More creative conversations

Here is the second piece on the creative conversations event from Monday January 11.  The previous post was about fostering relationships between the community and institutional or organized groups. This post will reflect the night’s discussion of experience making, and capacity building.  Some questions that came up were: What do institutions,  governments and NGOs need to maintain programs?  Who starts programs and once they’ve begun how to make them sustainable?

Sarah Abbott spoke Monday about her experiences directing and screening her film Out in the Cold. The film is about ‘Starlight Tours’ which is a controversial topic which has come to symbolize of systemic racism towards Aboriginal people in the Prairies.  Abbott’s film acts to provoke discussion around race relations in Saskatchewan, a topic that is not often on publicly discussed.

The first part of the collaborative process to create Out in the Cold was the production.  Dr. Abbott described, with great emotion, how fortunate she felt to receive the support and help she needed to complete her film.  She spoke of generous people lending time, expertise and equipment to create this project.  She gained a great deal of knowledge from her experience but also confidence.  Putting together the film, in pre production, looked like something nearly impossible, so to complete the film was very rewarding .

Filming Out in the Cold was a tremendous experience for the director, but she emphasized how important it was to include students and crew members into the project and the valuable skills and lessons they learned too.  The set had a mix of some experienced crew members with those looking to get a break into the business.  Dr. Abbott tried, when possible, to include Aboriginal people on set, with crew positions, acting jobs or in other capacities.  In this way the film was able to build capacity by providing a platform for skill development, networking, and production experience.  Providing skills and experience will benefit other film projects, and the Saskatchewan film industry with a great pool of potential workers.

After the film was finished, there were two screenings, one in Saskatoon and one in Regina, with a panel discussion taking place after.  By providing an opertunity for the public and interested parties (including both city police departments) to discuss and experience the same story at the same time Dr. Abbott brought the community into her film process.  A public forum provided a common ground for groups or individuals to learn from one another’s experiences.  Open dialogue between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people, the police and the public and academia and the public on race relations is, I would say, not a common thing in Regina.

Public input was an essential piece of  Marnie Badham’s discussion centred around the a snow sculpture she completed for the 2010 Fire and Ice Festival, with children from Albert School.  Her presentation contained ideas on place making, street capital, quality of life indicators for research and how to engage communities in culture in a bottom up way.

The project Ms. Badham focused on was her Fire and Ice snow sculpture she  completed with the help of grade 6 and 7 children in the Peacekeepers at Albert School.   The Peacekeepers get together with Ms. Badham and others to talk about culture, ideas and art.

One important point that tied place making with the Peacekeepers program was the children’s reflections on their own community.  Ms. Badham had discussed using different indicators to address how people in neighbourhoods see their community.  For example, asking people a question like, “what three pictures would you take of you neighbourhood?”  Or “what stories would you tell your grandchildren?”  These questions personalize knowledge, drawing on experiences and eventually reveal important places, events and alike.  These revelations allow researchers to understand what people value in their community.  These questions can cut out the media based responses that come with the prevailing common preconceptions of place.

That process of placemaking was important with the Peacekeepers too, because as Ms. Badham found, many of them describe their North Central neighbourhood in stereotypical ways when asked basic questions.  During her presentation she recognized how hard it would be to build self-esteem when your home is constantly maligned from the outside. To address this, part of the Peacekeepers program is to provide students with ways to articulate their experience, rather than be convinced from above what their spaces are.  Arts and culture specifically build placemaking, with events in North Central, like the smudge walk which is why the Peacekeepers focus on the arts.

Placemaking from below should be sustainable, as  some during the question period brought up the issue of community heroes, programing and funding.  Dr. Hirsch Greenberg, who was in attendance and participated in the first creative conversations meeting, felt Ms. Badham in particular had it right.  He spoke about leading from behind, providing the resources for cultural engagement but not directing where it should go, leave the culture to communities.

The discussion returned to Dr. Marsh’s IMP labs and her class work at Scott Collegiate regarding funding, programing and sustainability.  The question was what happens to the IMP program once Dr. Marsh leaves?  It was a common refrain from presenters and audience members alike that evening that most programing is small and funding difficult to come by.  This leads to programs being championed, created and then lost once champions move on or when governments/organizations change funding.  Dr. Greenberg specifically gave credit to Ms. Badham for her work with the Peacekeepers because it introduces concepts to students who then can take them on within their context.  If the Peacekeepers is discontinued, the hope is that you’ll still have young people aware of the roles they can play in shaping their identity and the identity of their spaces.  In the best case, such engagement eventually provides third spaces/places in the community where people meet to pursue activities.  The IMP labs (see the post below) are currently an emerging third space for Regina’s music community. The goal is, with the knowledge gained at IMP lab lessons even if that space was lost, other spaces would emerge in its place.

The two pieces I take out this part of the discussion are third spaces and capacity building.  Right now there is a great deal of talk about plurality and community building/living as a near future paradigm.  The world of accumulation and isolation in auto-suburbs, associated with late 20th century western culture, is much maligned these days.  The above two points resonate with me because I feel they are important, necessary and possible now in Regina.  Even if the revolution doesn’t come, at times Regina seems like it will be the last bastion of the growth paradigm, Regina residents need people with knowledge in arts and crafts and places for them to meet.

I’ll give an example of probably my favourite third place in Regina, the Regina Public Library theater.  I love that place.  I don’t go every week, but I’m certainly there a few times each month.  More than just a space to see movies, for me its a place: where I have a  favourite seat, with memories, symbols and spots.

I’ve often thought about what would happen if it closed.  Renting movies isn’t something I often do, I like going to the theatre.  Where would local, Canadian, international and art movies play?  In the past there have been individual champions who’d bring in films, university professors for example, the Education Auditorium also used to screen old cheep movies in the days before VHS.  In the 90s the Royal Saskatchewan Museum had a retro series for a few years.  So there is a history (a current and past desire for public screening of films), there are venues (infrastructure) and because of groups like the Uof R film and media department and the filmpool there is capacity.  This capacity comes from knowledge of distribution systems, projector operation, film history, production etc…

In this way, I feel confident that while the RPL is likely secure with current plans for the new library containing a new theatre, a loss of a specific space with the capacity of this community would be replaced by another.  This new space would likely have many of the same people, and provide many of the same experiences.

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More creative conversations

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