At the Point of Convergence; A Meeting Place

Art by Alexandra Dvornikova

By Denise Lysak, Guest Blogger 

In the wilds of Northwestern Ontario, creative residencies dot the landscape with hundreds of miles in betwixt and between. Rural and remote places are creating new pathways for discovery and exploration as artists travel from near and far away to take deep dives into their artistic practices. Old logging roads are now being used by nemophilists and in these deep, dark woods – artists are finding themselves inspired by the great outdoors, surrounded by lakes, canopied forests, and rocks that have been here for hundreds of millions of years.

In 2016, the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency (BFCR) set down new roots in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. Since its inception, more than 20 artists have explored their artistic disciplines with time and space away from their usual environment and everyday life. Kindred spirits and soul friends best describe the artist-in-residency (AIR) programs that form a loop, a point of convergence with Whiteshell Provincial Park bordering the west, Quetico Provincial Park marking the southern border, Lake Superior demarcating the eastern end, and the programs in between are the AIRs in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, the City of Kenora, and the Experimental Lakes Area.

These artist-in-residencies provide a time of reflection, research, presentation and, when possible, production and community engagement. It is a complex system, not unlike the process of photosynthesis. AIR programs are not cookie cutter in nature. Some of the residencies are housed within larger institutions, others are part of museums, while some are hosted by municipalities. What the programs all have in common is that they exist in rural spaces, remote villages and small cities – deep in the heart of our natural environs.

The photo above is part of a new work in development by Ms Laura Malacart, who was an artist-in-residence with the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, summer series 2019. Laura Malacart calls London, England home and her sojourn across the big pond afforded the BFCR the opportunity to host their first ever artist from the United Kingdom! And, what a treat it was. There was a never-ending stream of consciousness that bubbled to the surface as Ms. Malacart explored, discovered, and created. Laura took full advantage of a small and very rural community and in the absolute quiet and solitude of a tiny “built” dedicated floating studio – she sought to create connections to history, heritage, the oppressed and the marginalized. She tackled the strangeness of a new land and the inhabitants, both wild and human, with a gusto. Her rare and spirited energy, lifted up new narratives and important conversations, all about our time – contextually connecting our community to the larger, global world. Wait there’s more…

In 2018, Falcon Trails Resort welcomed local artist and good friend, Chrissy Sie-Merritt as part of their Artist Residence Program. Chrissy runs South Moon Studio, an amazing artist-run space out of East Braintree, a neighbouring community. In Chrissy’s own words: “My intention when I arrived was to create a quiet space, connect with the land and allow images and ideas to come through. The quiet and peacefulness of Falcon Trails supported these intentions. Most artists are trying to create in those in-between moment of our busy lives. To be able to really step out of the busyness and into myself felt like the spark I needed to ignite my creative fire. Connecting with nature and that quiet within are my two main sources of inspiration and guidance. This truly was the perfect setting to settle into this process and explore. I had no ideas how much I needed this solitude, not just time to be creative but to really connect with my work and myself. It really was a treat to step away for awhile and be free to just simply paint.”

Chrissy Sie-Merritt: Photos from Falcon Trails Resort Artist Residence Program, Spring 2018

 

 

For many of the artists, the solitude that they seek is all here, in rural and remote Northwestern Ontario. The time and space afforded to the artists to focus on their work is balanced by natural inclinations to share their new experiences with the larger public. Many of the artists have engaged with community members through talkback sessions, open houses in the tiny studios, painting workshops, readings, and concerts. And, the response from the general public is always warm and welcoming with an eagerness to learn more about the artist and their art. Early on in the residency program, on a very, rainy day – more than 2 dozen people attending a folk art painting workshop by Tyler Boyle. While the rain came down in sheets outdoors, people of all ages, from 8 to 78 were warm and dry indoors, exploring a creative process individually and collectively. Moments like this, leave indelible marks and for all of the right reasons. The arts, in any form, help people connect: to a place and a people. An ambiguous aphorism, comes to mind. And, it has captured my attention for decades and decades. The towering giant and journalist Mr. Peter Gzowski once challenged his listeners to complete a saying “As Canadian as…” and Heather Scott answered that call with “…possible under the circumstances.”

