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Upstream Benefits – Rural Art Symposium line up announced

By Contributor
November 17th, 2017

It's an event the public will not want to miss — 'Upstream Benefits – Rural Art Symposium’.

This four-day-long symposium explores and celebrates the role and impact that the arts have in rural communities and will bring into focus artist-run culture in the Kootenays. 

Symposium programming includes multiple panel discussions, artist talks, literary readings, a night of music and an art exhibition.  All symposium programming is free to attend and everyone is welcome!  (Donations are appreciated.) 

The symposium takes place November 23 – 26, 2017 at multiple venues in Nelson, B.C.  More info online at

‘Upstream Benefits’ symposium panel and presentation topics include subjects like “Arts as Rural Revitalizer”, that examines the role that the arts play as an economic and social driver from a rural perspective. 

Julie Fowler, director of ArtsWells Festival, Carla Stephenson, director at Tiny Lights Festival in Ymir and Laura White, Coordinator and instructor at Kootenay Studio Arts at Selkirk College come together for this panel and will share their extensive experience and knowledge about the pros and cons of producing art in a rural context and the value this brings to the community.    

Guest speakers for “Rural Art and the Institution” panel on Saturday, November 25th at 11 a.m. are Sue Donaldson, Program Officer BC Arts Council, Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte, President Pacific Association of Artist-Run Centres, Krista Patterson, Executive Director Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance and Julie Fowler, wearing her Vice Chair of Arts BC hat.  Please join us in welcoming these experienced representatives of vital arts organizations, who hold a wealth of knowledge about the current climate for art in British Columbia.

The impact place has on rural writers, and the impact that the arts have in rural communities will be explored in a panel discussion and reading Saturday, Nov. 25

in the panel discussion at 2 p.m will be 2011-2013 Canadian poet laureate Fred Wah, and University of B.C. Okanagan author, eco-art organizer, and award-winning teacher Nancy Holmes.  Wah, a Governor General’s Literary Award winner, taught English and writing in Nelson and Castlegar from 1967 to 1989. Holmes founded Kelowna’s Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre, a joint initiative of UBCO and the Regional District of the Central Okanagan.

The panel is entitled “Who Are We? Presenting and Representing Rural Communities” and is moderated by Slocan Valley poet and Oxygen Art Centre co-founder, Tom Wayman.  Then at 7 p.m., Wah and Holmes will be joined by Slocan Valley poet Jordan Mounteer, to read from their work and talk about how their creativity is influenced by where they live. 

The afternoon literary panel discussion and evening reading is co-sponsored by Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival.

For the “Art in Rural Climes” panel on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. guest speakers Paul Crawford and Sylvia Grace Borda will give presentations about some of their fascinating work. Crawford, who is curator at the Penticton Art Gallery, will speak about a very timely exhibition he curated called, Behind the Lines: Contemporary Syrian Art.  Borda will deliver a presentation that she has created for this symposium called, “Regional Identity and Rural Culture – it’s so much more”. 

Overall, rural Canada is in the midst of unprecedented economic, cultural, and ecological change. These dynamics demand both new strategies for engagement and a reappraisal of what outcomes are most meaningful to individuals and communities.  

Then that evening at 7 p.m, Borda will pitch her new project “Kissing Trail”!  Following this is an evening of music starting at 8pm, with Kootenay musicians Bessie Wapp and Kiyo Elkuf.

The “Advice for Artists” panel on Sunday, November 26 at 11 a.m at Oxygen Art Centre, will be an excellent opportunity for emerging and mid-career artists to gain useful insights into what curators look for in an exhibition submission, from the perspective of curators representing public galleries in Penticton, Castlegar and Nelson. Guest speakers on this panel are Paul Crawford, Penticton Art Gallery, Maggie Shirley, Kootenay Gallery of Art and Arin Fay, Touchstones Nelson.

Then at 2 p.m all 10 artists in the ‘Upstream Benefits: Artist-Run Culture in the Kootenays’ exhibition will join show curators Arin Fay and Miriam Needoba for the final event of the symposium taking place at Touchstones Nelson, ‘Meet the Artists”.  Fay will call on her approximately 20 years of knowledge of these artists and their practices, to lead an animated discussion about the exhibition, which asked these artists to show a pivotal piece from the artist’s past and a new work in the context of their practice as rural artists.  

This exhibition is a co-production between Nelson arts organizations Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History and Oxygen Art Centre.

“The 'Upstream Benefits’ project has been many years and iterations in the making and has been developed in collaboration with many West Kootenay artists” says Miriam Needoba, who is Oxygen Art Centre’s Executive Director and is also responsible for the symposium programming.  According to Needoba, this project represents a survey of artist-run culture in the West Kootenays, and one that has been developed in response to feedback from a Canada Council grant officer, whom suggested discussing Oxygen Art Centre project proposals through a “meta-curatorial lens”: Why here?  Why this here?Inspired by these comments and several years and group grant applications later.

Artist and curator Maggie Shirley came up with the title “Upstream Benefits” and the rest will soon be history!  Full symposium and exhibition details can be found online at

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