options.

Community consultation in Picton Town Hall

Out of our community consultation came the focus: “To preserve this outstanding public space for arts, farmers’ market and multi-use”. This clear focus was key when so many different groups needed to be engaged: council, downtown businesses, potential partners, likely stakeholders, performing arts groups, other arts groups, community groups, local media and county residents at large.

Our lead strategist, (engaged through the assistance of SPARC funding for a strategic plan,) consultant Duncan Moore, set about equipping us with learning from others. Early on it became very clear that for this project to be viable in the eyes of the community and council, the hall would need to be self sustaining, covering its operating costs independently.

We read up on similar projects. We visited the Tett Centre. We created a communications plan. We detailed an activity timeline. Because of our strategic consultant’s expertise in partnership building, as well as his local connections with businesses, …collaborations began to form.

Pulling the plan together with many collaborators

With our priorities front and centre we set about finding partners who could help turn the vision into a reality. By dint of engaging a host of collaborators the strategic plan was developed. In essence, the upstairs auditorium area would deliver enhanced arts activities and community events, downstairs would offer new space for rental and community use and outside would serve the farmers’ market.

Community vision guiding the strategic plan

Upstairs auditorium

Groove Tonic dancing at the Picton Town Hall. Photo: Graham Davies

The upstairs level was envisaged as a space to enhance and grow current uses, in arts activities and community events. Many organizations in the performing arts are already interested in the initiative. For example, The Regent Theatre is keen on renting space in the Town Hall auditorium because it will enable them to work with more artists; they are also offering to share equipment.  PEC Jazz can see the opportunity for their young jazz musician programme using the space in future. A key part of the plan is to install a digitized booking system. This will enable more people to use the space and assist in driving more revenue while keeping the current affordability in place. Also stepping up with letters of support is a great line-up of County Pop Festival, Comedy Country and Sandbanks Music Festival. Staying in the space will be the Scottish Country Dancers, the Pipe Band, Groove Tonic Dance, Line Dancing, Fire Light Lantern Festival and so much more. The Picton Library, the BIA, the Wine Growers’ Association and others want to be involved now.

Ground floor level

The downstairs, vacated of fire engines, will be renovated and provide an opportunity for income to cover operating costs and for expanded community benefit; a key potential tenant with a high level of commitment is an educational organization for adults who want to share co-located working/meeting areas. Arts groups and entrepreneurs need cost efficient space for occasional use and students enrolled here can benefit from work experience with small businesses renting space. There is a strong market for pop-up spaces for incubating businesses, such as artisanal producers and arts entrepreneurs who want to “test” business ideas in a downtown location at low overhead cost. The County Food Hub, for example has expressed interest as it has a farmers’ co-op.


A farmer’s market proposal is in place for a seasonal market planned in the very space where land was donated for that express purpose in 1866. In addition, plans are stirring for outdoor performance possibilities.

This mix directly reflects the community wishes and also the cultural heritage of this space.

But what about cost?

In order to complete the strategic plan, a business plan was built. We were fortunate to have an ex-councillor on the team with a finance background. Existing operating costs for the Town Hall were audited. Rental rates in the municipality were audited. Tenants were sounded out. Ways to increase uses were created. This enabled the team to put together a financial plan to demonstrate that operating costs could be covered. The intention is that the municipality retain ownership of the building with community management in place and sufficient income generated to cover operating costs.

The last step in building capacity for our community

The last step was to take the draft strategic plan back to the community for a final consultation,

Making lanterns in the Picton Town Hall for for the annual “Firelight Lantern Festival”. Photo: Ramesh Pooran

which we did in September. This meeting was shortly before municipal elections. We had a great turn out from the general public, including many councillors and council candidates. There was a strong endorsement for the plan and excitement grew about the possibility of a busy arts and community hub at the Picton Town Hall. More people stepped up to support and help.

We used that strategic plan for a proposal to council which was submitted in November. We await their decision anxiously! But we are now feeling much more positive about the likely outcome. Little did we imagine we were going to be able to make it this far. Our various performing arts groups and the broader community are hoping for the best…to keep a thriving life of arts and community growing.  

We await the decision of the municipality. You can find out more on our facebook page, @SavePictonTownHall or on our website

“It has cultural capital that is priceless. As our public spaces, …our community gathering spaces become rare, as our lives becomes more secular, more withdrawn and less public, we’ll need buildings like the Town Hall with its beauty and its history to act as a cornerstone for our community. …My child has just begun to build memories like that: the first Firelight Lantern Festival, plays, dancing, food not bombs dinners, rehearsals for musicalsA quote from a supporter.

