Engaging all Canadians in culture

National Congress would like to see it in each of our lives.

Culture Days have become an effective way to bring culture to a wider audience. (Photo by Gaune Studios Photography.)
Culture Days have become an effective way to bring culture to a wider audience.
(Photo by Gaune Studios Photography.)

By Joan Cohen

On May 22 and 23, Winnipeg plays host to the second annual Culture Days National Congress 2014, a cross-country gathering which will take on a big task: that of helping Canadians recognize that culture is part of our lives already – and of searching out ways to actually enlarge its presence.

Some 150 to 200 people, representing large organizations and small, as well as artists and others involved in the culture world, will be attending, meeting in the Winnipeg Art Gallery auditorium, with the proceedings also being streamed out live across the globe.

We’re already creative
In a telephone conversation the other day, Jean Giguère, Congress co-chair, summed up its theme as “Culture every day, everywhere, creating and sustaining a national daily habit.” That theme, examined carefully, invites us all to share in the two-day event and, in ideal circumstances, would make us all beneficiaries.

“The point of the Congress is to get people together, interacting with each other, collaborating with each other and feeding off each others’ ideas, because there’s so much creativity across this country,” Jean says.

“People didn’t realize that culture was a word they were afraid of. Then they realized it was part of their day and part of their habit. It’s not necessarily defined by going to a large concert hall but by what they do in daily life. It’s their choirs, their knitting and everything.

“It’s been a real eye opener for me going across the country how much creativity is out there.” That creativity, Jean suggests, is what culture is about.

The National Congress is an offshoot of the annual Culture Days, now four years old, which has for three days each September been showcasing diverse artistic and cultural talent across the country. Culture Days organizers expect some 8,000 free activities will be part of this year’s event, with over 800 Canadian cities and towns participating.

Organizers explain that “Culture Days is committed to reaching the goal of having all Canadians in every community declaring “I Love Culture”, as well as making culture a daily habit. The non-profit Culture Days organization is dedicated to building a national network of cultural connections devoted to providing Canadians with opportunities to participate in, and appreciate, all forms of arts and cultural activities.

It’s calculated that hundreds of thousands of artists and cultural organizations, in hundrweds of cities and towns come together in the event. The 10 provincial governments and Northwest Territories government all participate.

Representatives of the Culture Days celebrations have the rare opportunity of seeing each other face to face at the National Congress, and to sit down and really connect and interact with what’s going on in each other’s communities. The Congress program is intended to be relevant for everybody – large organizations, smaller groups and individual artists.

Speakers will be looking at questions like: Is your organization relevant – a question that concerns everything from community centres and the organizations involved with the big halls and showplaces; and a second big concern: Engaging your community (in your operations), and building your support – one person at a time.

A cultured city
Even outsiders should be able to see why these issues should command delegates’ attention.

“We are thrilled to host the National Congress on Culture in Winnipeg, one of the leading lights in this country when it comes to public engagement in arts and culture,” said Antoni Cimolino, chair of the Culture Days national board when the Congress venue was announced.

Culture Days Manitoba co-chairs Giguère and Sylviane Lanthier have been part of Culture Days here since it was launched. Jean has just received a major national honour: the 2014 Ramon Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism in the Performing Arts.

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