Thursday, October 6, 2011

Embracing Process- Minden Summary

The closing of a show inevitably brings questions. "How did it go? What next?"
 They are questions I also ask myself.

I don’t always have clear answers, but I can say in the four chapters of Voices at Hand I’ve never not been pleased with the outcome. It’s hard to argue with the stats: 1609 letters in Peterborough in the spring 2010; 724 more in Toronto last October; an additional 507 in Picton this past summer and 413 new letters last month in Minden for a total of 3,253 in the whole collection. I’ve also added four new categories during the Minden residency to make 51 in all.      

The irony of the volume of materials I now have to store is not lost on me. I still blame CBC!

Next to the Peterborough Residency the Minden submissions stand out for the insights they offer into regional history (see Gone Cobo – Day 6). I like that they provide a tangible link to the a site of a residency even after it is over and I love being able to share these finds with people close to the heart of a place.

The number of exchanges I have with people is not a really a statistic I keep. I might compare one day to another and— given the tight turnaround time between the two residencies—weigh Minden against Picton, but only to gain perspective. Fewer letters, over fewer days in Minden makes sense doesn’t it? Look closely and on average I read three more letters per day in Minden.

But, if memory serves I gave fewer readings. Why? It could be the difference in venues, (library culture vs. bookshop consumer curiousity)?  Or perhaps it was the weather—the Picton residency was at the height of the tourist season, whereas Minden’s was just winding down? I don’t think people are chattier, or more engaged in Picton, than they are in Minden. More were on holiday though.

“How do you measure for success?” is a question most people are too polite to ask. It’s a valid question. There are few definitive indicators of success. I don’t charge admission, I have no tin can by my chair to collect donations after a reading, no goods are exchanged. How then?

Apart from the statistics I gather, I consider the nature of the interactions I have feedback. In Minden, library patrons didn’t hold back. In an age where the arts are on the political chopping block, I’m encouraged by the number of times people took the time to say: “Oh, I’m delighted you’re here doing this” or “This is a wonderful thing you are doing” or “I’m so glad this project is being funded.”

Add to these the many conversations that began with: “My grandmother kept all my letters from camp...” or “Oh I’ve got ...a letter like that /a box full of letters/a stack of postcards belonging to my grandfather.”

Factor in enthusiastic endorsements of Voices by a woman who spread the word at the museum adjacent to the library and by a teacher who brought her grade twos for a visit.

The support of a woman who left abruptly with tears in her eyes after a reading was implicit. She later confided the letter reminded of her own grandfather and the close relationship she had with him when she was a little girl in Germany. And the day I returned to Minden to strike the show she approached me at a restaurant to tell me she was coming for another reading.

There is always more to explore, one week seems far too short, yet it’s enough to affirm what I am doing matters to people. Not life or death matters, or change the world matters, but a few small reminders of our shared humanity. Perhaps we need more of them?

Thanks for the part you played Minden!

 I’m immensely grateful to Agnes Jamieson Gallery for hosting the Minden chapter of this project and to the Haliburton Public Library, Minden Hills Branch for embracing the idea of turning the library into a stage set, studio and laboratory.

Laurie Carmount; Tammy & David Rea; Diane Peacock; Ellie MacNeil; Marg Graham; and Sheryl Loucks; thank you all for making me feel so welcome!

 And many thanks to Prime DataBig Sky Design; and the Ontario Arts Council for their ongoing support.

And of course thank you to all of you out there in Blogland.  I haven’t nailed down what’s next for Voices yet. I’m thinking...residencies at a school or a university or perhaps with a theatre group and why not overseas travel?

Check back in periodically, I’ll be posting a summary of all the categories in the next week and other updates as they come in. If you become a follower, you’ll be emailed whenever I post a blog.     

Thanks again,


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