Creative Connections

Photo Credit: Phil Cornwall

Creative Connections

👤Melissa Sawatsky 🕔May 01, 2017

Artistic expression is often isolating—a visual artist, writer, or musician wrestles alone with an idea and the medium through which it will be expressed. But there are times when a creative endeavour is augmented and enlivened by collaboration and partnership. In Prince Rupert, artists and artisans working in various mediums bring their skills together in an annual Creative Jam. A storyteller, musician, and visual artist join forces in Smithers, each lending a unique skill and stylistic approach to a theatrical production that celebrates fiddle music from across the globe. In Prince George, visual artists are invited to enter into “Artnerships,” an evolving program that provides space for revolving public art displays.

These projects illustrate how the arts serve to build bridges both within and across communities, and spark the exploration and expression of identity and ideas.


In Prince George, Studio 2880 serves as a bustling hub of the arts community. The building is a complex that accommodates the Prince George and District Community Arts Council, the Prince George Community Radio Society, the Prince George Symphony Orchestra, several guilds, and rental space for local not-for-profit organizations. Studio 2880 also houses the Artisan Gift Shoppe, which serves as a point-of-entry for many artists and artisans in the community to display and sell their pottery, wood carvings, jewellery, fibre art, visual art, and a variety of other handmade items.

Lisa Redpath is the Project Manager of the Prince George and District Community Arts Council. Nestled within Studio 2880, the council serves as an umbrella organization for the Prince George arts community, and organizes four signature events every year: the 6 by 6 Auction, the Spring Arts Bazaar, the Art Battle Live Painting Competition, and the Studio Fair.

Artnerships began in 2015 when the Canada Winter Games was hosted by Prince George. The program became permanent and now serves as an extension of the local art gallery, creating another avenue for artists to place their work in the community. This juried, application-based program connects local institutions and businesses with regional artists through an ongoing, rotating display of visual art. Artnership exhibitions are currently on display at the Prince George airport and City Hall.

While the dedicated spaces at the airport and City Hall are appropriate for large-scale pieces, Redpath is exploring opportunities to expand the program into smaller spaces, such as local offices and businesses. This expansion needs to be taken slowly, due to security and contract issues for both the artist and business. Nonetheless, she is thinking big. “We are currently in talks with Tourism Prince George to develop an exciting new opportunity for getting local art into the public eye,” she says.

Artnerships not only offers regional artists exposure and potential income (every piece is for sale), it also facilitates an underlying human motivation for artistic expression: to make an impact. “When people come into the community, these exhibits provide them with a clear impression of the artists that reside here,” Redpath says. The application form itself gives the artist an opportunity to “define the critical conversation [they] want to engage through [their] art.”

Through Artnerships, the Prince George and District Community Arts Council has created room for artists to engage in both individual and communal expressions of identity and ideas in the public space.

Creative Jam

In March, the Prince Rupert Community Arts Council (PRCAC) held their 8th annual Creative Jam at the Lester Centre for the Arts. The facility boasts a spacious lobby, several meeting rooms, a rehearsal room, and a state-of-the-art stage, each of which are used throughout the weekend for multidisciplinary workshops and a final exhibition/performance. Creative Jam was originally conceived and spearheaded by Prince Rupert musician, Peter Witherly, as a way to bring together artistically-inclined people to explore creativity in a safe, supportive environment. This year, Sarah Ridgway and Chantal Cornwall each took on key roles coordinating Creative Jam, which has steadily grown and expanded to include more workshops and participants.

The workshops on offer vary from year to year, depending on feedback from former participants and the availability of skilled facilitators. This year’s workshops included photography with Talon Gillis, watercolour with Nicole Best Rudderham, quilting with Bettina Matzkuhn, Salish fusion knitting with Sylvia Olsen, stained glass with Urve Manuel, and gospel choir with Bill Sample, Marcus Mosley and Darlene Ketchum.

Every year, participants are prompted by a theme that isn't revealed until the first day of the workshop. This year's theme was “a little madness in the spring,” a quote from a poem by Emily Dickinson. “The intention of the theme is to provide a guide or vision for the event that presents a challenge for each workshop,” says Ridgway. “Participants can take it literally, figuratively, or symbolically.” Responses were woven through the various workshops as artists tried new techniques, or explored concepts of renewal and re-growth. Cornwall, who participated in the photography workshop, says they “brought in the madness aspect by creating outrageous photo opportunities and playing with isolation, light, and shade.”

