Bridging the gap

Building Arts Communities is breaking down barriers for arts in Kingston

Greg Tilson was a little late for our phone interview — he had to climb to a top of a hill to get cell reception. But it seemed like an appropriate place to begin our discussion on the barriers facing the Kingston arts community.

Tilson is the program co-ordinator for the Kingston Arts Council and with the help of 10 to 15 core volunteers, he runs the Building Arts Communities in Kingston seminar and forum.

The two-day event aims to raise awareness about Kingston’s art scene and encourage discussion on tackling barriers in the community.

“I just am noticing these themes that are popping up in discussions,” Tilson said. “We need a common communication forum ... like a common website or newspaper for the arts. We need to bridge the gap between Queen’s and the rest of the community. We need to create arts hubs throughout the city, spaces in the north end, the west end, not just downtown.”

The event will begin with a seminar on Feb. 15 featuring keynote speaker Simon Brault, the author of No Culture, No Future, who Tilson refers to as the voice of “cultural activism.” Justin Langlois, the co-founder and director of Broken City Lab Artist Collective, will speak on his experience with forming arts communities in Windsor.

“[Langlois] can come to Kingston and say ‘Hey you guys have it pretty good here, you have an arts council, a department of cultural services. There’s funding and this is what we’re doing in Windsor with no money, here are some ideas.’”

The seminar will also present a video documentary created by local videographers, Janelle Zhao and Josh Lyon. Zhao along with Tilson, went around Kingston asking residents what arts communities they belong to.

Tilson said one of the most memorable answers came from a high school student who was struggling to gain access to the Kingston arts scene because she is underage and has to rely on the bus system to get into the city.

“In a very short interview, [she] identified two really huge issues for basically the future of the arts scene,” Tilson said. “How are we setting up access for young arts participants so that people are staying in Kingston and engaged from a young age onwards?”

The public forum on Feb. 16 aims to facilitate open discussion about gaining more audience participation in the arts. Tilson is most looking forward to hearing from people not involved in the Kingston arts community.

“I’m interested in connecting with people, students, faculty, staff who maybe don’t feel included in the arts scene,” he said. “They may react to something like this as ‘Well I’m not an artist or whatever.’ I’m trying to find ways to communicate with people that we all participate in the arts and we can all benefit from the arts.”

A follow-up to the seminar is planned for May, when Langlois will return to Kingston to give another workshop.

A major barrier to the future of the arts in Kingston comes from the one-year suspension of the Queen’s BFA program, Tilson said.

“A lot of the energy comes from BFA students,” he said. “The Kingston Arts Council has commented to the folks in Arts and Sciences and the leaders that we want to do whatever we can do to help come up with ideas to start this up again, to limit to the one-year suspension and make sure it comes back.”

The Building Arts Communities in Kingston seminar will occur on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Grand Theatre. Tickets are $7.50 in advance. The forum runs at the Renaissance Event Venue on Feb. 16 at 1 p.m.

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