HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
While 107 of Yukon’s best, young athletes strive for victory at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, three Whitehorse artists are in town with a very different agenda.
Instead of competing against more than 30 artists from across Canada in the National Artist Program, which runs in conjunction with the Games, they are collaborating with them.
“Just like how every province and territory sends athletes, they also have a competition – each province and territory handles it differently – that will bring artists to the Canada Games,” said Chris O’Neill, an artistic director of the program.
“The thing that is different about that, once the athletes are chosen, they compete against each other; once the artists are chosen, they collaborate.
“It’s the only opportunity that I know of where artists from across Canada, especially at these ages, 16 to 22, can get together, from all these disciplines, from all these diverse communities and create new work together.”
It’s a real melting pot of artists. Coming from every province and territory are musicians, literary artists, visual artists and dancers. They are all learning from each other, and some expect to find mentors.
Singer/songwriter Clancy McInnis, 22, and dancers Jada Powell, 17, and Valerie Herdes, 16, represent the Yukon.
“I think it’s great: the contrast to all the competition,” said Powell. “I find a lot of the people here as athletes don’t get to know each other as well, where we are collaborating. When I tell athletes that, they’re like, ‘That’s pretty cool that you’re not here to try and beat people.’”
“This is an eye-opener, it has taught me a lot about simplicity, opening up and not caring what anybody else thinks,” said McInnis. “I’ve learned a lot about my voice too. I’ve learned a lot of voice exercises, ways to make your voice resonate, how to collaborate – harmonies – with other people.”
Contrary to what some might expect, the program isn’t about putting all the musicians in one room, all the painters in another and so on. It’s about exposing artists to other disciplines, even if that means taking them out of their comfort zone.
Sure, McInnis is learning how to play a native drum belonging to a Nunavut artist and is attempting his first French song, he is also trying something completely different from strumming his guitar.
“I found myself dipping a little bit into the ballet,” said McInnis. “I’ll go back and twinkletoe around the dance floor.”
Going the other way, the dancers, who together have 16 years of dance experience in hip-hop, ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary and more, are going from moving to music to creating it.
“It’s definitely been very interesting,” said Herdes. “I had to face stuff that I haven’t necessarily dealt with before. I’ve been singing and doing art and a bunch of stuff like that.
“It’s definitely different than what I expected, but it’s interesting to learn new things I haven’t done before.”
The collaboration of all the artists will culminate in two gala shows at Citadel High School in Halifax on Saturday. There will be performances and a gallery, but as far as any specifics of how all the artists will be presented, that’s still be worked out by the artists.
“I’m not entirely sure yet; we’re just pulling it together,” said McInnis when asked about his role in the gala. “There’s a couple theatrical pieces where I’m playing a native drum, which is pretty cool.”
“We didn’t want a talent show, we wanted something where we would get them to explore their creativity beyond what the discipline they came in,” said O’Neill. “We recognize that somebody might come as a dancer, or a musician or a writer, we also want them to explore the creative side of all of our lives. So we have dancers who have been writing, discovering they have a talent for that.
“It’s exciting to see them break down those barriers.”
While the National Artist Program will continue in the future, its association with the Canada Games might be drawing to a close after Halifax. It seems its close relationship with the Games has given the program an identity crisis.
“There has been some issues over the years around the program,” said Sue Hylland, president and CEO of the Canada Games Council. “Some of it is recruiting, some of it is lack of clarity – where does this fit in the overall Canada Games. Some of these issues have been coming to light and our government partners have created a working group to look at the matter and get feedback from everybody.
The conclusion was the existing national artist program needs to be retooled.
“The program, in its current format, will not be moving forward with the Games,” said Hylland. “That does not mean we won’t have a national element to our cultural programming. We just have to figure out what that means.”
The program is one of three cultural components of the Games, also including the opening and closing ceremonies and other events put on by the host society, such as free concerts in downtown Halifax each night of these Games.
“I heard they are thinking of discontinuing the program and that kind of made me sad because I think artists tend to not fit in necessarily where they are from,” said Powell. “So when you come into a big group of them, it does more than help with your art, it helps you as a person, to feel like you fit in, you have worth.”
Yukon’s three artists were chosen by a three-person selection committee assembled by the Yukon government’s cultural branch. To be considered, the nine applicants had to submit an application, references and some artistic material, be it paintings, sculptures, literary samples, songs or even YouTube footage.
“We sat down and took a look at all the applicants and from that point these were the top three – the cream of the crop,” said Tracey Bilsky, Team Yukon’s assistant chef de mission, who sat on the selection committee.
“There were extraordinarily good applicants and these were the top three.”
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