Local artists have mixed feelings about the hands-on workshops, performances, presentations and outdoor excursions being presented across the province this week as part of Canada-wide Culture Days celebrations.
Culture Days, inspired by the success experienced by a similar event in Quebec which has been ongoing since 1997, is a collaborative effort to raise awareness, accessibility and participation in arts and culture in individual communities. Artists and organizations in every province have volunteered to host free, family-friendly activities, all weekend long.
“The idea was to co-ordinate a pan-Canadian celebration of local arts and culture simultaneously that provided the public with a unique opportunity to experience the inner workings of the creative and cultural world, giving people a chance to better understand how creators do what they do and give it a try themselves,” said David Moss, Culture Days national project director.
The idea is to celebrate local culture, not necessarily Canadian culture, Moss said.
“The focus of Culture Days is not what’s happening across the city, province or country; it’s about what’s happening in your community, neighbourhood or down the street,” he explained. “Culture Days gives people a chance to discover more abut what artists and organizations near them do and to celebrate how these artists and organizations contribute to the quality of life where they live.”
While some local artists acknowledge the importance of something like Culture Days, they don’t agree with the volunteer aspect of it. St. John’s musician Colleen Power said it’s hard enough to make a living as an artist — asking artists to work for free, even for one weekend, is unacceptable.
“I posted that on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, and someone commented, saying, ‘Why don’t we have free legal advice days or free plumbing days or free manual labour days for people who want to go in and find out how to fix their plumbing or their bathtubs?’ I thought that was a great point,” Power said.
“People are getting free advice and free hands-on training for certain arts that people have worked long and hard to refine and try to make a career out of. An artist doesn’t have a retirement plan. They don’t have health benefits or anything. I think that artists have been exploited for long enough, and I think it just sends a bad message to the general public.”
Jackie Hynes is outreach manager for the St. John’s International Women’s Festival, which is partnering with the Resource Centre for the Arts to present “Hootenanny at the Hall,” an afternoon of musical acts, a barbecue, and a series of award-winning short film screenings at the LSPU Hall on Saturday.
“I don’t think Culture Days is about asking artists to work for free. It’s about awareness and accessibility,” Hynes said, noting the film festival is paying Canadian filmmakers screening fees, so they are compensated for multiple screenings of their films. “I think the distaste around Culture Days is an extension of a larger issue of how we generally undervalue the work of artists (and) tradespeople in the arts. If attacking Culture Days actually helps that cause, then go for it. You get my vote. But it’s not Culture Days that’s the problem and we all know that. Should artists be paid for the work we do? Obviously yes. Otherwise, it’s important to come out and support the artists who have willingly volunteered their time to the community.”
Moss said raising the profile of artists and arts organizations, developing increased public participation and engagement in arts and culture, is one of the event’s goals.
“The benefit of doing this on this scale and in an inclusive and open way that does not judge what is or isn’t arts or culture breaks down the barriers between big and small organizations, professional or amateur practitioners, big cities and small towns and arts and cultural lovers, bringing it all together with a unifying spirit,” he said.
Last year’s Culture Days saw 4,500 activities taking place in 700 Canadian communities; this year there are more than 5,500 being offered in 800 towns and cities.
Dozens of events have been planned for this province — from a production of David French’s “Saltwater Moon” in Bay Roberts, which proved a popular event last year, and a “Land and Sea” video marathon in Grand Bank to geocaching and sampling of traditional Labrador foods — for the next couple of days.
Dale Jarvis, storyteller and intangible cultural heritage officer with the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, is hosting a unique event at the Newman Wine Vaults: a “tweetup.”
“It’s an event for people who are using Twitter in some way to come and meet face to face, to find the people behind the 140 characters,” Jarvis explained.
“As part of that, I’m facilitating a little panel with three people talking about social media and arts and culture. Even if people aren’t on Twitter, they can come and hear people talk about what’s happening and how people are using social media.”
Social media is proving a useful tool when it comes to arts and culture, Jarvis said.
“It’s one way of building a community with people and it’s certainly a great advertising tool. More importantly, I think it lets people comment on what’s happening and provides a commentary on arts and culture locally and internationally.”