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Community Spotlight: St. Catharines, ON

Culture Days

Sep 11, 2023

Meet our Organizers Series

As a continuation of the Meet our Organizers series, the Community Spotlights tell the stories of unique communities from across Canada and how they have adopted Culture Days as their own. This Blog series unpacks the different ways in which these event organizers bring their communities together through arts, culture, and heritage experiences.

Culture Days had the opportunity to chat with Carly Anderson, Culture Supervisor, and Ashley Judd-Rifkin, Culture Coordinator for the City of St. Catharines, to learn more about how St. Catharines is inviting participants to explore creative spaces and how they are encouraging community members to uncover hidden gems right in their own backyard.

Culture Days in St. Catharines is a vibrant and impactful expression of local arts and culture, with a wide range of creative experiences on offer every year. How has Culture Days been adopted by the local community?

Wet felted pod demo. Photo credit: Chris Liszak
Wet felted pod demo. Photo credit: Chris Liszak

Culture Days in St. Catharines serves as an annual celebration that unites the community. For artists and creators, Culture Days provides an opportunity to become part of a larger national network of organizers who offer free workshops and activities. While St. Catharines boasts a lively arts and culture scene throughout the year, these three weeks in the fall hold a special significance as the community eagerly anticipates an array of free hands-on and behind-the-scenes events, which are sometimes challenging to access without cost, such as printmaking and felting.

Is there anything that has delighted or surprised you most about Culture Days in St. Catharines?

We have been delighted by stories from community members who have discovered new things through their participation in Culture Days. For instance, we’ve heard about attendees learning more about Downtown St. Catharines—something they weren’t aware of before attending an event. It’s heartwarming to witness how Culture Days can guide community members towards uncovering hidden gems right in their own backyard.

Attending an event led me to discover more about my downtown that I did not know of before!

— Culture Days 2022 attendee

This year, our excitement is centered around collaborations with two downtown organizations: the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Through these partnerships, our goal is to provide others with the opportunity to explore locations and experiences they might not have encountered yet.

The Circle: Honouring Sisters in Spirit. Photo credit: Robert Deak
The Circle: Honouring Sisters in Spirit. Photo credit: Robert Deak

St. Catharines has been recognized as a ‘Top Participating Community’—a national Culture Days campaign that acknowledges communities across Canada for their above-and-beyond dedication and efforts. What does this mean for the work of artists, the community, and event organizers in the region?

Our community takes great pride in Culture Days, and national recognition further amplifies this sentiment. This recognition not only sustains funding for our ongoing programming but, above all, it serves as a gratifying acknowledgment of the exceptional arts and culture community we call home!

Culture and active participation in culture are priorities of St. Catharines’ City Council. Our strategic plan includes a pillar focused on celebrating the City’s rich history, diversity, arts, and cultural assets through leadership, promotion, and investments that support measurable, sustainable creative growth—participation in Culture Days operationalizes this commitment.

How do you approach and foster community partnerships? Tell us about your collaboration with the St. Catharines Public Library and this year’s Culture Convergence Festival Hub.

St. Catharines Public Library has emerged as a strong partner for Culture Days over the past couple of years, culminating in this year’s Culture Convergence Festival Hub. Given that the library already functions as a community hub, it was an obvious and organic decision to centre activities at their location. We collaborate closely, working alongside activity presenters to plan when these events will take place, and we join efforts on marketing and communication initiatives to ensure that the community is well-informed about the opportunities.

Our partnership’s success lies in effective communication and mutual consideration when opportunities or resources arise that can support Culture Days. For instance, we recently unveiled an exhibit at the library showcasing puppets from Waterwood Theatre’s 30-plus-year history, generating excitement within the community about their upcoming workshop for Culture Days. They provided the space, and we fostered the community partnership.

The Drama Garden, Carousel Players.
The Drama Garden, Carousel Players.

The St. Catharines Cultural Investment Program is an incredible initiative that supports the funding of Culture Days activities in St. Catharines. Can you share more about this program and the impact it has on local Culture Days happenings?

SCCIP directly invests in the arts and culture scene of St. Catharines. We offer several program streams that provide operational and project funding for St. Catharines-based artists and organizations. Additionally, we have a separate micro-grant program that is specifically tailored to support Culture Days activities.

Offering funding for Culture Days activities has a significant impact. As we receive proposals from community organizers in the spring, we have time to support a diverse festival program with high-quality offerings that align with the objectives of Culture Days. It also keeps the program at the forefront of local artists’ minds and serves as an excellent platform to pilot new initiatives or establish connections with new communities.

What advice would you share with first-time Culture Days organizers?

Aim for clarity in your promotional efforts. Use your event titling and photo as an opportunity to succinctly convey what attendees can expect or at least whet their appetite!

St. Catharines/Niagara is one of the Ontario Culture Days (ONCD) 2023 Festival Hubs, acting as a community lead for the entire ONCD Festival! What does it mean to the City of St. Catharines to participate in this capacity?

Janice Low workshop, Photo credit: Danny Custodio
Janice Low workshop, Photo credit: Danny Custodio

We are thrilled to have been selected as a regional leader for Ontario Culture Days. This presents an exciting opportunity for us to act as ambassadors for Culture Days, shedding light on the wonderful experiences available in St. Catharines. Being designated as a festival hub feels like sending a postcard that invites everyone to explore the incredible activities happening now and highlights St. Catharines as a destination for arts and cultural experiences anytime.

Our festival hub status is closely intertwined with the St. Catharines Ontario Culture Guide, which we launched this spring. The guide captures the array of experiences spanning from nature and art to history and culinary delights, reflecting the diversity of our offerings.