Culture Days give voice to a legion of artists

Penelope Kerr, third from right, Culture Days staff and the student reporter interns with Marci Ien.
Penelope Kerr, third from right, Culture Days staff and the student reporter interns with Marci Ien.

By Penelope Kerr

“The arts give a voice to so many kids,” said co-host of CTV’s Canada AM, Marci Ien, at the Culture Days awards dinner. Marci – who invited me to use her first name the instant I tried “Ms. Ien” – hosted the dinner, which was held at the Fort Garry Hotel as the grand finale to the second annual National Congress on Culture.
Earlier that afternoon she had met with four students with an interest in journalism and arts/culture selected for the Culture Days and CTV Student Reporters Internship, to share her experiences and advice with them – and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
As co-host of Canada AM, she knows a thing or two about developing a very recognizable voice, and even to some degree expressing it through the arts, as she told us that her first television experience was as a child actress on the series “Circle Square.”
I can certainly attest to the powerful truth of the statement Marci made that evening. As a fairly shy kid, I often found that the masterfully crafted words of my favourite authors expressed my feelings much better than I ever could, and their pages were my voice before I realized I could have one of my own by writing myself.
Even now, as a literature student, I constantly go back to the novels, poems and stories that speak to me on an intimate level to find inspiration for my own voice as a writer and person. And, as communications & content coordinator for Culture Days, I enjoyed contributing to the National Congress, an event that is all about bringing together a diversity of voices that have been shaped by the arts and giving them the chance to be heard at a national forum.
The voices I had the opportunity to hear at the Congress were certainly diverse and illuminating each in their own way. The event began with a keynote from the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, who provided some numbers: every year the arts and culture sectors bring almost $50 billion into the Canadian economy, and neatly summed up the reason everyone was there with her statement that “Our Canadian identity is in fact defined by arts, culture, heritage and language.”

Culture Days dancers at the National Congress on Culture in Winnipeg.
Dancers at the National Congress on Culture in Winnipeg.

When we talk about our arts and culture, what we’re really talking about is who we are – and what discussion could be more important or intriguing than that?
The combination of voices gathered on stage for the several Congress panels sparked some great ideas and advice as well. During the “Is your organization relevant throughout the year?” panel, Angela J. Cassie of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights discussed the importance of listening to and exchanging with your audience/community when building a cultural institution: “There’s nothing more powerful than a conversation.”
The digital marketing panel shared helpful bits of information such as the optimal times to Tweet (during lunch hour and at 6 p.m., when people are on a break), tips from Plank’s Warren Wilansky (Experiment! It’s the best way to learn about digital marketing) and Unbounce’s Liesl Barrell (the real and the digital should reinforce each other; they’re not separate worlds), among others. The notable final panel was last year’s hit Culture Days success stories, during which panelist Crystal Kolt of the Flin Flon Arts Council, 2013 Culture Days Antoni Cimolino Leadership Award winner, beautifully described art as “a romance between artist and audience… it’s all about relationships.”
All Congress delegates had a chance to bring their voices to the table in a series of diverse breakout workshops on themes such as municipal engagement, granting programs and website/social media management.
During the time allocated to these workshops, I was engaging with the memorable and generous voice of Marci, who mentored me and my fellow students in reporting by telling us some great stories about her rise to success, the ins and outs of interviewing – and Frank Sinatra – among other things.
She emphasized the importance of crafting an original voice for yourself by honing your writing and research skills, and then using those skills to target unique points of interest and ask fresh questions that will help you draw out the authentic voices of the people you speak to.
During a tour of the CTV Winnipeg studio, another component of the Student Reporters Internship, we were also told about the way the current “shrinking newsroom” phenomenon is causing news agencies to look for fewer reporters who can do more with their voices: multitaskers who are able to express themselves competently not just in writing but through shooting video, taking photographs, etc.
In this day and age it sometimes seems increasingly difficult to make your voice heard, but there are many channels through which to convey it, from Twitter to the local newspaper to art. The 2014 Congress was a reminder that arts and culture truly can “give a voice” to all and remain as vital and powerful a communications platform as they have always been throughout history – but also that they can mingle with other media (digital, news, etc.) and other sectors (business, academia) to create productive spaces of mutual exchange, discovery and social impact.

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