Project gathering insight from Northern Ontario artists

·3 min read

For Timmins filmmaker Zach Cassidy, the arts can go a long way in bringing the community together.

Cassidy, who owns Casa di Media Productions, was one of the few people from Timmins who participated in a community-based project launched by Indigenous Culture and Media Innovation (ICMI) and The Media Arts Network of Ontario (MANO).

For the project, advisors and facilitators across Northern Ontario were hired to carry out conversations in their communities and discuss their experience of being involved with the media arts.

Media arts can include projects delivered through video, audio, radio, internet, virtual reality and interactive media.

“We’re curious how are people telling their stories and how they’re controlling the production of the arts in the north,” said Sophie Edwards, project co-ordinator. “We’re trying to find out what the experience is and what kind of solutions and strategies might exist to build a stronger ecosystem for media arts in the north.”

The project is funded by Canada Council for the Arts.

Each facilitator decides how to conduct research and conversations in their communities. Together with the participants, they will then decide what information to share with MANO and ICMI.

Participants and facilitators are also paid $35 per hour.

No one from Timmins has applied to facilitate a conversation circle, although it’s not yet late to join, Edwards said. ICMI is also hosting Indigenous-only discussions.

Some of the most common challenges brought up by participants during conversations included limited access to sound or video equipment, lack of physical space and lack of funding for ad hoc groups, Edwards said.

Cassidy said Timmins has a great community of artists but there's a lack of physical spaces where people can gather to celebrate art or to make art together.

“As we come out of the pandemic and are able to congregate again ... congregation of people in public spaces could help drive the arts community through film screenings, art gallery shows, concerts," he said.

He said when the Black Spruce Gallery and Framing owned by Katelyn Malo closed down, the Timmins community “suffered” without having an arts building.

“I think the arts are so important especially in a community like Timmins where we have such long winter, where people are looking for human connection," he said. "The arts can go a long way to help bring the community together.”

Northern Ontario's expansive area also limits artists from renting the equipment, Cassidy said. He said he had to buy the equipment and it’s taken him years to develop an inventory of enough tools to do his job.

“Space is limiting, so it’s all the more important we have the physical space for people to congregate or feel a part of the arts community,” he said. “Maybe there are other artists that might want to collaborate because (Northern Ontario) is such a huge area, but how else do get in touch or find out about them?”

Once the community conversations wrap up, draft reports will go out to all the participants for review, Edwards said. Then, a final report with the findings will be sent back to the funders, all the participants, communities and organizations across the north.

It will be up to the communities and organizations to decide which strategies from the report they want to pick up and run with, she said.

Artists interested in talking about their experiences or in facilitating a conversation circle can contact Sophie Edwards at sophie@mano-ramo.ca.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com