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Video – ASCN Project: Stories Of Now

“Stories of Now” is a project of ArtBridges, a member of the Art for Social Change Network (ASCN), hosted by the International Centre of Art for Social Change (ICASC). The video was produced by Seanna Connell (ArtBridges), Flick Harrison (Polity) and Aquil Virani.

“The project is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field – community-engaged arts & arts for social change – now and about what issues and areas of focus matter,” says Seanna Connell. “The stories will be unique vignettes – and together – a chronicle or snapshot of the field and practice now, at this moment in time.”

Learn more at the following links:

  1. Read more in-depth written stories from the Stories of Now project on the ArtBridges blog here.
  2. Watch the whole zoom recording of the “Stories of Now” session when it was live at the Art for Social Change NOW national gathering on Youtube here.
  3. Find more links to other panels and presentations from the national gathering in the archive here.

-from ASCN

STORIES OF NOW: National Theatre School of Canada

VignetteNational Theatre School of Canada https://ent-nts.ca/en

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Maude Levasseur, Director of Arts Engagement & Erika Kierulf, Associate Director, Arts Engagement, National Theatre School of Canada (Montreal), December 6th, 2021

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

Erika: Our underlying theme is well-being and care. I don’t want to say that the pandemic is over but we need to approach the projects we’re doing in the schools, and with community with this in mind. We’ve been working on sharing table and events around “healthier theatre” and what it could look like.

Maude: Story of Now… we are in a sharing before healing phase. We are getting out of our homes, and we are telling people what happened. Well-being and care are really on our minds, we are now using a very “health/diagnosis” way of taking care of each other.
We hope sharing stories to eventually heal and diagnose where we are now. It’s a story of how to come back, how to redo things, redo the same? Do better? The wheel was broken, and things stopped turning. Now there’s a different way to move forward. Around arts in Montreal – this idea that things were perfect before the pandemic is a bit absurd. People are slowly coming back to theatre spaces, but audiences were a problem before covid. We need to learn how to take care of the public and audiences. Re-thinking on the relationship and mutual respect between the audience and artists is kind of new. Why would I pay to sit in a dark room to listen to you? Why are you telling me this story now? And how do you prepare me before the experience and after? This conversation is happening more and more, and I can’t wait to see what will come out of this.

On the other side of things, techs and artists have been told they weren’t essential and will have a long-lasting effect that we need to address. Also, as the rules and regulations changed, artists and tech workers are so needed – they feel guilty if they turn someone down and our worry is that they will burnout. This is a part of the arts that people don’t talk about and share as much, the part where it’s not just art, it’s humans, it’s work, it’s healthy and unhealthy practices.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

Erika: Since the pandemic, our department has been trying to find ways to pivot from in- person to online. How can we connect or create a sense of connectedness during these disconnected times, when we are all craving to be together?

Maude: Social justice in a very large sense – everything from the gap between rich and poor, White and IBPOC people, straight and LGBTQ+, youth and adult, able and disabled … It was always on our minds, but with covid, it’s even more acute. Switching online is about ableism too. Some communities are able to see more content, everything is suddenly free, art is for everyone- in your home, at your own pace. This is a major game changer.

On the other hand, there is a big part of our community – youth, that is tired of being online, in a way that they are not normally. Our generation is less connected to the internet than the kids (they have school online all day, friends online after school). We can see how the fatigue is about connecting online and not interacting, disrupting, moving. They are on the receiving end all day and that can be hard – at an age of speaking and sharing truth with friends, being in front of a “void” with no one to pass a paper, pen, secret written message to. Kids are starved of contact even though they have online capacity.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

Erika: Art Apart was a micro grant program launched 2.5 weeks into the pandemic. NTS found ways to give contracts to artists – to create a work and present it online, in any shape or form. We supported them through producing and presenting. It was our way of giving mentorship to emerging artists, but also keep “art” and “making” alive in their life. We did that right away. We now have a new pool/network of emerging artists that this granting program created – a community of young artists that we will continue to work with.
Following – in the fall- with an ambitious project for the DramaFest: to take the festivals from in-person to online, trying to solve the problem of how to gather at a distance. We created a platform for them to share, learn and connect. An online space for students and teachers to upload work, receive comments from artists and interact. We ran panels for four days and gave access to a dozen workshops.

Maude: We created the platform for students to share their work and learn online in a non- competitive space – having a festival that is non-competitive and that could gather youth from across Canada is our dream. We had an awesome group of artist educators. We created a set of workshops that could not happen in real life – about 12 workshops, led by artists who teach to our professional students at NTS.  Kids at the festival could do the workshops at their own pace and then we had a Q & A for the students who wanted more. We really thought it through. It was a good chance to practice a better way, a dream way of designing art pedagogy. Now we can build from there and have a complementary tool to the “in-person” festival.

Accessibility- knowing some districts have capacity and some don’t, they will be able to share their network with other districts; it’s not just one district that can benefit from the network. Not just their community, their school – people access the platform and can see the work. They can also look at the work other schools did. We also made this it free this year, more accessible.

We also created fun projects for families to do at home, together, like a recipe book.
At NTS, teachers did bike runs to say hi to the students. It’s beautiful to see and it brought people together in new ways.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

Maude: For the teachers of the festival – they evolved so much. We were with the teachers on a regular basis, teaching teachers how to use the platform. Their ability to trust their students has really improved. Covid had the effect of breaking the hierarchy between teachers and students – youth are better at online than the teachers! This was a big learning curve for us. We saw more student written work with the prerogative of presenting work online. Mainly because teachers could not pay royalties, but also because we put a real emphasis on work in progress. The idea of not being perfect, not being an outstanding project, just show up – take a risk and see how it can be the beginning of something.

