Debajehmujig, SPARC partner to host October arts symposium

MANITOWANING – Debajehmujig Creation Centre in Manitowaning is helping to co-ordinate a hybrid mini-symposium series on October 24 to bring together visual and performing artists from nine locations across Ontario to discuss the roles of the arts in reconciliation and fostering relationships across cultures.

“I presented to the company the possibility of hosting one of these mini-symposiums and everybody thought it was a great idea right away, because this is exactly the sort of thing we do for arts organizations that are touring through this area,” said Jason Manitowabi, audio and music department lead at Debaj, who also serves as the Northern development co-ordinator for Supporting Performing Arts in Rural and Remote Centres (SPARC).

SPARC is an Ontario-based performing arts advocacy group that formed after an inaugural 2014 symposium in Haliburton.

“We started by talking about how we can work together to support the arts in smaller communities, rather than in silos,” said Rachel Marks, SPARC network co-ordinator.

After the first gathering, the group officially joined together and has hosted spring symposia every two years. The events are opportunities for artists and supporters to meet and discuss meaningful issues, network and collaborate.

SPARC had planned its 2020 event to take place in Six Nations of the Grand River with an agenda aimed at discussing reconciliation and connections between peoples, and how artistic endeavours might help to achieve these ends.

COVID-19 delayed the symposium from May to October but the persistent pandemic led to a rethink of the event’s model.

After some deliberation, they tapped Mr. Manitowabi and Debaj to host a small virtual symposium alongside eight other communities in the province. Debaj would host the main keynote speakers for the event before a small, live audience (up to 20 people) and their crew would live-stream the talks to the other eight community gatherings, as well as to people watching at home. 

“It made sense to include Debajehmujig Creation Centre as one of the hubs for this mini-symposium; we have an experienced team and artists across many disciplines that we could showcase and use to cover everything we needed,” said Mr. Manitowabi.

Debaj’s involvement also spoke to the arts and reconciliation theme because of its place as an Indigenous-led organization helping to foster dialogue and take action on reconciliation.

Some desired themes in the call for presenters included cultural appropriation versus appreciation, Indigenous cultural competency, production and technical direction in remote communities, tourism and the arts and connection in a digital age.

Those who buy tickets will be able to ask questions and participate with the speakers, as well as enjoy live performances from local artists at each gathering. Debaj plans to stream its local artists’ work for those who cannot attend an in-person session.

The afternoon will feature La Maison de la culture francophone du Niagara to speak to the Francophone component of SPARC’s mandate.

Tickets to an in-person session at one of the nine locations include refreshments and a lunch. Seven communities have committed to host thus far; SPARC still seeks hosts for eastern and western Ontario.

“It’s for anybody who’s community minded, anybody interested in theatre, music, dance or film, anybody who wants to support the future of their community and performing artists,” said Ms. Marks.

The introduction of this virtual offering also spoke to Debaj’s vision for its future development, said Mr. Manitowabi.

“We’ve been talking for a couple of years about making a whole digital virtual platform available because theatre, audiences and the way the world works are changing and everything has to evolve,” he said, adding that the Debaj music festival in particular has benefited from the virtual shift.

“We’re fortunate to be in the position we are (with virtual services) and we want to provide that same support for other Northern communities and be a hub, a resource,” said Mr. Manitowabi.

Past symposia have drawn as many as 140 guests; if each of the nine communities can attract between 16 and 20 attendees to their mini-symposium then this year will beat past records.

Tickets to attend in-person cost $15 and details of the event are available on the SPARC website, SPARCPerformingArts.com.