I truly believe the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, the newly minted residency at the Experimental Lakes Area, the Lighthouse Residency on Lake Superior, et al that form the loop in Northwestern Ontario are products of this ubiquitous saying “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.” There is a beauty and a vague-ness that together captures exactly what our vast nation is all about. We celebrate the spirit of the true north, strong and free with artists from Canada and beyond our borders. That’s enough. Our expectations are not too high. We expect to manage rather than lead, except in the sport of hockey.

If you are looking for a meeting place, an artist-in-residency program to further your aims, aspirations, and artistic goals – then google AIRs in northwestern Ontario. Here you will most certainly find the endless potential to spur on your creative impulses and fuel your artistic endeavours.

 

Stratford Arts and Culture Collective : Adventures in Feasibility Studies

The following post was written by Ron Dodson, a member of the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective, who received support through SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program as they completed a feasibility study.  

To learn more about the projects the CCI program has supported, log into the Member Network site, and click on “Collaborative Community Initiatives” in the menu on the left! 


Taking on a feasibility study is a major undertaking, as the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective found out. It involves a lot of preparation, clarity and commitment, as the project moves from the “How do we know if this project is a good idea?” stage, to the “Now we know we are on the right track” results.

That was the general evolution of the process which the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective followed. Of course, each project is slightly different, and depends greatly on the project’s scope, the people involved, finances and many other factors. Our situation was unique to us, but generally similar to many others, we suspect.

The Stratford Arts and Culture Collective (SACC) is an umbrella organization that comprises 30 community-based arts groups of all kinds (community-based, semi-professional, professional) in all arts genres: theatre, dance, music, visual arts, media, interdisciplinary arts and emerging arts – in fact, all of Stratford’s arts groups are members, except for the Stratford Festival, which is very supportive in other ways. Our goal is to create an arts hub for community use, where local and touring talent feel equally at home and where the theme “Healthy, Wellness and Learning” unites its programming on many levels.

This idea surfaced in late October 2016, and a steering committee of interested supporters has been working quietly in the background to create the right conditions for its development. It was logical that in the past year, our idea needed to be tested: is there enough interest in our arts-rich city to build and support an arts and culture centre? A feasibility study is the best way to find out.

We did a lot of groundwork and asked a lot of questions. Who funds such studies? What conditions are placed on them? Who would do the work? A lead partner was found. In our case, it was Stratford Summer Music, which volunteered to administer the funds, should we be so fortunate to get them. Several funding sources were identified: the Ontario Trillium Foundation would supply the bulk of the funds, plus SPARC, and the City of Stratford. Some of our own budget would top off the needed funding.

After identifying and pre-qualifying several consultants, a Request for Proposals (RFP) was written and distributed. The proposals we received were uniformly excellent! They were scored against pre-established criteria, and the winner was identified: TCI Management Consultants of Toronto. They had provided a thoroughly professional response to the RFP with three levels of inquiry, a multi-faceted line of research and clear deliverables.

After a very long delay through no fault of our own, which caused the SPARC funding to expire and ultimately be reduced, we found out in mid-July that the Trillium application was successful. TCI got down to work in early September and wound up the project at the end of November, 2019. The final report (less the appendices, because of privacy issues) has been posted on our website: stratfordacc.com. We invite you to take a look. Contact info for the SACC is also posted there.

The answers we got to our questions about viability and sustainability were answered in clear, contextualized form. We found out a lot more about our own community and each of our member organizations. The proposed Arts and Culture idea has legs! We are moving to the next level of development, finding out which of two possible sites has the better chance of serving the community’s needs. We have the confidence in ourselves that we can do the work, and we have the backing of a dispassionate, well-organized and well-researched study.

We are very grateful to SPARC for being a partner in this work. Without SPARC, it would have been much more difficult to leverage money from Trillium and others. The work increased the capacity of our organization to work collaboratively and to move such a large project to the next level of development. As a result, we look forward to building the Centre as soon as possible.