Erika: I echo that – things not being perfect, this links to our main theme this year: care, give yourself a little slack. This is for the community and instructors, as well. Things don’t have to be perfect. It will be what it will be. We also learned a lot about each other, the teachers and us. We are Maude and Erika, real humans, not just representative of an institution, but real people who want to help. Now the way we talk together changed. We did this big thing, we got through it together. This year they got the message. Now they understand how they can be the teacher and the student. Maude and I hosted the online event for four days, that also gave us the chance to be really honest with the students. At the end of the four days, they could see we were beyond tired but keeping it together for them, good humor and a community feeling was so needed.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

Erika: Our return to in-person programming in the Fall of 2021 began with an event that explored the relationship between grand-parents and their grand-kids, before NTS’ student shows were ready for the public. It coincided as a way for the school to adapt to health regulations in the province: Quebec had the vaccine passport, people had to wear masks, there were limited places to attend art installations. The school was more careful than public health, it was a safe space for students. We took it really, really seriously. 

Maude: Through this intergenerational conversation program, we found the feeling of “meeting in person” back. We had a video and sound installation based on their conversations and it was open to families and the public to see. It helps that we are a school and not a theater, we are not presenters, so we have different health rules.
Now we are allowed to go full capacity, with masks. It’s still scary. There is different level of comfort among people, and it is something to negotiate. I don’t think this wellbeing/level of comfort will resolved soon, it will be a conversation to have for a while and it’s good. It’s a lesson on consent and empathy and that’s always a good thing.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

Art apart was a micro-granting program- to showcase artists’ works online.
DramaFest Salon – an online drama festival with panels and online workshops.
Ties, an intergenerational conversation project
Art is in the house! Online activities for families by artists and theatre makers

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

Erika: Everything! We were not doing a lot of new media before. In our department, not at all. What the pandemic has done to the school, the community programs and the shows is a lesson on how to pivot to “online everything.” It broadened some ideas and brought accessibility for our programming. Theaters streaming shows has created possibilities to enlarging audiences for those who many have mobility issues or who are rurally based. It also had the downside of reducing our place-based program, which we are still grieving.

Maude: We switched to online fast – Erika is a good tech person and that’s lucky for us. The year prior to the pandemic, the Ontario teachers were on strike, so we had to cancel the DramaFest season. The following year was the pandemic. We pivoted very quickly because we didn’t want to cancel two years in a row. It would have been terrible on the students’ moral. The other departments in the school were very surprised at how effective and meaningful an online program could work. The school now knows it is possible to reach far, to switch the delivery of pedagogical content without diminishing pedagogical content. Teachers learned to teach online. We sometimes feel like we switched from the community programs to open source, digital content programs. Sometimes people think that we can do anything because of how quickly we all pivoted, but we need to remind everyone, that we are also a bit burnt out by this speed.

Erika: We are only three in our team and our dedication to help more and more communities is the reason we work that much. Maude founded this department so it’s even more heartbreaking for her when we can’t do it all, but at some point, we have to take things slow, so that we do it with care and intention.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact? 

Maude: A recent achievement was to switch Erika to the Associate Director position!  We are very happy about this.

Erika: A recent achievement – was the wonderful feedback we received for work with the platform. We pivoted quickly, created something completely new for the kids and teachers. Our next project – next September – a big ambition – is a research centre at the Monument-National.

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges, sconnell[at]artbridges.ca

photo credits: National Theatre School of Canada

STORIES OF NOW: Workman Arts

photo credit: Workman Arts

VignetteWorkman Arts, Toronto, https://workmanarts.com

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Kelly Straughan, Executive Artistic Director, on March 3rd, 2022

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

KS: I think on the positive side – what it’s allowed us to do is see how going virtual can benefit members – our 500 members. We used to wonder if we could move things more virtually and that maybe people would like to engage more virtually. Fast forward- we’re able to do it!  We, like a lot of arts organizations, were amazed at how innovative it could be to offer virtual art classes, choir improv classes, metal work classes, etc. It’s an interesting puzzle – if it weren’t for (pandemic circumstances) this discovery would not have happened. 

We have a core group of about 150 – 200 participants invested in 20 – 25 art classes a week. This has scaled up our projects.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

KS: So many! Naturally this is about serving a marginalized, vulnerable community – many people are on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program).  Our core members who we deeply engage with day to day are more vulnerable – they have housing issues, some are in and out of shelters, have food insecurity and added pressures. Members have to have the basics of life to be able to actually engage in art processes. Now that we are dealing with virtual, some members need us even more – many don’t have access to the internet or computers, so we purchased 30 ipads and cell phone programs, so that people could participate.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

KS: Supplying the 30 purchased ipads; redirecting funds from the arts council for immediate covid support, really looking at funds we were using before, and reallocating them, looking at the cost of groceries, creating food bursaries, food vouchers for $100 – supplied by the TD bank. Redirecting funds to help people survive day to day. Moving in that direction more. 

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

KS: Our artists support each other all the time, our members are instructors as well, people have maintained peer level of support, members are also peer supporters. 

We have a virtual ‘front desk’ on Facebook. This evolved from the membership. It’s lovely to see how members can give back and keep making connections through it all. Through this front desk, a member can call if they’d like to chat. Members provide peer support, instructors provide peer support – it can help. In the classes – the virtual ones, members can help other members with any digital support, too. Members supporting members – this makes our program seem less clinical.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

KS: Our major partner is CAMH (The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and our physical office is in the hospital. They need to be cautious when easing Covid restrictions and move more slowly than the rest of the province. So at this time, our work remains totally virtual. We’ve done mailing, drop-offs and pick-ups of art supplies to members to get them materials they need to paint and make art.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

KS: One would be – the Slate Family Foundation is big on mental health support – Workman Arts was one of the recipients of their support throughout the GTA. This helped us to create a scaling project and decentralize our work – it’s called the Workman Arts Satellite Programs. 

