Guy Rodgers with Rahul Varma (Teesri Duniya), Catherine Cahill (Playwrights Workshop Montréal), Hugh Mitchell (Quebec Drama Federation Board Member), Elsa Bolam (Geordie Theatre). 1989.

As many of you know, I had planned to leave ELAN this year because the 15th anniversary seemed like a propitious moment for a leadership transition. That plan was put on hold when the Secretariat for Relations with English Speaking Quebecers funded a new project that is dear to my heart. I first became an arts activist, straight out of the National Theatre School, back when it was seriously challenging to be an English-speaking artist in Quebec. There were many reasons for that, ranging from language barriers to a lingering myth that Anglos were wealthy and did not require public funding. Most of those conditions have changed, but surveys confirm that English-speaking artists still feel closer to Canada Council and the Conseil des arts de Montréal than to CALQ. SODEC is perceived to be less welcoming than Telefilm.

This project, which we have named Québec Relations, will devote the next two years to identifying all provincial sources of funding that could benefit cultural workers, from regular arts programs to support for employment, infrastructure, regional and economic development. In parallel to this, we will document community needs, and then help connect needs to support. I have hired Sophie Croteau (we will introduce Sophie in next month’s ELANews) as Research Coordinator, and have opened a new office for this project.

ELAN’s new neighbours on the 9th floor at 460 Ste Catherine are QDF and Teesri Duniya Theatre. My first major venture in arts activism was the creation of the Quebec Drama Federation, where I was the founding executive director. Rahal Varma had recently created Teesri, which became a QDF member, and Rahul became a friend. Each time I walk past their offices, I feel a sense of completing a full circle. I am energized to spend my final couple of years with ELAN working on a project that brings decades of arts advocacy to a logical conclusion, and will significantly improve access to funding for Quebec’s English-speaking artists.

 

Guy Rodgers

Executive Director

Lisan Chng is a mosaic artist, facilitator, coordinator and initiator of community mosaic projects and participatory art. She created and coordinated the ELAN Artists Community Education Initiative (ACE) project, “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors” at Métis Beach School, in Métis Beach, Quebec, this year. This interview took place when Lisan was completing her project at Metis Beach School.

Photo: Bertin Bélanger

ELAN ACE: What is your practice?

Lisan: My practice is predominantly focused on community-building through mosaic-making. I like the journey of bringing people together through art. In Quebec, this is also considered as cultural mediation, which is the process of building bridges between the cultural and social realms. In my work, I feel like I’m the glue. I bring people together, like tile pieces. In both my life and my work, though the vision isn’t always fully formed; it develops as I bring projects, people and stories together.

 

ELAN ACE: How have you incorporated the ELAN ACE concept into the project you are currently involved in?

Lisan: Before ACE came into my life, I was facilitating community art projects intuitively. But since knowing ACE’s Lead Consultant, Christie Huff, and Project Consultant, Paula Knowles, I’ve really focused on taking more care into connecting the people who are involved in my work. The community-building focus of ACE allows me to focus on being more conscious of the kinds of partnerships I am building and take more care in nurturing the relationships between people. I think that the ACE model has made community-building more structured for me and equipped me with tools and ideas that I can use in this project and in future projects.

 

ELAN ACE: Can you describe the project you are working on?

Lisan: When I was developing the project, I had a few goals. First, I wanted to bring seniors into the community project and connect them with the kindergarten and grades 1-2 students. I also wanted to focus on bridging connection with the linguistic community and between older and younger people beyond their nuclear families. My project is called “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors”. I first taught the seniors how to create mosaic mirrors, which express their life stories. They learned some basic mosaic skills and were then able to help the students in the making of mosaic pots. The pots were chosen for the students because gardening is important for the community. With the pots, the students learn to tend and grow as well. As the project developed, the art teacher at Metis Beach School, Ms. Lynn Fournier, and I wanted to bring students from Grades 3-4 students into the project as well. In our process of research for additional funding, we found the OseEntreprendre Challenge. At this point, we thought that it would be interesting to challenge the older students to develop the entrepreneurial mindset; we could sell the pots at the farmers’ market. The older students were challenged to create and add features to their pots to make them more compelling for sale. So, it was a project with a base, and it really grew from that. With Culture in Schools, New Horizons For Seniors and ELAN ACE‘s support, we were able to expand the intergenerational project to include the kindergarten, grades 1-2, and grades 3-4. The project started its CREATE phase at the beginning of February. All of the creating work is done, and we now will sell some of these pots with the students in May and June. Some of these pots already have interested buyers! For the younger kids, they could each bring a mosaic pot home, planted with seeds and soil, and give it to their mother for Mother’s Day. All this is made possible with the help of senior participants who chipped-in their time to assist the students in the process.

Photo: Melissa Landry

ELAN ACE: How do you see the students, teachers and community at large growing through the project that you are working with growing through your project?

Lisan: First of all, I’ve never worked with students this young before on difficult process like grouting. Lots of artists wouldn’t even go there. I think that my naivety and the support of the teachers have let me expose the students to something that they haven’t experienced before. It is a project that the students have really learned from, and which has also challenged me in my teaching. I’ve been very lucky to work with artist and art teacher at Metis Beach School, Ms. Lynn Fournier, who has inspired me a lot in the way she teaches art to her students. A lot of the credit for the project’s success goes to her, as we brainstormed together on how to develop the project. It is not easy to have community and another artist come into your class as it can be a lot to manage; Ms. Fournier’s willingness and openness to bring the generations together is pivotal. The seniors’ involvement and presence turned out to be really generative and helpful. There was also an excellent synergy between the math teacher and art teacher, Ms. Fournier, in developing a method to combine curriculum objectives while enacting this project. We were like, hey, it actually makes sense to teach math through art! For the community, I think the community-building aspect pushed some people out of their comfort zone in positive ways. For example, there was a senior who was French-speaking who initially thought that she may not be comfortable working with students in English in an English-speaking school. Another senior participant thought she was not good with working with children. They came and thoroughly enjoyed and learned from the process.

