Patricia Mader is an artist, curator and community organizer living on Manitoulin Island. This year she had the honour of participating in Culture Days as part of their Youth Arts Ambassadors Program (YAAP). This is the second of two blog posts she wrote about it to let you have a peek ‘behind the scenes’. To see part 1 of the blog post go here.
Tears are not the first thing that spring to mind when someone says ‘festival’. So, perhaps the title Elemental Festival is a bit of a misnomer, because when Musician and Educator Veronica Johnny walked over to me during her Drum Circle workshop and said ‘tissue would be a good idea’, I considered that to be a good sign. It wasn’t the first time over the course of this year, this Canada 150 project, or whilst organizing the festival, that tears were shed.
While the festival was, of course, meant to be a celebration of talented artists across multiple disciplines, and the unveiling of the 7 new sculptural works on the Billings Connections Trail. It was also intended to activate community members to engage with culture: to trouble and question our relationships to the land and each other within the context of Truth and Reconciliation and what a re-imagined future might look like.
Veronica Johnny's Drum Circle workshop
at the Kagawong Park Centre.
With that in mind, one can understand that over the duration of the project, more than a year in the making, that a lot of challenging conversations have occurred between community members, collaborating organizations, and neighbouring communities. A common theme that emerged over the festival weekend - one that was reiterated by multiple artists, elders and participants - was that of ‘healing’, and the role that art, music, and culture can play in that kind of work. It is a crucial piece of the Truth and Reconciliation jigsaw.
Don’t let me misrepresent the festival though, we had a lot of fun too. Moe Clark’s Friday night vocal performance was exhilarating; her precision vibrancy was commanding, yet welcomed audience members to step into a story painted with sound. Sharon Hunter’s experimental landscape painting workshop thoroughly inspired its participants; more than one of them asked for an additional day to be added to its duration. Nick Sherman and Melody McKiver both performed Saturday to a full house, who lapped up every note and word. The 4e pop-up café was a surprise success not just because it provided much-needed sustenance, but because it provided a gathering space where organic interaction and relationship building between artists and community members could occur.
Outdoor 'table' reading of the immersive play
There is No Word for Wilderness, written by Lisa Hamalainen.
I truly was not expecting two busloads worth of people to show up for the Official Unveiling of the sculptures and the artist Walk n Talks that followed; a fact that was evident to everyone when the one shuttle we had optimistically booked pulled up to the Park Centre. But this is the kind of problem event organizers like to have. The response we received from the community about these tours was overwhelmingly positive.
Culture Days emphasized the importance of transparency and bringing community members into the process of curating. This was the focus of my tenure as one of the Youth Arts Ambassadors. To build this type of understanding and openness is critical. This was made very apparent to me in the responses participants had to the Artist Walk n Talks. Each sculpture artist gave a talk about their work and then answered questions from community members. Afterwards, more than one person stated how much these interactions had shifted their response to the entire project.
We had one participant thank us for the opportunity, noting that he had “really not understood the point of the sculptures when they had gone in”, and sheepishly admitting that, as a result, he had not been able to get onboard with the whole idea. The artist tour had completed shifted his mindset to the point where at the end of the tour he was one of the project’s biggest supporters. “Now I understand”, he said.
These responses struck me as micro examples of the more general human impulse to gutturally reject things that seem complex, things that we don’t understand right away; the tendency to have fear-based reactions to things that we encounter. This is an instinct that plays a major role in the challenges that lie between the present and a future that doesn’t repeat the past.
Quinn Smallboy's Drum Circle with Sophie Edwards,
Quinn Smallboy, and participants in the Artist Walk n' Talks.
Photo by Joshua Yesno
The Ontario Culture Days Youth Arts Ambassador Program supports the next generation of artists and curators to do the work that they do. So much of the Festival and the Sculptures were about that too - many of our performers and commisioned sculptors were emerging artists. The importance of the support given to young creatives at the start of their careers can’t be understated. And it relates back to conversations around Truth and Reconciliation, so many of which speak about empowering youth, young voices and making space for the next generation to re-imagine the flawed systems they have inherited. Culture Days supported us do this work and helped make Elemental Festival a success. Culture Days and YAAP allowed me to hook into a provincial and national conversation and bring the work that we’re doing here in a Kagawong to a new audience.
Official Unveiling at Kathryn Corbiere's sculpture with MP Carol Hughes, Elder Josh Eshkawkogan, the 4elements team and community members.
Here are a few quotes we received from participants:
We had such a great time at enjoying the festival this weekend. We toured the new art installations with our kids and had a great time discussing them and walking around trying to discover them all. The concerts were fantastic as well. And the café was great, delicious chilli! Thanks so much for all your hard work putting the festival together. We will be back for sure!
- Melanie Hunt, Sudbury
Awesome, amazing, culturally educating, artfully exhilarating, thanks, thanks, thanks!
- Linda Willson, Gore Bay
The Elemental Festival is such a fantastic event! It brings together so many artists and appreciators of art and nature. It educates and entertains and shows what is possible when visionary, hardworking people express themselves. Thanks to 4elements Living Arts and to Billings Township for making this Festival possible. It just keeps getting better and better and more widely known!
- Anonymous, Manitoulin
Thank you to all the funders, sponsors and community supporters who helped make this year’s Culture Days event happen!
The Youth Arts Ambassadors Program is generously supported by TD Bank Group.
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