Friday 25 October 2013

AKA at The Georgetown Conference

On October 3rd-5th, Alliance of Kings Artists' Administrator was a delegate at The Georgetown Conference in PEI. This conference endeavoured to harness the spirit that exists in rural communities and arm local leaders with ideas that they can transfer to their own communities. You can learn more about the conference here.

The Advertiser has closely followed The Georgetown Conference and its delegates from the Annapolis Valley, and held a follow-up discussion on October 24th so delegates could share their experiences and how they would like to move forward. There was a lot of passion and enthusiasm in the room, and the discussions centred around positive solutions and innovative ideas for community building. AKA's Administrator, Genevieve Allen Hearn, shared some of her insights from the conference related to arts and culture. This was her statement:

What I learned at the Georgetown Conference

I attended the conference representing AKA, so I had my antenna up for any mention of arts and culture throughout the duration of the conference.

I came across many examples of people doing interesting things in the cultural sector in rural communities across Atlantic Canada.

A few I’d like to share with you are….

Small Halls festival – a music festival in PEI that utilizes all of the small venues across the province, including churches, community halls, small theatres, and cafes. The festival features both established and emerging musicians, and has gained global recognition – now other countries are catching on, and organizing their own small halls festivals, using PEI’s model as a touchstone.

Rising Tides Theatre – a small theatre that has put Bona Vista on the map as a cultural destination. It’s considered a major force in the community.

Artists on Main Street – an artist cooperative that pooled together funds and created a shared gallery space on the town’s Main Street in Montaque PEI. They also organize visual arts events throughout the year.

Kings Playhouse – the venue of the conference was inspirational. The town of 700 people came together when the playhouse burnt down in the early 80s to make sure it got built again. It’s considered an important part of the small community, and is largely what contributed to Georgetown getting the number 1 designation as Maritime’s Cultureville.

What I found even more interesting, however, was the fact that almost every presenter – from the public realm, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector, mentioned the importance of arts and culture in making liveable, healthy, and vibrant communities. Every sector recognized the importance of honoring the unique heritage of our communities, and many presenters alluded to culture being the heartbeat of communities and an economic driver.

My favorite presnter was Zita Cobbs, who developed the Fogo Island Inn, which is a luxury inn that ‘looks to the future, while building on the past’. One thing she said stuck with me, and that was ‘what makes communities worth visiting isn’t their specialness, but rather their specificity’. She talked about finding what you have of value in your community that no other community has (such as the seven seasons of Fogo island) and making it work for you.

I think that Kings County is starting to do this, but there is much more work to be done, particularly in the cultural sector. When I was working on the Cultural Mapping project in Kings County, there were many people that immediately saw the value in cultural development, but I was amazed at how many people, especially those in powerful positions (read: where the money is), did not see culture as a viable or lucrative industry. If you ask me, culture IS Kings County’s industry. The farmers markets, fair trade cafes, open mics, community theatre, performing arts series, wineries, world class cuisine, Slow Food Film Festival, Deep Roots Music Festival, Apple Blossom festival, pumpkin people, ghost walks, galleries, studios, Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, Acadia University, heritage trails and museums, Grand Pre UNESCO site – this is what we have to offer to the world.

My goal, moving forward, is to encourage Kings County to develop a cultural strategy that supports innovative thinking and creative community development. This needs to involve the municipalities, the schools, the cultural organizations and facilities, and the arts council. I will take inspiration from those small towns that think big. If Georgetown, a town of 700 people, can support a 300 seat world-class theatre, then surely Kings County can make steps towards becoming a world-class cultural destination.

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