And thank you to the many supporters, too many to name, without whom we would not be where we are.


Some discoveries and tips:

  • Viability was all important.

This is where the strategic plan really rocked! We discovered that as we made our case stronger and demonstrated the project’s viability people began to realize we had our act together. Then it was amazing how much they were prepared to help. In effect, they’re not going to waste their time on something they think is going nowhere. So it’s simple. Be really well prepared when you go looking for support.

  • Expect things to take longer than expected.

If you’re working with other partners, anyone with their own internal structures to manage, (especially councils,) expect everything to take longer than expected. Fortunately, slower than we thought usually had its benefits!

  • There’s lots of technology that is helpful…go hunting!

Free apps. Lots of free stuff on Google enabling you to share work. Harvest, enabling you to capture volunteer hours easily. Canva, enabling you to make brochures, posters, invites. It also helps to have people on the team who understand the technology and are patient enough to help those who don’t.

  • Communication, communication.

It’s an effort but worth it. There’s no substitute for community support and we all need it, even if it’s a niche community you need. Find out what they’re thinking and be sure to make a connection with your community; in our case through local radio, local media, social media, town hall meetings, one on one interviews. And it’s inspiring to hear back, it really is, creating lots more energy for your project.

SPARC Shares… Spotlight On: Bruce Naokwegijig

Ontario Presents‘  ‘Spotlight On’ series, conceived of and supported by Denise Bolduc, features an Indigenous artist each month in Ontario Presents’ e-newsletter and blog.

This week we have chosen to share their profile of Bruce Naokwegijig: an actor, director, and Artistic Director of Debajehmujig Creation Centre. Bruce was also a panelist on the ‘Compensation Conversations’ panel at our 2018 Symposium in Cobalt (an archival filming of which was posted on our Facebook page yesterday!).

Read the profile here:

Join the SPARC Team!


The SPARC Network’s purpose is to ignite and help sustain performing arts communities in rural and remote Ontario. The Network aims to connect creators, presenters, producers and community animators working in rural and remote communities across the province, and encourage discussion, collaborative brainstorming, and the sharing of knowledge, resources, challenges and success stories. To learn more about SPARC visit

The job of the Northern Outreach Coordinator is to work with the Network Coordinator and SPARC Network Steering Committee to continue:

  • Building an active online network and creating opportunities for in-person networking
  • Connecting with likeminded organizations, networks, and community groups and pursuing possible collaborations and partnerships
  • Researching and developing services and resources needed to build the capacity of performing arts communities in rural and remote areas

The Northern Outreach Coordinator will be focused primarily on supporting rural and remote communities in Northern Ontario.

The successful candidate will be based in Northern Ontario** and will be bilingual (English and French). They will have an interest in the performing arts, strong communication and organizational skills, social media expertise (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and a working knowledge of community engagement. We are looking for a creative self-starter and leader who is able to balance working with project stakeholders, communities, the Network Coordinator, and the SPARC Network Steering Committee.

This is an 11-month contract position with the possibility of extension.

Key responsibilities:

  • Foster sharing and the development of a connected province-wide performing arts community
  • Consult with performing arts communities in rural and remote Northern Ontario
  • Engage a broad range of artists including those working in different performing arts disciplines (music, theatre, dance, media arts) and those supporting the arts in their communities, as well as Francophone, youth and Indigenous artists
  • With the Network Coordinator, use social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and other on-line tools (SPARC website, blog, Facebook live videos etc.) to encourage the exchange of information and networking related to the performing arts in rural and remote communities
  • Coordinate and/or assist the Network Coordinator with the development of new resources and services, and the translation of existing resources and services into the Northern context
  • Work with the Network Coordinator to provide strategic and operational support for the SPARC Network Steering Committee Working Groups
  • Attend community gatherings, conferences and other meetings to support the development of the network
  • Plan, maintain and report on budgets associated with this position
  • Identify and share with the Network Coordinator strategies for the long term sustainability of SPARC in Northern Ontario
  • Create, present, and begin implementing a plan for the SPARC Network to become fully bilingual. This may include researching and applying for specific funding to support this process.
  • Communicate with the Network Coordinator regularly, by phone or Zoom video conferencing
  • Attend monthly SPARC Network Steering Committee Meetings either in person or by video conference

$23.50/hour, 14 hours/week (flexible hours)

Some provincial travel required (including occasional meetings in Haliburton); vehicle required – travel allowance provided.

