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Art eases ethnic tensions

The ancient city of Matara, Sri Lanka, has been ravaged by civil war and tested by ethnic tensions among Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

The ancient city of Matara, Sri Lanka, has been ravaged by civil war and tested by ethnic tensions among Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

Then the 2004 tsunami hit the town.

The deadly wave killed more than 1,000 people in Matara, leaving the city’s shoreline buildings in ruins.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities offered its help to assist in the rebuilding effort. However the federation was stumped when Matara’s mayor asked whether it could help with cultural events.

So the federation turned to Creative City – a network of Canadian cities that discusses and shares skills on all aspects of municipal governance.

Creative City exported some of the methods used in British Columbia’s 2010 Legacies Now project to the Sri Lankan city.

“It’s amazing how (the skills) transferred into another culture,” said Creative City conference executive director Elizabeth Keurvorst.

Keurvorst has visited Matara for the project.

“The arts are unique in each community, but the basic project tools and skill set are global.”

And the results are showing, she said.

“In August, there was the first Matara arts festival, which had dancing, music and improvisational poetry. The way that they put on the festival was the same way we do it in Canada. But the content is very Sri Lankan.”

But Matara wants to learn more.

A six-person delegation from the city is on its way to Whitehorse to attend the first annual Creative City Summit. Its members want to improve their knowledge of cultural policy.

One hundred municipal leaders from across Canada are expected to attend the three-day conference beginning Wednesday.

Among other things, the conference will focus on fostering communication between different cultures through art.

Behind every theatre ticket and folkloric art piece, there is a message from one culture to another, said Keurvorst.

“We think of culture as a commodity, but it’s about communication,” she said.

“Whitehorse gets it, and the city of Matara gets it. Our job is to help (municipal) practitioners get it.”

Whitehorse has a long history of dealing with diversity, she said.

“(The Matara delegation) will be looking at social cohesion, peace building and gender equality.”

The summit includes study tours through the Sun Dog Carving Centre, the Yukon Arts Centre, a gallery tour and a heritage walking tour.

The heritage tour will highlight the history behind some of Whitehorse’s landmarks, including the Old Log Church Museum and the SS Klondike.

Whitehorse native Louise Profeit-Leblanc will host a session called “Unity in the Community.” A member of the Nacho Ny’ak Dan First Nation, Profeit-Leblanc is head of Aboriginal Arts at the Canada Council for the Arts.

The summit will open with a reception at the MacBride Museum on Wednesday evening.

Thursday’s schedule includes a seminar on digital networking and “e-tools” that can help a city become more engaged with its citizens. It will also feature Profeit-Leblanc’s speech as well as a presentation on how to revive art districts and neighborhoods.

There will be a five-year anniversary party for Yukon Artists at Work that evening. The artistic co-operative hosts a gallery with works from 35 Yukon artists.

On Friday, the summit will focus on public art and cultural infrastructure issues.

Creative City normally engages its participants using various internet tools.

“Our motto has been think analog, act digital,” said Keurvorst.

“We’re building relationships, but doing it digitally. This is our one time a year to have a human one-on-one event.”

Creative City is based in Vancouver and has staged conferences across Canada for the last six years.

Its conferences have focused on planning, cultural policy and environmental sustainability, to name just a few.