Instead of competing for ticket sales, Francophone art groups have opted to work together to maximize public interest in cultural events.
Instead of vying to bring artists to town for their organization, they work together to compliment each other's calendars.
Instead of working as individuals with personal agendas, they strive to make the most of their collective resources.
It's no easy feat, but it's certainly worthwhile for those interested in sustaining the local arts scene. Representatives from eight of the city's professional French art groups meet monthly to discuss ways to make the scene thrive.
The formation of Regroupement des organismes culturels de Sudbury, known as ROCS, was never intentional. About seven years ago, the member groups decided that in order to sell tickets, attract artists and put out the best possible product, they couldn't compete with each other — they had to work together.
“Les ROCS was an accident,” said Stéphane Gauthier, cultural director of Carrefour francophone de Sudbury. It was born from “the plain need to talk to each other.”
“The challenge is everyone has their own space and time,” he said. “That means we have to talk to each other.
“When you do a lot of stuff and do it at the same time as your neighbours, you start stepping on each other's toes,” Gauthier said. Mirroring Francophone culture as a whole, in Sudbury there is “an unsaid tradition that solidarity is key to thriving.”
Thriving they are. Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario has an exceptionally high percentage of sold-out shows per season. The publishing house, Éditions Prise de parole, is winning awards for its works.
Paulette Gagnon, director of development at ROCS, said when organizations join their energies, they can accomplish more.
“How can we maximize the resources we have? How can we find ways to work more closely? That's the mindset we have.”
Each of the organizations involved caters to a different sector within the genre, but still fall within the category of the arts, and shares a common goal.
“The movement came from the strong urge to tell our stories,” Gagnon said.
Along with Carrefour francophone, TNO and Éditions Prise de parole, ROCS consists of:
- Centre franco-ontarien de folklore (provincial folklore centre)
- Éditions Prise de parole (publisher)
- Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario (artist-run centre and gallery)
- La Nuit sur l'étang (festival)
- Salon du livre du Grand Sudbury (bookfair and literary festival)
- Concerts de musique contemporaine 5-Penny New Music Concerts (music presenter).
To be part of the group, art organizations must be professional and funded by provincial and federal art councils.
They do, however, reach out to other groups that do not fit the mandate whenever possible. In the future, they are looking to expand their mandate and take on bigger projects like a Place Des Arts downtown.
The project is currently in the early planning stages. A pre-feasibility study has been completed, and the group is moving toward an independent feasibility study, planned for 2013.
“A public gathering place for the Francophone community and a shared arts facility offering small to medium size venues, as well as production and administrative spaces,” would further ROCS mission of working together for the benefit of French arts.
What Jenny Thinks
I will admit a bit of ignorance here — in the two-and-a-half years I've been reporting on Sudbury's arts scene, I had no idea ROCS existed. Which is really unfortunate.
It seems like this group has some great ideas, and is putting them to work for their benefit. Perhaps other sectors can take note of the example they set.
Or, perhaps it's not that easy. ROCS consists of one professional group in each genre of art. Would the model be as effective if there were multiple theatre companies, multiple music promoters or multiple publishers eyeing the same dollars? Probably not.
But even in the English arts community, are there really that many groups that do the same thing in Sudbury? Some groups do similar things, but no two are really after the exact same piece of pie.
What these French-speaking artists seem to get is that working together is more effective than working against each other, from the big-picture perspective at least. They want Sudbury's Francophone arts sector to flourish, and are making it happen. They aren't handing it off to someone else — representatives from each group commits to a monthly meeting and are taking responsibility for the future of their art.
When English artists tried this a few weeks ago at an Ontario Arts Council meeting, great things happened. Momentum was gained. Artists and art groups wanted to keep it going. How does it happen?
I had an interesting conversation with Andy Knapp, a key player behind the We Live Up Here project, a few weeks ago. He said it's going to take a passion to make Sudbury's arts scene flourish. Someone has to do it because they want to.
“It's all about getting engaged, getting involved, putting that time, love or effort into whatever it is you do best or believe in,” he said. “Someone needs to take charge and lead a team of half a dozen equally inspired, equally devoted people. That would succeed. They just need to ... form a plan. One plan — one end goal — and realize that the end goal will change, and the reason will change, and the events that will take place will be completely different from those expected, and so long as it all stays on-mission, then it'll work.”
I love this idea. The people who make arts flourish in Sudbury will care about arts in Sudbury. I also think “someone” may be a little more inspired if there was an incentive like money involved. Because money makes the world go around, or something like that.
Maybe I have too much faith in society, but I truly believe that some people actually make money doing stuff they love — so we just have to find the right individuals for the job.
Yep, the person making artistic decisions should have a background (or at least an informed opinion) in arts. Yes, a business-minded brain is needed, but that shouldn't be the extent of their education.
Callam Rodya, the young gun behind Encore Theatre, said it quite nicely. He was speaking about the OAC meeting specifically, but addressed some big-picture topics about local arts funding.
“The city could definitely be doing more to embrace the arts and culture sector in Sudbury,” he said. “That sentiment was echoed by nearly every individual in the room (at the OAC meeting). Another issue I brought forward was the need to create a true arts and culture department within the municipal government. Currently, the arts reside under tourism at city hall. And quite frankly, grouping the arts up with hotels, beaches, and sports teams absolutely ensures that they will not flourish locally the way they do in other similarly sized communities.”
So, maybe we can learn from the folks at ROCS. They love what they do, and they do art. They get paid for working in the arts. And they are doing positive things for their artistic communities. Take note.