Computer required; access to SPARC Dropbox account will be provided for file storage. Cell phone required; subsidy for phone plan will be provided. 

To Apply

Please send cover letter and resume (including two references) to:

Rebecca Ballarin, SPARC Network Coordinator

Application Deadline: January 23, 2019


SPARC is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to fair and accessible employment practices. If you require an accommodation at any point in the hiring process please let us know and we will work to meet your needs.

SPARC is committed to reflecting our province’s diversity. We encourage Ontarians of all backgrounds, including those who identify as queer, Indigenous, or people of colour, as well as those with diverse abilities to apply.


**SPARC uses the Ontario Arts Council’s definition of Northern Ontario, which includes the Far North, Northwest, and Northeast regions of the province. This includes the Manitoulin, Parry Sound and Nipissing districts and all regions north of these districts. To view a map outlining these regions, click here:

Skwachàys Lodge

by Olivia Davies, Program Manager, Skwachàys Lodge

Actors, animators, beaders, carvers, clothing designers, conceptual artists, filmmakers, event producers, and jewelers; these are the roles held by the artists in residence currently residing here at Skwachàys Lodge. We are a unique cultural hub for Indigenous artists from across North America seeking to immerse themselves in Northwest Coast community. The Artists in Residence program is supported through the profits of social enterprise of Skwachàys Lodge Aboriginal Hotel and Gallery and receives no additional funding from governmental agencies. Managed and maintained by Vancouver Native Housing Society, the concept for the Artists in Residence Program came about in 2012 when the society took over the aging building and turned it around from the inside out: developing the ground level Urban Aboriginal Fairtrade Gallery, inviting local Indigenous artist to design the 18 boutique hotel suites, and completing renovation of 24 bachelor suites and shared Artist Studio space. The hotel has attracted guests from around the world for the unique Aboriginal experience; while the residency program attracts applicants at all levels of artistic career development that seek to reach their goals and contribute to the vibrant community of artists living here.

Our model is one of reciprocal responsibility grounded in right relations. Residents who successfully apply to the program are required to provide volunteer work in exchange for the housing subsidy provided. This can include working in the Gallery and providing assistance to Lodge events and activities, putting on a skills exchange workshop for fellow residents, facilitating an artist demonstration or public workshop, or helping in other ways that benefit the Lodge operations. Our programming includes professional development opportunities for residents to ameliorate their business skills, gain financial literacy, understand funding models, access higher education, and develop themselves professionally by taking part in high profile conferences and events. Alliances made with organizations and companies in Vancouver have provided our residents with access to subsidized gym memberships, discounted tickets to events, and even deals for free business cards and website development.

In 2016, our residency program was re-designed by Indigenous artist Olivia Davies, who brought her business acumen and professional artistic experience to the management of the program. A graduate of the Banff Centre for Indigenous Leadership and the Executive Administration program at Vancouver Community College, and an Indigenous choreographer with over two decades of performance and event management, Davies was able to take the vision of the residency into the future. By first overhauling the program admission requirements, Davies then began the process of coordinating professional development programming for artists that would provide lasting benefits for participants and encourage their own agency by facilitating skills exchange workshops for fellow artists and hosting live demonstrations of their work.

The talents of the artists in residence have been showcased locally, nationally, and even on the international stage. Artists living at the Lodge have had their works exhibited in Germany, Korea, the United States, and Mexico and have been recognized by their professional industries as leaders in their fields. Alumni have gone on to build their careers in Hollywood, New York City, Toronto, and other major city centres where Indigenous arts and culture are promoted. Emerging artists and scholars attending institutions such as the Emily Carr University of Art and Design or Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts are living in the Lodge and thriving by surrounding themselves with other Indigenous artists. Shared experiences foster the possibilities for connections, collaborations, and even informal mentorship. Cross-pollination of ideas and talents occurs naturally. The Lodge provides safe, secure housing and 24/7 access to a shared artist studio where artists can work independently and gain support through shared resources. To our knowledge, no other artist residency like this exists in North America.

The Lodge was named in a traditional ceremony by Chief Ian Campbell, the Hereditary Chief of the Squamish Nation on whose territory the Lodge was built. The Chief tells the story that “Skwachàys” is the traditional name of this area, which is located at the head of False Creek. It refers to the spring waters that once covered the area. The area was rich in elk, bog cranberries, wild rice, sturgeon, and salmon. The Squamish people believe that these waters are a portal into the spirit realm and are sacred. Retaining this name supports the ancient history and connection to the area.

