Culture Days reached out to Community Reporters across Canada to submit articles to culture365 about their experience during the Culture Days weekend that took place from September 27 to 29. The reporters were asked to describe their experience and observations of Culture Days activities they attended in their communities and the impact they had on the artists and public participating. Below is a report by Lynn Broughton from Guelph, Ontario. To read other reports, follow the tag #community reports.
Guelph is a feisty and diverse arts and culture city. We have a remarkably rich music scene, award-winning visual artists and crafters, writers, spoken word artists, actors, dancers, and forerunners in media arts. We have become known for all this, and more. When we can’t find a gallery or performance centre to host a cultural event, we propose an unorthodox location. In an attempt to ensure a space is created for little-knowns and in hopes that an audience can be grown, we turn to collaboration. Strange bedfellows, so it seems here, make for the best presentations. We’re teeming with deep thinkers too. Some of the more than 30 Guelph Culture Days activities had us questioning just what culture means and if it is in fact central and meaningful to people’s lives in Guelph.
Our ongoing Fourth Fridays happily fell on the first of three Culture Days. A bit of a culture crawl itself, featuring random acts of creativity and community within our downtown, this particular Friday had an extra hum to it. Every public space and street, as well as many shops, were lit up with activities. As an activity organizer, I was especially involved with guelPhonography/Redialled, the 2nd annual exhibition of Guelph-centric mobile photography. Twenty of the best shots were chosen from hundreds of submissions and printed on a variety of media, from aluminum to plastic and wood. The end result was a stunning and diverse show, a true marriage of technology and art. Many self-proclaimed “geeks” had their hand in creating striking photos, and found themselves both honoured and a bit surprised to be a part of this show. The night was a bona fide community love-in.
Saturday saw Musagetes carry on with their multi-faceted Guelph Café, already in progress. I jumped on a school bus heading out on a music tour entitled All Over the Map. Working in conjunction with Kazoo Fest and the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Musagetes took us to three unlikely cultural locations to hear an array of local talent. At Kortright Hills Public School we were steered towards the park and the mellow sounds of Bry Webb. Everyone present seemed riveted to this gentle singer-songwriter first thing in the morning, as he nudged us awake with his exquisite stories.
Back on the bus again, and straight to Mitchell Woods Public School in an entirely different part of town. Suddenly I was playing Four Square in the schoolyard - something I hadn’t done, and somewhere I hadn’t been, in years. After some down time to discuss with others what the best bits of the weekend had been thus far, our attention was directed to a tent set up with turntables where Skeleton Crew cranked up the volume. They delivered phenomenal hip-hop performances, and had us all dancing by the end. While no onlookers actually dared jump up on the stage, there was a fair amount of whooping and hollering from the happy crowd.
Now fully awake and heading towards to the final stop on the tour, the volume on the bus had reached a raucous pitch. There was a round of introductions followed by an animated discussion of what other activities were a must-see on the weekend. By the time we arrived at Tytler Community School, we were a close-knit group. We were offered a beautiful lunch, another slice of time to chat, and were then handed earplugs as we entered the small gymnasium to hear The Furys. They were ferocious and funny at the same time. It was fascinating to note how different people respond to sound; some move to the music, some sit back while others move even closer. Despite the differing perspectives, all were engaged and encouraging of the young band.
By then it was time to get back to the heart of downtown and the Street Art Fest, put on by the DGBA. Cork Street was closed to make room for the work of stenciling and graffiti artists, shows by hip hop crews, DJs, and poetry from Guelph Spoken Word. Across the road, the Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership invited passersby to be part of their video project to discuss culture, intercultural encounters, belonging and not belonging. 52 people shared, danced, and sung their thoughts about culture.
I was especially struck by the realization that via these two activities, traditionally marginalized demographics had been given a voice.
The four square blocks of our downtown felt particularly alive on this gorgeous fall day, with visitors and residents alike engaging en masse.
The day ended with a Musagetes Oxford-style debate, held in the Guelph Youth Music Centre. The discussion, responding to the question “Is the art and culture we have in Guelph central and meaningful to people’s lives?” was lively, quite funny, and relevant. The nays won the debate cleanly, delivering arguments which revealed some uncomfortable truths about the success of cultural programming within our city. The bus trip I’d taken that day notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that we don’t often experience arts and cultural events outside of our downtown core. There were suggestions that, despite our abundant and vibrant cultural scene, we recycle the same audience. We rarely draw those from outside the core, or create new audiences. So there is much to be done.
It’s not all bad news though. The opportunity that Culture Days gave us to spotlight weaknesses within a cultural forum can only strengthen the community.
These few days amplified projects which had already begun, inspired new activities and forged fresh partnerships. The weekend gave voice and space to those often unheard and unseen, then took us outside of our established cultural venues. Everywhere, the artists clearly enjoyed themselves as much as the participants. But the best bit? At each and every one of these events, all ages were accounted for. This is a good Guelph thing.
Photo credit: Lynn Broughton
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