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 http://www.placesoffaith.ca/


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.

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!

https://spiderwebshow.ca/cdnthought/

— 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.

ABOUT FOLK MUSIC ONTARIO

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.

 

WHY I LOVE THE FMO CONFERENCE

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.

NETWORKING AND TOURING FROM A REMOTE LOCATION

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.