Aly-BoltmanBy Aly Boltman

April 1st, I became the Executive Director of the Community Foundation Grey Bruce. But before I left The Roxy, I submitted a proposal for SPARC, the Symposium for Performing Arts in Rural Communities. And to my delight, Philly Markowitz and I were asked to speak to people from all over North America about community cultural collaborations. Last April, we wound our way through the back roads to Haliburton, past the high rivers, ogling gigantic Osprey nests precariously perched on lights at the side of the highway.

Having so recently left the cultural world, I felt like a bit of an interloper. I was questioning my continued relevance, wondering "what value can I bring in my new role with the Foundation?" But I was buoyed by familiar faces and the warm welcome I received from the arts community, which wasn't remotely concerned by my defection to the other side of the funding table.

The proverbial light bulb flashed on during the presentation by Scott Walters of the Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education, or CRADLE. He began by projecting an interior photo of the largest Walmart distribution centre in the United States, a sixteen-acre warehouse with 12 continuous miles of non-stop conveyer belts, where hundreds of thousands of cases containing identical products begin their journey to identical stores in which people purchase identical things.

Scott compared this system to the way in which theatre students are taught their craft - in an identical fashion, accommodating themselves to the needs of big cities such as New York or Los Angeles, to which students ride the conveyer belt for a chance to "make it." The few successful ones have a tiny shelf life. Most fall off the belt along the way, undiscovered yet all used up. Walters lamented that "we pay strangers to tell us the story of strangers."

I'm the first to admit that when Julianne Moore wants to tell me a stranger's tale, I'm not complaining. I'm happy to pay good money to see her brilliantly portray some tortured soul I've never met. But I also want to hear to hear the stories of my own community, told by local actors, writers, filmmakers, caregivers, community activists and more. Such was the suggestion of Scott Walters, who encouraged us to find ways to support local creativity in our communities, to support the people and their stories. By cultivating a culture of appreciation and support for our own unique places and spaces, we can contribute to a healthy local economy and keep people engaged and employed where they live.
And that's where the Community Foundation fits into the picture: We build a framework of support and sustainability for our community and its stories through pooled, endowed funds. In turn, the earned income provides local grants in perpetuity to support arts, culture, heritage, health, recreation, the eradication of poverty, the environment and more. Much of our funding benefits children, whose stories are just being written and who will be our future leaders.

We identify key issues in the community, and bring local partners together to solve problems. For example, take the creative alliance we helped forge between one of our heritage-focused, charitable, endowed fund holders, and the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre now working to save the Marine Rail Museum. This helped salvage some of those community stories held dear by so many. Or consider The Cameron Family, with whom we worked to help create a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association for the creation of Wes for Youth Online, an interactive, online counseling service for youth in memory of their son, Wes Cameron. This alliance allowed the family to focus on their desire to help young people in our community immediately, rather than enduring the time-consuming and stressful administration that normally comes with the creation of a new charity or not-for-profit. Wes for Youth Online is now helping close to 100 community youth and has recently purchased a local building to allow it to expand its services and better serve the community.

As we grow, so does our ability to help the community. Some of the projects on our radar are crowd funding, seed funding, and more, to help our communities stay healthy and vibrant. Our sesquicentennial project aims to grow our endowment funds under the Smart and Caring Education Initiative by an additional million dollars by 2017. This fund will provide local students with scholarships and bursaries for ALL pillars of post-secondary education, including apprenticeships, workplace training programs, college and university.

We don't need to live our lives on a conveyer belt that depletes our morale and our community. Instead, we need to convey our importance to each other to live richly, fully and sustainably. And with the community's continued support, that's exactly what we can do. To learn more about us, please visit www.communityfoundationgreybruce.com or give us a call at 519-371-7203.

Aly Boltman is Executive Director of Community Foundation Grey Bruce.


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