 

ELAN ACE: Can you think of an example of co-learning that you witnessed and participated in through this project?  

Lisan: I didn’t really plan for my project to incorporate co-learning, but it has really developed that way on its own. I am just really impressed with the community’s intelligence. When I first came to this project, I was nervous that I was going to have to bear a lot of the project. As I’ve progressed, I’ve realized that you open the space to have people connect and then their intelligence comes in, and all I have to do is be observant of the learning. For example, when one student gets an advanced concept of cutting or mosaic setting, she gets it done on her pot. Soon, other students see the results and they get up to speed as well. Because we spend more time with the students on techniques and concepts, as the seniors accompany them, they learn and pick up the knowledge as they help the young ones well. We are all learning and absorbing all the way through the project. As we get towards the end of the project, we see the learning accelerating and the production too. It is really quite amazing how the learning becomes concrete and how we all influence each other in a collaborative environment.

 

ELAN ACE: What is your vision of the future relationship of the arts to education? What do you think is the value of integrating the arts into education?

Lisan: Honestly, I take it for granted that that is the way that the future of education will develop. I see art being so vital. I think that the direction of art now is so community-oriented, and out of the galleries. Art is now used for healing, for community building. The value I see in including art in education is that it helps to address the issue that different students learn differently. Our academic systems really only value certain types of learners. In our art project, I see some learners with different abilities pick up on the art project so quickly, even quicker than some adults can manage. In this project, for example, there is a girl with developmental delays who has impressed all the adults in her mosaic skills. On her own, she covered an entire pot with cut tesserae in precise fit, with the motif of her favourite bird in the center. Art taps into different learning abilities. And we have to cater to different learning styles in education.

 

Lisan Chng’s Website: http://mosaicjam.com

Lisan Chng’s Instagram: @mosaicjam

ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative’s Instagram: @elan_quebec_ace_initiative 

This is the first feature of a new series that we will be sharing on ELAN News of Artists and Arts Facilitators who are working in ELAN’s Arts Community Education (ACE) Initiative. Louise Campbell  is a Montreal-based musician whose professional hats range from clarinettist to conductor, community arts facilitator to musicians’ health therapist. As a performer, improviser and composer, Louise seeks to interrogate and renew the ways in which we make music by creating new works with everyone, regardless of age, ability, level of prior experience, or training. 

This interview was conducted when Louise Campbell was engaged in her ELAN ACE residency in Grosse Île.

Photo: Vivian Doan

ELAN ACE: What are your artistic and teaching practices?

Louise: I am a musician, and I specialize in facilitating music and participatory arts. I will work with basically anyone who wants to make music, with any level of training. A huge part of what I do as a musician and a participatory arts musician is through improvisation.

My artistic and faciliatory practices are completely intertwined; they influence each other and often go together. I find that my participatory arts practice exposes me to very unique sounds that I wouldn’t be exposed to if I only worked in ensembles with professional musicians. It’s very much integrated in what I do. I have been facilitating and implementing participatory music for over 20 years. My project with ELAN Artists Community Education (ACE) is one way that I’ve been doing this work.

 

ELAN ACE: Can you describe the community and project that you are working on?

Louise: The community I am in is Grosse Île in the Magdalen Islands. The community has about 500 people in it, and the school has 42 students. I also engage with the seniors of the community. My project is very much about looking at place and community through music to strengthen community bonds. This is my first time here, and because of geography and weather, it is especially isolated in the winter. It is unusual in fact for me to be here right now as most visitors come in the summer. I’ve used my status as a newcomer to ground my connection in place. When I first got here, I improvised music to introduce where I’m from to the community. I then encouraged the students to introduce their favourite places to me and each other by thinking of the colours and sounds they associate with their favourite places. From there, stories started to emerge, which we are now using to create ‘radio plays’. We’ve built up a library of sound samples for this project including Foley-style sound effects, guitar loop pedals, boom whackers and other approachable instruments that I brought, and field recordings. The project has evolved a lot over the course of my month-long stay, a stay that was made possible through funding from the ELAN ACE Initiative and MELS Culture in the Schools.

Photo: Louise Campbell

ELAN ACE: What do you think will be the impact of this project on the community? Do you observe any changes in particular that indicate that the community or school will continue to support the arts?

Louise: I think the best people to answer this question are the people who live in Grosse-Île, since they are the people who make up this community. From my perspective, people here have a very strong sense of place, and the work we have been doing with music and sound may help them understand and articulate their sense of place in different ways. The sound library is a big part of how I hope the students will continue make music when I am gone. I always think of longevity when I’m doing projects like this one; the last thing I want to do is to introduce students to basic sheet reading and the first three notes of a recorder when I know there is no one here to follow-up on music taught this way. I hope that in this project, I am invoking imagination and helping the students develops skills and tools so they can continue to create music when I’m gone.

 

ELAN ACE: How has your own practice deepened through this project?

