For the first time, our Artists Exchange (held on February 24 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts) was done in partnership with North York Arts, in our desire to reach artists in the north of Toronto. We really enjoyed this experience, thanks to North York Arts, its fantastic space and delicious food !
This Artists Exchange featured Kevin Ormsby (founder/artistic director of KasheDance) and Fana Soro (musician/Dancer/educator). It was intended for artists wanting to tour schools and to navigate the Ontario school system, and searched to highlight the challenges faced by new Canadians in this realm.
After a short session led by our new admin-assistant Carrie to break the ice, we heard Kevin and Fana tell their respective story about their arrival in Canada and adaptation to North America's different approach to arts education.
|Patty Jarvis, Prologue's Executive Director, introduces both artists.|
Fana, from a small village of 500 in Ivory Coast, moved to the big city (Abidjan), and then to... Norway, where he lived for years before arriving to British Columbia, and then move to Ottawa. Over the years, Fana faced increasingly diverse audiences.
Kevin saw the world while traveling with a major dance company. Then, he had the opportunity to deliver sessions in the schools and see how different the experience was with the audience.
5 TIPS to take away from this Artists Exchange
1) You need to learn about the system in your new environment
One Iranian artist in the group told how she was surprised when she discovered that after-school arts programs in Toronto were not tackled with the same academic approach as the art classes in her country of origin.
When he moved to Canada from Norway, Fana discovered that all school systems are not equal and he learned how to ask the right questions to understand the decision making process within each new system.
Prologue prepared a PowerPoint presentation to this effect, which you will find it at the end of this post.
2) School performances are VERY different from public performances
The level of engagement required by the school system surprises many new Canadian artists. "In the schools, you have to think about the audience. It not just about your art", explained Kevin, "you have to understand what you bring to them, what they're teaching you."
3) It might be the first chance a school audience has to interact with someone of your cultural background
"You have to put yourself in the kids' shoes", said Fana. On many occasions when performing in remote places, kids would ask him why he was wearing his pyjamas (referring to his West African outfit). It would be the first time they saw such clothes. He would explain to them how everyone is wearing this in his country of origin.
4) The diversity within a school audience may mean that you need to adapt your work to make it relevant
When Kevin found out in one of his dance workshops that some of the school girls were prevented by their religion to make certain movements, he realized he had rethink his approach, and his assumptions. A tip suitable for any artist who wants to work in Ontario's school, especially in the big cities.
"Is your material relevant to your audience? How reflective of your audience are your stories?", asked Kevin. (Shakespeare might not be the best tool to engage students when 90% of them are from a different country!)
5) Educate yourself about diversity and cultural pluralism
Accept that you will need to get some training and tips from your peers. Kevin pointed out that resources are available through programs such as Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO), which aims at creating useful tools and guides related to cultural pluralism (Kevin is also a Program Manager for CPAMO).
Patty also mentioned that conferences organized by entities, such as Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators (CODE) or Ontario Music Educators' Association (OMEA) offer great opportunities for new artists to meet with peers and stakeholders in their field.
Let's not forget meeting opportunities such as Prologue's Artists Exchanges, offering the participants a direct access to Patty and the staff to ask their questions, and a chance to meet other artists facing the same challenges.
Prologue's PowerPoint presentation
Ministry of Education http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/
People for Education (great links!) http://www.peopleforeducation.ca/
Settlement – School Systems in Ontario http://settlement.org/ontario/education/elementary-and-secondary-school/school-systems-in-ontario/
Cultural Human Resources Council http://www.culturalhrc.ca/index-e.php+
Prologue's blog "Showtime!"