Sooke cultural planning:
let the discussions begin
MapleLine Magazine: December 7, 2010
SOOKE, BC. Around the table in the Potlatch Room at Sooke Harbour House on the evening of December 6, 2010 gathered about 20 keeners for culture and the arts. While cooperation was on the agenda and facilitation was the modus operandi, what really played out was the beginning of a shuffle for influence in the Sooke regional arts scene. Spearheaded by Evonne Black of the Sooke Fine Arts Society and integrally supported by the District of Sooke, let the game begin.
It's a game worth playing. The players are numerous -- counting many more than who appeared for the first of 8 or 9 meetings to be held in 2011 (seen listed on the flipchart in photo). While the initial turnout represented local musical interests (such as the Sooke Philharmonic Society, the Sooke Folk Music Society, and indirectly the Sooke Community Choir), what seemed lacking was representation from theatre, film and dance.
There's something to be said from being present from the beginning. While the group welcomes participation from any and all leaders in the Sooke culture and arts scene, some significant plays were put into motion at this first get-together. One strong sub-theme at the launch seemed to be the dream goal of venue improvements -- from improving the acoustics at the EMCS community theatre to building a whole new building someday. Another theme was the pitch for a week-long festival involving music, dance, literary and a wide range of presentations, workshops and performances in a number of venues.
There was frequent mention of the new Sooke Region Resources community inventory website, a grant-funded venture that under the leadership of Marlene Barry has launched a semi-automated database -- it's content will be as good as what contributors will provide. A strong leadership theme was evident from MapleLine Magazine's bevy of journalism-related services including their publication news services (print and online), their MapleLine Journalism Program for guiding new newswriters, their free-listing ArtsinSooke.com celebration of the arts website, and their monthly arts mixers for patrons and creators alike.
The meeting was facilitated by Jim Craven, a long-time organizational expert including a 5-year stint as municipal administrator for the municipality of Oak Bay and a 1999 recipient of the Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Excellence in Public Service. Deliberately or otherwise, his minor gaps in the direction of the meeting allowed for new ideas; his facilitation made for a positive result.
Some of voices of the broader business and arts community were there de facto, including the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce (Mary Brooke as a director of the Chamber was there in her capacity representing MapleLine), the Sooke Fine Arts Society (strongly voiced by volunteer Sally Manning), and the District of Sooke (through the eyes and ears of Laura Byrne, Engineering Technologist and Environmental Coordinator). Representation for the long-time Sooke Community Arts Council was provided by Debbie Clarkston, herself a photographer and a tai chi instructor. As Black so succinctly stated, the discussion in the room that evening was "everything except sports", indicating the far-reaching scope of arts and culture in a small but growing community.
At the start of the meeting there was a resounding appreciation expressed to Frederique Philip for the donation of the room space for the evening at Sooke Harbour House, which also points out the fact that meeting space is essential for groups to do their planning and convening. (Editors note: The District of Sooke has also recognized the need for meeting space and has made arrangements with the new Prestige Hotel -- opening in March 2011 -- for free meeting space to be available to non-profit groups who book through the District office). Although absent from the group's first meeting, Philip was expressive of a strong theme expressed and witnessed at the meeting: "Art is the soul of a society. A society without it is like a body without a heart," she is quoted in the ArtsWave Cultural Mapping Project report (Aug.2010) -- the backbone document that fuelled the meeting.
Black outlined the key points identified by researchers as necessary for a healthy arts profile in a rural community. The points included a curious mix of access to a nearby urban market while at the same time seeing artists fleeing high costs of living in urban centres and then taking leadership roles in the community. Seen in this is how the arts can shape and direct a community from the inside out.
Some debate ensued as to whether this cultural mapping process should be focussed tightly on the Sooke core area or be more broadly representative of the region surrounding Sooke, apparently from Becher Bay to Port Renfrew. It was pointed out that the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce had until 2009 had been focussed as the Sooke Harbour Chamber of Commerce, then changed its name and direction toward expanding its horizons. It was further noted that the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce focuses mostly on eco-tourism as the thrust for Sooke business, without addressing arts and culture (in any policy sense) up til now, other than throwing some funds toward the Sooke Fine Arts Show each summer. Some commentary was made about the general lack of programs for youth in the 15 to 18 year age group, notably with a lack of diversity in SEAPARC programming for teens.
Minutes of the meeting were taken by Sarah Temple, a support clerk with the District of Sooke; the District is contributing two half-days a week of Temple's time as an 'in-kind' financial contribution to the Sooke cultural mapping process. The District of Sooke's Official Community Plan contains a strong section about the importance of arts in the growing community.
The group has a total funding base of $26,500 (combined as cash and in-kind), with apparently $11,000 available for funding specific projects or ventures after expenditures for administration, documentation and meetings.
The cultural planning group's next meeting will be held in mid-January 2011, with the date and time to be sorted out through email communication. Inquiries: email@example.com MM
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For your convenience, a collection hamper for the Sooke Food Bank is at the MapleLine Business Centre until 2 pm, Sat. December 18, 2010.