Louise: In my regular life in Montreal, I am always making sure that many different projects are growing every single day. To focus on only one project is incredible. The opportunity to think through place and be a newcomer in such an intense way is a very unique experience. This project was partially funded through MELS Culture in the Schools, and they ask that their artists-in-residence produce a work. When I make music, it is always for other people. With this project, I really want to make sure that the work I make is in service of the people here. I’ve proposed making music for an exhibit called People of the Sea, and the exhibit’s curator is very receptive. I’m trying to be very intentional about place as I create this piece, and in this way, I think that this project made me think of integrating place as part of community into my artistic process; this ties in with the artist-community emphasis of the ACE Initiative as well.

Photo: Amber Mckay

ELAN ACE: Can you think of an example of co-learning that you witnessed and participated in through this project?

Louise: This week, I wanted to start recording some of the stories with the students. There is a student here who is very much into technology and making music through technology. When I asked this student if he would help teach the other students how to download the app and access the sound library to create their stories, he instantly said yes. It became a really lovely case of student mentoring, from an older student to younger students. His self-esteem and leadership ability were boosted, and the students got to learn from someone other an adult.

 

ELAN ACE: What is your vision of the future relationship of the arts to education? What do you think is the value of integrating the arts into education?  

Louise: I think that all people are inherently creative. Given the DIY era we live in, I think that we should be focusing on nurturing the creative abilities of students. Some students rebel when they don’t have creative input or control; I see this especially with kids who have difficulty integrating into a school. To approach learning creatively is crucial to have such students succeed at school, and at objectives later in life. Creativity also helps older people process events of their life. Many people haven’t been given the opportunity to be creative and understand their life through the arts, and creative activities help people access their experiences in ways they haven’t before.

 

Louise Campbell’s Website: http://louisecampbell.ca/wp/en/

Louise Campbell’s Instagram: @mlouisecampbell

Elan Quebec’s ACE Initiative’s Instagram: @elan_quebec_ace_initiative

Two years ago, the Hull sector of Gatineau, Quebec experienced a devastating flood. A year later, a tornado swept through the region. At the beginning of the school year, project coordinators in schools participating in Arts, Community and Education (ACE) Initiative were asked to identify a theme that would bring the school and community together through an artistic learning experience. When Pierre Elliot Trudeau Elementary School’s (PETES) coordinator, teacher Fiona Medley was considering the theme for the school’s ACE project, water felt like a natural fit.  In consultation with other grade three teachers, all expressed an interest in encouraging thoughtful reflection on the positive relationship of water to the community.  The artistic modality for the project also felt obvious to Fiona; she herself comes from a music background and saw music education as lacking at PETES. She noted that “the main point of the project was to bring quality music educators that we have in our community into our school”.

Photo credit: Fiona Medley

The ACE Artists chosen for the project were percussionist Leo Brooks and choral director Tim Piper, both well-known in the capital region for providing quality youth music programs. Fiona stated that inviting two male musicians was deliberate, to help dismantle gendered ideas of who can participate in music production. They decided together to ground the theme of water in a text, to support the integration of the theme in students’ English Language Arts and French Second Language learning. They selected the book Water’s Children by Quebecois author Angèle Delaunois, which explores the perspectives of twelve children from around the world on the significance of water to their communities. The diverse insights of the characters were also reflected in the varied sources from which knowledge was pooled to think through the importance of water. Indigenous community partners, the Ottawa River Keepers, were invited in to educate on the importance of water to the local environment, while the local non-profit Enviro Édu-Action taught students about the urban water cycle.

As the vision for the project developed, the planning team decided that it would be interesting to create a play based on the book at the end of the project, which in Fiona’s words, would “celebrate the best practices emerging from our knowledge of music, water and diversity”. The collaboration and shared critical thinking both witnessed in Water’s Children and by the variety of experts brought in to teach on the value of water was integral to the creation of the play, as the students were invited to participate in the play’s creative process by singing parts of the script in their mother tongues.

Leo and Tim worked regularly with students over three months. To teach rhythm, Leo used Djembe drums purchased by the school. He taught a non-Western system of associating words and phrases to rhythm, because, he states, “it makes a more dynamic connection with the kids”, noting that it helped the students reflect on how “different words and sounds have different emphasis”. The students were then also encouraged to create movement based on the words and rhythms, a form of experiential learning that Fiona notes is “linked to the sense of play, of interpretation that is found in creation and analysis in language”. Tim based his teaching in a more Western form of music literacy, teaching musical notation to help the students strengthen their singing skills.

Both Leo and Tim noticed that the students have developed their musical skills over their residencies. Leo states that when he first arrived, “some of them couldn’t hold a beat if it was in a box, but now they are really solid”. Tim remarks on how important time has been for the development of these skills. He states that “you need to give it time to see progress. You also need trust. When we first started producing songs, there was a lot of mistrust. Now that the students and educators have put in the time, they’ve realized that it has value”. All three have observed a shift in the school in valuing artistic creation because of the long-term nature of the project and the dynamism of the teaching; Fiona notes that there’s been “buy-in” of both students and educators into the project that she believes will last beyond the projects closure. She also reports that the community partners have been more involved at the school since the project began.

Photo credit: Fiona Medley

“Water is Life” premiered on April 5th at PETES School. The performance began with PETES Indigenous Cultural Aide, Mariah Smith Chabot singing a water-honouring song with some students. The key refrain in the play and in the book, “water is life”, was developed into an anthem which was sung in English, French, Cree and Algonquin. The community was welcomed to watch the production, culminating the ongoing effort in collective reflection and appreciation by extending these acts beyond the school to Gatineau at large. 250+ community members attended the evening performance, and five parents lent their support volunteering throughout the performance. Although the Mayor of Gatineau, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, though unable to attend the performance, sent a thoughtful letter to the students which was included in the program. The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, also sent her regrets for being unable to attend the show, and sent good wishes and applause for the efforts of the students to raise awareness on environmental issues. 