Creative Jam culminates in an exhibition/performance in the stage area of the Lester Centre. Visual art and photography is displayed and music and/or writing is performed or shared with the audience. This part of the weekend is open to the public, and Ridgway says it is always “a lively community event with attendees spanning across generations.”

Like so many small-town collaborations, Creative Jam comes together through grant fundraising, community donations and countless volunteers. Eagle Bluff B&B and Pioneer Guesthouse generously offered discounts to participants and facilitators who were visiting from out of town. Cornwall and Ridgway insist that without these volunteer efforts and accommodation discounts, the event would not be possible budget-wise. “The team makes it. It all falls into place with the right people and the right space,” Cornwall says.

While Creative Jam continues to grow each year, it hasn't strayed from its original intention to create an opportunity for creative collaboration. According to Ridgway and Cornwall, the event fosters a supportive environment that invariably leads to both mentorship and friendship between participants. “To survive and thrive in an isolated community, you need to reach out,” says Cornwall. “Creative Jam encourages people to open that door.”

Alaria's Fiddle

Over the past year, the Valley Youth Fiddlers have been hard at work developing an ambitious, large-scale production called Alaria's Fiddle. The original idea was to explore fiddle music from around the world as a follow-up to their previous touring show, The Fiddler's History of Canada, which was a resounding success.

The new show was conceived and written by Smithers-based Patrick Williston. “I thought we should try to tie the music together with a fable or fairy tale—to take the audience along on a magical, musical journey,” Williston says. He and his family spend a lot of time sailing on the coast, so his experiences at sea inform the story. “I was thinking of the way the ocean links so many cultures around the world,” he explains. “So a story about a young lighthouse keeper slowly took shape.”

As the Musical Director of Alaria's Fiddle, Leslie-Jean MacMillan is responsible for orchestrating the flow of both traditional arrangements and original compositions from a number of visiting musicians. The show boasts an international score that includes songs from Canada, United States, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Moldova, Pakistan, India, Mali, and Australia. Amidst a global political climate dominated by divisive, discriminatory rhetoric and anti-constitutional executive orders being handed down in the United States, MacMillan says, “the celebratory, international flavour of the show provides a great counterpoint to what's going on in the world right now.” Musical contributions and arrangements were brought to the Valley Youth Fiddlers by James Stephens, Gordon Stobbe, Jaron Freeman-Fox, Adrian Dolan, Emilyn Stam, Tirion Lloyd-Grice, and Jake Jenne.

There will be 88 musicians touring the show and more than 90 on-stage for the performances in Smithers, where the cast of Alaria's Fiddle will be joined by the Moricetown Fiddlers—an ensemble that Valley Youth Fiddlers' alumna (and Olympic rower), Antje von Seydlitz, has been working with. The inclusion of former members of the Valley Youth Fiddlers, as well as the Moricetown Fiddlers, exemplifies the cross-cultural, community-minded nature of the show. “It's wonderful to build that bridge and find others who love what you love,” MacMillan says of their collaboration with musicians from Moricetown.

Facundo Gastiazoro was brought in to create visual support for the story through animation, design, and motion graphics. He took his creative direction from the story, allowing the narrative to trigger and justify the imagery and, by extension, help make the music relevant. Gastiazoro refers to the animation as “minimalistic acting that helps the audience relate to Alaria, and provides an oneiric representation of the music.” Williston adds that the narration, music, and animation are layered over and under one another, and the audience is invited to provide their own interpretation of the story.

Alaria's Fiddle is an impressive, multimedia production that came together thanks to the hard work of a large team of community members who contributed countless volunteer hours to every element of the show.

Alaria's Fiddle will premiere in Smithers on May 5th & 6th at the Della Herman Theatre, followed by a tour of the province, including shows in Prince George (May 12th), North Vancouver (May 14th), Sechelt (May 15th), Qualicum Beach (May 17th), and Victoria (May 19th).