By Mike Sheppard
Mike Sheappard is a Kingston-based artist and one of the five artists who participated in Ontario Culture Days’ Youth Arts Ambassador Program (YAAP), an exciting initiative aimed at fostering and supporting the next generation of community artists in our province. Read more about Mike and the Youth Arts Ambassadors Program at on.culturedays.ca/en/yaap.
Finishing up Culture Days in Kingston this year was very different for me than any other year and not just because I ran a project. Before becoming part of the Youth Arts Ambassadors Program (YAAP), I had done several one-off events with Blue Canoe as part of larger festivals or celebrations, but mainly locally. But this time, this Culture Days event, was very different.
My Culture Days experience was an eye-opener. I felt like I was part of a community working towards the same goal, which is a feeling I haven't had before.
My Culture Days experience was an eye-opener. I felt like I was part of a community working towards the same goal, which is a feeling I haven't had before. Much of this came from my connections to artists out of town. It came from talking to my peers across Ontario who were doing similar work and working with the team from Ontario Culture Days. But I didn’t quite get the same feeling from within my own community....so why? Why can’t I find this feeling in Kingston?
I think one the reasons could be scope. In Kingston we don’t have a sense of scope; Kingston doesn't play the long game. We play the short one: get your event up, go for quality, get the audience in, pay the artists, get those millennials in the door. Maybe another reason could be resources. With lack of funding, there is too little to go around for all the projects in the city. As a result, everyone feels like a competitor rather than a partner. Whatever the reasons, this project made me think more about what the long-term impact of programs can be and how to engage people in a longer process, beyond one event. Almost every young person who worked on my Culture Days project has come back to another one of Blue Canoe’s events. So, how do I keep that going? How do I not slip back into old habits?
What I’m afraid of are the many bad habits I have come across in Kingston while growing up as an arts producer. (I have to start facing it – I am growing up, I’m almost 30! So I have grown up doing this.) These habits mainly seem to be caused by a simple state of mind – of being content in our own silos. That sense of once you hit a certain age, there isn’t a drive to improve through learning, education, discussion, or partnerships. Too many times I have come across a leader in my community who is so content with what they produce that they feel there is nothing they can gain from others. But recently, thanks to the hard work of several people, there are young programmers who are doing things differently and connecting to their peers in the arts sector across the country. If you had spoken to me in my early twenties, I'd might have come across as closed-minded, just as do some members of this community. But I'm quickly finding myself changing. My hope is to see members of my community change with me.
Culture Days has given me more of a glimpse into the scope of arts and culture in Ontario. It is a rather humbling feeling, for someone like me who has a lot of confidence in the work I produce, that I now find myself questioning a lot of what I do. Now I'm not questioning quality. I feel like that is a trap because everyone sees arts as they see it, there really isn't an agreed upon standard of quality. To give you an example, I've seen both professional and amateur theatre here, and sometimes I honestly can't tell the difference. Read into that how you will. So what I mean by questioning myself has to do with impact. What kind of impact is my project or event actually having? The YAAP artists regularly met via webinar so I heard a lot about other amazing projects. Hearing from my peers’ experiences, made me question my own project. How can I improve it? How can I make my project better? How can I move forward?
Asking myself questions and searching for the answers is always part of event planning for me, both before and after the event. Sometimes I feel if more time was taken to dive into these types of questions, we might be better off in Kingston to make a real impact on our nation. My hope is to continue to use the idea of Culture Days to celebrate, connect, partner and hopefully, and most importantly, improve.
I love my city, I love living here, and unlike many artists and people I meet in this city, I don’t feel stuck. I choose to be here. There are many young people who are starting to change this mindset, because they love it here too. So I hope Kingston begins to move towards thinking about the long-term. Let’s try playing the long game by putting our events and programs in the hands of younger professionals. Let’s learn from each other and show-off what Kingston already is − a rich culture, a rich arts scene, a stunning place to learn and grow.
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