The impact and the import of the arts

I was sitting next to Andy Carter, one of Shell Canada's senior leaders in Fort McMurray, during the annual student awards celebration at Keyano College.  Andy was recently appointed to our Board of Governors and this was my first opportunity to put a face to the name.

"Oh, I've known you for years," said Andy, after I introduced myself.

While we've probably never had a conversation, it became abundantly clear that he had seen me on the Keyano Theatre stage multiple times over the years, which, combined with the other aspects of my very public life, probably made it feel like I was completely familiar.

"I've been a Keyano Theatre subscriber for over 20 years," he shared.

He pulled out my performance as Tom Joad in 1998's production of The Grapes of Wrath as one of his favourites, a show directed by one of Alberta's most respected theatre artists, Maralyn Ryan.  It was also my first opportunity to work with Citizen Ruth (Francoeur) and her husband Norm, a cultural couple who recently moved away from our community.

"Of all the shows you've seen, is there one or two that stand out?" I asked.

Jesus Christ Superstar, 2001
He thought for a moment or two then declared that On Golden Pond and Jesus Christ Superstar (with David Kirschner, Jr. as Jesus and Veronica Carter as Mary Magdelane) were two at the top of the list.

It was so nice to see that Keyano Theatre productions were woven into the fabric of Andy's Fort McMurray life, adding richness, meaning, and entertainment for over two decades.

I had a similar experience last night as Heather and I were saying our goodbyes after enjoying a tremendous visit at Scott and Marjorie Sullivan's annual Christmas reception.  Scott is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Syncrude Canada. Originally from Pennsylvania, Scott's authenticity and community commitment hearkens back to those halcyon days when Eric Newell and Jim Carter were leading this incredible company.

We were about to descend into the front foyer to retrieve our shoes and coats when we bumped into my good friend (and recent Opa [Grandpa]) Leroy van Wieran chatting with Syncrude's Fred Payne and his lovely wife.  They shared that they have been Keyano Theatre Company subscribers for 27 years!  But they've also been great supporters of interPLAY and WinterPLAY, sharing some lovely thoughts about what those events have meant to them and to our community.

The Zoo Story, 2009, with Kenny Jones
That they pulled our performance of The Zoo Story from their memory banks as one of their favourites endeared them to me forever.  Getting to go through that experience with Kenny Jones ranks right up there as one of the great journeys of my life. Fred also recalled with fondness my role as Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, directed by the venerable James MacDonald.

Romeo and Juliet, 2002
Last night, we also attended the grand opening celebration of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, a beautiful facility and a vital addition to the inventory of cultural spaces in Fort McMurray.

Simon-Marc de Freitas, Sarah Neiman, and Cara Brown
We were treated to some amazing performances from homegrown artists like Simon-Marc de Freitas, Cara Brown, Sarah Neiman and Alexandra Price - artists who developed their disciplines in our school systems and at Keyano College, artists who delighted a theatre full of community leaders with their amazing talents.  They were were joined by Keyano College's Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts program, Peter Ellis, a world-class violinist; and Kimerica and Michal Parr who delivered a sparkling performance of the Phantom Medley by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

From watching the deft hands of Simon to seeing the joy in the face of Cara, from listening to the perfect harmonies to watching the personal passions of all the performers, it was a stirring evening and a reminder, once again, of the impact and the import of the arts in our lives.

Inventory of Arts & Culture Facilities in the MDP
As we move toward the vision of the Municipal Development Plan and its articulation of the role that VIBRANT CULTURE needs to play in building a sustainable community, we need to do several things in my view.  First of all, we need to maximize existing cultural facilities and programs through collaboration, innovation, and better funding models.  Secondly, we need to identify existing gaps, both in terms of cultural infrastructure and operational sustainability and respond to those gaps immediately.  Finally, we need to imagine our future - short-, medium-, and long-term - and ensure that we don't allow ourselves to become complacent about the arts or culturally deficient.

Direction 5.2 from the Municipal Development Plan

"Arts and culture are major contributors to quality of life.  A heightened quality of life shapes, defines, and enriches a region making it easier to attract and retain long-term residents.  It begins with arts and cultural infrastructure comprising a variety of facilities, programs, and services, and balances major public institutions with privately-operated enterprises."

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