The Skwachàys Lodge logo is derived from an original work created by Eric Parnell, A Haida artist living in Vancouver. The original work was created for the ‘Looking Forward, Looking Back’, a story catching project that looked at Vancouver’s Eastside through the eyes of Indigenous artists. Eric chose to represent the idea of forward and back reflection with duplicate Ravens looking inwards and facing each other. The Ravens rest within a circle containing two human hands beneath a stylized sun, giving one a sense of holding the reflection in the light of these two views.The Artists in Residence opportunity at Skwachàys Lodge is a unique and life-changing housing program for practicing Indigenous artists. This includes subsidized housing in clean, unfurnished bachelor suites, 24/7 access to shared artist workshop, and access to programming opportunities for personal and professional development that help artists develop their craft and move into the next phase of their careers. Maximum three-year stay is dependent on successful program participation and achievement of self-defined career goals. Emerging, mid-career, and senior artists are welcome to apply.  Apply today for openings in 2019! Click Here!


Recent public event hosted by artist in residence, Taran Kootenayhoo on December 12, 2018

“Rough Draft” invited Indigenous spoken word artists, stand-up comics, musicians (Gillian Thomson featured in this video), and filmmakers to present their unfinished works in development for an evening of free entertainment held at the Lodge.

Recent public event hosted by Artists in Residence at the Lodge on November 2, 2018

HOT A.I.R. presented artist talks and demonstrations by current artists in residence including Whess Harman (featured in this clip)

Time Magazine 2018 Greatest Places to Stay





SPARC Shares… Why Faith and the Arts should Cohabitate

Today on our blog we want to share a post written by Kendra Fry – a Regeneration Works advisor working on the Regeneration Works: Places of Faith project (a partnership between Faith and the Common Good and the National Trust). This project offers consulting services, workshops, and self assessment resources to communities interested in ‘regenerating’ a place of faith to create a viable community space. To learn more (and to read through the profiles of ‘successfully regenerated places of faith’) visit

By Kendra Fry, Regeneration Works Advisor (Dec 4, 2017)

Playwright Marcus Youssef, upon accepting this year’s Siminovitch Prize for playwriting, gave a speech that clarified for me why I am interested in the intersection of faith communities with the broader community. Youssef wrote about his interest in points of intersection and the space between people, spoken and unspoken. He wrote about moments of unexpected connection between people, across culture and groups and about learning from these liminal explorations and the richness that comes from these moments.

Photo Gary Beecher of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church

That, in a nutshell is what I have been trying to express since taking on the position of the General Manager of Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts. Theatre, where I spent the majority of my previous professional life, often lacks in diversity of age, culture and ability, in both audiences and practitioners. Life, more generally speaking, does not encourage us to explore those outside of our experience. Young parents gather with other young parents, seniors with those of an age, professional spaces often have a narrow band of generational and cultural diversity.

From the moment that I entered Trinity-St. Paul’s, I felt the difference that this community centre offered. Babies were being fed by young mothers, the daycare was filled with children, many mid life and elderly people were attending classes or meetings, teens were playing dodgeball. More than that, groups occupying the space, like Dancing with Parkinsons, Viva Youth Singers, Japanese moms and tots, twelve step groups and Community Living Toronto ensured that we saw all walks of life in all stages, ages and abilities; all the time.

This for me was an entirely new expression of community. It was messy and slow. It required patience. I had to learn to connect with people where they were at and how they were best able to express themselves. It was and is a glorious collision of amateur and professional, expert and explorer. Those tenants, like Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, who are world renowned and at the apex of their profession are balanced and reminded of their journey by the baby in the room next door with the bloody loud drum! The child just learning to sing with Viva Youth Singers is encouraged to pursue mastery by walking past Brent Carvers’ rehearsal. In the age of social media where we retreat ever more into our inner circles, where else do we regularly encounter “the other”, those who are NOT us? Meanwhile, the two congregations of faith resident in the building provide a strong backdrop of social justice and an awareness of our requirement to act with kindness and charity and care for the other; wherever they come from.

Knowing that Trinity-St. Paul’s is far from the only community of faith pushing these boundaries, I began to explore the further dimensions possible when faith buildings chose to broadly open their doors to a cross section of the community. As faith congregation numbers dwindle, there is inevitably a real estate problem; too much space and not nearly enough people to occupy it. While faith leaders wrestle with reintroducing the relevance of faith to this age, I felt that my job was to share and expand this vision of how faith buildings can provide a home to overlapping groups of humanity, living and growing in community together.

