What happens when you take a traditional community consultation, part of a Township sustainability planning process, and think like an artist? You spend a lot of time with folks, ask them what they love to do now, what kinds of things used to happen in the community, what they care about, how they like to spend time together… then you do those things.
We found out that the heart of the community is the active, community-mindedness of the residents. Instead of always sitting in formal meetings, we organized a bonfire, stargazing and storytelling night at which residents were invited to share “How they had come to be in Billings” which taught us about what is meaningful here, what attracts and keeps people in this community. We took a walk on the river and made land art that spoke about the river and our relationships to it which communicated the value of the riverscape as a recreational, tourist and ecological aspects . We went to the popular history nights and listened to, and filmed, stories being told. We facilitated a story mapping to find out how buildings, and places had changes over time. We hit the craft market and gathered more stories for the mapping. We invited community members to share photographs and artwork about the community and the history, and mounted a community exhibition. A winter afternoon of shared walking, talking, and artmaking brought out the winding patterns of nature, landscape, and community relationship.
Participants of all ages gathering at the community beach were invited to draw their favorite places in the township, or what they like about living here. Vision sessions, with multiple groups, using drawing helped people articulate their needs and hopes for the community. A culminating exhibition with local musicians, and a project catalogue celebrated the project and the vision of the community.
The Art of Being Billings offered creative approaches to build a community’s vision of their future, and in a place with lots of well-known historical lore, this project highlighted resident’s stories from the past, including many that had not yet been told. Many smaller stories, images, and photographs were revealed, that weaved through and between the larger ones.
We engaged participants from 5 to 85 in a range of place-based activities in different locations in all four seasons, re-enlivened community histories, built new relationships, and sparked new ideas about people’s connection to their places in Billings Township.
Participants came up with the project name – the Art of Being Billings (ABB) – to reflect both the methods of the project, but also how they felt about the community. In addition to the more typical economic development ideas that emerged, the arts and history were priorities articulated by residents.
Supported by funding from the Ontario Arts Council, The Art of Being Billings project spanned twelve months, from August 2012 to August 2013. Facilitated and coordinated by 4elements Living Arts the project was offered in partnership with La Cloche and Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC), and the Billings Township.