Shared Voice and an Empowered Arts & Culture Community: Reflections on Arts Ecology Salon #4

The diversity and creativity in the Arts & Culture community always amazes me. Unique and specialized skills combine with visionary ideas of what hasn’t yet been “done” and new spins on old favourites for stories we just can’t get enough of. Personally, I have participated in musical performances from opera to community choir, staged theatre as actor and props master, and community events from Brantford Pride to “The Place,” a teen drop in centre supported by the Town of Paris. What else allows you to thrive in such a diversity of experiences? Arts & Culture is a diverse sector that operates through many different models, how can we possibly find a shared voice that works for everyone?

Finding our Shared Voice

Artists engaged in a roundtable seeking our shared voice in Brantford/Brant – photo courtesy of Sandlyn Publishing & Media
Artists engaged in a roundtable seeking our shared voice in Brantford/Brant – photo courtesy of Sandlyn Publishing & Media

To put it succinctly – its not easy. I very much value experiences because they allow me to contextualize how Arts & Culture has been a force to navigate these tricky waters. I have lost count of the number of times I have been frustrated by the problems of inadequate resources and the lack to change the situation. I believe the only way I can affect change is to be at the table where these discussions are happening, share my experiences, and listen to the experience of others so that we can find a better way forward. The best tool I have found is dialogue.

OMA Councillors meet with the Hon. Eleanor McMahon, Dec 2017
OMA Councillors meet with the Hon. Eleanor McMahon, Minister of Culture, Tourism, & Sport for the Province of Ontario for an additional $5 million to support Community Museums across Ontario.

In 2016, I was nominated to be a Councillor for the Ontario Museums Association. I could better understand how things worked for my institution as a not-for-profit and could propose something that might potentially work better. Through community-based dialogue, we can learn how to make better decisions that include everyone for a vibrant Arts & Culture Community. Personally, I am part of a initiative to foster that dialogue through the Regional Museum Network. Our goal is to enhance communication in the Art & Culture Sector across the province creating our shared voice and vision for the future. Much like Arts Ecology of Brantford/Brant, we are looking to bring our community together with a bold new vision for the future.

An Embolded Vision for Art & Culture in Brantford/Brant

Some would agrue that The Simpsons is one of the greatest television shows ever produced. In one of the most memorable episodes from the show’s earliest seasons, Bart plays a prank on the town of Springfield by pretending he is a boy a boy named ‘Timmy’ that is trapped down a well. The story may not seem familiar to us, now, but it may have been based on some local history in Brant. On 24 June in 1902 – just off of German School Road down from Braeside Bible Camp – a man named Joshua Sanford was lowered to the bottom of an 87-foot well. When he hit the bottom, the well started collapsing in around him; but, miraculously, the stones had wedged in a supportive arch keeping him unharmed.

Joshua Sanford, Brant county resident, falls down a well and miraculously survives; his story enthrals the community and becomes local legend.

As decribed in At the Forks of the Grand , “For a week the interest of North America was focussed upon our town. And except for the main events, no two newspaper-accounts tell the same story” (265-268). In 1948, Phil Hartman was born in Brantford before moving to the United States 10 year later to pursue a career in television. Little is known about his early years in Brantford although his relationship with the community would continue to shape his life. In 1991, he started writing for The Simpsons and, on 2 January, 1992, the episode where “Timmy” falls down the well was aired. With many of the elements of the story line mimicking the Sanford incident, is it possible that Hartman learned this story during his time in Brantford and had the creativity and innovation to bring back the story in a new way?

At Arts Ecology Salon #4, I talked about the resiliency that I believe is still in Brantford’s Arts & Culture Community. There are many others in addition to Phil Hartman, both past and present; for example: Canadian writer June Callwood attended Brantford Collegiate Institute and began her journalism career as editor of the school paper; E. Pauline Johnson dazzled audiences around the world with poetic performances about her indigenous heritage; Thomas B. Costain wrote numerous novels that were later adapted into major works of film; Linda Schulyer, from Paris, was the creator of the, now iconic, Degrassi High series. Brantford has always been able to produce Arts & Culture icons that influence us on a national and international level. What I also want to implore our community to do is to continue to develop our shared voice in order to (re-)recognize the inherent greatness of our Arts & Culture industry. Because, I believe, that the next great Arts & Culture icon is being moulded right now.