Tim notes that the “process has been excellent”, a statement which is clearly demonstrated in the thought and care that Fiona, Leo and Tim gave to the project. Teachers reported that for the 87 Grade three students involved, student engagement in learning and advancement in individual learning was described as the highest that the they had witnessed during the school year, and fifteen students with different needs were described as having been most positively affected by the experience. Moreover, through only the grade three students performed, all 550 students in the school explored the water theme in their classrooms in some capacity, and three senior classes helped to decorate the gym. School pride was evident in the teachers’ and students’ reactions. The positive outcomes of this collaboration have compelled the principal of PETES to say that he will be ensuring that artist residency projects that benefit the school and community will take place annually in the school. The MNA, School Board Chair and Director of Education all attended the daytime performance and expressed their intention to support PETES and other Western Quebec schools in integrating artists to achieve student learning outcomes, particularly for students with different needs.

Tim, Leo and Fiona note the key partners that have enabled them to realize this project, including the ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative, the Culture in the Schools Program, the Community Health and Social Services Network and their school’s own fundraising efforts. They also express gratitude for the support from the Ottawa River Keepers and Enviro Edu-Action organizations, both of whom have become stronger partners through the project. The resourcefulness of the trio in seeking and drawing upon excellence in their community to encourage critical reflection on the importance of valuing the dynamism of their environment and people led to a poignant and healing final performance. Everyone can participate in and benefit from nurturing the water cycle, and the communities it feeds, just as everyone can participate in and benefit from musical production.

Photo credit: Christie Huff

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1977)

As ELAN Organization Member Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) approaches its 50th Anniversary, we spoke with Artistic Director Quincy Armorer about the theatre’s evolution, and the programming highlights that have helped define BTW’s influential place in Montreal. Since its foundation in 1970, Black Theatre Workshop has been the longest running Black theatre company in Canada. It has played a significant role in shaping the stories told by playwrights and the opportunities available for Black theatre artists in Montreal, with resonating effects on broader Canadian theatre scenes. Founding members like Clarence Bayne, Errol Sitahal and Yvonne Greer (just to name a few) bring collective experience from organizations with long histories of advocacy in the arts and education in Quebec, such as the Black Community Resource Centre, the Quebec Board of Black Educators, and the Black Community Central Administration of Quebec. Today, Black Theatre Workshop has fostered a thriving community, with a strong network of collaborating theatres like Centaur, Neptune, Tableau d’Hôte, the Segal Centre, and MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels).  

The River Niger (1980-1981)

Black Theatre Workshops’ first productions have included the work of notable playwrights like Lorraine Hainsbury, Lorena Gale, Derek Walcott, David Edgecombe, and Trevor Rhone. “The earlier focus of Black Theatre Workshop was more Caribbean, with a Trinidadian focus,” says Quincy. “Now the programming is more encompassing of Montreal’s Black communities.” Over the years, BTW’s repertoire has staged plays that are both intimate and fiercely political, exploring issues of self-identity, assimilation, the fragmentation of family and community, as well as sensitively approaching global issues like poverty and the sex-trade.

Lorena Gale’s work has especially taken the spotlight during Black Theatre Workshop’s 49th season, with the acclaimed co-production of Angélique by BTW and Tableau D’Hote Theatre. Angélique tells the 18th century story of enslaved Marie-Joseph Angélique, who attempted to flee her owner’s home and is alleged to have set fire to the mistress’ house. In 1734, she was convicted of arson, tortured and hanged for the fire that took at least 46 buildings in Old Montreal. Quincy Armorer noted the critical success of Angélique as a “homegrown story” that had the opportunity to be performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Toronto’s Factory Theatre.

Also among Black Theatre Workshop’s playwriting cohort is Trey Anthony, the first Black woman in Canada to have her own television series, which was based on her play Da Kink In My Hair. Trey Anthony’s recent production of How Black Mothers Say I Love You is a tale of separation and reconciliation through character Daphne’s experience as an immigrant and mother in Canada. Quincy also mentions his first programmed play at Black Theatre Workshop, Djanet SearsHarlem Duet, which was a sequel to the playwright’s one-woman performance of Afrika Solo (2012). Djanet Sears’ work also shines in The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, which follows the complex story of a community descended from the Black Loyalists of 1812, who were granted Ojibwe land in Holland Township, Ontario. Local stories also resonate through the work of Canadian actor, producer and director Omari Newton. The 2013-2014 season presented Newton’s play Sal Capone: The Lamentable Tragedy of, which was based on the 2008 police shooting of 18-year-old Honduran immigrant Fredy Villanueva in Montreal-Nord.

Angélique (2017), photo by Andrée Lanthier (L) and Harlem Duet (2012-2013) (R).

An important part of Black Theatre Workshop’s ongoing programming is the annual Artist Mentorship Program (AMP), which gives emerging theatre professionals the chance to work on a professional ensemble production. Started in the 2013-2014 season, the program is now in its sixth year with the support of the Canadian Arts Trainings Fund (part of Canadian Heritage). The Mentorship Program has evolved from its early years as more of a “summer camp”, as Quincy describes, to become a robust and well-respected program that helps transition recent theatre graduates toward career opportunities.

“The theatre community in Montreal is watching Black Theatre Workshop,” says Quincy, “Actors are finding work all the time. Participants in the Mentorship Program come out with real opportunities. They are cast in mainstage productions, their plays are professionally produced.” Every year, Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program culminates with the Industry Showcase, where about fifteen participants perform a one-and-a-half hour play for industry professionals including casting agents, directors, and producers. 

