4elements Living Arts celebrates 15 years with book launch

‘Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements, a history of 4elements Living Arts and its programs with engagements for educators and community members explores the innovative work conducted by 4elements Living Arts over the last decade and a half in a work that will prove invaluable to lands-based arts organizations working in both urban and rural settings.

KAGAWONG—Time flies when you are making art. For Kagawong-based 4elements Living Arts the past 15 years have been a bustling hive of artistic activity that has seen over $1.5 million in funding come to Manitoulin Island to support arts and cultural programming in local communities. The land-based arts organization launched the first of two publications recently with ‘Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements, a history of 4elements Living Arts and its programs with engagements for educators and community members.’

Sophie Edwards, executive director of 4elements, is the lead author of the publication, with long time director Heather Thoma contributing.

“This book focusses on the 15 years we have been working on community arts projects and serves as a resource for community organizations both on- and off-Island,” noted Ms. Edwards.

The book is packed with photos and descriptions of the lands-based arts programs and projects that have been the hallmark of 4elements Living Arts over the past decade and a half. The idea for the book came about as the organization reflected on its accomplishments.

“We realized that we had done all this amazing stuff, but the information and knowledge, the corporate memory, was all locked up in our heads,” said Ms. Edwards. “We thought it would be a good idea to get it out and onto paper where it could do other arts educators and community arts facilitators some good.”

Working in an arts organization in a small rural setting brings with it a lot of unique challenges in a very challenging field. “Urban arts organizations face a lot of challenges, but they also have access to a lot of funding opportunities, foundations and granting programs that are not as accessible to rural organizations such as ours,” noted Ms. Edwards, pointing to Sudbury’s Myth and Mirrors that receives some municipal funding and Toronto’s Jumblies Theatre that has its own foundation to help provide support.

Despite the challenges faced by 4elements Living Arts, it has punched high above its weight to the benefit of the Island, in many different ways.

“When we started out, a lot of people didn’t understand what land-based art was,” said Ms. Edwards. “I think a lot of people now have a pretty good idea.”

“For more than a decade 4elements Living Arts has been a leader in culture development on Manitoulin Island and is one of the few organizations whose activities link communities with one another,” said Dr. Gayle Broad, director of research at the Nordik Institute, whose organization worked with 4elements.

“4e has been an active and positive cultural force in our community and in Manitoulin Island since its inception many years ago,” said Billings Councillor Barb Erskine in one testimonial contained in the book. “Kagawong has benefited tremendously from the arts and culture profile that comes with the close affiliation between our community and this organization. We are very fortunate that 4e can call Kagawong home.”

A survey of elementary school students conducted before and after they took part in the 4elements’s River School summer program, an innovative meld of science and art, showed a 50 percent increase in engagement with the Kagawong River and its ecology. “That kind of engagement increase has huge implications for stewardship,” noted Ms. Edwards.

A second book is due to be published sometime in December and will focus more on early land-based learning, aimed towards providing a resource for childhood educators, early childhood educators and teachers of art at an early age. “It will be for those working with the three- to six-year-old set,” said Ms. Edwards.

Among the marks that 4elements Living Arts has a legacy on the landscape of Manitoulin Island is a permanent art collection that has been installed along the Kagawong River, including unique carved boulders created by Anishinaabe artist Michael Belmore.

‘Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements, a history of 4elements Living Arts and its programs with engagements for educators and community members’ is available at the Little Current offices of The Expositor and retails for $35.