And so, when the George Cedric Metcalf Foundation offered an opportunity for a Leading and Learning grant, I requested funds for a couple of exploratory trips to other places to see how the general community works with and within faith communities. Travelling with ArtsBuild Ontario and the Toronto Arts Council and wearing both my Trinity-St. Paul and Faith & the Common Good hat (for whom I’m an advisor), we set out to explore what might be and how we might enable it in Toronto and beyond. We visited synagogues and churches, former churches and community centres that house multiple congregations.

Over the coming weeks I (and my colleagues) will report back on the wonderful tales of other groups walking this road, culminating in a public presentation in the spring. I hope that you will share with me your stories of these types of spaces as well.

Welcome to the journey. Welcome to community collisions. Let’s see what happens next.

SPARC Shares… SpiderWebShow: Thought Residencies

This week for our blog post, I want to share SpiderWebShow’s “Thought Residencies”.

If you are unfamiliar with SpiderWebShow, it is “the first and only nationally-driven performing arts website of its kind in Canada. It is a practice-based network where cultural change is captured and examined. SpiderWebShow began as a dramaturgical inquiry. The question that led the charge was straight up and complex: What defines Canadian Theatre now?”

SWS runs foldA a festival of live digital art, hosts the ‘CdnStudio‘ – an online room that brings together collaborators from across Canada, launched the Performance Wiki project, and hosts ‘Thought Residencies’. These residencies provide a platform for creators across the country to share their thoughts on creation, the arts, work/life balance – whatever is on their mind!

I love visiting this page of SWS’s website and letting someone else’s thoughts and perspectives roll around in my mind and interact with my own every once in a while. Enjoy!

— Rebecca (Network Coordinator)

Rural Resilience: Some thoughts on Rural Talks to Rural 2018

by Eric Goudie, SPARC Network Steering Committee Member


Blyth Ontario’s Centre for Rural Creativity is a lot like SPARC. It’s focused on rural communities, it’s arts-based, and when I walked into the Blyth Memorial Community Hall for the first day of their biennial Rural Talks to Rural Conference, I felt like I was in the company of a great many like-minded individuals.

What makes R2R unique is the way its focus extends beyond the performing arts in small towns; R2R positions the arts alongside other sectors in the community. Over the course of the conference I rubbed shoulders with people working in areas like community organization, poverty reduction, and sustainable development, as well as leaders in agri-business, financial services, and municipal planning, among many others.

I thought it a rare treat to sit down to dinner one night with a grain farmer, a retired globe-trotting road-grader salesman, a venture capitalist, and an adviser to the European Union on the economic impacts of climate change. But I was a little worried – what did I, a small-town theatre manager representing a performing arts network, have to offer that would be of interest to these wealthy, successful, influential people?

As it turns out, quite a bit. They were every bit as fascinated about what we are doing here at the SPARC network as I was fascinated by their stories of scuba diving in the Philippines, or the challenges of selling heavy construction equipment in the Middle East.

It was a sobering lesson that we shouldn’t sell our efforts short, especially when it comes to our art. What we do as creators, producers, and presenters requires great skill, and when we do it effectively our success is every bit as legitimate as success in business, or in any of the many other environmental, community organization and social justice causes that had representatives sprinkled throughout the conference. The function we serve as drivers of the arts in our respective communities is every bit as important as the functions other leaders in other areas, and we can (and perhaps we must) talk to those other leaders as their equals.

If you are interested in learning more about R2R, the conference program, speaker bios, and conference proceedings can all be found here. There are also a number of links to conference materials and articles written about conference proceedings on their Facebook page!


2018 Folk Music Ontario Conference

By Mike Martyn,  SPARC Network Steering Committee

I attended the 2018 Folk Music Ontario (FMO) Conference, held near Toronto’s Pearson Airport, for a couple of days at the end of September, ostensibly as a panellist for SPARC. It was not my first time attending this conference but, as it had been several years, I was interested to see what had changed, who was new (and who was old), and how the DIY spirit that permeates folk festivals would survive in the shadow of Pearson International Airport, arguably one of the least folkie places in the country.


Since forming in 1986 under its original name “Ontario Council of Folk Festivals”, FMO has grown from an ad hoc collection of well-organized hippies into one of the most important networks for independent musicians and presenters in the country. FMO’s services include a number of networking and development opportunities for musicians, presenters, administrators, and other industry professionals. The FMO Annual Conference is a moveable feast occurring each fall which, for 32 years, has been one of the best[1] music events in the Province.

