Loud and proud

I'm still on my arts coverage pulpit, though I've shifted gears from ranting about it to trying to inspire some change.  I looked back through six issues of the Fort McMurray Today that were published this week and outside of Kevin Thornton's wonderful column about literature and publishing in the Saturday edition and two photographs, there was nothing about what is happening in our local arts scene. In that same time period there were 15 wonderful stories about what is going on in local sports, outstanding coverage of our Fort McMurray Oil Barons, Keyano Huskies, and myriad youth athletes.

If you're of the arts ilk, you're not going to like this next part.  It's our own fault.  There, I've typed it.  The monster is out of the closet.  We are not effectively sharing our stories, exposing the "why".  Sure, we do a mediocre job of pushing out the what, where, and whens, or the collective hows that delineate the bare minimum facts that we think we need to draw a full house.  It ain't happening folks.

We need to get out of our studios, rehearsal halls, and garages and find ways of shouting out to the world the great things that are being created, imagined, and performed.  Loud and proud needs to be the rallying cry going forward.

I know you're out there, fulminating on why the arts doesn't get a fair shake.  How come we don't get more funding, more coverage, more attention.  The power to change this rests with each of us and how we tell and share our stories.

We have more channels and media partners at our disposal than ever before.  Technology has provided a rich set of tools that give us multiple ways of exposing the why.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, websites, online forums, three local papers, five local radio stations, an active and engaged Shaw Cable TV team, and so much more.

I had a delightful lunch meeting with Mary Ann Kostiuk, Publisher of the Fort McMurray Today earlier this week.  It was important for us to get together for a number of reasons, but high on the agenda was to do a post-mortem on the rich conversation that was sparked after my January 7th rant titled Who is telling our arts and culture story.  Mary Ann, an amateur artist like myself, is very interested in being part of the solution, of working with her Fort McMurray Today team to tell our arts and culture story.

"Let me assure you that we at the Today very much want to keep everyone informed and enlightened on what's going on in Wood Buffalo," wrote Mary Ann in her Facebook response.

"We are dedicated to our community and recording the events. Having said that we also need adequate lead time when it comes to coverage. All too often we get a phone call or email within an hour of an event's start. If you know of, or are participating in an event, be loud and be proud, letting us know about it well in advance. We do want to be there and share the news with our readers."

She certainly confirmed that sentiment when we met face to face.  They are ready to tell our stories, to illuminate the great things that are happening in the creative spaces that surround us, in the ensembles that captivate our children, in the theatrical productions that sweep up our students and community members for months at a time.

Ian Hill, the standout motivational speaker at the Leading the North conference that just wrapped up in Fort McMurray, talked about the idea that Wood Buffalo has the opportunity to become the next Athens, a community that can change the world, become a beacon of hope.  I believe that we have that opportunity in the arts, to become a community and region known for its cultural richness, for its creative courage, for it unparalleled capacity for festivity and expression.

This can't be just about seeing stories in the paper and on the radio about what's happening at the theatre or art gallery tonight.  We need to dig deeper than that.  We need to spark fertile conversations about the process of creating art, the journey of theatrical development, the challenges of writing, the magic that happens in ensemble work. After that we need to unearth the WHY, and do it consistently.  Why is attending The Met at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts going to touch your heart?  Why is attending the annual Keyano Theatre curtain raiser an important, in fact vital, way for you to support the arts?  Why is Chicago the can't miss theatrical event of the year? Why is the African Guitar Summit at the Syncrude winterPLAY going to set your spirit soaring?

Cathy Glover from the Suncor Energy Foundation shared the book Getting to Maybe (by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton, Vintage Canada) during the Social Prosperity Summit that happened on January 25th, talking about capacity building and sustainability in the nonprofit sector.  I'm going to share the descriptor here because I think it captures the spirit of what I'm asking:

GETTING TO MAYBE:  This book is for those who are not happy with the way things are and would like to make a difference. This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that will create extraordinary outcomes. This is a book about making the impossible happen. HOW THE WORLD IS CHANGED.

I'm convinced that together we can unearth the rich arts and cultural life that is percolating in Wood Buffalo, from Fort Chipewyan in the north to Conklin in the south, from the basements to the concert halls, from the pottery studios to the art galleries.

If you're at a loss as to how to get your story told, send me an email (russell@russellthomas.ca) and we'll work through it together. If you're a freelance writer and want to be one of the tellers of the stories, let me know.  We need everyone's help to turn this ship around and put Wood Buffalo on the map as the arts and cultural jewel of northern Alberta.


  1. I am not sure what this bandwagin looks like but I'm on!!!! Hoping to be part of the change in WB!

  2. Yeehaa! Good luck Russell. It's true, when I approached newspapers to announce and cover our Art Gallery openings, they were amazed by the early and passionate request. As that was normally not a normal thing to do in Fort McMurray.

    Get in full gear, believe in it and you'll make it a reality.


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