101-1150 – 8th Avenue
Regina, SK, S4R 1C9
SAA RESEARCH IN PROGRESS
The Value of the Arts for Social Cohesion
Scoping for an Extended Study in Rural Saskatchewan
In 2019, the SAA in partnership with the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils initiated a series of community conversations in the rural Saskatchewan communities of Weyburn, Shaunavon and Humbolt. Drawing on funding from the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation and Mitacs, the research team developed scoping questions to explore the position of the arts and artists in these communities and the role of the arts in community cohesion. The research team consisted of the SAA Executive Director, Marnie Gladwell; SPAR Director, Mary Blackstone; Amber Fletcher, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina; and Allie Patton, a student also in that department. Findings from the province’s southern community conversations were published in the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation’s Vital Signs 2019 Report (p. 29).
Simultaneously, the same research team worked with the University of Saskatchewan’s Social Sciences Research Laboratories (SSRL) to develop and deliver a more extended telephone survey of the Saskatchewan public. It confirmed SPAR’s findings regarding the Saskatchewan Public’s engagement in and attitudes towards the arts and provided a statistical backbone for more in depth studies of the role the arts play in specific communities. See report “The Value of the Arts for Social Cohesion in Saskatchewan Communities”
Based on findings from this preliminary research, it was decided to pursue a multi-case study, multi-community approach to further understanding the Value of Arts and Culture for Community Cohesion.
With the addition to the research team of Barbara Meneley, SAA Research Officer and Mitacs Post Doctoral Fellow and additional support from the University of Regina Community Engagement Research Centre, the research has to date explored its area of focus from four different perspectives—and it is actively exploring and welcoming other case-studies in the context of this larger research focus.
The Role of the Arts and Culture in Northern Saskatchewan Communities
Working in partnership with Commonweal Community Arts and artists from northern Saskatchewan, the research team identified and mentored a young researcher from Patuanak, a community near Churchill River and the north end of Lac Île-à-la-Crosse, which is the administrative headquarters of the Dene First Nations reserve. That researcher undertook a pilot series of interviews with community members which is currently informing next steps for a broader partnership and a more in-depth study of one or more northern communities using a similar but adapted methodological approach.
The Community Impact of Weyburn’s Spark Centre
Working closely with the City of Weyburn and a local arts organization and following on from the initial community consultations held by the SAA in Weyburn, the research team is studying the impact of a new Recreation and Cultural Centre devoted to sport, culture and recreation, with significant educational significance as well. A “before survey” attempting to understand the current role of the arts and cultural spaces in the community and generally understand the quality of life being experienced by residents was completed in 2021, and a follow-up survey will be done after the building has been opened and in use for a period of time. The overall research questions in this study are:
- What effect can a new shared facility have on connections between the sectors it brings together—in this case, sport, culture, recreation and education?
- What is the overall impact of this multi-use cultural facility on community cohesion and quality of life in this mid-sized Saskatchewan city?
Studio Without Walls
It was always the intention of the research team to examine the experience of seniors in rural Saskatchewan relative to the role the arts plays in their daily lives, their relative isolation, their sense of connectedness with their community. In the context of COVID 19 with the further increased vulnerability and isolation seniors were experiencing, the research team decided to take a social action research approach. It applied and received a COVID research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Working together with the Saskatchewan Seniors Association and the Seniors Centre without Walls Saskatchewan, the research team developed and delivered Studio Without Walls in 2021. This was a phone-based arts program that connected 6 professional artist/workshop leaders with older adults, 55+, especially those living outside of urban centres in Saskatchewan. Conducted via telephone conference, each workshop consisted of 6 hour-long sessions held over 6 weeks and involved visual arts, such as painting and collage, or writing activities – for example, life story writing or fiction. The workshops were free and participants were provided with supplies at no charge to them delivered by mail.
Workshop leaders included:
- Shon Profit (Visual Art & Art Cards)
- Judith Silverthorne (Writing Fiction & Non-Fiction)
- Lynda Monahan (Creative Writing & Life Story Writing)
- Jamie Reynolds (Painting and Drawing on Nature Themes)
- Berny Hi (Journaling, Collage and Painting)
- Marilyn Nelson (Painting to Music)
As part of their participation, each workshop participant completed 3 in-depth interviews before starting the workshop, halfway through and within one week of completion. Workshop leaders were also interviewed for their perspective on the experience and lessons learned that could inform future programming of this nature. The research team has worked with its partners to assist in making such programming an ongoing opportunity for Saskatchewan seniors, and it has presented its initial findings and the Studio without Walls model for arts and academic audiences. A fuller report on findings will be forthcoming in 2022.
Mapping the Embeddedness of Arts and Cultural Engagement across Saskatchewan
In support of this overall research initiative, SAA Research Officer, Barbara Meneley, has mapped arts and cultural activities across the province, especially in areas outside the two major population centres. This is an effort to better understand the extent to which such activities contribute to the networks which compose the overall provincial arts ecosystem and the quality of life experienced by Saskatchewan residents and communities. This will be an ongoing project and input on additional arts and cultural activities to be included in this map are welcome.
Responding to Previous Research Findings
The SAA initiated this research project as a follow-up to the research findings produced by the Saskatchewan Partnership for Arts Research (SPAR) in its study, “Understanding the Arts Ecology of Saskatchewan.” Beginning in 2014, this organization (in which the SAA was a partner) produced a series of reports and articles based on data derived from the first comprehensive survey of Saskatchewan artists, an arts related public survey and a number of focus groups (http://www2.uregina.ca/spar/index.php/reports-and-resources).
This research revealed a potential disconnect between artists and communities in rural Saskatchewan, especially northern and Indigenous communities and the broader provincial arts ecosystem. It also suggested that the Saskatchewan public generally, and newcomers in particular, saw the arts as a vital daily component of their lives and a contributor to their sense of place, belonging and connection to their communities.
This was especially true of newcomers—although they as artists or audience members did not feel especially connected with the broader arts ecosystem in the province.
The Research Team
Dr. Mary Blackstone
Dr. Mary Blackstone is Professor Emerita in the Theatre Department, University of Regina and Director of the Saskatchewan Partnership for Arts Research and Chair of the SAA Research Committee. She also leads the Centre for the Study of Script Development and works as a dramaturg for dramatic writers creating new work for stage, screen and new media. Her current area of research and publication is concerned with understanding the arts ecosystem of Saskatchewan to inform policies and mechanisms for strengthening the cohesiveness of all players in the system. This includes applied models and approaches for supporting more sustainable and productive creative practices for a representative diversity of Saskatchewan artists and cultural workers.
Dr. Amber Fletcher
Dr. Amber Fletcher is Associate Professor of Sociology & Social Studies at the University of Regina. Her research explores how individuals and communities experience major changes and crises, focusing particularly on how social inequality shapes people’s experience of environmental disasters. Amber’s research is centered on rural and Indigenous communities in the Canadian Prairie region.
Dr. Barbara Meneley
Dr. Barbara Meneley is the Research Officer for the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance and a MITACS Post Doctoral Researcher. She is a prairie-based intermedia artist and contract faculty member at the University of Regina, Luther College and First Nations University. Barbara’s site-responsive art practice engages foundations of colonial structures in the prairies and contemporary settler relationships to site.