I have a dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. cast a bold vision when he first uttered "I have a dream" in front of 250,000 civil rights supporters who had gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  On August 28th, 50 years will have gone by since that historic day that imagined a brighter future for African Americans.

Dreams are powerful things.  They have the capacity to ignite passions, and inspire action.  On the occasion of my 700th blog post, I thought that casting a vision of what our community and region will be like when we are wildly successful with the work that lies in front of Arts Council Wood Buffalo might be an appropriate way to mark the moment.  Into my second week in the new role, vision and dreams have never been more important.

What does success look like?

Fort McMurray is a magnet for artists, attracting a broad range of creative types, drawn to the perplexing and alluring dichotomy of the world's most sustainable community serving one the largest industrial projects in the history of humanity.

We have a menu of performance venues that attract myriad artists, from the hottest stars to the most talented up-and-comers, and provide meaningful and plentiful opportunities for our growing legions of local performers.

Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre is thriving with musicians, visual artists, writers and theatre practitioners exploring, learning, collaborating, colliding, innovating and performing at all hours of the day and in all four seasons.  It is the cultural incubator of the north, working closely with its counterpart to the south, the Banff Centre.

The Writer's Residence run by the Fort McMurray Public Library is one of the cultural hallmarks of the region, attracting acclaimed authors and promising literary neophytes who create brave new work and make deep connections with our community.  The property's two-car garage, transformed into a brilliant studio, provides creative space for local artists and visiting creators.

NorthWord is a flagship literary publication, now into its 10th year.  It has published a number of hardcover table top editions, featuring a compelling collection of writings that capture the beauty, wonder and mystery of life in the north.

A vibrant visual art scene is further enhanced by a self-sustaining affordable housing/studio facility adjacent to a thriving urban market, giving artists the opportunity to live, work, display and sell their creations.

Public art is in abundance and offers residents and visitors alike delightful creative surprises in unexpected places.  Born out of a public art policy that has become the gold standard for municipalities in Canada, the Wood Buffalo public art program provides visual reminders of our rich Aboriginal heritage, fur trading, salt production and transportation traditions, oil sands development, and the big spirit and limitless potential intrinsic to our identity.

Two Class "A" galleries, one at Keyano College and another at the Arts Centre in the Civic Plaza district, feature a mix of world-class traveling exhibitions and local, regional and provincial displays. For the students of the region, these galleries provide enviable interpretive opportunities and the chance to engage with a stunning range of visiting artists.

Live music is available everywhere you turn: in the pubs, restaurants, theatres, public parks, city square and at festivals and concerts, large and small, that occur throughout the year. The genres represented reflect the rich diversity of Wood Buffalo, home to people who have come here from every single nation on earth.

Music programs in the school systems have grown to levels not seen in several decades, with senior bands in each of the high schools numbering between 75 - 100 students.  The creation of music and learning an instrument have become among the most popular electives of the secondary school experience.

Wood Buffalo has spawned a number of successful musical acts, making significant waves on the national scene.  Something about the music culture in our region, coupled with the energy of the place, provides music creators with opportunities and inspiration that seems to resonate far beyond our borders.  One musical act, comprising of people from all seven continents and four different cultures, has created a sound and a story that reverberates across the country, a symbol of the cultural tapestry that exists in this place we call home.

Dance continues to flourish in Wood Buffalo, with healthy and dynamic companies and venues that are the envy of the rest of the province.  An annual Festival of Dance attracts hundreds of dancers, thousands of guests and is a one-of-a-kind celebration that earns national attention.

Fort McMurray has become known for producing some of the best prospects in the world of professional dance.  Those dancers who began with local companies and are working full-time in major centres across North America, now number in the dozens.

Theatre has grown in leaps and bounds with a dramatic increase in participation fueled by major Keyano Theatre Company productions that successfully ignite the passions of performers, young and old.  Their season now consists of six productions, utilizing a variety of venues and boasting a membership base of over 2,500 people.

Several community theatre groups are very active, giving valuable entry points and performance opportunities.  A successful professional dinner theatre is located in a prime location in the heart of the city centre, providing sustainable employment for its resident company of actors, theatre artists and technicians.

The interPLAY Festival, now counted as one of the top gatherings of artists in Canada, provides an incredible selection of performing and visual arts over 10 days.  A strong community theatre culture has made the indoor productions as popular as the marquee street performer shows, attracting shows from around the world - a northern counterpoint to the legendary Edmonton International Fringe Festival.

The Foster Festival, an annual offering of comedic plays crafted by Canada's most prolific playwright, attracts thousands of tourists to the region who enjoy great theatre, tours of the oil sands, side trips to the Fort McKay amphitheatre for unforgettable performances, and guided walking tours along Morimoto Promenade, the interpretive path that stretches from MacDonald Island all the way to the horse pasture lands past Waterways.

The Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association and the burgeoning community of film artists are doing ground-breaking work, producing shorts and features that consistently turn heads at festival across North America.  "What the hell is happening in Fort McMurray?' is a question often asked by film afficienados as they marvel at the quality and freshness of the work being produced in this remote northern location.

Young people who have an interest in pursuing the arts as a career, can fully explore that path without feeling compelled to leave the community.  Many choose to stay, learn and work in Wood Buffalo, seizing the growing number of creative opportunities that exist in what has become known as Alberta's Northern Cultural Capital.

What does success look like to you?

This vision is not complete, nor does it begin to touch the myriad opportunities that we have to create a culturally dynamic region and community.  I just gleaned the surface based on my limited knowledge and exposure to what is happening, what is being talked about by various organizations and individuals, and what is coming down the pike in terms of new facilities and initiatives.  There is so much more I have yet to discover or even imagine; of that, I am convinced.

At the very least, to quote an observation from Franco Savoie from the YMCA, someone needs to plant a flag in the ground and say with boldness and complete conviction: "This is what we will aspire to!"

I agree with him.  So, let me grab my Wood Buffalo flag, and with total belief and intention thrust in into the top of the mountain and say: "We will be a world-renowned centre for arts and culture!"

Is it a bold vision? Yes.  It is achievable? Absolutely.  Together, we can make anything happen.


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