Communitrees - Huron County's Rick Sickinger, interviewed by OAC Culture Days Animator/Coordinator Nazanin Shoja
Culture Days - Who are you and what do you do?
Rick Sickinger - Rick Sickinger, Coordinator of Heritage and Culture Partnership, an arts service organization serving Huron County, Ontario. Heritage and Culture partnership is a membership-based partnership of cultural sector individuals, organizations, and businesses.
RS - Promotion of culture and fostering growth in the arts and culture sector is our organization's key mandate and that vision was completely in sync with the Culture Days message. We developed a project called "Communitrees". Every community in the County was encouraged to participate by creating a work of art that symbolized what arts and culture meant to them using a living tree as their canvas. We ended up having about 75 trees across the County. We supported the event by creating a website www.communitrees.ca that had a map of tree locations, photo gallery and a contest where members of the public could vote for their favourite trees.
CD - What was your approach with Culture Days? Who were some key people and organizations involved in organizing your community’s celebration of Culture Days?
RS - We had excellent support from Huron County Library, with nine branches across the County they were a great partner to disseminate information about the project through the branches and we also held community information sessions at various library branches so people in each community could come and hear and learn about the project. We had Horticultural Societies, BIAS and Chambers in a number of communities who acted as the local champions for the project and coordinated Communitrees in their town or village. We also had a number of schools in the County take part. Our local media outlets promoted the project in editorials and the County government provided in lieu services to create our project website. Altogether there were over 200 community volunteers involved in creating trees.
RS - Certainly the level of buy-in from the community surprised me. I wasn't sure how the idea of creating works using trees would be initially received. We got a lot of promotional support through the provincial Culture Days team and media sponsors. To get exposure on the Culture Days website and on CBC the weekend of Culture Days was a very big deal for our rural area - all of the participants felt very validated by that recognition.
CD - Has Culture Days produced any lasting outcomes for your organization and/or cultural community, or do you anticipate long-term benefits to come?
RS - We certainly weren't motivated or looking for any benefits to our organization when we undertook our project in 2010. Having said that, we did see some benefits and positive outcomes from the project and Culture Days. First among those was just visibility for culture locally. There were trees up in every community in the County, people had to walk and drive past the trees for days and it reminded them every time of the depth of cultural assets that exist in our County. The event generated a lot of civic pride each community put their unique stamp on the project. It has also increased the level of interest in next year’s event. We anticipate having twice the number of trees in 2011.
RS - I would say community outreach was key for us, talking about the project to as many partners as possible and getting those project champions in place was key to the success we had with our project.
CD - What do you have planned for Culture Days 2011?
RS - We will be doing the Communitrees project once again. I don't think we have a choice not to, as demand and interest to do it again is still very strong. Along with that project we will be holding the Celebration of First Nations event on Culture Days weekend. A multitude of hands-on programming showcasing arts and culture of Canada's First Nations people.
RS - I think Culture Days is a terrific initiative! We absolutely should celebrate the cultural assets in our local communities and across Canada. Bravo to the Culture Days organizers and everyone who took part.
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