New folks…our class sizes have grown, our core membership people rely on classes, and with virtual access – the classes have grown. We also noticed with the Rendezvous with Madness festival, people were logging on from other places.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

KS: …We will keep the virtual part; it’s allowed people to participate in ways they haven’t before. How can we maintain this model and not put extra stress on the instructor? and work in a hybrid format? There are members that feel like they can participate in more classes because we offer virtual ones. 

We were not doing ‘virtual’ before, not at all. We had an idea – we noticed that 50 members at most – were not doing anything with computers, so we mailed them some.  This (the pandemic) has coerced people into technology – this has been huge for members. We asked a member with tech savvy to show people how to log onto zoom to be able to engage in the virtual workshops. It’s so lovely to see. Peer support is a major part of our work. We have up to 500 members. We hired Nate for one day a week to help everyone to get in touch – even learn how to turn on a computer.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact? 

KS: So many – specifically – when we moved to reallocate a lot of our funds to food gift cards for our holiday gathering and give out 100 Walmart cards, there was a real level of appreciation. We stepped outside of our core business of arts and recognized that this was the need. We got heart-felt feedback – that it was making a difference. 

Organizationally, as we don’t rely on box office revenues, we have been able to survive – we’ve done ‘pay what you can’, we’ve been well equipped to survive. 

Reducing social isolation- we already do it!  it’s our mandate – through all of this, we are staying true to our values – our mandate.

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges  sconnell[at]artbridges.ca

Find Workman Arts on: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn | YouTube

BEING SCENE 21ST ANNUAL EXHIBITION
In-Person and Online:  March 31 – May 31 2022
workmanarts.com/being-scene-2022

STORIES OF NOW: Redefining Communities Through Art + Design (RCAD)

VignetteRedefining Communities Through Art + Design (RCAD), Toronto  https://rcadinitiative.org

 “STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Emel Tabaku, Founder & Executive Director, on January 19th, 2022 and again on March 2nd, 2022

ET: We founded RCAD Initiative 5 months ago and now we’re even running our very own podcast, RCAD Initiative: Interviews with Political Artists – available on both Apple and Spotify! So far, we have received funding from #RisingYouth and the City of Toronto/Trustee Hub to run two of our main programs. Our programming is entirely #byyouthforyouth, with our main presence being digitally. We also see ourselves as a resource connectivity hub as we provide a digital platform for artists, mentors, and mentees to come together and create moments of warmth, and spaces of innovation, creativity and community healing. The Digital Storytelling Mentorship for newcomer & refugee youth is RCAD Initiative’s first program. We launched the first cohort back in December where four dedicated youth mentees up to the age of 30 have been connected to our wonderful storytelling mentor, Sania Khan (she/they), an award-winning filmmaker and human rights advocate. For the past three months, we’ve been running all of our mentorship sessions, creative talks, and collaboration virtually.

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

ET:  Our most successful program is the Digital Storytelling Mentorship which is still going! Youth who share lived experiences of immigration are receiving wonderful mentorship in filmmaking. When all of us come together, we are also connecting on a much deeper level and exploring our feelings of community belonging through digital storytelling. We’re currently all based in Ontario. The other beautiful aspect of this program is that as we are all coming together to develop our individual creative skills and collaborate through a digital space, we are simultaneously transforming our ideas of what it takes to build online communities!

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

ET: The fact that the Digital Storytelling Mentorship program launched during the pandemic means that everyone is still navigating this tremendous shift and its effect on our lives. We have regular meeting times, but we’re always mindful of there being schedule conflicts as everyone has had to transform in unique ways to adapt to the new reality we are currently facing. I mean, imagine that we were born out of and continue to exist and connect entirely through the digital space! This alone has given us the chance to rethink our ways of art production in the pandemic. On another note, I do think that there’s quite a huge responsibility being placed on our mentor, Sania who has been so diligent and thoughtful in providing accommodations to all mentees. Many have their own preferences in the ways they choose to connect with others online, for example some folks are uncomfortable with the camera on, some prefer to mute themselves so they opt to exchange their thoughts via the Zoom chat function – we’re mindful of this because we recognize the vulnerability that arises when navigating technology.  

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

ET: We’re providing accommodation, whether it be through more planning, more regular check-ins with the mentor and mentees – we talk things out! What we realized once we launched our first program was that some mentees had more advanced skills than others which meant that Sania had to tailor her mentorship curricula to individual levels of digital knowledge. We also look at the mentees’ different artistic backgrounds.  Overall, a lot of accommodations have been made, slightly changing the program as a result. We ended up asking our granters for an extension, of which was approved! The Digital Symposium highlighting all of the works that have been produced throughout the mentorship is expected to launch a week from now! So excited to see what our youth will be creating and sharing with the public! I do hope that in the future, we provide programs with hybrid forms of engagement.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

ET: Because we are quite new, there has not been much change. We started out at the end of October 2021, and being in a digital space, our programs are run virtually. There hasn’t been much of a shift in programming either and in the ways we engage with our online communities. We were able to build a brand identity as an NPO delivering digital programming so our community expects similar online opportunities to connect and grow. Of course, we are hoping to meet in person as we are in the midst of planning and launching our third program, the Creative Art Entrepreneurship Hub funded by the City of Toronto/The Neighborhood Group (TDE Resident Grant). Things will change when we meet in person for sure! This could be for the better as seeing art in-person is a completely different experience but I know that many of us will prefer to continue some of our meeting sessions online.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

ET:  It’s all digital – entirely – the marketing, communications, community partnerships and collaborations that promote our work – and we do the same for them. We deliver digital programs; we’re more involved in digital community arts and attract creatives because of this brand identity of which we’ve been able to establish. We were able to expand our team to 5 volunteers and 1 advisor who were all recruited digitally, and that is how we have connected and collaborated and that is exactly how we expect to run things moving forward.  