Swan Song of Maria (2009-2010) (L), Maija of Chaggalandand (2001-2002), and blood [claat] (2007-2008) (R).

Quincy highlights just a few of the success stories of Artist Mentorship Program alumni, noting the diversity of disciplines within theatre that each participant brings, and the richness of their involvement in both local and international projects. In 2016, actor Vladimir Alexis was awarded Black Theatre Workshop’s Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award at the 30th annual Vision Celebration Gala. Alexis is known for his supporting role in Roland Emmerich’s 2015 film Stonewall, as well as appearing in X-men: Apocalypse, Saving Hope, Trauma and Just For Laughs’ Nasty Show. Actor, singer and director Tamara Brown had co-founded Montreal’s Metachroma Theatre in 2010, and recently directed the world premiere of Successions, by Michaela DiCesare, at Centaur Theatre. Actor and writer Rachel Mutombo, who participated in Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal‘s first Youth Creator Unit, has acted with Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre, Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, and has recently gone on to join Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre Company.

Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program has also included designers. Quincy mentions the work of Sophie el-Assaad, who has worked in costume and set design, with recent productions like Clean Slate (Talisman Theatre) and BLACKOUT (Tableau D’Hote Theatre). On her costume design for Cabal Theatre’s production of Tragic Queens, Sophie el-Assaad was honoured with META awards for Outstanding costume and Emerging Artist. AMP participant and emerging theatre designer Zoe Roux has done set, costume and lighting design for the AMP Showcase of Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears and Blacks Don’t Bowl by Vadney S. Haynes. Roux has gone on to do set design for productions by Third Space Theatre, Centaur Theatre, and Geordie Productions

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2015-1016), photo by Andrée Lanthier.

As Black Theatre Workshop nears its 50th anniversary, the team has much to celebrate — from the professional successes of the countless artists who have worked with BTW over the years, to enriching the representation and opportunities available for Black theatre artists in Montreal. Quincy acknowledges the challenge of Black Theatre Workshop remaining “a minority within a minority, within a minority”, given that the Anglophone community of Quebec is already a small community. This may certainly contribute to some artists leaving the city, Quincy admits, but the presence of BTW gives theatre professionals a meaningful chance to work and thrive in the city.

Quincy describes the importance of Black Theatre Workshop in shaping opportunities for Black theatre professionals to work with each other, instead of competing for a limited number of token roles. This also changes the dynamic of who is empowered to write, stage and perform in Quebec theatre. “The Black Theatre Workshop has a significant role in giving a foundation and opportunities to actors — a very vital role in fulfilling the needs of Black theatre artists.” Today, representation in theatre has moved away from merely “passing” mainstream plays by writers like Arthur Miller with black actors. “We are seeing Black stories, the work of Black writers,” says Quincy. “These stories are from Black communities where they are subjects, not objects”.

The Lady Smith (2006-2007) (top), and Gas Girls (2014-2015), photo by Antoine Saito (bottom).

The 2019-2020 season will be the busiest to date for Black Theatre Workshop as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2020-2021 season. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements from Black Theatre Workshop later this month! In the meantime, the Artist Mentorship program is accepting applications for its next season until APRIL 20! This year’s Industry Showcase will be hosted MAY 10-11 at the Centaur Theatre.

Black Theatre Workshop website: blacktheatreworkshop.ca

Black Theatre Workshop Facebook: BlackTheatreWorkshop

Black Theatre Workshop Twitter: @TheatreBTW

Black Theatre Workshop  Instagram: @theatrebtw

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Erik Nieminen (Feature)

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

 

ELAN is hiring a Membership & Communications Assistant for a 10-week summer contract! The Assistant will have the opportunity to assist ELAN with preparations for our Annual General Meeting (AGM) and 15th Anniversary on August 26. Interviews start mid-May. Starting date for the position is June 25. Apply!

Membership & Communications Assistant

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This year, ELAN is marking its 15th anniversary, and what better way to do it than by celebrating the work of our members! We are printing a collectors’ edition booklet on ELAN’s history, and we want to feature a few pages of our members’ work!

For this booklet, we welcome submissions from LITERATURE and VISUAL ARTS:

Please email us the following:

– 3-5 images, 1-2 poems, or a short (half-page) text.

– an anecdote about your time as an ELAN member

Email your submissions to: communications@quebec-elan.org.

Emails MUST include the following subject: “ELAN 15 Submission – Your Name”.

Submission deadline is MAY 31, 2019.

This booklet will be launched at our Annual General Meeting on AUGUST 26, 2019. Selected contributors will be paid: stay tuned for more announcements in the coming weeks!

PERFORMING ARTISTS: keep an eye out for an upcoming news on how you can apply to be featured at our AGM!

Erik Nieminen is a Finnish-Canadian artist born in Ottawa in 1985. He achieved a BFA from the University of Ottawa in 2007 and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 2010. He has exhibited in both Europe and North America, including a recent solo show at the Albemarle Gallery in London entitled “The Unreal”, and at the Galerie d’Art d’Outremont in Montreal entitled “Above Below”. Erik Nieminen’s next solo show will be in 2019 in New York City, entitled “Paradise Not Lost”. He currently lives and works in Montreal, after spending four and a half years living in Berlin. He shows with the Galerie Kremers in Berlin.

“Midas”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What attracted you to painting, and to your mixture of realism and surrealism?

