Ottawa is, by area, the largest big city in Canada, by far. Our citizens live in neighbourhoods that are spread over 2,778 square kilometres from Cumberland and Orléans in the east to West Carleton in the far west. By the mere fact of the map then, Ottawa’s culture also lives in many different communities. It’s not all downtown.
That is the basic understanding behind a grassroots Canada 150 project undertaken by the AOE Arts Council in this sesquicentennial year.
Neighbourhood Arts 150 connected 12 artists and arts groups with up to 50 community partners together with neighbourhoods across town. In all 20 communities, from Cumberland to Kinburn, Britannia to Greely, experienced art in their backyards.
What is really rewarding about all this hard work is recognition that the project has received from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, says Cristiane Doherty, a spokesperson for the AOE Arts Council, which is enjoying its 30th year.
“We wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for communities to celebrate. Our grassroots is as a community based arts organization. We used to be the Gloucester Arts Council and, after amalgamation, we became Arts Ottawa East and then we became the AOE Arts Council.
“We serve artist members across the city (and in Quebec). We wanted to be sure the arts community had an opportunity to celebrate this year too and to make sure there was money to do that.”
They jumped on the opportunity made available through funding under Canada 150 and Ontario 150.
Engaging communities through art is a way to engage citizens, Doherty says.
The projects involved making a book based on the memories of seniors living in rural parts of the city about the past. This was led by artist Brenda Dunn. Others include:
• A dance project for girls led by Dandelion Dance in Ottawa West;
• Theatre in Orléans and Cumberland led by Théâtre Belvédère & Théâtre de la Vielle called 17 QUARTIERS (S): morceaux d’avenir;
• Some hiphop led by House of PainT in Beacon Hill and Britannia Woods;
• Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre took their show Snippets of Canada across the city;
• Odyssey Theatre’s project Spreading Roots was in Greely, Stittsville, Carsons Rideau/Rockcliffe, Carlington and Orléans;
• Theatre artist Naomi Tessler led Playing Back our Neighbourhood Stories: A Youth Playback Theatre Troupe Project in Barrhaven;
• Thunk!theatre made Bread with residents in Wellington West and Bayshore;
• MASC produced Awesome Arts in Kinburn and Carp;
• Margit Hideg revealed the Wisdom of the Trees in Kanata North.
Beth McCubbin was making clay tiles with folks from the Minwaashin Lodge and the Odawa Centre in Overbrook and Vanier.
Part of AOE Arts Council’s mission is to build stronger communities through art, Doherty says.
“We are trying to connect the dots for people to get them to think about it.
She said the CCUNESCO representatives, once they discovered the project, were enthusiastic converts. They asked AOE Arts Council to write a paper on the project on how it broke down barriers and brought artists out of their studios and into the various communities. UNESCO also agreed to help support a closing ceremony which is set for Nov. 23 at the Wabano Centre, 299 Montreal Rd., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“We need to value the experience of the creative process,” Doherty says. “You don’t have to be a professionally trained artist to participate.”
In this anniversary year, AOE Arts Council is reflecting on its past and thinking about its future and its brand, Doherty says.
“We are rebranding, but that’s not easy exercise. We don’t want to forget our roots but half of our membership is way beyond St. Laurent Boulevard. We have members in Cantley, Wakefield, Hawkesbury and all the way to Kingston. We represent artists in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.”
There is also a need to differentiate AOE Arts Council from the Ottawa Arts Council.
“We do community-engaged arts and career development, create opportunities for artists. If you look at our history we are about the same age. We tend to do more programming. We are more of an arts-service organization for artists, arts organizations and cultural workers.”
The two organizations belong to the Ottawa Cultural Alliance and they “try to keep in touch so we are not duplicating.”
For the next while after the final party for Neighbourhood Arts 150, AOE Arts Council will be looking toward 2018 and more work on behalf of the arts and artists.
For more on Neighbourhood Arts 150 please see 150ArtsOttawa.ca.