Collaborative Event Creation as a Model for Living in a Time of Crisis

The following post was written by Emily Pearlman, about ‘Almonte Lights the Way’; one of the projects that received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program in June 2019.  

To learn more about the projects the CCI program has supported, log into the Member Network site, and click on “Collaborative Community Initiatives” in the menu on the left! 


“We invite you here to see some people who have never met before, working to build a thing they have never seen before”

Collaborative Event Creation as a Model for Living in a Time of Crisis

On October 17th and 18th, 40 Mississippi Mills community members age 10 – 65 assembled in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum to perform 9 short shows about the Climate Crisis. Of these shows, 4 were scripts from the international Climate Change Theatre Action project, and 5 were new works created for the event. The performance ended with a rousing call for participation in our community, and then the audience was let loose in a room to share delicious snacks, and chat with local environmental organizations to see how they could get involved in existing projects, and seed new ideas. With the collaboration of 14 local environmental organizations and 5 contributing business, we sold out both nights and raised over $2000 for local tree planting initiatives.

The project sprang from a desire to build something as a group that activated intergenerational dialogue on the climate crisis, with a focus on creating something rather than stirring up existing divisions and anxieties. We chose stubbornly celebrating a sustainable future as the event tagline, as an invitation to collaborate, but it wasn’t until the event was over that I started to understand what that meant.

The pieces, many of which were written and performed by young people, did not offer solutions to climate change, but acknowledged that it was messy complicated business that affects our relationships with other people as well as the planet. “I never knew they felt that” whispered one audience member after one piece saw a young actor ask her mother “But Mom, if we are the future, what are we supposed to do?” The question hit hard. What is anyone supposed to do?

When I look back at the form of the event however, (5 directors who had never met, working with small groups of people who had also not always met), I start to see it as a collaborative model for co-existing in a time a crisis . The participants, did not know what the bigger piece would be until it happened in real time. The event allowed participants to see their contribution was not the whole event, but rather an integral note in the song of the evening. For the audience, watching community members of all ages who have never met before, come together to build something from scratch, presented a working model of the benefits of a community mindset to “Build up” rather than “Tear down.” I believe this mindset is key if you want to be able to get out of bed when the world is on fire – you can decide that your actions won’t make a difference, or you can decide that they are part of a much bigger puzzle that may take a long time before it takes shape.

I do not have the signing authority to make policy changes to benefit the future. But in this project, I identified some guiding principles that I think are useful to any group looking to harness the energy of people to build change.

Everyone is invited. Let every step in the process be an open call that invites people to self identify as interested. If they have mentioned they are interested, but then don’t show up, call them back (but just once), to give them faith in their ability.

BUT ALSO

No one is obligated. Give people graceful outs if they offer to participate, but then find they can’t. People are busy. People have ambitions that reach beyond their available hours. People are doing the best they can. It’s not about you.

Notice people’s skills. It is way easier to ask for participation from a person if you have a specific thing you would like them to do. Asking “Anyone want to help” is never as effective as “Hey Julie, based on your great eye, do you think you would be willing to take photos?” This requires attending and making spaces to listen and ask questions about people’s interests. Our auditions, were a two hour long affair where we hung out and chatted as well as read scripts – it was not an exercise in figuring out who was in or who was out, but a place to imagine how we could use the skills of everyone who showed up.

If you trust people, and act like you trust them, they will rise to the occasion. At the auditions we mentioned that some of the pieces were yet to be created. A 17 year old auditioner responded by saying “I have always wanted to write a play. Can I?” The collective of directors debated whether this was a good idea or not – “We don’t know this person! We want to make good art! Can we trust her to deliver?” We ultimately said yes. Her piece was a hit. But also, it could have not been and it would have been fine. If you have enough folks working towards a goal, you also have the people power to cover if people need to drop the ball. The best way to build a room that has more ball picker-uppers than ball droppers? Remind everyone of their ability to pick up the ball

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 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!

Breakfast 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 Shine, 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!

Friday 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.

The 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.