The folk festival circuit is artist focused and grassroots. To understand the FMO conference one must be familiar with the informal nature of folk festivals compared to other segments of the music and entertainment industries. Ontario Contact, for instance, has a long and admirable history of showcasing a range of commercial performers, with broad appeal to community presenters, and also providing networking opportunities to industry supporting businesses such as agents, production companies, venues, etc. The FMO conference reflects the grass roots and artist focused culture of the folk festival circuit: while some facilitation is provided for newcomers most of the professional networking remains informal.



There are plenty of scheduled and official industry events at FMO, but everyone knows the after-hours showcases are where the fun’s at. Imagine a major hotel being the temporary home to hundreds of folk musicians and festival organizers. In the early years of the conference, as official showcases ended around 11:00 pm, most musicians were just getting warmed up. The shows didn’t stop, they simply migrated up to the various hotel rooms in the form of “unofficial” showcases. Then different festivals and small labels began featuring their favourite independent artists, usually unamplified, in these low key settings. Like any good festival the jams went all night, sometimes to the befuddlement and frustration of hotel management.

Some of the most remarkable musical moments of my life have taken place in these rooms. At Ontario Contact the showcases and interactions are fairly regulated and limited to specific times in specific rooms; at FMO you can be riding in an elevator when a spontaneous bluegrass jam starts up and four hours later you’ve decided to name your first born child “banjo”[2]. I don’t think anyone ever quantified the dollar value of business transactions done at this conference in its early years, but at a guess I’d say it’s got to be at least 2 or 3 bucks.

Since my last time attending there have been some controls put in place to manage this, at least in part because OCFF was running out of hotels that would host the event. The biggest difference I noticed is these smaller showcases have achieved a level of “official-ness” by being limited to a single floor of the hotel. They still start at 11 and go until 5, and many of these rooms now feature an alcohol sponsor, in addition to whatever “presenting” company or organization is paying for the room that night. This effectively keeps the interactions between itinerant washboard players and widget salesmen on layover to socially acceptable levels.


Our friends at FMO approached SPARC to lend some perspective to a panel focused specifically on the challenges of Networking and Touring from a Remote Location. Joining me on the panel were my fellow SPARC steering committee Barrie Martin; musician, FMO Vice President, and CFM rep Rosalyn Dennet; and, all the way from the Yukon, singer-songwriter Diyet.

The format was unstructured: conversation ranged across performing, touring, presenting, and professional networking. The themes that emerge when performing arts people from outside the population centres get together tend to resonate around overcoming isolation and reaching the audience. In the small crowd was a good mix of artists and presenters from across Ontario, mostly in the early stages of their careers.

Each panelist’s individual relationship with place affected our commentary. Barrie and I spoke from the perspective of SPARC, and our desire to establish stronger networks that serve rural and remote cultural sector workers. Both Barrie and I live within a couple of hours of cities of a million people or more. Our networks are relatively direct to the cultural capitals of the country. Rosalyn, while originally from Manitoba and raised in a largely rural context, now lives in Toronto. Our professional networks are our daily reality and what resources we don’t have locally are accessible fairly easily. That is one valuation of place.

For Diyet, who lives three hours north of Whitehorse in a community of about 60 people and performs with her husband, the value of that physical place is in the way it sustains her creatively. The integrity of her work is derived in part from her relationship to her place, which is the place of her ancestors. A long-term planning window is essential for her to work because of the logistics involved. She is writing grant applications for tour support and recording three years into the future.

The makeup of this panel is indicative of the challenge it is set up to address. Specifically, the fact that 3 of the 4 panelists all live 1 – 3 hours from the hotel where it was taking place, there was a sameness to our perspective. I’m optimistic that resources can be found to support more people who have overcome major barriers to creating a sustainable income or organization while continuing to make their homes in places far removed from the urban centres.

[1] Author’s note: it’s the best music event in the Province but I’m supposed to present as being unbiased.

[2] Not me, of course; although in case you’re wondering I was overruled by his mother on that one.

SPARC Shares… The Ontario Shebang

In anticipation of our Expert Chat with Catherine Frid on Community-Engaged Play Creation (which will be on Wednesday, October 31st at 12pm), we are sharing this piece from Arts Engage Canada‘s “Idea Box” (posted April 16, 2018). We love the project’s focus on relationship building, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and public participation! Is this a model that could be replicated in a rural community? Why not?! 

The Ontario Shebang is a multi year, inter-arts, inter-cultural journey into a process that brought together artists and individuals from diverse backgrounds to be supported in a space for creative discoveries, and to explore collaboration and shared experiences. TOS creates a legacy of new and deepened connections, and the capacity to collaborate successfully across differences in perspectives, training, orientation, and practices. The Ontario Shebang is developed and presented by Dreamwalker Dance Company and guided by instigator Andrea Nann.


The Ontario Shebang took place in four Ontario communities and was hosted by each municipality and their local performing arts organizations:

  • St. Catharines (FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and Brock Centre for the Arts)
  • Guelph (River Run Centre)
  • Burlington (Burlington Performing Arts Centre)
  • Kingston (City of Kingston, The Grand Theatre & The Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning).


The process in each community evolved over an extended period of time to allow participants to develop meaningful relationships, and to allow Andrea time to adapt and grow the process in response to feedback and reflection from participants. As a result, The Ontario Shebang uniquely manifested itself in each host community, creating an environment for discovery, exchange, collaboration and bridging. Each process concluded in a public, participatory, multiarts event/presentation that featured artists/people from various walks of life and lived experience.

There were a number of different methods that the host presenters adopted to identify and connect with community partners and local artists. Guelph, for example, brought together programming directors from 5 local arts organizations, representing a wide range of art forms, and they each nominated an individual to form the core group of participating artists. This collaborative nomination process expanded the community of support for The Guelph Shebang from it’s very start.


The Ontario Shebang’s discovery process began with the commitment to do something that had never been done before with everyone participating in the learning and exploration. Andrea explains, “Much of our journey was focused on getting to know one another, cultivating trust, and discovering and practicing new ways of maintaining a strong sense of self while being a member of a partnership or a group. Every meeting session included dialogue and activities to cultivate an explorative practice to ‘move forward’ while ‘not-knowing’ what was going to happen next. The process offered participants tools and strategies to activate states that included ‘arriving, awakening, sensing, discovering, responding, connecting, togethering, and reflecting.’


Individuals were asked to make choices ‘in the moment’ with an intention to further the process, thus further the evolution of the group. As the process deepened and the core participants entered unfamiliar territory, we observed amazing changes, amazing outcomes. We started measuring the impact of people’s experiences, and looked for ways of translating what the process was and how the impacts might ripple out. How they would translate into the community or how the process might impact individuals directly and indirectly.


The process demanded another layer of observer to become involved in the form of ‘translators’, who tracked the artistic process through 2 lenses – the needs in the community and the experiences of the participating artists and arts organizations.


Reflection was a crucial aspect throughout the Shebang process. Reflection guided the shape of each project.


The timeframe of each Shebang project ranged from twenty-two months to four years.

Communities Involved

Community members were introduced to the project in various ways. In general community members connected to each project via the participating artists or via the host presenters.

Genre/Art Form

The Shebang Process is a dynamic practice for diverse people to come together to co-inspire trust, consciousness, and connectivity. At the heart of the process is a practice that called The Conscious Body, discovering the body as the instrument through which we open new avenues of perception and awareness, widen our imagination, and realize new ways to communicate and BE together. With this body, we can explore how our experiences and ideas can interrelate with authenticity; this becomes the basis of how and what we can create together.


The nature of the final public performances varied. Some coincided with celebrations of the opening of new community hubs like The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines and the re-opening of The Tett Centre for Creativity & Learning in Kingston while others were celebrations in and of themselves in which the community could gather, connect and participate. For the artists involved, The Ontario Shebang created an opportunity to share and grow their artistic practices in ways that they may not have achieved while working in isolation. The process also allowed for the artists involved to discover new aspects of themselves while exploring different artistic mediums in a process oriented, non-judgemental space. The success of The Ontario Shebang can be attributed to the overwhelming generosity from the core artists, participants, partners, guest artists, supporting organizations, and hosting communities; to all those who said “yes” and dedicated their time, energy and imagination to the project.


The project received multiyear public support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Ontario Arts Council (Ontario Dances) with project support from Canada Council for the Arts, host city presenting organizations, arts organizations, and community groups.

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On the Banks of the Mississippi, a Gathering of SPARCs

By Sandy Irvin, Almonte Ontario

On a bright morning

On the cusp of summer and fall

On the banks of the Mississippi

A gathering of SPARCs occurred!

