4elements Living Arts AGM culminates a retrenchment year

LITTLE CURRENT—It has been a tumultuous year of changes for 4elements Living Arts, the Island’s community arts organization, following the resignation of founder and executive director Sophie Edwards to pursue other interests, but if there is one clear message that Chair Richard Lathwell wants people to know it’s that “we are still very much alive and kicking.”

Although the chair acknowledges that this year has been largely one of retrenchment, and the next few years may prove challenging, the organization is anything but moribund.

“We began the year at the conclusion of the 2017 Elemental Festival,” said Mr. Lathwell in his address to the 4elements annual general meeting. “The Festival was at the culmination of a very intense year that included the Canada 150 Billings Connections Trail project with its installation of seven major sculptures.”

“Several employees concluded their contracts leaving us with a very small staff,” he went on to note. “At our last AGM we announced that we would be entering a year of rest and regrouping. In February, 4elements and our community partners received a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for the Billings Connections Trail.”

“At the beginning of March, our executive director (Ms. Edwards) informed the board that she was leaving to pursue other interests,” he said. “The Board met and seriously considered the question ‘Should 4elements continue’ and concluded that it should for a variety of reasons. The board then assumed interim management and began learning and untangling the details of the organization. We contacted our funders who were very supportive and who informed us that there were quite a number of arts organizations in the same situation.

“The organization posted for, and hired, a part-time bookkeeper, Carolyn Dearing, and went on to complete and submit an application to the OAC (Ontario Arts Council) for a core-funding grant, and learned how to file our audit and financial information. We were successful with this grant, although our rating was lowered because of our transitional status.

“Our ‘Outside The Box’ program continued through all of this and ended in the late spring.

“Most of the boxes are still in place and are being maintained and restocked by volunteers.

“We hired Julie Rochefort-Wood as a part time coordinator.”

Mr. Lathwell noted that 4elements Living Arts had submitted two related grant applications for a summer 2018 artist residency program involving three artists. “The grants were awarded, although one came after the proposed end of the project. Julie worked with one of the artists, Sean Procyk, who came to the Island in July. He built an installation constructed from salvaged barn beams and conducted a workshop, both in McLeans Park in Assiginack. Both were very well received. We were not able to complete the remainder of the proposed residency work, given logistical challenges imposed by the change in timing and staffing.”

But the organization continued a contract for the update and revision of the 4elements website. “The new site is quite impressive and is currently in shakedown mode,” said Mr. Lathwell.

Heather Thoma, who Mr. Lathwell noted is one of the longtime members and supporters of 4elements, moved to southern Ontario but has continued to organize and facilitate early learning workshops, primarily for teachers. “These workshops are based on the books ‘The Art of Land-Based Early Learning Volumes 1 and 2’ written by Ms. Edwards and Ms. Thoma,” noted Mr. Lathwell. “Copies are made available for sale at the workshops. These books together with ‘Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements’ by the same two authors are sold on our website and also at a book store in Toronto (this book is also available at The Expositor book shop). Sales have been fairly steady over the year and we have had to reprint some of them.”

The organization also received a grant from the Ontario government for ‘Walking Waters,’ a project involving students from Sheshegwaning’s St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School and Gore Bay’s Charles C. McLean Public School exploring traditional routes along various waterways in their two areas. “We hired Lauren Satok to coordinate this project and the project is currently underway and will be completed by March 31. We have received positive comments from the people involved and have received inquiries from others interested in having a similar program.”

The board met this past fall to begin the process of devising and implementing a transition and this led to a number of changes for the organization.

“We decided to vacate our office location in Kagawong and gave notice to the Township of Billings that we would terminate our lease on December 31, 2018,” said Mr. Lathwell. “Billings agreed to allow us to store our belongings there rent-free until March 31. We will decide on a location once other aspects of 4e’s future are determined.”

“We applied for an OAC Compass Grant to hire a consultant, Mary Nelder, to help us devise a strategy and ultimately a plan,” said Mr. Lathwell, who described Ms. Nelder as “a great help.” Ms. Nelder came up to meet with the board and staff a couple of times, including an intensive brainstorming session in December.

“Our strategic planning produced following 4e Guiding Principles: 4e Vision: Engaged experiences of land, arts and community 4e Mission Statement: Our mission is to nurture and inspire community engagement in land-based arts on Manitoulin Island.”

The board is now digesting that report and looking forward to implementing a number of items contained in the roadmap that resulted from that engagement.

“We also developed goals and objectives for the next two years,” said Mr. Lathwell. “The first goal for 2019 is to recruit a new executive director. We have prepared a job description and a job posting that went out the first week in January.”

Preliminary plans for the 2019 Elemental Festival are underway for September 26-29, and potential artists are being contacted and grant applications drafted.

“We are looking forward to an exciting year of growth in community engagement in land-based arts on Manitoulin Island,” concluded Mr. Lathwell.