WORDS: Stephanie Earp
Flin Flon, Manitoba was one of several communities that participated in the Culture Days Innovation Lab project this past year. We asked all the Innovation Lab Partners to reflect on our 2017 research findings, conducted by independent research firm Maru/Matchbox, and to choose one statistic that helps inform their participation in Culture Days.
Crystal Kolt, Cultural Coordinator of the Flin Flon Arts Council, Coordinator of Culture Days Flin Flon, and Director of the Flin Flon Community Choir, was interested in where Culture Days events take place, and how venues affect attendance.
Located in Northern Manitoba, not far from the Saskatchewan border, Flin Flon is a town uniquely affected by its geography. It’s not just that this community of 5,000 people is 750 kilometres from Winnipeg, the closest big city, or that the weather is already turning cold enough to limit outdoor activities by the end of September. The terrain itself - rocky and steep - imposes limitation. But Crystal Kolt, a dynamic and energetic leader in the arts community, isn’t much interested in limitations.
“Being in a remote community, it’s not like I can go to the next suburb and find a venue,” Kolt explains. “Because we’re a rocky place, we have only two flat areas that we can use as outdoor venues. Once, we had a circus come through, and we realized they had beams and pegs that had to be put deep down into the ground to support a large tent. We would have needed a diamond drill for that! But it turns out that back in the day, someone had blasted a basement, and it had filled up with earth. We talked to some of the older people in town, who remembered this. So we put the tent there.”
This combination of ingenuity, will and community knowledge is at the heart of Flin Flon’s success with Culture Days and the arts in general. It has a been a Top Ten community based on the number of registered events since Culture Days launched in 2010. It’s a town that punches well beyond its weight. “I like to say we're a high-functioning community,” Kolt laughs.
Creating hubs has been essential for the growth of Culture Days in Flin Flon, where activities have expanded exponentially each year. Venues, however, are extremely limited. “It’s made us be really creative in clustering our events,” Kolt says. “I think there are things to learn from us, even in communities where there are venues, because there are always limits – limits to funding, limits to budgets.”
But Kolt refuses to see the venue crunch as a reason to stop growing. She is always encouraging new organizers to join the movement. “Two years ago, I might have called it a venue crunch, but now I really see it as a venue opportunity. We really - so far - have been able to solve it. We find a nook and cranny for everything.” Part of that solution is strong partnerships and relationships with key venues like the Library and the Community Hall, where the council chambers has played host to jugglers (“It has the high ceilings!”) and duct tape art was made in the judge’s chambers. But residents who volunteer their homes and even a spare garage to the cause are also essential.
Kolt's advice to other communities to is think way outside the box. “Ask yourself, what is a venue? It could be a farmer’s field, a forest, the cabin of a boat. A venue is not necessarily four walls and a roof.”
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