RCAD is amplified through non-profit orgs’ social media, we share other’s work too. We create the social media post, do all the sharing, and then tag multiple accounts hoping that they will repost our work! “Youth are spending the majority of their time online, that’s a fact.”

We use social media, from Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn; Instagram is by far the most popular platform to build community collaboration whereas LinkedIn has been successful in helping us recruit ideal volunteers for the opportunities we’ve posted online. We use a lot of hashtags, which have to be relevant for them to be effective, and we also collaborate with community arts organizations who end up promoting our posts because they will receive notifications once one of our posts is up. There are no official partnerships, no official conversations, but things are being reshared, reposted and promoted! We don’t set up a zoom meeting, or conference calls. Our digital outreach across social media is all happening through quite informal ways! For example, to find our digital storytelling mentor, we reached out to about 15 not-for-profits and roughly 40 people re-shared our Hiring Call – we are a part of a cycle of sharing and reposting and this form of digital engagement is how we build our online audience and presence. We don’t need to make calls to staff at community centres to connect with whoever’s working on their social media communications to share our posts. It is kind of understood that once you tag a non-profit arts account online, you are asking them to share your post across their networks! That is how we got Neighborhood Arts Network, Xpace and a few other organizations to amplify our work!

Algorithms are set up, you can filter out all the other posts. We have been using our own hashtag, #RCADInitiative across our platforms. People are coming to RCAD because of our LinkedIn presence, and all of the volunteers have been recruited this way. We have never needed to use platforms such as Volunteer Toronto, or Charity Village.

Right now, we have 149 followers on Instagram, 156 on LinkedIn and 36 on Facebook. The numbers are expected to grow and we are eternally grateful to all of our community members who continue to share our work with others! We have been able to redefine what it means to be a part of a community by exploring and creating spaces of genuine connection and empathy online.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

ET:  Everything is new – so far, we have the Digital Storytelling Mentorship, our Interviews with Political Artists podcast where 3 episodes have so far been released, the Creative Art Entrepreneurship Hub to launch by the end of this month, and something very exciting coming along… We are expanding our programming to children, as one of our talented volunteers is currently finishing up writing a short story to be illustrated by our wonderful Digital Illustrators on board, Stephanie and Sofia! You can always stay up-to-date with our recent work by following our social media, @rcadinitiative.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

ET:  N/A, we were born during the pandemic.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact? 

ET: So much has been happening in such a short time! The programs we have are exactly what the community wants and needs because so many artists have applied to get involved, and so many volunteers have been wanting to join the team! This shows that what we do is needed by the community and this is what gives us motivation and inspiration to continue doing the work we do!

We utilize the digital realm to build spaces where youth are equipped with the creative tools & resources to become community changemakers, advocates and artivists – working on social change through art + design.

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges  sconnell[at]artbridges.ca

STORIES OF NOW: Labrador Creative Arts Festival

VignetteLabrador Creative Arts Festival (LCAF) labradorcreativeartsfestival.ca

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Tim Borlase Co-Chairperson: Retired; Theatre Director and Indigenous Education Consultant; Federal applications and programming, on February 17th, 2022.

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

TB: The plot would be that the LCAF didn’t recognize fully, until COVID happened, how much art activities were present in the local small isolated communities that make up Labrador. With 47 years of running the festival – that local community of artists could contribute far more as artists to help keep traditions and cultural activities alive in their own communities by sharing their passion and skills with the students of their own community. A lot of these people would not have considered themselves as artists before, however, art comes in many forms. A lot of their work is culturally based art; a lot is practical, like making a komatik (a sled), attached to a skidoo. The design of it is artistic. To use this analogy further, the komatik is the artistic work and the skidoo became the motivator that allowed this to happen.

Related to that – there are 26 schools in Labrador, but the territory of Labrador is huge, and not all schools throughout Labrador were previously involved in the festival. We always have about 14-16 schools involved. However, because we were able to offer a virtual festival in 2020- early 2021, all schools took part, there was more participation – about 4500 – 5000 people were involved! Many of these several times over. Virtual presentations are certainly better than nothing, but they have serious limitations in terms of interaction. The presentations are with school-aged people primarily, but we do offer workshop opportunities for seniors, some for people in prisons, and some for day care centres.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

TB: The element that is missing from the festival since the first year of the pandemic and maybe this year again as well, is the stories and social justice issues that are written about by young people. Students normally write and perform their plays in the evenings during the festival. The LCAF is not a competitive festival at all. However, students did not get the opportunity to perform and lots of workshops with artists didn’t happen for the last two years. So I’m not too sure what each community’s issues or stories under the theme of respect in 2020 and resurgence in 2021 would have been. So this is a gap in the festival’s mandate, a big thing to lose- hearing and seeing what students feel are the issues in their community.  Visiting artists travelling to the festival in Goose Bay was also a missing piece because the artists couldn’t get together and young people were not allowed to meet to share information, skills, passions- all round chats! This year we thought about the filming idea, the idea of creating a film about their own production that could be shared virtually with other schools would be a good one. Unfortunately this, too, has been a process to get schools interested and share some filming equipment and support to do this. We have 6 schools on board right now preparing to film their play – let’s hope they all make it and we can show off their work in late May – early June.

