In 2010, Culture Days launched as a National Arts Festival with large aspirations.
In its first year the first annual Culture Days event was held in September 2010 in over 700 Canadian cities and towns, over 4,500 free hands-on, participatory activities and events attracted millions of Canadians to celebrate and become more familiar with the incredible diversity and creativity of artists and cultural groups in their communities.
In the current political context it is important for the arts and cultural community to not be silent and wait for change. We cannot afford to be only reactive but need to make an effort for better communication and relationships, not only with elected officials and bureaucrats, but with each other and, most importantly, with our communities. We need to build communities again.
We need to embrace arts and culture in all its diversity, including cultural diversity, First Nations, popular culture (is there such a thing anymore?), and yes (gasp), amateurs (those that practice out of love – “amour” is the root of “amateur”).
There is a wider public understanding, when we see a professional hockey-player (or other elite athlete) of what it takes to “get there”. Is the same true of accomplished artists.? Musicians may have an advantage here. But for the most part there is not a comparable public infrastructure that provides access to arts and culture for citizens who want to engage at multiple levels. Even public education, which once provided quality access to the arts, has now been stripped of substantive resources to provide art education to our children. In the end we cannot choose what we don’t know and I fear that more and more Canadians are systematically excluded from their own community’s multiple arts and culture. So what can we do?
One action to take is communicating well and establishing relationships outside our comfortable echo chambers. The perception of elitism must be faced head-on and we must make efforts to develop sincere relationships; and we have a role in public education and access. Get to know your councilors, MLAs and MPs; invite them to engage with your organizations and the communities you serve. Treat others as you would wish to be treated – with respect, patience, and compassion.
We need to know and understand our communities – what resonates with them? What messages and communications will welcome them to engage; do they know you even exist?
One opportunity that provides the marketing and promotions infrastructure to facilitate community engagement and broad cultural participation is Culture Days. This year the dates are September 30-October 2. You don’t have to think up a three-day-long event it can be a couple of hours during that weekend. Think about what you are already doing, think about non-conventional spaces in your communities, partnerships, collaborations, interactive and free access. Open rehearsals, artists’ talks, tours, art in public spaces, house exhibitions and performances, kitchen and garden parties, culinary arts, social media and on-line expressions… the list is potentially endless. Register your event at Culturedays.ca.
This is a pro-active way to engage with your community and to be part of a national initiative that promises to grow in scale and significance in the future.
Amir Ali Alibhai