Learning from SPARC's #Cobalt2018 Symposium


(Liz Forsberg) #1

Last month artistic leaders from across Ontario’s rural communities gathered in the tiny northern town of Cobalt to continue an ongoing conversation about igniting and sustaining performing arts in rural and remote Ontario communities. The bi-annual gathering acts as a platform for both individuals and organizations that are part of the rural performing arts ecology (dance, film/media arts, music, theatre) across the province to connect and build relationships. It adds a dynamic in-person component to the online network building they are doing across the province.

This 3rd symposium was a phenomenal gathering of artistic leaders who shared both the successes and challenges of working in rural and remote contexts in Ontario. As a funder based in Toronto, it was inspiring for me to hear about all the vibrant programming taking place in rural and remote communities and eye-opening to better understand the challenges of working in parts of the province that don’t benefit from a concentration of arts infrastructure and municipal arts funding. There was an abundance of workshops, plenaries and opportunities to get to experience performing arts in Cobalt and the Temiskaming Shores region. I was unable to attend EVERYTHING but here are some highlights from what I did manage to attend:

  • Near North Mobile Media Lab shared their highly successful Digital Creator Lab model for engaging young people in Media Arts across 6 Northern communities
  • Culture Days, Folk Music Ontario & Community Presenters’ Network explored the ways in which collaboration across networks serves to increase connections, leverage resources and contribute to transformative change
  • Aboriginal Curatorial Collective and Debajehmujig Creation Centre led a conversation on the issue of compensation of artists in rural and northern contexts
  • Reneltta Arluk, Director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre, gave a moving keynote exploring her own experience growing up on the Northwest Territories and the ways in which the arts unite and strengthen the voice of rural and remote communities

This barely scratches the surface of the rich content and conversations that took place at the symposium and I would love to hear from others that attended!
What conversations ignited you at the SPARC symposium?
What did you learn?

And if you’re reading this and have never heard of SPARC before, check out their website andblog.Ontario is very lucky to have such an inspired group of folks working to strengthen the networks of artists and arts organizations working in Ontario’s remote and rural communities!

2018 highlights from Ontario's arts, culture & heritage sector
(Gordon Duff) #2

Hello Liz. Here are a few of my random thoughts and ideas and statements that really caught my attention among so many at SPARC Cobalt 2018.

-fascinating history and resiliency of Cobalt;
-really liked the English/French/Indigenous cooperative vibe;
-SPARC mantra from Chris Lynd – “The people in the room are the people meant to be here”; (Zen philosophy)
-Mayor Tina Sartaretto – how does Cobalt survive on $570,000 in tax revenue?
-Mayor – “The arts make the Town a community”;
-Felicity Buckell – key community leader in many areas – quiet accomplishment;
SPARC Goals;
1.)-bring people together to meet, interact and share;
2.)-build a network – share, inform, reach out – online and in-person;
3.)-identify challenges in rural and remote communities;
-Haliburton had 600 events from Victoria Day – Thanksgiving – how do they do it without volunteer burnout?
-Kate Butler realized there were many unforeseen challenges in mounting a mobile theatrical production – weather-all aspects; older, less agile audience, finding enough cast members in summer season, create a written agreement between the organizations involved, insurance issues,- however, financial expenses were relatively small;
-Northern Digital Creators - using young adults to relate to teenagers,
-many difficult issues arise – the leaders have handled them very well despite not having all the answers – could do with “Psychological training”;
-amazing keynote address by Aengus Finnan – true Canadian and one of the best keynote address that I have heard – quietly powerful;
-opening line – “well I don’t want to die”;
-use the time you have wisely – what is your legacy – Light of Leadership;
‘”people who are leaders have a moral obligation to do things that need to be done”, but don’t try to do everything;
-presentation of The Northwest Passage – visual and musical journey with David Newland and Siqiniup Qilauta Sunsdrum (Inuit throat singers and drummers) – unique sounds and great French-Canadian food;
-Reneltta Arluk – another amazing woman – have I ever talked to an Inuvialuit/Dene/Cree person before?
-fascinating education as a little girl with her grandparents on the trap lines and then being formally educated and becoming a respected arts professional-great sense of humour;
-Debajehmujig Storytellers from Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island giving us an opening into indigenous theology;
-Felicity Buckell – “Feeling of magic this weekend”

