Over 15 years, 4elements Living Arts, primarily through Sophie, has worked in multiple ways to support and develop the arts and culture sector in Northern Ontario, and in Manitoulin-LaCloche. It was clear to 4e that the capacity to provide and sustain quality arts programs that support cultural, social, community and economic development, requires sustainability for the organizations to do this work on the ground.
Over the years, 4e has helped to build the conversation about the arts, and communicated the needs of the sector, advocating to agencies, funders, local communities and helping to build the profile and capacity of organizations.
While public funding has provided numerous and generous grants to support 4elements’ community projects, there are few funders that support the administrative or ‘core’ funding to organizations; and funding decisions are often made by juries and board from urban and southern contexts. Different ways of working, distances between communities, providing programs at low (or no) cost to the public, the financial realities of small towns, smaller populations with fewer sponsors, and arts and culture champions without budgets to put toward projects all contribute to the challenges of sustaining rural arts organizations. The process of building understanding about how the arts connect to all aspects of community life in rural locations is an important task underlying all the public workshops and projects. Educating and advocating with funders, policy-makers and our regional business development leaders has been a significant, ongoing, and often unseen task, but is important work that helps to maintain the presence of northern cultural arts work and workers.
The following are some of the initiatives which 4elements has spearheaded or participated in to help strengthen the cultural sector.
Conferences, conversations, committees, juries 4e consistently participates in local, regional and provincial conversations about the cultural sector, and makes presentations about the needs of the sector, including several NORDIK’s symposiums, the Dream Big conference, the Ministry of Culture strategic planning process, regional and sectoral discussions at Ontario Arts Council conferences, and with local organizations like LAMBAC. 4e’s E.D. has participated in a number of Ontario Arts Council and local exhibition juries, and represented 4e on a number of committees including D.A.V.E. (Development, Advocacy, Volunteerism, Environment – Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands); Economic Development Committee, and the Go Green Committee (Township of Billings).
Ontario Craft Council CraftSmart Workshops 4elements hosted a weekend seminar and networking opportunity for craft artists from communities around Manitoulin to develop business ideas and planning. Participants shared their own work and learned from local specialists and existing craft collectives in First Nations and non-native communities in northern Ontario. Supported by OCC, NORDIK, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
NORDIK (Northern Ontario Research Development Innovation and Knowledge), SSM 4e collaborated with NORDIK on several sector development project applications; presented and hosted the CraftSmart workshop series; delivered presentations about the cultural sector at NORDIK symposia; and participated as a committee member in the Social Enterprise Evolution regional development project. 4e and NORDIK work together to build networks and connections between arts organizations, cultural workers, and social enterprise organizations.
Algoma University, Community Economic and Social Development Program Sophie Edwards has provided workshops and led full lenght courses for the program, integrating cultural and arts elements into the course design and student work, and teaching about the organizations and needs of the sector.
Northeastern Ontario Regional strategies for Arts Education The Ontario Arts Council invited and supported 4elements to organize and facilitate a regional discussion between community arts organizations to build a regional strategy for arts education. Over a year, 4e facilitated conversations and worked with organizations to discuss issues, and develop a series of strategies. The goal was to strengthen the work of northern arts education in ways that best serve the programming offered in rural communities and northern cities, and to support and build the profile of, and opportunities for northern educators. Fifteen representatives from organizations, school boards, and independent artists from North Bay, Sudbury, SSM, Blind River, and Manitoulin participated in the retreats and strategic discussions. A survey to organizations, boards and independent artists was analysed for issues, needs and other date; a FaceBook arts educator community page was launched; and a comprehensive strategy report was presented to the Ontario Arts Council.
Manitoulin Arts and Cultural Council 4elements assisted with the visioning and development of this Island-wide network with a goal of building cohesion between the diverse arts and culture organizations and initiatives and independent artists, strengthening the contribution of arts and culture to communities on Manitoulin, and benefitting local residents and tourists alike.
Collaborations with Lacloche Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC) 4elements worked for many years in collaboration with LAMBAC’s General Manager (Mary Nelder, now retired from LAMBAC) to envision and strengthen the links between arts and cultural approaches and business development. 4e proposed the Arts Loan, now offered by LAMBAC, and worked with Mary Nelder to advocate for a regional arts investment fund. 4e participated in two 5-year strategic planning sessions, supported the development of the Cultural Symposium, and was an active member in the founding of the Manitoulin Arts and Cultural Council.
Mentorship to artists, cultural workers, and arts organizations Sophie has consistently offered support and guidance to developing arts initiatives and organizations throughout the region, including the Manitoulin Fine Arts Association, Espanola Fibre Arts Festival, Thinking Rock Community Arts, along with a number of other informal committees and projects throughout the region. She has supported a number of Interns and placement students to build their capacity as cultural workers, arts educators, and organizers, and supported many local artists to build their practices, learn about funding opportunities and grant-writing, and gain exhibition experience through 4e. She and 4e have been tireless advocates for fair wages for cultural workers, and are committed to creating work for local cultural workers.
Resilience Roster 4e collaborated with LAMBAC and Work in Culture (BizSmarts) to offer a series of training sessions to support business skills for arts and culture professionals on Manitoulin. Specialists from Manitoulin and around the province shared their knowledge, and artists built networks for shared skills development. Topics included: grant writing, sustainable business strategies, social media engagement, marketing and promotions, pricing art work, excel for arts-based businesses, and fundraising.
Dusk Dances, Regional development meetings 4e supported the work of Dusk Dances to create a regional presentation network. The company, based in Toronto, brings high quality contemporary and traditional dance performances to outdoor venues in public parks and other accessible locations in communities around Ontario, and works in partnership with local groups. 4elements hosted a planning meeting for discussions, and attended several meetings around the province to discuss the creation of an independent but related organization, to build the capacity to offer regional dance events in towns and smaller cities on a regular basis.
Arts Education Training Workshops Through funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, 4e has developed and provides multi-day training for artists and art educators to build capacity to work with place-based and ecological approaches to arts education. Sessions allow educators to participate in a series of facilitated workshops and discussions, and then to design and deliver a pilot workshop for local children, adults and seniors. A series of workshops for teachers and educators has been delivered around the province. These workshops provide credit in 4e’s Institute certificate.
4e Institute for Land Art Studies The Institute comprises a series of courses coupled with on-the-ground mentorship and experience that provide participants with a certificate in Land Art Studies upon completion. The courses provide both the theoretical and practical elements of land-based processes and practices with a focus on community arts, in school programs, land-base curatorial practices, and art-making. The short and long courses are offered around the province, and the practicum onsite with 4e.
Networking and mutual support Over the years, collaboration, co-learning, inter-promotion, and resource-sharing between cultural organizations has helped build networks, provide mutual support and build regional relationships. The organizations include Debajehmujig Storytellers, Myths and Mirrors Community Arts (Sudbury), Thinking Rock Community Arts (SSM), Manitoulin Fine Arts Association, and a number of independent professional and emerging artists.