Written by: Johanne Tremblay
Edited by: Lara Evoy
Saskatchewan has found its own way of igniting cultural engagement. Ever since it took on a lead role in the successful activation of Culture Days in 2010, SaskCulture has supported and encouraged arts and cultural workers in their network to promote culture and engage the public through the annual event. Engagement is seen as an ongoing process as Saskatchewanians are invited to participate in the cultural life of their community.
But SaskCulture has stepped it up. This Case Study showcases how the award-winning organization – the IABC 2013 Gold Quill Award of Merit – has led the charge on the idea that culture is everywhere and that artists can play a pivotal role in engaging all citizens and communities across Saskatchewan. And through the Culture Days Artist-Animateur Program, SaskCulture is reaching people who might otherwise not have been able to participate.
Artists as Connectors
In 2010, SaskCulture imagined a model of cultural engagement based on the artist in residence model in order to introduce Culture Days in Saskatchewan. In this province, half of the population lives in Regina and Saskatoon, and the other half lives in approximately 800 small communities!
To initiate the idea, they hired multidisciplinary artist Laura Hale to tour the province as part of Saskatchewan’s Culture Days Mobile Tour leading up to the Culture Days weekend. The artist spoke with cultural leaders in 12 communities and offered free interactive workshops at different events and venues. She noticed that people were looking for ways to get involved.
Based on the success of this pilot effort, the concept was expanded in 2011. Having recognized that “one person can only reach a limited number of communities in a summer,” four artists from four different disciplines are now hired every year to engage people and communities throughout Saskatchewan for the five months leading up to Culture Days.
The Animateur Program has enabled us to extend our reach into those communities, and start the dialogue with people around the value and importance of maintaining our unique Saskatchewan culture,” says Marian Donnelly, Culture Days Coordinator.
In 2012 and now again in 2013, the four Artist-Animateurs travel across the province, connecting with an amazing diversity of people and organizations, from artists, local community planners, libraries and museums to senior citizen homes and immunization clinics. Each artist focuses on a particular area of Saskatchewan. In 2012, they reached over 100 communities, up from 52 in 2011, and met with many leaders to help build engagement around the initiative.
In 2012, SaskCulture Artist-Animateurs were storytellers Danica Lorer, musician Vincent Houghtaling, actor/musician Erroll Kinistino, who shared the Culture Days experience with First National leaders, and Sylvia Chave who wrote the “Dream Team Song,” which could be downloaded to remind Saskatchewanians of their creativity.
[It was incredible] to be an artist who was given a contract for six months, with real money, to go out and work with communities to share my art form and to be part of something bigger than I could have created myself,” says Danica Lorer, Culture Days Animateur and Storyteller.
Danica Lorer used her storytelling craft to engage audiences in the west and central parts of Saskatchewan. She encouraged them to start small, plant a seed, and expect something to grow. Over the course of Danica’s six-month experience, her storytelling workshop, entitled “Words, Webs and a Story Unwinds,” engaged over one thousand participants “from 0 to 103 years old.”
The Power of Storytelling
Danica was invited to give her workshop at a clinic in the Lloydminster Health District as the school year started. While she was there, telling stories and talking about the upcoming Culture Days event, a little boy came out of the nurse’s office holding his arm, visibly annoyed at having had an unexpected needle.
Seizing the opportunity to make contact, the boy pulled a story bead out of Danica’s bowl that read “dragon.” “I know about dragons,” the boy proudly exclaimed. “Dragons like soup!” And this provoked a great connection and exchange. Together, they told stories, until the boy’s arm did not hurt anymore and his parents had to drag him away after half an hour of storytelling in the clinic’s hallway! As Danica Lorer explained:
Art literally took his pain away.”
Click on this video link to listen to Danica share her personal experience as an Artist-Animateur.
Another example of cultural exchange and engagement happened at a senior citizens home in Paradise Hill, population 515. It was in this rural village situated in West Central Saskatchewan and surrounded by rolling hills and nearby lakes that an elderly gentleman picked a special story bead from Danica’s bowl. This one read “pig.”
Observing his thoughtful expression, Danica asked if he had ever had pigs. Inspired by this simple yet powerful device, the gentleman enthusiastically told the story of a very cold winter night when he helped a favourite sow deliver 16 piglets, one by one, wrapping each in a blanket. The story led to a discussion about changes in agriculture and what agriculture looks like now. “And that is part of the fabric of our province,” observed the storyteller.
Click on this video link to hear Danica Lorer tell “The Pig Story.”
Storytelling “does not exist without a listener,” says Danica. As with all art, storytelling is an exchange, and can be a conduit for discussion about important issues that make up a people and a territory’s reality.
As I collected these stories, we found that our connections were stronger than our differences, and that our stories overlapped in so many different places,” says Danica.
The Artist-Animateur program provides the opportunity for artists to exercise their art form and enable one-on-one exchanges with and amongst citizens. Whether through storytelling, music, theatre, or any other practice, this approach provides an effective opportunity for people to connect through arts and culture in ways that administrators simply cannot. This helps build stronger ties and also allows artists to reach people in places often left out of the usual cultural circuits.
Last year in Saskatchewan, about a third of those attending Culture Days were new to the arts, and those who were the most satisfied with their experience lived in rural areas.
“Culture happens everywhere.” Saskatchewan has taken this postulate literally. Since Culture Days' inception three years ago, SaskCulture has already observed a change in the way activity organizers think about success. Turnout is no longer the sole criteria: curiosity and enjoyment of the activity presented are identified as the main reasons for attending Culture Days.
Driven by a strong mandate and taking a clear leadership role, armed with a province-wide network and a geographically adapted model of cultural engagement that connects artists and citizens, SaskCulture is increasing awareness and participation while enabling Saskatchewanians to see themselves as the true guardians of the cultural life of their own communities.
What artistic or cultural experience inspires you about the place you live? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below...
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