(Liz Forsberg) #3

Thanks so much for sharing some of your highlights from the gathering Gordon! Can you also tell us where in Ontario you’re from and the cultural work that you are doing? It seemed like the SPARC symposium played a crucial role in bringing together people from across the province who are sometimes having to work in isolated ways due to geography. I’m curious to hear if you anticipate any of the new ideas or relationships formed at the symposium influencing your own work in the coming months?

On my end I learned of several exciting initiatives across the province that I was previously unaware of. One in particular that I’m hoping to feature on the Knowledge Centre in the coming months is the Haliburton County Community Co-op. What I found most interesting about them is that they serve as an exciting model for platforming grassroots community initiatives, many of which are arts initiatives. More on that to come!

(Gordon Duff) #4

Hi Liz,

My day job is the Treasurer/Deputy CAO at the Town of Minto, which is in Wellington County north of Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. It is an amalgamation of the former towns of Palmerston and Harriston, the village of Clifford and the township of Minto.

The population is about 9,300 with a strong agricultural base. The largest employer is an auto parts firm which feeds Toyota Cambridge and employs over 1,000 people. We were one of the first rural municipalities to adopt a Municipal Cultural Plan. I am a founding member of the Minto Arts Council and have been its Treasurer for 21 years. I am also the programmer for the Palmerston version of The Film Circuit and book musical acts for a series of coffeehouse style concerts called The Basement Café under the Minto Arts Council. I am also on the Ontario Task Force for Culture Days.

The Town supports culture mostly through our Economic Development Dept. We have formed a Cultural Roundtable to implement the Cultural Plan. Here is a link to our culture web-site:


Here is the link to the Minto Arts Council web-site:


Cobalt was my 3rd SPARC Symposium and I also attended the November 2014 gathering where working groups for the three areas, Outreach, Virtual Network and Symposium Planning were set up. Locally we have held a few regional consultations regarding a SPARC mini-summit we hope to host in October here in Minto.

Michael Clipperton and Chris Lynd were able to attend two of these meetings. We will be applying to SPARC under the Collaborative Communities Initiative for funding assistance to host this event. Our planning Committee includes active representation from Fergus, Chesley as well as Minto. Our draft agenda includes a session presented by Kathleen Cleland Moyer of OTF.

From the Cobalt event, I have reached out to a few attendees and hope to stay in touch with them, even one person from Quebec!

Of course, I have gotten to know Haliburton better and a few of its leading citizens through SPARC. I met Tammy Rea years before at the annual Film Circuit gathering at TIFF in Toronto in September. She is my equivalent for the Haliburton Film Circuit. Also when the Town of Minto was in the process of finding a model for our business incubator, staff from here visited the Haliburton Community Co-operative and met Jim Blake.

It was so nice to meet you in Cobalt and hope to see you at future gatherings.

(Liz Forsberg) #5

Great to hear more about you and the cultural work you are doing in Minto. It sounds like there is a lot of interesting arts programming happening in your area. I look forward to checking out the Minto Cultural Plan and the Minto Arts Council site.

I’ve heard from other regions across the province that they were able to access provincial funding to do a cultural plan but it’s been challenging to allocate municipal resources to carry out these plans. Have you encountered these challenges in Minto?

(Gordon Duff) #6

Hello Liz,

It is very true that small municipalities require outside help to accomplish the development of a full cultural plan.

Our project had a budget of $77,000 and we were very fortunate to receive a grant in the amount of $55,000 under the Creative Communities Prosperity Fund (CCPF) from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture back in 2010.

I do not know if this program even exists today.

The dollars involved to actually carry out the Plan have been relatively minor, especially compared to infrastructure replacement projects. To date, our Councils and staff have been very supportive of these initiatives and I hope this will continue after the elections.