For me painting is the most malleable of visual mediums. It is not constrained by programming or other technological limits. It’s purely chemical — almost alchemical from a certain point of view. The flexibility of the painting process stems from its non-reliance on mechanical visual systems which allows painting to exist as a kind of alternate reality from our own — something dream-like or even surreal. Things like film and photography serve a different function as they tie concretely back to our world as a document of a moment in time. Paintings are created over varying lengths of time with each individual inch of the canvas being taken into consideration, meaning there is nothing incidental. It is an amalgamation of thousands of conscious and subconscious decisions. Painting can be whatever you want it to be.

I tend not to distinguish between realism and abstraction (or surrealism). It all exists together, as the moment you depict something on a two-dimensional painted surface it automatically becomes abstraction. It’s either that or it’s all representation. In any case it’s all unreal, and therefore it’s a bit of an absurd notion to be too reliant on notions of “what things actually look like” and thus I am free to move between styles as much as I wish.

“Abstract Paradise”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

Your work often has a mixture of artificial and natural environments: could you talk about how these themes influence your work?

I’ve always been interested in urban motion. I grew up in Ottawa, which is a city of a decent size, but ultimately has a very small-town feel about it. I always wanted to get out and live in a big urban center… to be in the middle of the hustle, in the dynamism of the crowd, of technology, of concrete — I found all this quite exciting. I understand the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, and fluid manner. However, it doesn’t always work, and so humanity constructs artificial escapes, mini-paradises in the middle of the city in the form of parks, biodomes, etc. We visit these places as a respite from everyday life. What was once commonplace is now a kind of theatrical therapy.

In terms of painting, I used the city as a subject for a long time. It provided enough content to develop complex spatial challenges, but natural habitats also provide these challenges through different shapes and forms. I’m interested in combining the city and the organic world in such a way that they collide with each other to create unique visual encounters, and from there — themes, narratives, and ideas may emerge.

Much of your work in the “Reality” series depicts people in day-to-day situations in the city. There’s a voyeuristic element to this. Do you work with photography to help create these scenes?

I wander through the city with a sketchpad, a camera, and a video-camera. Periodically I will stop and document a location that seems to contain significant visual possibilities, something I can cultivate further. I take thousands of photos per year, but also many hours of video documentation. Every painting begins with abstract sketches (lines, shapes, scribbles). Eventually a kind of abstract composition emerges. These digital photos and videos serve as reference points that I can steal from to inject into my sketched spaces. Therefore, as real as some paintings may seem, they are all impossibilities — a conglomeration of drawing, photo, and video coming together to create a singular painted experience that cannot be found in real life. In terms of being a voyeur — I try not to be noticed when documenting something… I don’t bother to compose shots, I get the information as fast as possible and move on. I don’t want to be intrusive.

“The Other Side” (top) and “Ricochet” (bottom), oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What are some of the sources of inspiration for you?

While I try not to rely on anything specific, I am very influenced by artists whose interest is in playing with three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Therefore the cubists and futurists were some of my earliest influences. An artist like David Hockney is someone I’ve looked at a lot, though my work doesn’t have any particular aesthetic connection to his. I’ve been looking at a lot of very formal abstract painting recently, but then I’ve also been listening to talks by the artist Vincent Desiderio who paints in quite a figurative way, almost old master-like. Literature that involves reflections about the human condition in urban space have always interested me — Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy being one, but also something like Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Man of the Crowd, upon which I based a 7 meter long painting several years ago. I listen to electronic or minimalist music while working. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but perhaps it’s got the right mix of warm and cool to keep me in a state of balance while painting.

You’ve had experience living abroad in Berlin: how did you transition your artistic practice to the city? Can you talk about how you established connections, mapped out galleries and other resources?

It wasn’t necessarily easy to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language and knew almost nobody (my friend, the artist Vitaly Medvedovsky lived there at the time and he was very helpful). I’m also not an extroverted person, so diving in and making connections is not a natural state of being for me. It took quite a while (several years) to meet enough people to have regular opportunities open up for me. Ultimately, Berlin is not necessarily the best city in which to show painting — unless it’s of a more conceptual nature.

After nearly four years in the city I was approached by a gallery for representation. Partly it took so long because I work relatively slowly… just to build up enough work to show someone took a couple years. I had a list of galleries that I found interesting, but of course these are not places you can just walk into and show them work. They have to know of you prior to you talking to them or you have to meet through some of network-like connection. The gallery that found me was actually a new one at the time (it has since closed and I have moved on to another gallery in Berlin).

I’ve found that my work doesn’t necessarily change that much depending on where I am. Partly I attribute this to art being so globally connected now via the internet. Influences range far more than from just a local context. Furthermore I don’t have a particular interest in depicting specific locations, so if I’m living in Berlin I’m probably not using a location in Berlin as a source — it could be imagery I’ve collected ten years ago someplace else.

“Janus”, oil and linen, Erik Nieminen.

After graduating from your MFA, what steps did you take to continue exhibiting and practicing professionally?

I was quite lucky that a few people liked my work enough to want to collect it right out of the gate. Therefore I have been fortunate enough to more or less live off my art for nearly a decade now. It is not always easy — some years are better than others. The main thing is that I continue to always have exhibitions of some kind lined up for the future, which then can open up other opportunities. It was important after graduating to hit the ground running and to keep that momentum going. Therefore I try to maintain a steady schedule of about 2 or 3 upcoming (group or solo) shows at all times. I am fairly picky about where I show and the context matters, so it’s sometimes difficult to find the right environment for the work, but thus far things have worked out well enough. The occasional grant or award has been quite helpful as well, from a financial point of view.

