Creating, producing or presenting the arts in rural settings comes with unique challenges, opportunities and considerations.
Island Mountain Arts (IMA), the Wells-based not-for-profit arts organization that has been providing arts education and experiences in the Cariboo since 1977 and produces the ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art, has been experiencing this for more than 40 years, and has created an opportunity for people working in the rural arts and culture sector to come together and learn about and share these opportunities and challenges through the Northern Exposure Conference.
IMA hosted the fourth annual Northern Exposure Conference Oct. 18-21 in Wells and Barkerville. The conference aims to explore the reality of creating, producing and presenting the arts in rural settings and strengthen the rural arts and culture sector. The conference is organized to encourage information sharing and help create a solid foundation for the development of a strong network amongst arts organizers and festival directors.
This year, the conference covered topics such as the economic impact arts has on our rural communities, resource development and funding programs, education and skill building for “creating safe space,” emergency planning, as well as reconciliation.
In addition to workshops, round tables and networking, the conference includes artist showcases to provide exposure to local, regional and provincial acts. This year’s event also featured the premiere of Breastless, a one-woman show by Emma Jarrett, which was developed as part of the Sunset Theatre Exploration Series.
For the second year, the conference was facilitated by Kelly Poirier of White Raven Consulting, along with her co-facilitator, Nene Kraneveldt.
“They’re kind of masters at hosting and getting people engaged in the conversations they need to have, and they had some ways for people to really connect with one another,” says IMA executive and artistic director Julie Fowler. “The first moment, we sat in a circle together. It’s artists, arts organizers, arts councils, funders, and everyone was on equal footing – it didn’t matter who you were. It was interesting, the facilitator asked you ‘what time is it in your life right now?’ People went around the circle and said their name and answered the question, this really personal question. I thought, ‘I wish everyone said where they are from and what they do,’ but it was interesting it unfolded that way. It really got things off to a pretty intimate sharing and created a safe space for sharing.”
Creating “safe spaces” was one of the themes of this year’s conference, and Fowler found the facilitators worked that theme right into how they facilitated the various sessions.
Fowler says she’s glad they hosted the conference again this year.
“It’s funny, sometimes since the festival and summer is so busy for us, putting on another big activity seems a bit daunting, but it was really fulfilling for myself as an organizer, and definitely, from the feedback we’ve been receiving, it was very valuable for people who attended,” she says.
Fowler believes one of the big benefits of the conference is a chance to meet people who are working in the arts face-to-face and share ideas.
“We all work so hard and are isolated in our rural pockets and rarely get a chance to talk to people who do what we do,” she says. “It re-invigorated me for sure, seeing all these people in Wells and appreciating it. It re-affirmed how valuable it is to meet in person. We have all these tools to meet digitally, but some of the most valuable conversations happen after the sessions or in the pubs or watching the music. That’s where Wells really facilitates it because everyone is there together.”
Sixty-five people participated in the Northern Exposure Conference. Participants included artists; creative entrepreneurs, such as record label owners and sound studio owners; festival organizers; representatives from arts councils; and funders. There were representatives from the BC Arts Council, Creative BC, Arts BC, and the BC Touring Council.
“It was a really neat mix of people,” says Fowler. “And people came from quite big distances. It was amazing the lengths people travelled, and that’s why I wanted to make sure it was valuable for everybody. It feels good that people got a lot out of it.”
People came from Salt Spring Island, Bella Coola, the Bulkley Valley Folk Music Society in Smithers, Ymir, Fort St. John and Terrace.
Fowler was happy to see a lot of local participants as well.
“We had a great contingent from Quesnel, from Quesnel Live Arts and the Quesnel and District Community Arts Council,” she says. “Then, of course, our local arts organizations. The Sunset Theatre was a partner with us and was the main venue where the music happened.”
Canada Heritage has been a funding partner since the beginning for the Northern Exposure Conference, and this year, Creative BC joined as a funder of the conference.
This year’s conference was unique because the daytime sessions took place in Barkerville, and Fowler is very happy with how that turned out.
“Usually, I would use the Wells Community Hall and do activities there, but I hadn’t thought it would be election weekend, and that is the polling station,” says Fowler. “It actually worked out really well because Barkerville has been building their conference facilities, which includes catering, which we were really happy about. It was nice to work with Barkerville.”
After taking part in sessions and enjoying catered breakfast and lunch in Barkerville, participants returned to Wells for the evenings to take in the musical showcases at the Sunset Theatre and eat at establishments such as the Pooley Street Café, Jack O Clubs and Northwoods Inn Restaurant.