The Flin Flon arts and cultural community had a multi-faceted visit in February from representatives of the three main funding groups for arts and culture in small (and maybe not so small) places and artists in Canada. The Manitoba Arts Council (MAC), the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) and Heritage Canada were here as a group that made presentations to the major arts groups and to artists about the grant opportunities that are available to artists, arts producers and arts presenters.
Executive Director Randy Joynt and Indigenous Programs specialist Tracy Longbottom represented MAC; JL Watson represented the CCA and Neil Exell came from Heritage Canada. They met with the Flin Flon Arts Council (FFAC) and the Northern Visual Arts Center (NorVA). They each spoke about all of the programs and grants they offer to Canadian and Manitoba artists with a particular focus on Indigenous arts and culture.
All three agencies have many specific grants for Indigenous artists that have been available for several years but they have not received many applications from Indigenous artists in rural areas of Canada. Part of the rationale for this Northern Manitoba tour was to try to reach some of those artists with the correct information to make an application for grants. The Manitoba Arts Council in particular, but really all three agencies, have tried to make the application process much more accessible.
MAC has included non-profit organizations like Indigenous Friendship Centres and Band Councils as well as Indigenous knowledge-keepers as appropriate applicants in their Indigenous 360 grant program. This is designed in part to promote the arts within communities and to reach those artists working alone in communities across the north. It also recognizes the strengths and value of Elders in maintaining the histories of the people. The Cree have an oral history tradition so the spoken stories are so important to maintain.
In their meeting with the FFAC, the visitors heard their history of achievement in our region. Cultural Coordinator Crystal Kolt first arranged for the visitors to have a tour of the City with City Councillor and Tour Miner, Ken Pawlachuk. She wanted them to understand the actual environment in which the magic happens, because magic does happen here even though this is a mining community where environmental laws were not enforced or made until just a few years ago. The pollution has made for some very beautiful and dramatic photographs of the rocks, but it is pollution.
Add to this the certainty that our mine is closing in 2022 and the workforce here in town will be cut by half and you might understand that we are worried about the future of our communities. Crystal Kolt spoke of this issue and advanced the notion that we could utilize the arts as an economic driver in this community. FFAC already has a stellar reputation as a professional presenter of performing arts and have steadily grown their impact as a producer of professional-level shows.
Crystal is uniquely positioned to lead the arts and cultural community into a more commercial application. She spoke of the need for another at least part-time employee in the arts sector in order to grow the impact of arts and culture in Flin Flon in the north. Flin Flon has been recognized as a cultural hub in Northern Manitoba but in order to export what we produce, we need more assistance. This thought was echoed by Mike Spencer, Manager of NorVA Centre and Gallery who has expressed the need for another art and cultural worker in Flin Flon several times in the recent past.
NorVA Centre also had the opportunity to meet with the visitors, as the leaders of the visual arts community in Flin Flon. They hosted two sessions and a reception at neighbouring Johnny’s Social Club. One of their sessions was particularly for visual artists to learn about programs that were open to applications from working artists and the second was aimed much more specifically at Indigenous artists and Knowledge-keepers. Mike Spencer arranged follow-up conversations with the Canada Council specifically, for a timeframe after NorVA has completed their new strategic plan. We wish the arts community good luck in reaching these goals, they don’t seem too lofty from our vantage point.