ICMI and MANO collaborate to launch community conversations for digital tools and infrastructure in the North
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Indigenous Culture and Media Innovation (ICMI) and The Media Arts Network of Ontario (MANO) have collaborated to launch Digital Equity and Community Control in Northern Ontario Launch of Community Conversations, a project to bring community control and ownership in research and development of digital resources, for artists in Northern Ontario.
Project Coordinator Sophie Edwards said, “People are using media in different ways. We are just curious to see what people’s experiences have been, what kind of challenges they are facing, and it’s different from community to community and artist to artist.”
Running from January to March 2021, Edwards shared that the project is open to all artists and organizations, whether or not they might define themselves as media artists or media arts organizations. Media Arts includes film and video, podcasting, virtual reality, gaming, audio, and within the full spectrum of creation through dissemination of work on- and offline.
MANO and ICMI have recruited paid facilitators and advisors to carry out conversations within their communities and networks to discuss needs and strategies for digital tools and infrastructure. Originally conceived as a series of workshops and consultations connecting regional and local needs, the pandemic encouraged the organizations to decentralize the process. “We’re talking to people about their experiences, what it means to them to be creating and controlling their stories, what challenges they are facing to create work…and to producing and disseminating work. All kinds of different conversations,” said Edwards.
Edwards shared that over 70 people have participated across Northern Ontario (North Bay to the Manitoba border). She mentioned that some additional challenges are: space for creation of work, showing work, and connecting with other artists; capacity of small ad hoc groups and collectives, and the gaps in funding for groups that aren’t incorporated; the challenges independent filmmakers face in making and producing work (for instance it’s difficult for Indigenous producers to establish relationships with financial institutions, because property on First Nations can’t be used as collateral); access to equipment; administrative capacity of independent artists and small collectives.
ICMI was created out of a recognized need for Indigenous access to the arts. ICMI opens its doors to the Indigenous community through professional development, projects, productions, facilities, and equipment. MANO, a representative of artist-run collectives and organizations across Ontario, works to support cooperative ownership of the tools for artistic production, exhibition, and distribution by communities. This project follows the principle of community Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP) of all information, ideas and knowledge shared throughout the project.
Edwards shared that the final strategy report will be circulated to participants, communities, the funder (Canada Council for the Arts) and to organizations throughout the region. She added, “We are working with the facilitators to develop a strategy using the principles of Ownership, Control, Access and Possession, regarding long term storage of recordings, summaries and other materials. The intention is for the materials to belong to the participants, and their networks and communities.”
Each facilitator determines all aspects of their research and conversations, including the communities and networks they engage, the participants they invite, the format, process, and length of their conversations; and together the participants and facilitators determine what information is shared with MANO and ICMI, and how it will be used.
Two out of the 16 facilitators chosen across Northern Ontario, are from the area of Sioux Lookout. Sioux Lookout facilitator Nadine Arpin (who prefers the pronouns (they, their, them) shared, “As a producing media artist, living and working in the community for many years, I have been building a network of media creatives both locally and globally. I see the good work being done in this region and I know and understand the challenges creatives faces when we choose to live outside of urban centres. This was the goal of these conversations, to further strengthen existing networks and to engage and initiate conversations with alternative support networks and partnerships to encourage production in the region.”
Arpin shared that they have kept their conversation groups under five people in an effort to keep the conversational flow as natural as possible. They added that some of the common challenges identified as a result of their conversations are validation from family, friends, community, access to creative supports for skill sharing and training and breaking out of linear colonial approach to storytelling and production.
Arpin shared that the project will conclude in the spring of this year. They added, “Stories are the fabric of our existence; they are who we are and how we understand the world. This territory is overflowing with stories that speak from our unique experience here in North Western Ontario. I want to be a part of the movement actively bringing audiences to us. There are some pokers in the fire which I hope will result in a rekindling of like-minded people.”
Anthony Baumgartner, the other facilitator for Sioux Lookout/Kenora area is also working to build community conversations, reaching out to anyone in Northern Ontario who does video game development, or design recreationally or professionally. He is seeking input on the knowledge, experiences and barriers faced by community members in pursuing their craft through possible interviews, group video calls, surveys, and other digital communication methods.
In addition to the shared ICMI/MANO conversations, ICMI will also reach out to Indigenous communities for additional Indigenous-only discussions about how Indigenous people adopt digital technologies and utilize spoken words, symbols, songs and images to capture, preserve and transmit culture, language and ancestral knowledge; and discuss what is needed to create multimedia resources and share cultural materials and what resources can help.
MANO and ICMI invite interested artists from Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, Thunder Bay and surrounding areas to contact them for being considered to join a conversation circle.
Anyone interested could reach out to Sophie Edwards through MANO, at +1 (647) 951-4810 ext. 102, or email her at [email protected]. People can also reach out to ICMI at +1 (866) 529-0260.