If you were to look in my desk, you would find a thick brown notebook filled with many of my hopeful community initiatives. The ideas in this notebook range from book swaps to transit reform, small art projects to large institutional changes. The majority of these ideas will remain just that – ideas. However, within those ideas are scattered a few creative seeds that do manage to take root, and will one day blossom into something bigger and better.
Near the beginning of this book, dated sometime in February, you will find scribblings from the start of my current project, Kingston Through My Lens. In a nutshell, Kingston Through My Lens is a 10-day, themed photo adventure that hopes to capture life in Kingston as is. It aims to allow the people of the community to see where their life intersects with the lives of others, and to bring everyone together to affect change within the city. Every day, participants will submit one photo, which will be added to a growing collection to be exhibited both online as well as in print during Kingston Culture Days. At the print exhibit, everyone will be able to experience the photographers’ stories and pictures, and they will get a chance to add their own stories to the collection. At its core, Kingston Through My Lens is about community creation, conversation, and transformation.
Over the last few months, I have been asked on multiple occasions to encapsulate the growing process of Kingston Through My Lens. The story you are about to read is my attempt at putting those thoughts down on paper, of documenting how this idea really came to be. This is a story of what happens when you give one idea a chance – a chance to grow, to develop, and to adapt to the world that it is born into.
For the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of living and learning in Kingston, Ontario. Kingston is a mid-sized town in Eastern Ontario with a lot of history and a bright future. Its claims to fame include being Canada’s first capital city and home to Queen’s University, where I recently graduated from the Faculty of Education. Kingston is no stranger to community events, and with its friendly atmosphere, it seemed the most suitable place for me to try my hand at organizing my own community initiative.
Something you need to know about me is that I am no professional photographer. Mostly, I use my point and shoot camera to capture the world around me. Despite my limited experience, one thing I know for sure is that a picture is worth a thousand words. And with prevalence of cameras being what it is today – phones, digital cameras, SLRs – I thought that photography would be a perfect vehicle for my first community project.
The first thing I needed to do was to get some people on board with my idea. After spending hours online looking at other projects, developing my own idea, and scoping out people who could help me, I decided to go out on a limb and email some of the people I found. The emails were simple – I told them who I was, what I wanted to do, and that I would really like to meet them. Through these emails, I ended up meeting two individuals who would both play a large role in getting Kingston Through My Lens off the ground. The very first person to respond to my emails was Greg Tilson, the program coordinator at the Kingston Arts Council. He was the one who introduced me to the Culture Days movement and who encouraged me to make this project happen right away. The second person I met was Jennifer Chan, the founder of a design thinking organization called Exhibit Change. She was someone that I had stumbled upon through Twitter, and who had a ton of experience in community building initiatives. She agreed to work with me on this project and together we started to hash out our ideas. We really liked the free, participatory, arts-driven mandate of Culture Days, so we decided to register for the movement. The project found itself the name “Through My Lens” and it was decided that Jenn would head up an exhibit in Toronto called Toronto Through My Lens, while I would continue with my vision for Kingston Through My Lens.
April was the month where we really started to get moving on the project. The Kingston Culture Days planning committee held its very first get-together, and I was invited to be part of the group. There, I met Aubrey, the Culture Days Ontario Manager, as well as some movers and shakers from the City of Kingston and other prominent local groups. It was at that first meeting that I really began to build partnerships with other organizations in Kingston who would be able to help me realize this idea.
From there, it has been a whirlwind adventure. The past few months have been full of both wonderful surprises like being given the chance to be featured in a local magazine and frustrating obstacles, such as struggling with how to print all the images. I’ve had to look into countless things, from the larger vision and how to secure sponsorships to individual logistics like how to set up the space on the day of and how many volunteers I’ll need. Days have been spent in front of the computer, setting up the website, starting up social media pages, and promoting the event. Through it all, I have relied on my supports to keep me afloat, and I often need to remind myself to share the workload and to ask for help. When in doubt, I am reminded to go back to the root of the project, which is to give people a chance to see their community in a new light, to document their everyday life, and to share it with others who live around them.
In the end, I know it will all be worth it. To be able to see people in a community enjoy themselves while getting to know their surroundings in a new and creative way – that is the greatest gift.
This post is the first in a series of blog posts that will follow Catherine's experience and participation in Culture Days 2011.
Click here to learn more about the Kingston Through My Lens project and follow Catherine's Culture Days journey.
If you have something to say about public participation and engagement in arts and culture, post it on the Culture Days blog! Submit your vision or post from your own blog via email at email@example.com and Culture Days will share your story with the growing network.
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