Could you talk about your experience in exhibitions? What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries? 

I have worked with some curators, mostly as a result of them seeing my work online or via studio visits. I have almost never received a response by reaching out to a gallery out of the blue. I have heard this can work on occasion, but it’s quite rare as galleries tend to be inundated by similar requests for connection. They have to meet you in a social scene or see your work in a public exhibition in order to gain their attention (this has been my experience). I have worked with both commercial galleries and not for profit spaces. The upside to working with a commercial gallery is that they will (in theory) promote your work at all times and try to find opportunities for you to show and sell your work. It can have positive financial results and hopefully bring your work to a wider audience, though this very much depends on the reach and ambition level of the gallery. Artist-run centers and other non-commercial spaces can sometimes be more interesting from a creative standpoint. As they aren’t so concerned with making money, there is more opportunity to experiment and perhaps show work that would not be seen in a commercial gallery.

“AboveBelow”, oil on linen, and exhibition at Galerie d’art d’Outrement (Montreal), Erik Nieminen.

What projects are you currently working on?

I was fortunate to be the recipient of the 2018 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Award, and as a part of that I will be having a solo show in New York City in 2019. The exact date and venue have yet to be worked out, but that is my main focus at the moment. The title of the show will be “Paradise Not Lost”, which is also the title of my current body of work. In February 2019 I will be taking part in a group show at Galerie Erga curated by Jason McKechnie. The title of that is “Perspicacious Paintings”. I will also have a work at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal as part of Nuit Blanche. I’ve never shown in a church before, so I am looking forward to that. Finally, I will be having a solo show in June of 2020 at the Galerie McClure in Montreal.

Erik Nieminen’s Website: eriknieminen.com

Erik Nieminen’s Instagram: @eriknart

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Guy Rodgers, Kristelle Holliday, and Ziv Przytyk of ShazamFest at “Made en Estrie”, Sherbrooke QC.

April is the beginning of the new financial year. Projects from the previous year are wrapped, but their impact continues to resonate. State of the Arts was the largest community dialogue that ELAN has engaged in since 2011. Part of the value of bringing people together to share ideas and information, plans and dreams, is simply to make connections, like a multitude of new synapses forming between neurons. The creative power of the brain resides in its remarkable plasticity. The same is true of a healthy community.  Some of the connections made during State of the Arts will evolve into collaborations between artists and cultural workers, and ideas that emerged during the past months will influence ELAN’s projects for many years to come. We will be sharing the final SotA report with you in the coming months; for now, you can visit the project page for more information.

April is also a time to launch new projects. ARTS2U has completed two research phases and is now entering a developmental phase, thanks to funding from Canada Council’s Digital Strategy Fund. The research has been highly technical but the idea is simple enough. How can artists and cultural producers make use of the digital universe to better connect with audiences, and to retain control of their own data? ELAN is also preparing to launch a major project made possible by the federal Action Plan for Official Languages. The goal of the Artists Inspire Grants is to send artists into every English-language public school in Quebec over the next four years. It is large and ambitious, but we have a splendid team working with us. You will be hearing much more about the Artists Inspire Grants in the coming months.

I was in Ottawa on March 11 when Melanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie, launched a public consultation to modernise the Official Languages Act, which turns 50 this year. Much has changed in Canada and Quebec since 1969 so the Act needs to be updated, but it remains of great importance to minority language communities. ELAN will be actively involved in the dialogue to modernize the Official Languages Act, which strengthens Quebec’s English-speaking community, and its artists, in many ways.

Guy Rodgers

Executive Director

Founded in 2000 and based in Montreal, Vallum magazine is published biannually. Vallum provides a forum for emerging artists to interact with more established figures while giving them exposure and the confidence to continue with their art. As one of Canada’s top poetry journals with an international focus, Vallum encourages dialogue between Quebec and the rest of Canada and allows Canadian artists to exchange ideas with acclaimed and emerging artists from the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, India and other countries around the world. For this Organization Spotlight, publicist Rosie Long Decter speaks on behalf of the Vallum team.

Can you introduce a bit of Vallum’s history? How was the publication founded? 

Vallum was founded by poets Eleni Zisimatos and Joshua Auerbach in 2000. They both graduated from Concordia’s Creative Writing program and saw a need for an English-language poetry journal in Montreal. In 2003, the organization expanded beyond the magazine to organizing poetry workshops in local schools – these workshops grew into the outreach program Poetry for our Future! which now offers 35-40 workshops across the city each year.

The same year, the organization was incorporated as the Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL), a registered charity publishing Vallum magazine and holding poetry/literacy workshops in Montreal and beyond. In 2005, VSEAL launched the Vallum Chapbook Series, which publishes two chapbooks each year, and whose authors include George Elliott Clarke, Nicole Brossard, Fanny Howe, and more.

Today, we continue to publish two issues of Vallum magazine and two chapbooks in the Vallum Chapbook Series per year, as well as coordinating city-wide outreach workshops. The current managing editor in charge of operations is Leigh Kotsilidis.

How would you describe Vallum’s place in Montreal’s literary community? What events are you involved in or do you organize? Are there other literary publications, societies, networks, or spaces you work with, whether in Quebec or elsewhere?