A lot of our communities in Labrador are remote – isolated. There are only small twin otter planes to travel on, so people can’t fly to the festival. They can’t sit together on the planes – who could go on the planes was restricted to people travelling to their own community, because of fears around COVID- there were only nursing stations in communities, no doctors, which put our communities on high alert during the pandemic.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

TB: One of the themes for this year was putting an emphasis on filming – with people using their own phones. Maybe in June we’ll be able to do something with this. There’ve been a lot of artists this year, more than we normally have because they are living in the communities already and the LCAF could utilize them to visit their local schools to put on workshops in their skill/passion/knowledge/tradition.  We have had about 30 local artists visiting their community schools, and about 10 artists that visited virtually. This is a much bigger number than about the 16 artists we would have had in the past. Usually, we’ve flown in artists to Goose Bay from around Canada. As a result of the emphasis on local community artists, the LCAF are hoping that these artists understand the festival better and they will continue to support the festival in the future, as they are more familiar with it. The organization is 47 years old – some families have been participating for three generations.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

TB: Communities have really missed the visiting artists that used to fly in, but local people are now employed as artists, and are pleased to be working as artists. It’s not a win-win, but there’s more winning than not, more positive than negative – it’s had a silver lining. What I think will happen from here is we’ll always employ community-based people as well as professional/full-time working artists.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

TB: We’re still very much limited in the size of the audience or groups that get together for a workshop. That’s both because of the government health mandates as well as the school system. The Indigenous governments also have their restrictions mainly because of additional services required in dealing with COVID. That’s a major loss. Take the CBC, for example, the CBC across Labrador is very much listened to. It takes its responsibility seriously. Their coverage would cover a lot of the festival. This year, there is very little media coverage. We’re still hanging in there, the board, staff, and one paid employee – Sandra Broomfield – who runs everything.  Luckily, she’s here for the long haul. We thought it would be daunting for her, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

TB: The film project is new, we had 4 schools who were not involved previously that were going to develop a play script, rehearse and then record on camera, then present it in the festival. But the 4 changed to 3 because one didn’t have reliable Internet. We don’t know when this festival will be on, or if it will finish, but they’re happy working on it. A professional filmmaker is teaching film online, he lives in St. Johns, quite a distance away. He knows what he’s up against – when the students are back in school they’ll be able to do a scene and virtually work with him to work on their films.

We have another project with an East Indian Bollywood dancer from Montreal who also teaches cooking and drumming.  Through a Canada Council grant, his plan was to go do workshops last summer in 3 communities, spend time there, build East Indian dancing and combine the Inuit communities with drum dancing and form a parade through town. However, during the first year, the Bollywood dancing and cooking was online. He and his drumming partner couldn’t travel. In this year we took 3 more communities and did the same thing. Online, the drummers and dancers perform together though they are physically apart.  

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

TB: All the virtual sessions and performances we never had before. One of the challenges is – if you’re watching a show and you’re a member of the audience and you ask a question, we need permission from the school (because participants are minors). In the Q & A after the show, we could not film the audience, or we had to edit the questions out, we never thought of that before, such a restriction. We ended up with the sound of the voice, not the pictures.

Offering workshops virtually was very challenging – in how and who?  The internet in Labrador is very unstable – so this did pose some issues, however, on a whole – virtual sessions worked out very well and we were able to offer them to all students in Labrador!

photos by LCAF

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact? 

TB: We got through it – I was surprised. It would have been so easy to cancel the whole festival because of COVID and people not being able to fly. We had a number of people on the committees, who thought we could not go ahead, but we did, and the festival is richer now. Really – Covid has opened new doors for the LCAF – we can now reach more students and offer them wonderful opportunities to grow and explore artistically with virtual artists workshops in many mediums. They can also renew their traditional cultural crafts/skills/knowledge through workshops from local artists – what an opportunity to keep things alive!

The festival began because young people didn’t know anything about the artistic practice in the next community over and they wanted to share their own community perspective through the arts. There was no opportunity – no TV, radio and telephone  – driving between communities was impossible. The fact that it’s 47 years old and now we’ve had to reinvent our communication, and the way we operate virtually and on-line is a great move forward into the new opportunities that await the LCAF. And yet the simple mandate of sharing community issues and information for young people is important to them. Internet is still not always reliable in all these communities. Luckily it’s much better than it used to be and will continue to improve so some communities don’t lose out.

…We’re learning from this ASCN organization – new things and new ways of doing old things, it’s amazing how with COVID restrictions, there are now lots of hubs all over Canada that we would not have met otherwise; it’s amazing how people have been brought together and have a chance to meet and exchange ideas to think outside of the box to make things happen!

Tim – the Founder, is based in Moncton NB, and goes to Labrador usually twice a year, for 3-4 weeks a time. He hopes to stay until the org is 50 years old! he’s also with the Canadian Network for Arts and Learning. 

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges  sconnell[at]artbridges.ca

STORIES OF NOW: Northern Environmental Health and Creativity (Yellowknife)

STORIES OF NOW

VignetteNorthern Environmental Health and Creativity, Yellowknife, NWT.

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter.

In conversation with: Tanya Roach, Artist, Northern Environment Health and Creativity, Yellowknife, NWT, (with Marie Coderre: Northern Arts and Cultural Centre) on December 3rd, 2021.

