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Weaving Together a Community

Political change is often assumed to only take place at City Hall among politicians and bylaws. However, each year, as the In the Soil Arts Festival takes over the St. Catharines downtown, we see a far less formal, but far more effective, method of creating the needed change in our community.

The festival’s Artistic Director, Deanna Jones, explains “the ethic behind the festival, to really celebrate and promote and provide opportunities to local artists in all disciplines as well as to excite our local audiences as they grow”. By offering opportunities to younger artists, prioritizing paying artists and performers, the festival is inherently offers a commentary on how far too often, this is not the norm.

In terms of challenging the norms of who can access artistic spaces, In the Soil also puts a concentrated effort into ensuring participation, no matter a person’s financial status. Artist, Phoibe Underhill explains “you have to make a part of it at least free, or accessible for people who are working class or students”, which we see through areas like The Hub and slew of free outdoor performances and installations. Currently looking for volunteers, In the Soil offers another form of exchange in that by donating your time, volunteers are able to access the festival venues.

This emphasis on community exchange will be actualized through The Free Store, an installation by OPIRG Brock. Iman Kalo, OPIRG Brock Board member explains, “the idea behind our Free Store is showcasing the importance of financial accessibility as well as promoting an alternative narrative that centers around community-building”.

Currently collecting donations, folks at OPIRG will take anything from old books and craft supplies to kitchen supplies and tools to gently used clothing and furniture, OPIRG Brock want to pass it along to the people who could best use it. Gala Muñoz-Carrier, The Free Store Coordinator highlights that this form of activism, both fosters sustainability, and centres on questioning “the allure of sparkly consumerism and the automatic wastefulness that most of us have grown accustomed to” as an essential progression of social change.

Also seeking to push the community narrative around gender and sexuality is the Rhizome This Performance is (Not) for You. Rooted in Underhill’s own experiences as a queer and gender non-conforming person in St. Catharines”, this piece aims to highlight how, “you have to think about how you interact with downtown on a regular basis”. Underhill explains that “by being openly [gender] non-conforming, you’re automatically making some sort of statement, so it’s me turning that into a statement”. Currently looking for queer and Trans performers, the piece aims to “make people think a little bit about how they interact with people in public and stare at strangers”.

Administrative Director for In the Soil, Alexandra Brown notes how one of the most powerful elements of the festival is the community co-existing by “be[ing] in the world together for a few days”. While potentially viewed as simply a warm feeling of togetherness, this form of activism, one that centres community, dialogue and growth, has a politicized day-to-day impact well beyond three days in April.

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