By Jessica Lovell
If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, Guelph has no shortage of activities. That’s at least partly due to the fact that this weekend is Culture Days in Ontario.
A number of local organizations have jumped on board this year, offering people the chance to take in dance performances, do some hands-on art projects, see movies and art exhibits and take part in music workshops.
It’s great to see the level of local participation, but at the same time there seems to be something lacking. And it comes down to the meaning of the word culture.
Culture Days was founded in 2009 as a nation-wide three-day celebration providing people with “opportunities to participate in, and appreciate, all forms of arts and culture.” Or so says the Culture Days website.
Pretty near anyone can register an event, so long as it’s free and preferably interactive.
The trouble is, the word “culture,” with its high-brow connotations, may be scaring some people off. At least that’s my hunch.
This weekend, the Aberfoyle Farmers’ Market is hosting an event called Savour September. But this isn’t listed among the Culture Days activities.
The Guelph Farmers’ Market is hosting a customer appreciation day with a free barbecue and entertainment, but this is also not listed as a Culture Days event.
But isn’t food – and in particular, the local food that’s found at local markets – a part of an area’s culture?
Other organizations that are conspicuously absent from the activities list include the Guelph Historical Society, the local branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, and the University of Guelph.
And then there are organizations that might stretch the definition of culture, like the Guelph Hiking Trail Club or the Arboretum.
A place’s natural environment is most certainly a part of its culture, but it’s likely it didn’t even occur to these organizations to get involved.
Given that Culture Days was an idea that came out of the Canadian Arts Summit and is supported by the Canadian Council for the Arts, it’s easy to see why arts organizations get involved.
But I wonder whether they are attracting many people who are not already interested in the arts.
The initial goal was to raise awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement of people in arts and culture in their communities.
To truly accomplish that goal, the definition of culture needs to be as broad as possible. It needs to be inclusive, rather than elitist.
At least one event this weekend will be giving people a chance to talk about what “culture” really means. The Guelph Wellington Local Immigration Partnership will be inviting people to come out to St. George’s Square on Saturday afternoon to take part in a video project about culture. The project is meant to spark a conversation about what culture means.
This is one of the more introspective events listed on the Culture Days website, culturedays.ca. I hope lots of people will challenge narrow definitions of culture.
And I hope next year will see more organizations taking part.
The more organizations that get involved, the more people will take part, and the more chance there will be that people who come out will do something they might not otherwise have done.
This weekend, there will be lots of chances for people to get out and try something new, and hopefully, they won’t be too intimidated by the word culture to get involved.
By Jessica Lovell