By Angelica Ingram
April 19 2016
If Greg Thomas could have created a dream job for himself this would have been it.
Thomas 36 is one of the most recent additions to the community since being hired on as the network co-ordinator for the Supporting Performing Arts in Rural Communities (SPARC) initiative.
A native of England Thomas has been working in the performing arts field for many years both in Canada and the U.K.
With years of experience working in rural communities in his home county of England Thomas is looking forward to bringing his passion for performing arts to the Highlands.
“I’ve done a lot of work in hip hop theatre with young people predominantly” he said.
The co-ordinator also established a theatre group in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of Toronto that he describes as grassroots.
“They would put on street theatre productions revolving around social issues in their community” he said.
Thomas took a lot of his Canadian work experience back to a rural setting in England and applied it to a initiative that involved transportation tourism and performing arts.
“Arts education is my background it’s what I’ve done since I was 18” he said.
A few months ago SPARC received news that they were successful in their application to the Ontario Trillium Foundation and secured a $548000 grant under the umbrella of The Arts Council-Haliburton Highlands.
The money which came from the provincial Grow Grants is helping to further the SPARC initiative which began in 2009 and has made the hiring of a co-ordinator possible.
With the funding the SPARC network steering committee is overseeing the initiative and hoping to establish a provincial framework for performing arts in rural communities said chairwoman Chris Lynd.
“This is really a provincial initiative” she said. “This isn’t about the Arts Council Haliburton Highlands it’s not about the performing arts in Haliburton this is a provincial network that we’re building and at the end of three years that network has to involve people from all across the province.”
One of the big components to the initiative is an upcoming symposium planned for this October. The symposium will mark the second event of its kind to be held in the county the first taking place in 2014.
On the job since the middle of March Thomas has been kept busy already meeting new people every day and familiarizing himself with the area.
He is working out of the Arts Council office located in Haliburton Village.
One of his first responsibilities will be to develop SPARC’s website and create an online network forum.
“We’re trying to get people from all over the province to actually get involved and start a conversation about what are the needs and what is the potential and what works for them living in a rural area as an artist” said Thomas.
The co-ordinator also wants to examine some of the challenges performing artists who live in rural communities face specifically isolation and barriers whether that be education transportation etc.
Another goal is to try to get individuals and organizations involved with performing arts together to gather ideas and raise the profile of artists.
“We’re also looking to do some regional consultations” he said.
Describing himself as a retired spoken word artist Thomas prefers calling himself an arts practitioner.
“My art form is getting lots of people together who don’t really have a background in art and getting them to create something” he said.
Thomas was an ideal candidate for SPARC not only due to his love of performing arts but experience with networking said Lynd.
“Greg said to me the other day if I could have written my own job this would be it” said Lynd.
The chairwoman is hoping the initiative grows and is sustainable.
“There’s people liking what we’re doing and knowing that there’s this need that has to be filled and if this little group from Haliburton [who] started this can carry forward we’re going to give them the opportunity” said Lynd.