Artists Provide Spark for Vibrant Communities

Excerpts from a story by Michael Berry and Diane Ell in SaskCulture's Engage 01/2011

Individuals and communities have an interesting dynamic; it's hard to think of one without the other and decide who builds whom. Since 1968, the idea of hosting an artist in a community has illustrated how art and inspiration can not only help energize individuals but also contribute to building vibrant communities.

Formerly known as the Artist in Residence program, the Partnership Innovations program, along with the Explorations program, is a key part of Creative Partnerships, a program administered by the Saskatchewan Arts Board, with funding from Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund.

Alejandro Romero, who worked as artist-in-residence at King George Community School in Saskatoon from 2008 to 2009, says it changes people's lives and brings communities closer together. If there is one word to describe Romero during his residency at King George Community School in Prince Albert, it would be facilitarian. Artists are architects of beauty, he says, but what motivates him is not the hope of becoming internationally recognized, but empowering and assisting others in developing their own creative spirit.

"What moves me is that I facilitate," he says. "Art is not an isolated matter; it's a part of life. We communicate with our work, express what is happening inside and outside of us. People react to it."

The King George Community School, created in 1911, is located in a neighbourhood with the same name and is considered a diverse but impoverished community. As such, it is plagued with misunderstanding and feelings of isolation, and is deficient in inspiration. But Romero, who came from a similar background himself, sees art as an immeasurable remedy for such social ills.

"We are doctors of the soul and we don't get paid for that, and that's part of the imbalance of society," he says of being an artist. "I thought that if I ever practice art I also wanted to work with communities and use art. I want to make them think of art as a life form, about what it means. I want people to lead and take risks. It's living in the now, the present."

As an artist-in-residence, Romero saw his role to provide avenues that enabled people to realize the artist within themselves. He wanted to establish a dialogue that helped uncover common ground, bringing the community closer together.

Through his residency, he had people use recycled materials to create yard sculptures, form artists groups, hold community art shows and organize a mural project outside a hockey rink.

"The result is a mural where they can say they were involved in the creation and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment," he says. "This [art] is a great resource for you to talk and express how you feel. I think it was very important for them to hear that and it gives them the opportunity to share that with others, sometimes they can't have the space to do that."

Romero has since moved on to be part of the LIVE Arts Education virtual residency program supported by Saskatchewan Arts Board, Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, SaskCulture/Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation. His program provides a two-hour broadcast designed to teach students Grades 3-8 about digital photography, composition and his own experience as an artist.

"Since its inception, hundreds of communities and organizations in Saskatchewan have appreciated the impact of the Artist in Residence and Creative Partnerships program," explains Michelle Rae McKay, Program Consultant - Indigenous and Community Arts, at the Saskatchewan Arts Board. Traditionally, the residency was hosted by communities and schools, but partnerships have emerged with different businesses, such as the Mosaic Potash Mine in Esterhazy, the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron in Saskatoon, Sâkêwêwak Artists Collective, as well as Ranch Ehrlo Society and the Pasqua Hospital in Regina.

Those interested in the Creative Partnerships program are encouraged to contact McKay at (306) 787-4239, toll-free at 1-800-667-7526, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Creative Partnerships

The Creative Partnerships initiative is supported by Saskatchewan Arts Board and SaskCulture/Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation.