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 . 

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 or contact the SCA directly at



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 . 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.