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

TR: As an independent contractor, I jumped into community arts in the last 6 months. Through the pandemic, with schools and cities shut down, lots of us have been pushed outdoors. It’s been a very big opportunity to reflect on life and reprioritize. We’re spending a lot of time outdoors, in the bush, thinking about environmental health and the future – especially up north, where we’re involved with lots of natural materials – animal bones, skin and fur – natural materials that have been used for decades; but they’re challenging to obtain because of mining and resource extraction. We’re talking about climate change anxiety – the anxiety we feel about the natural environment.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

TR: The main issues we face are about customizing the workshop structure because of the pandemic. We were going to have workshops in person then had to prepare for them to be online. We were not sure if socializing would be safe or unsafe. Translating an in-person workshop – to digital is hard; it’s not the same. We don’t have the full experience when not in person. But we’re accommodating virtually. We need to distribute materials physically – touchless, around Yellowknife.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

TR: We’re addressing environmental climate change anxiety by using arts-based methods and performance-based therapy to express the range of emotions we feel. How can we navigate this conversation in a healthy way and end on a positive note? We’re inviting Indigenous elders, who have grown up traditionally on the land in a nomadic way. So many different lifestyles in their 60 years of life, hearing how they cope, their perspectives, how to navigate turbulent waters. One elder did not live in a community of housing until age 6, he came from the north. So amazing to hear these stories. We’re turning to elders, they’ve lived through so many things already. They are strong and healthy. Traditional knowledge, traditional culture is helping them to cope with today.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

TR: During theworkshops, in the last 6 months, people have been more vocal; they are expressing a lot of gratitude. They want to get together more than before. You value what you don’t have. They are thankful.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

TR:  More digital this fall and winter. In the summer we were more free. The flip-flop between virtual and in-person is not always easy.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

TR: This project is new – Northern Environment Health and Creativity

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

TR:  We’re doing virtual workshops now. I jumped into community-engaged arts during the pandemic. I became involved during the pandemic, mainly on a digital level. Finding touchless contact material delivering. Finding creative ways to stay in touch. Using phone, email, and in person.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact?
TR: A wonderful moment: connecting with people in clear and genuine ways. Feels good to connect with people on a personal level in a safe space. We’re all craving connection on a deep lever. We’re talking about our fears and anxieties and acknowledging it.

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges and Marie Coderre, Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC)

photo credit: Pixabay/Kranich17

STORIES OF NOW: UNLOCKED Project (Montréal, QC)

STORIES OF NOW
Vignette : UNLOCKED Project (Montreal, QC)

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Josette Gauthier, founder of The UNLOCKED Project, February 5th, 2022  josette.gauthier1[at]gmail.com

“Eighteen months into the Covid-19 pandemic with no certain end in sight, we have learned that the creative and emotional lives of our youth matter more than ever. Young Canadian artists need to be seen, encouraged, and their talent recognized. Yet, initiatives that target young people remain few and far between. Their voices are so often excluded from our galleries, museums and collections and neglected by society at large. Young people are crucial citizens whose knowledge, perspectives, and experiences should be collected and preserved during this historic moment and for the future.

UNLOCKED will be that collecting platform – an online art exhibit, to preserve and learn from young Canadian artists. A unique initiative in Canada.

As a virtual exhibit, it is in a unique position to promote community building and encourage connections between young people in every region of Canada. UNLOCKED is empowering a large segment of the population (ages 9 – 25) whose voices have not been heard and who have suffered deeply during Covid. In addition, there has been a major increase in fact based research and articles into the beneficial impact of the arts on health and well-being specifically during the pandemic.” Josette Gautier

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

JG: Mental health. Youth creating art inspired by the pandemic.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

JG: Pandemic-related. A voice from underserved communities.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

JG: By reaching out to communities across Canada, encouraging young Canadians to submit their art during COVID.   

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

JG: A chance to be heard and seen during a difficult historical time and learn from that.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

JG: It was a digital project – people engaged digitally. It was always going to be digital – digital was the perfect way to do it. It was a way to reach communities normally hard to reach.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

JG: The whole project was implemented in the last year, a sequel may be in the works.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

JG: It was a digital project that came out of the pandemic.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact? 

JG: See photos of UNLOCKED submissions from artists Joliz dela Pena, Selena Chea, and Bianca Bobbera, as well as photo and artist statement from Odessa Schulz, attached, which exemplifies the essence of UNLOCKED.

UNLOCKED became an official project of ArtBridges in 2021

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges

STORIES OF NOW: Art City (Winnipeg, MB)

VignetteArt City https://artcityinc.com Winnipeg, MB

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Josh Ruth, Managing Director of Art City, December 3rd, 2021

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

JR: Art City is founded on the belief that art can transform individuals and communities. We see art as an end in itself; providing art experiences is our only agenda. We think that having the opportunity to express yourself creatively in a safe environment along with tools for practicing arts has tremendous benefits. Our programming is open to all ages and abilities and offered free-of-charge. We don’t limit participation in any dimension. Our programs are designed to engage children and youth specifically, but are accessible to anyone at any stage of their artistic development or interest.

Our mandate also allows us to be a place that’s generative and supportive to the artists it serves, our local artists. We try offer good wages, professional development and resources to develop their respective art practices. We see it as investing in artists, who are very important change makers and world builders in our culture. Winnipeg is known for its robust arts milieu; it is also known as a place rampant poverty and racism. Art City becomes a convergence space where connections are made across social barriers through creative collaboration.

That story has not changed despite the pandemic…we stay true to what we do, our model, our core values… that is the story, still this year. We are a community of innovators. When challenges arise, we innovate.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

JR: The climate crisis impacts all of us. The youth are increasingly interested in social justice issues – they imagine a better world, through artmaking, we have the opportunity to look at what the world would look like if social inequity didn’t exist.  

