Conversations about community will swap insights, stories and more

Submitted by News Buff on May 29, 2013 - 2:08pm
An article from The Waterloo Record

A thousand conversations about community: That’s the objective of a campaign that was launched recently.

It started in Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph. Hamilton is next. But that’s just the beginning. The aim is to create a Canada-wide dialogue over a three-year period.

A thousand conversations, by a thousand groups consisting of families, friends, co-workers, faith groups, neighbourhoods and schools. And, as members of Kitchener’s arts and culture advisory committee learned last week, culture-related organizations and associations, large or small, formal or informal, are also invited to participate.

Derek Alton, with the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement, made the presentation. He’s the “campaign animator” for the project.

Alton explained that these conversations can occur anywhere people come together — “anything from a formal program through the YWCA to a group of friends who get together on occasion for a potluck.”

The style can be similarly varied — “from a formalized process that we can help facilitate to a casual conversation around the dinner table.”

The goal is to “co-generate learning … by sharing insights, patterns and inspiring stories,” and, ultimately, to apply this learning to finding ways to build a better future for all of us.

Groups that participate will be connected to the national conversation through, which is designed to serve as “an online learning community.”

The project organizers will also provide monthly highlights of the conversation as it unfolds, as well as quarterly analysis reports, each with a specific focus.

The relevance to the arts, culture and heritage seems obvious. Many arts organizations include making connections and building community as part of their mission or mandate. I mentioned some examples in a column a few weeks ago:

- “Connecting people and ideas through art” (Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery);

- “Building bridges in our community through music, dance, drama, and visual arts from around the world”(Neruda Productions).

- The MT Space vision statement is an interesting variation on the theme: “Working with different communities to build a community of difference.”

- and “Backyard Theatre creates original Canadian plays that tell stories that happened, or could have happened, in the community in which they are created and performed.”

Sometimes the concept in embedded in the very name: Waterloo Community Arts Centre; K-W Community Orchestra; Community Players of New Hamburg and Grand River Folk Community.

Arts groups often become communities in themselves: creators, members, audiences, volunteers, directors, management and staff.

Cultural-related facilities such as theatres, galleries, museums and libraries also serve as places where communities come together, in the same way parks, schools, recreational centres, and places of worship can.

This is a critical contribution. Alton noticed very early on is the importance of having a place to gather. Space is one of “the four main pillars that seem to appear when people talk about what community is,” along with “connection, theme and feeling.”

The arts can also help build community and a sense of place by providing a focal point or a connecting link: a story, a song, an image, an idea; happenings, celebrations and commemorations.

A community theatre project like Backyard Theatre’s current production of Kathleen Cleland Moyer’s Nowhere, Ontario touches on all these themes, to the point where it can almost be conceived as a an extended public conversation on community in itself. .

First performed in a shed in Cleland Moyer’s backyard last summer, the play will presented again at the Conrad Centre in downtown on May 9 and 11.

Alton’s call for participation is extended to everyone.

“If your group is already having conversations about community, that’s fantastic and we would love to learn from and share your insights. … If any of this interests you, please contact me at”


Martin DeGroot writes about local arts and culture each Saturday. You can reach him by email at

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It's so exciting to see this campaign gaining momentum. A big thanks to Martin for writing about this campaign to spread the word!