As the publisher of Montreal’s only English-language journal dedicated to poetry, VSEAL strives to support local poets while also fostering connections with the broader literary and arts communities across Quebec and Canada. We have partnered on events and projects with a range of local arts organizations including the Quebec Writers’ Federation, Maisonneuve Magazine, and the Atwater Poetry Project. In addition to publishing Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series, VSEAL regularly hosts and participates in events designed to support the local and national writing communities – last year, for example, we co-presented a panel on chapbook publishing, alongside Baseline Press and Anstruther Press. We also organize readings, launches, and pop-up shops at cafes around the city. Our outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, further connects us to a wide range of arts and community organizations across the city. The Poetry for our Future! workshops emphasize the importance of creative writing as a means of self-empowerment and community-building; in bringing together established poets and local non-profits, these workshops build connections between communities, aiming to expand and strengthen Montreal’s literary community as a whole.

Some of the outreach partners listed on your website include: South Asian Women Community Centre (SAWCC), Perspectives II Outreach High School, Project 10: Projet 10, Chez Doris, and the Laval Penitentiary. Can you talk a bit about these partnerships (and any others!) and how Vallum has collaborated with these partners?

VSEAL’s outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, began as a series of workshops at Lasalle elementary school in 2003. Now, over 15 years later, we provide 35-40 poetry workshops each year for children, youth, and adult learners across the city.

Our workshops are primarily for participants from underserved communities. Each workshop pairs an established, local poet and educator with a partner organization – poet Greg Santos, for example, teaches workshops at adult learning centre Reclaim Literacy. Jessica Bebenek facilitates workshops at Spectrum Productions, a non-profit for children and adults on the autism spectrum.

By partnering with organizations like Reclaim, Spectrum, SAWCC, Chez Doris, and others, we’re able to ensure our outreach workshops are reaching a wide range of participants, and that each workshop is tailored to those participants’ needs. Our partnership with women’s shelter Chez Doris goes all the way back to 2008, which means we’ve had over a decade of developing workshops and approaches that work for Chez Doris’ community. We’re also continuing to establish to new partnerships with local organizations – this year, we’re excited to be planning workshops with Native Montreal.

Our outreach program aims to inspire, spark new talent, empower, strengthen communities, and to bridge demographics that might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with one another. The workshops are committed to creating an approachable, educational, recreational, and safe environment for poetry to flourish.

Can you talk about some of the poetry workshops you’ve hosted? What has been some of the positive response or effects of these workshops?

Our workshops take a wide variety of forms, depending on the styles of our facilitators and the needs of our partner organizations. In 2016, VSEAL partnered with Hands on Media Education to lead workshops on digital literacy at Perspectives II, an outreach high school. Participants aged 13-18 used poems to create stop-animation videos, which were then featured on our website. In 2017, Kama La Mackerel led a series of workshops titled Our Bodies, Our Stories for QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) aged 16-24. These workshops, facilitated at Project 10, offered participants the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills and cultivate their poetics through performance. Last year we also began a new partnership with SistersInMotion, co-presenting creative writing workshops for women and femmes of colour such as Kai Cheng Thom’s “When Trauma Speaks The Bones”.

We receive a lot of inspiring feedback from our workshop participants that affirms the work our outreach facilitators are doing – one participant at a Chez Doris workshop told us that the workshop made her feel “hopeful about the future” and that she was grateful for the space to share with others. That’s one of our primary goals: to provide workshops that inspire confidence on a personal, individual level while also bringing participants together, forming creative communities.

What are your reflections on the English-speaking literary communities you see around Quebec? Do you have partnerships outside of Montreal or elsewhere in the province?

We are members of QWF and are involved with the Atwater Poetry Project, two organizations that support English-language poetry in Quebec. We are also in contact with English bookstores and hosts of poetry readings. However, we would like to expand our borders to include a more multi-lingual emphasis, especially with French-language poets and writers. We have already featured the visual art of French artists in Vallum, and published chapbooks and poetry by Nicole Brossard and Paul-Georges Leroux. We are excited about these kind of exchange possibilities. We appreciate the work of ELAN, which is a great, inclusive organization. We also have an informal partnership with Concordia for our internship program, which has been a great way to connect with young writers and those interested in small press publishing.

What are some of the public spaces that you would recommend for literary or interdisciplinary events?

Montreal has so many good bookstores, cafes, and venues that support literary events. We’ve had great experiences at bookshops like Drawn & Quarterly and Argo Bookstore – Argo recently opened up a back section as well for events! We’ve had successful pop-up shops at le Cagibi and Anti Café (and the now shuttered Chez Boris). Some of our other favourite spots include Kafein, which hosts a regular poetry open mic night, and Resonance, formerly home to the Resonance reading series. The Atwater Library also has a constant slate of excellent literary events. In terms of interdisciplinary events, Suoni per il Popolo does a great job of booking a range of exciting music, art, and literary projects at their various venues. Festival dans ta tête is a great Francophone festival that connects with the English literary community, and Poetry in Voice also hosts poetry recitation contests with a commitment to bilingualism.

What is Vallum currently working on?

We’re currently in production for our next issue, 16:1 “Connections,” which will come out towards the end of April. We’re also working on the layout for our upcoming chapbook release, Art of Surgery by A.F. Moritz. We have two upcoming launches in Montreal and Toronto for the issue and the chapbook. The Montreal launch will be at 7pm on Saturday, May 4th at Rocket Science Room (170 Jean Talon Ouest #204, Montreal, QC). We are currently accepting submissions to our annual Chapbook Award, with a deadline April 30th, as well as submissions for the next Vallum issue, 16:2 “Fear,” deadline May 15th, 2019. We’re also working on developing new outreach partnerships, as well as reworking our website and submissions system, to be launched later this year.

Vallum website: vallummag.com

Vallum Facebook: VallumMagazine

Vallum Twitter: @vallummag

Vallum Instagram: @vallummag

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)