Our annual budget is around $850,000. Less than 10%of funding is operational, which requires us to go after a lot of project funding. Project funding is for short-term initiatives and is never guaranteed, so we have to live with a certain amount of uncertainty and not allow that to keep us from being ambitious and following our strategic priorities.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

JR: To address the funding piece, we produce an annual fundraising party and each year it seems to build as having a reputation for being the kind of event you would want to go to regardless of your knowledge of Art City. We find an unconventional space, a warehouse or a building under renovation, create a theme for the party and encourage attendees to dress up according to the theme.  The party itself becomes an art project…an immersive experience that our staff and legion of volunteers create for the community. We purposefully designed this event not to be a gala, or a fancy dinner, tickets are affordable. Our volunteers and staff make collaborative art pieces to sell at the event, not attributed to any individual artist, rather than the typical art auction that asks artists to donate art in support of an organization that is intended to support them. We try a number of ways to make this event successful and profitable.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

JR: A tenet of Art City’s model since the beginning has been to be as accessible and inclusive as possible. The pandemic has presented significant challenges to this, requiring us to collect participant information (for contact tracing, etc.) and to ask for immunization status, etc.We have historically avoided any kind of intrusive or cumbersome screening processes. Practicing physical distancing, screening, mask-wearing, and following public health guidelines has been necessary, we know, but these conditions run pretty counter to what is typically a community space of care and creativity.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

JR: We adapted to a curbside format when we have had to suspend in-person programs. We set up a huge production line with 20+ menu items, high quality art experiences to-go. Anyone could walk up and order from the many options.  It was wildly successful. An organization called Jordan’s Principle Chiefs collaborated with us to distribute 900 kits to remote and northern communities to tons of kids and families.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact? 

JR: One of my favourite initiatives in recent years has been the development of a paid youth mentorship program. The paid mentorship is designed to provide meaningful employment experience and pathways to employment for youth who have participated in programming through their youth. Young people receive on the job training and develop their own facilitation skills. Of the 7 paid youth mentees in the last 5 years, each has become permanent staff, gone onto higher education, or gotten a full-time job elsewhere. What we have learned in the process is that having youth from the community running workshops has significantly enriched the culture of the organization.

The community highly values Art City and would never let anything happen to it. For 23 years it’s been a beacon of positivity and creativity.                                       

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges; all photo credits: Art City

STORIES OF NOW: Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC), Yellowknife

VignetteNorthern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC), Yellowknife, NT https://www.naccnt.ca

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter.

In conversation with: Marie Coderre, ead[at]naccnt.ca, Executive and Artistic Director, Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) (with Tanya Roach: Northern Environment Health and Creativity), December 3rd, 2021

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

MC: We’re in survival mode, exhausted, with zero patience, it’s so challenging for local artists, the border’s closed. There’s a race to find money, it’s been very stressful. In 2020, we produced films, partnered with organizations, everyone around supported one another and found new ways to present outside – artists along the trail and in the bush through 5 regions; we made films and recorded shows. The first year – fine; we provided emergency funding and partnerships for the artists. It was a year of local partnerships. Now I’m done! All the finances are screwed, the fiscal year – screwed. People need arts, but we’re tired and exhausted, but now we need to move forward. We’re engaging in opportunities online more and connecting with people across Canada. I believe in sharing, I don’t believe in borders closing. We need people to learn from each other.

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

MC: The tours and presenting shows are challenging, there are reduced amounts of flights and finances are affected. People are exhausted. We’re seeing the exiting of artists right now. Many had to leave the region to live with parents, they can’t afford to live in Yellowknife, for mental health & finance reasons. We’re covering 5 regions. Logistics are very hard. People have zero incomes. Survival.  A lot of people resigned from jobs and left the sector. I’ve been in the field for 15 years. Don’t have the patience to deal with people. Need to keep an eye on ourselves. Anti-vaxxers are a main issue, many artists are not in trust of vaccines or local gov’t telling them to vaccinate.  We’re dealing with a lawyer. We’re responsible for putting on an event in a small community but if the artists are not vaxxed, it becomes a human rights issue, so we’re working with a lawyer.  We need the vaccine, it’s a no brainer. I’m wearing the hat – having to put my foot down. I would love to be in a blanket in bed right now.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

MC: Trying to deal with conflicts in a healthy and structured way. Have humility. Many around us have no background in science. We hired a lawyer to help us. Presenters were not prepared for this. We have a wonderful team. My colleagues are gems. The board – super supportive. Trust is there. I would not be at NACC if I didn’t have the team. The team brings me hope. It’s a pleasure to work with artists. The arts are something we need – to share and exchange ideas. I like having artists from other places to share, it’s so healthy to have face to face with other artists. In the future programming won’t go back to how it was before. We are stabilizing finances, finding innovative ways – working with a national endowment fund. Working with other artists, Indigenous collectives…NACC is not the sole performing arts org. NACC is wearing many hats right now. Funding is not secured.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

MC: Participants – people are eager to have options to see art and take part, there’s only positive feedback about this. People are tired of seeing things online all the time, they’re jumping for joy to take part!

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

MC: We were shut down for 3 months. Now more partnerships. Canadian music has been on the edge. We’re doing an online – virtual series. Live shows are recorded and shown on each coast. December 11th is our first live show. People are happy rescheduling everything to summer. We’re shifting. It’s a big virtual reality project, we need to scale it down. It will be a 4 month project with students, elders, adults and mentorship programs. The first show will be in March. It’s transitional, hopefully the vaccination rate will be good.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

MC:– Tanya Roach and I are setting up an Indigenous collective. Hiring an artistic director. It’s a new initiative. Solely Indigenous performing arts – traditional. We’re giving it a year for all of us to see where it will go. Tanya’s project is new – Northern Environment Health and Creativity.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

MC: It was not digital before. Touring changed the most. Before we did 40 shows a year to schools. Last year we did a tour for mapping arts – a film projected on buildings outside. Other than that, recording, showing outside. Releasing films in January. We could no do live performances in communities. Films or shows in Yellowknife are recorded online. We can’t go into schools. We’re making adaptations. My financial structure was destroyed. Thanks to emergency funding, now we have some funding sources to navigate with. It’s hard to plan long term. We go month to month.

