Conversations with the Earth: Earthly Matters

In early 2007, Myths and Mirrors was honoured with generous funding from the Laidlaw Foundation to partner with the Canary Research Institute to provide expertise in organizing and facilitating a three-year series of community-led collective projects entitled ‘Conversations with the Earth.’ The funding provided residents with opportunities to open up dialogue with each other that explored industrial pollution including mining and smelting and its impact on our health, the environment and community. Particularly it brought us back to what was happening in our own community with an ongoing seven-year risk assessment process by the ‘Sudbury Soil Study.’ This was an inspiration for public community dialogue about the cleanliness and risks associated on our soil, air, water and health and provided an inclusive place for residents interested in participatory research to ask questions with outside experts and explore creative dialogue about safe, clean, responsible, fair and balanced mining practices for the health of our peoples, communities and ecosystems.

With alternative community-led opportunities and possibilities for public participation in open inclusive models through the community-led earth based collective creation projects, popular education was used as a tool for public community involvement, collective learning, and awareness. This allowed for community to meet with a broad range of expertise from health, safety, technical science, and environmental expertise, researchers, political bodies, labourers and unions, as well as a wide range of communities who have undergone similar process to openly learn together and allow residents to decide for themselves, make collective decisions together, reflect and respond in their participation.

The process of our projects were developed to create non-technical, scientific or intimidating exploratory environments that empowered skill and resource sharing, confidence building in our own capabilities as people, clear and simple goals, broad themes for exploration with little guidelines and artistic freedom for creation. This encouraged a place for community to gather and feel mutual respect for everyone’s own values, morals, standpoints and decisions, working in collective respectful ways together.

As we quickly became aware that there was a great number of people in our community were interested in exploring Sudbury’s environmental challenges and possible risks associated on our health and environment after 125 years of mining and smelting activity in our community, we also knew that we were not scientists, but are all experts in our communities as people in our own fields, who care for our families, and feel accountable to the well being of our present and future community living and working conditions. From the beginning, residents from other communities came in to share with us their community perspectives and lessons learned. Network and community building interactions helped us realize that we did not need to know all of the complicated technical and scientific information to know that there are a lot of toxins that go beyond what many in our community feel are ‘safe’ levels and needs to be cleaned up in order to prevent leaving an environmental mess behind for our children and our generations to come.

This public community interaction was the foundation to how we gathered our community and created public dialogue in leading the community based creation process that led the following few years of community projects.

As we went along, we worked with the interests of community to steer the meaningful community-led purpose and drive in our projects. One of the first interactions in developing our projects was defining our community. We looked at our own community’s landscapes, neighbourhoods, parks, playgrounds, schools, overall living beings and economic picture.

The ‘Conversations with the Earth: Earthly Matters’ series projects that explored alternative interesting community-led methods of exploring mining, health, safety and the environment with our community led up to March of 2009’s Equinox Community Celebration, ending the 3 year thematic funding cycle.

Please feel free to visit photographs from the ‘Conversations with the Earth: Earthly Matters’ projects here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mythsandmirrors/sets/72157615698261881/

Community videos created throughout the ‘Conversations with the Earth’ series projects have been included onto our community video channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MythsandMirrors

For more information about ‘Conversations with the Earth: Earthy Matters,’ please contact Tanya at: tanyaanneball@hotmail.com.

Commitment to Community: ‘Place for Collectivity’ Community Design Project
In the winter of 2007, Myths and Mirrors moved it’s home to the Donovan Neighbourhood, sitting side by side the same neighbourhood it was founded and developed in, the Flour Mill. The move opened a world of possibilities enabling the community to access participation-nurturing community-led togetherness in creative project-based alternatives with those who do not necessarily have the tools of resources to creatively express their voices on issues that matter to them.

With our move to the cross roads of the Donovan, Flour Mill and Downtown neighbourhoods, rich in cultural history, the culturally diverse, inter-generational mix of working class families and children living within the surrounding neighbourhoods, now stood across from a successful re-greening project. Just a bit further down the road are the devastating remains of land scarred by the Frood mine, one of the oldest mines in Sudbury, facing our new ‘Conversation with the Earth’ project-based themes ‘mining, health, community and the environment’ issues up front and center.

The community design project began in the winter of 2007, re-inviting communities of people from previous projects to reflect on its history connect with new neighbours to collectively design it’s new home. This opened up a starting base for new relationship-building with the neighbourhoods to dream up what it’s uncharted future possibilities could be. Through cleaning, painting and moving the community’s art treasures and memories, a celebration of possibilities and opportunities began organically inputting into the development of it’s natural new growth. Throughout the design, numerous stories surfaced including the impacts community arts has had on thousands of involved lives it has touched and whose work has been a vital source of many benefits it has built with residents in our community together to better reflect the interests and needs of our community inclusively as seen in diverse visible offerings throughout our community.

Opening ceremonies were held celebrating with over 65 local residents and featuring an opening smudge by Winnie Pitawanakwat who included all of us in joining her into song and drumming honour songs. Food, music and youth performances were held and a close former resident from MiningWatch Canada, Joan Kuyak, shared her experiences with her work in community development. Two representatives from local mineworkers unions, local business owners, residents from different communities, artists, friends, and families from the neighbourhood came together in joining in the conversations. The opening brought in a cleansing energy filling the room with hopeful winds of change giving new breath to the site.

