The challenges facing rural and remote performing arts organizations are different than those facing organizations in urban areas, and these differences have not often been understood by key funding agencies and supporting organizations. For example, most urban performing arts organizations are run by professional staff while rural groups are often run by volunteers. Urban groups have access to a much larger pool of corporate sponsors and individual donors. They also have access to a wider variety of venues and technical resources. As a consequence, rural and remote areas often face challenges accessing resources. At the same time, there is growing evidence that rural and remote performing arts organizations have unique advantages, which, if they were nurtured and given proper recognition, could invigorate the art forms, promote healthy communities, and contribute to economic development.

In 2009, over 20 representatives from groups involved with the production, presentation, and creation of performing arts in the Haliburton Highlands met to explore how their groups might work together more effectively for their mutual benefit.

In March 2010, this group coalesced as Highlands Performing Arts (HPA) and did some work to develop a logo, branding and a website www.highlandsperformingarts.ca to highlight performing arts in the Haliburton Highlands – DanceMusicTheatre and Film & Media Arts.

In October 2011, the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands hosted a meeting with HPA, a regional program officer from Canadian Heritage, and the executive director of CCI Ontario Presenters Network (now Ontario Presents) to discuss ways to support the performing arts in rural areas. The meeting proved successful, and all were impressed with the amount of collaboration and cooperation in play among the performing arts sectors in Haliburton County. Those involved felt that HPA was well positioned to consider developing an event at which other rural performing arts creators, producers and presenters could get together and explore their challenges, best practices, and opportunities in depth. The aim of this event would be to develop the skeleton of a network for continued performing arts communication and collaboration. A working committee was struck and met several times to further develop the idea. The vision evolved into a 4-day Symposium in Haliburton County in April 2014 that would bring together rural creators, producers, and presenters from Central Ontario, Eastern Ontario, and further afield in order to share experiences and expertise on how to grow and sustain the performing arts in rural settings.

The working group formed officially under the auspices of the Haliburton County Community Co-operative as the Symposium for the Rural Performing Arts Working Group and was comprised of:

Lesley English, Chair, General Manager, Forest Festival
Chris Lynd, Chair, Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands
Fay Martin & Michael Fay, Conjurors of County Town
Jim Blake, Chair, Dusk Dances Haliburton
Barrie Martin, President, Haliburton County Folk Society
Tammy Rea, Principal, Sticks and Stones Productions and Those Other Movies
Sean Pennylegion, The Forest Festival and Haliburton County Folk Society
Jack Brezina, Highlands Summer Festival
Rachel Gillooly, SPARC Symposium 2014 coordinator

Collaborating partners were the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands, Conjurors of County Town, Highlands Summer Festival, Dusk Dances Haliburton, Forest Festival, Haliburton County Folk Society, Sticks and Stones Media Productions, Those Other Movies, and Fleming College – Haliburton School of the Arts.

The first of its kind in Canada, the symposium took place April 24-27, 2014 and focused on the business of performing arts in a rural setting. Three streams of exploration were featured – creation, production and presentation – with a focus on four broad sectors of the performing arts – dance, theatre, music and media arts. It shone a spotlight on the unique opportunities and challenges faced by those who create, produce or present the performing arts in rural settings, the work that was already taking place, and the need to profile rural performance art.

139 delegates registered to attend and participate (including 11 partner-organizing committee members) the symposium. Although the majority of delegates were from Ontario (117), participants from British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Scotland and the USA also attended.

(Click here to see the comprehensive, media-rich SPARC |Symposium Magazine)

At the 2014 Symposium, MPP Laurie Scott announced funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for $105,400 for SPARC through collaborative partner the Haliburton County Community Co-operative. This funding had allowed SPARC to support over 15 Youth from across Ontario to attend and participate in the Youth Caucus at the Symposium (click here for the comprehensive, media-rich SPARC Youth Magazine). It also gave SPARC the opportunity to hire a paid Network Coordinator who could explore the formation of a Rural Arts Performing Network, and the funds to develop a dynamic online communication platform.

Following the 2014 symposium, a Network Steering Committee was formed to explore and implement the formation of a rural performing arts network. Members of the original Network Steering Committee were:

Chris Lynd, Chair of the SPARC Network, secretary of the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands
Rachel Gillooly, SPARC Symposium coordinator
Lesley English, General Manager, Forest Festival
Fay Martin & Michael Fay, Conjurors of County Town
Jim Blake, Chair, Dusk Dances Haliburton
Barrie Martin, President, Haliburton County Folk Society
Tammy Rea, Principal, Sticks and Stones Productions and Those Other Movies
Amanda Virtanen, Director of Haliburton County Tourism

(To learn more about the current SPARC Network Steering Committee members, click here)

The Haliburton County Community Co-operative collaborated with the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands to provide administrative support and office space to house the SPARC Network, and Elisha Barlow was appointed as Network Coordinator. Elisha had previously worked at Fleming College – Haliburton School of The Arts and served as the Youth Facilitator at SPARC’s Symposium. Visit here for the media release.

In November of 2014, SPARC invited individuals involved in the performing arts in rural and remote communities to participate in a 2-day Network Summit in the Haliburton Highlands. The purpose of this summit was to further examine the scope and organizational structure of the SPARC network, as well as what a valuable communication platform would look like. This summit informed the direction of SPARC, and more detailed information about proceedings can be found here and a network recap can be found here.

In 2016, SPARC held another successful symposium in Haliburton, and will hold another in May, 2018: This time in Cobalt.

To learn more about the SPARC team, click here.

To learn more about what SPARC is today, click here.


SPARC would like to thank the Ontario Trillium Foundation for its current funding and the Haliburton County Community Co-operative and the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands for their continued collaboration with and support of SPARC.


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