A few members of the SPARC team dodged thunderstorms (and tornadoes) to spend Saturday, September 22 at the Almonte Old Town Hall. Our town builders had the foresight to leave us a good one. People came from all over Lanark County (Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, Elphin), and from points beyond the County, including Merrickville, Arnrprior, and Renfrew County. There were a lot of folks from different theatre troupes, a comedian, a storyteller or two, a pianist and composer, a handful of presenters, community animators, a well-behaved dog, and an even better-behaved baby. We even had a couple of municipal leaders join us – and they were only going to stay for a while (it is election season, after all), but they spent the better part of the day with us. And we discovered, to our chagrin, that we had no dancers with us.

A small group of us started the day with a special Zoom video call with SPARC Steering Committee member Jim Blake, who talked to us about the Haliburton County Community Co-op model. We were amazed at the diversity of initiatives (Trails! Sculpture gardens! Festivals! Research!) that the community has been able to start with support from the co-op. As rural organizers, we were also intrigued by the way they share resources and save time for each other. We see a lot of possibilities for community-building through this model. We have some homework to do (some of us will be attending a screening of A Silent Transformation, a film about the co-op movement), and we look forward to following up with Jim.

We then trooped upstairs to join the rest of the attendees in our auditorium. I’m so proud of this hall; I didn’t build it, but I’m part of the team that maintains it. I love seeing people’s jaws drop when they walk in. I love hearing music ring through it, or laughter, or the murmur of quiet conversation. On this day it was filled with all three – as well as beautiful sunlight and lots of people I’d never met before! I was so excited to see new faces. One of the issues we face as an arts community in Lanark County is that we often work in silos. Some of us know each other; we do a lot of really good work as professionals, as volunteers, and as fans, but few of us collaborate. And one of the great lessons of SPARC, one I’ve been trying to bring back home since my first symposium, is the importance of working together. We may not be able to tear down all the silos, but we can at least open a few doors in them.

Chris Lynd leads a session on SPARC in the sun-filled Old Town Hall auditorium. Kismet is snoozing in the foreground.

After some delicious doughnuts (made fresh in town!) and coffee (likewise), we had some fun getting-to-know-you exercises led by Michael Clipperton. We can count to seven, but some of the other steps may confuse us!

Our movers and shakers then broke into two groups to discuss volunteer management and cross-promotion. Each group was led by a SPARC facilitator as well as a guest “expert” (Brigitte Gebauer for volunteer management and Marie Zimmerman for co-promotion)who provided insight on the subject matter. And what was drawn out of the participants in the room was just as important. As I see it, SPARC meetups are all about making connections – between groups and people, and also between ideas. It’s really exciting to be in a room where people hear an idea, relate it to their own experience, and draw something new out of the connection.

We saw more connections happen over lunch. By the end of our meal time, one local theatre group had formed new connections and new ideas for getting set pieces from a local furniture renter, and they had a promise they could borrow a sofa from another troupe if that didn’t pan out. The chesterfield in question is not the issue; it’s the fact that people with common problems got together to solve something. And they will keep doing so.

Our day also included a recap of what SPARC can do, how to join, and why we all want to attend the next SPARC symposium. There were a lot of heads nodding in agreement, and I suspect the Lanark contingent for the next symposium will be a force.

Our final session of the day involved breaking into small groups to talk about ideas near and dear to delegates’ hearts. I sat with a storyteller, to talk about a festival she wants to organize for 2020. Details are under wraps for now, but it sounds really exciting. I can’t wait to help put it on. Another group discussed infrastructure, and yet another discussed producing site specific theatre around Almonte.

So what did we learn after a day together? Here are a few points that stand out from the day:

  • Butter tarts and beer sell well to all demographics; look for pairings in your own community. (Chocolate and theatre, beer and music, bicycles and…?).
  • We have resources and skills; we can share them; we can organize that sharing.
  • When we gather people together for the performing arts, we also build community.
  • When recruiting volunteers, take the time to find a job that suits them; the relationship will last longer.
  • Don’t micromanage; give the volunteers the tools and the time to rise to the occasion. If you can’t be everywhere at once, appoint a team captain to lead a group.
  • Co-promotion can strengthen all participants in a partnership; it works better if you let go of personal goals and take the long view.
  • Look to tourism associations for support in your promotional efforts.

We learned that we have a lot to learn from each other. We’re going to look at setting up a regular roundtable or a brunch session where ideas can flow freely. Thanks to SPARC for getting us started!