Earthly Matters Community Mural
In the spring of 2007, the “Earthly Matters” mural was created by over 60 young residents at Victory Playground on Frood Road and stands blanketing the four walls of Myths and Mirrors Community Arts’ main site. The youth project took lead of the new bare walls to include and initiate a larger group of young people from the neighbourhood. The young people collectively designed and created the mural over a five-month period, participating in outreach, co-facilitated public meetings with expert speakers, participated in creative dialogue, and took use of the Canary Research Institute’s educational toolkits to help the groups learn about industrial pollution and it’s impact on our health and the environment and develop artworks reflecting their responses before it’s public unveiling and press conference. The permanent outdoor mural encourages the public to participate in asking questions concerning environmental issues we face, encourages all of our accountability and responsibility into the creation our common interests in building healthier lives, exercises the public’s rights to know what is in our parks, playgrounds, schoolyards, backyards, soil, air and watersheds, explores possible solutions and reflects upon basic essential needs for a world of cleanliness, health, beauty and justice.

The mural’s broad exploration of issues stands in the center of the Donovan community playground, communicating it’s creatively artistic messages with residents. Devoted participating residents chose words to reflect their conversations throughout the project to share with the public and birth its warmth: Mother Earth, sacred, togetherness, possibilities, creation, rest, revive, impacts, assessment, protection, land, rights, decisions, policies, Safe, healthy mining practices, children, backyards, playgrounds, schoolyards, toxins, pollution, contamination, soil, air, water, tailings, slag, nuclear power, alternative energies, waste, vegetable gardens, food, seeds, security, families, nutrition, health, honour, putting back, respect, histories, oppression, trust, denial, struggles, justice, change, recovery, hope.

The project is “dedicated to all the children who live in mining communities, and to the adults who work for safe, clean mining practices.”

Food, Families and the Earth
Throughout 2007, weekly family potlucks held a year long series of cooking exchanges, crafts, celebration, ceremonies, workshops, children’s scriptwriting and theatre skits, and games developed by neighbourhood children, youth and young families in our community. Playing with theatrical drama, costuming and silly-making around the industrial pollution issues in our community, the kids involved felt comfortable talking openly about issues surrounding our environmental challenges in simple language and having fun without serious complicated technical jargon. Their first play reflected the children and parent’s collective conversations and creativity about a broad range of environmental issues and led to many fun and spontaneous theatrical dramas. With some previous experience with natural building from previous cob oven collaboration workshops, the group emerged their ideas towards developing a collective natural building sculpture project that would extend the opportunity invitation out to the larger community to work directly with our Sudbury Soils. The construction of a naturally built playhouse was created made from localized materials found in the surrounding environments. The idea of the ‘Earth Castle’ was envisioned by the kids who’s ideas were brought out by their reflection as to what kinds of pollution they are exposed to at their size and heights, closer the earthly level. (i.e. car exhaust toxins, cleanser chemicals, cigarettes, garbage, etc). The young parents and kids, aged two to ten, took the lead, from designing and creating the earthen sand castle structure, writing, performing and puppetting their own communicative scenario shorts around it.

Many of the ‘Earthly Matters: Earth Art’ activities described in the following project have been documented in photographs and video and can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mythsandmirrors/sets/72157615786995146/

Earth Castle, Cob Project
In July 2007, four wonderful young students were hired by Human Resources Development of Canada and acquainted for the first time in orientation to strategize, plan, and build skills in preparation for the summer-long earth art projects. The students, all of whom were volunteers from previous projects with experience in community art, were a dynamic team to co-lead diverse communities with lead Gino Cacciotti, a local stonemason of the Natural Building Institute of Ontario through the project.

By June, neighbourhood residents, students and families were gathered and began developing the environmental art project that incorporated Sudbury soil and water as its main ingredients for the building recipe for the core group of children’s design.

The strong stories shared throughout the duration of it’s powerful creation inspired hope for alternative building methods, materials, and energy systems that we could use impacting a healthier long-term footprint in replacement for the amounts of consumption our culture continuously absorbs in alarming rates without assessment on its impacts.

The construction attracted the attention of many of the neighbours, some of whom visited from the ‘old country.’ They remembered creating homes from earth in Croatia, Ukraine and Russia, were delighted by the coming together of community to be involved with the project, and eager to share their stories with all of us.

A co-op kitchen was run daily throughout the project by the volunteer participants involved to feed the participating families and open up dialogue starting from seed to the nutritional value of food on our plates, food security, and impacts of pollution in our environments and our health. The group led discussions about the environment with younger children who later developed stories and skits to perform with music at the unveiling of the project.

Sifted earth, clay and straw was prepared by over 60 residents, side-by-side, mixing by foot and mended by hand. The intensive weeks of hard labour, interwoven earth and alternative building techniques inspired shared community ‘chalk talks’ through our health breaks. The ‘chalk talks’ led to conversations about sustainability, community accountability, our responsibility to the earth and to our health, natural resources and participatory research into environmentally sound alternatives, soil contamination, exploring possible solutions, land remediation, re-greening and remediation versus reclamation, green washing, sharing of cultural traditions, and Indigenous traditional foods, food, farming, agriculture, re-growing and saving heritage seeds, recipes and community gardening. For many of us, this project also opened up ideas and possibilities for how we could share more of our conversation with others in the community.

Please feel free to visit Gino Cacciotti’s website at naturalbuildinginstitute.com for more information about the Natural Building Institute of Ontario.

Theory and Practice
In the fall of 2007, Laurie McGauley was the keynote speaker on Community Arts for a national conference in Vancouver and another provincial conference in Thunder Bay. She also became president of the Board of Community Arts Ontario and was awarded a Chalmer’s Fellowship to pursue her writing on our work and Community Arts.

Great Grants Award
One of the big highlights in November 2007 was being honoured with the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Great Grant Award for Arts and Culture for the moving work Myths and Mirrors performed with the participating muti-generational and culturally diverse community involved in our be/Longings projects.