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact?

MC: I’m in a project with 20 artists and Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP). https://www.naccnt.ca/content/videos It has a collective impact from A-Z! There was no hierarchy, it was very beautiful – a new way to work as a collective, a collective process for decision making. Also the Trapper Radio Series on the website: https://www.naccnt.ca/events/trapper-radio-series

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges and Tanya Roach, Northern Environment Health and Creativity

STORIES OF NOW: Focus on Nature (Guelph, ON)

VignetteFocus on Nature (Guelph, ON)

Follow us on Instagram | Photos on Flickr  | Visit our web site | FoN on YouTube | Like us on Facebook!

“Inspiring young people to explore and connect with nature through photography.”

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter.

In conversation with: Simon Bell, Executive Director, Focus on Nature, November 29th, 2021

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

SB:  Our story is one of adapting to the new reality of school lockdowns and pivoting to remote learning. Focus on Nature’s mission is to inspire young people to explore and connect with nature through photography. We do this primarily by offering full-day nature photography workshops in schools. This allows us to reach the broadest possible audience of children, regardless of their financial ability to participate.

Pre-pandemic, our program was expanding each year to include schools in Hamilton, Halton Region, Waterloo Region and Guelph-Wellington, where we started in 2010. By 2019 we were touching the lives of nearly 7,000 children each year in Ontario. In 2020, with the arrival of Covd-19 and schools locked down, our reach collapsed to just 90 children and we knew that we had to re-invent ourselves.

We began by creating short video modules based on the Elements of Design, photo composition and photo editing. This proved quite popular with teachers, so we expanded the Focus on Nature Online web portal to include more videos, check-in quizzes and photo challenges, all in both French and English. We added a Teacher’s Lounge with access to extension activities and resources that teachers could use while students were learning remotely. In 2021, we had 80 teachers and about 2,000 students signed up!

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

SB: The main issues have been the need for staff and volunteers to work remotely and of course there’s the financial impact the pandemic has had on the organization. We’ve had to restructure to a smaller staff and we’ve developed new skill-sets to work in the digital domain. Fortunately, we live in Canada where government support has been generous. We have benefited from wage subsidies and youth employment programs. The Ontario Trillium Foundation and the City of Guelph also provided community grants to help us continue developing our online platform and promoting it.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

SB: Without our annual fundraising events, such as photo exhibits and garden parties, we were in a tight financial situation last spring. Our Board of Directors rallied to start a GoFundMe campaign and encouraged our supporters to donate more than they usually do.

The campaign was successful, allowing us to prepare summer camp programs for Oakville, Guelph and Waterloo, plus our first virtual summer camp. Camps were smaller and campers had to wear masks and stay 6 ft. apart when indoors. Still, everyone had a great time and created some wonderful photo-art. Some of the fun can be seen in our online summer camp photo gallery.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

SB: Everything we did with them until June was online. This was a drag as we couldn’t to interact in-person with the kids at all. It was hard for teachers as well. We loaned cameras and students could use their cell phones as well. One teacher said that three of their students had poor cellphones, so the teacher picked up our cameras and took them over to the students at home. As part of a project about human impact on the environment, they took pictures of litter, quarries, sunsets and butterflies. We then created a photo gallery of their best shots to share with the public. Covid restrictions have not allowed us to have our photo exhibits in galleries as we normally do. So newsletters and online exhibitions are the way we’re doing this now.

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

SB: Now that schools are reopening to in-class learning again, we are dealing with Covid-19 health protocols that vary widely between school boards. Some schools do not allow any guest presenters, while others will allow us to meet students but only outdoors and online.

So we’ve redesigned our school workshops to a hybrid format, combining outdoor and virtual learning and it seems to be working. In October and November of 2021, we delivered 63 workshops, giving 1520 children an opportunity to explore nature as visual artists. We expect more schools will allow this hybrid format for their students in 2022 as the threat of Covid-19 recedes. The future is unpredictable but we’ll keep adapting to meet the needs of teachers and students for outdoor arts programming.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

SB: The Principles of Design online course for high school students is new, allowing us to expand our reach to teenagers. We were working with grades 3 to 6 originally but now, with so many kids suffering through the pandemic, we thought “why not grades 7,8, 9 and 10”? This is one adaption. We’re also developing a new module for Indigenous Studies, featuring the work of Indigenous photographers in Canada and in other countries as well.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

SB: So much has changed because of the pandemic. Since our staff and volunteer board members are located in multiple locations, we didn’t see each other too often. Now we are actually collaborating together more than ever by adapting to new technologies such as Zoom, Canva and Slack.

There’s been a learning curve for sure but teachers and students have adapted to using Google Meets, Drive and Photos to engage with our workshop teams in the afternoon, after we’ve taken them on their photo walk with cameras in the morning. They all have Chromebooks in the classroom now and we’ve changed our program to engage with them remotely. Who knows…this might become the “new normal” going forward!

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact?

SB: When the wage subsidies were announces in April 2020, I wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau to thank him. Next thing I know his office called to ask if he could mention Focus on Nature in his daily briefing! It was the first time our name ‘Focus on Nature’ was heard from coast to coast to coast! And then CBC News called and interviewed me live that evening, allowing me to tell our story more completely.

Recently, a parent recalled that her son said “it will be so boring – focus on nature…. but it was the best day of school I ever had!”, and that he’s now taking pictures of nature all the time. Check out some other comments by teachers and students on this webpage.

For some video content, check our YouTube Channel. There you’ll find my CBC News interview and a playlist of my Photo Safaris among other things. You can see some student photos on Flickr as well.

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges