​ARTS | From a synth album to Chechnya gay purge: 2018 Arts Fund grants

The Region of Waterloo's 37 Arts Fund recipients include everything from supporting synth musicians hoping to make their first album, to producing large-scale paintings showing the changing urban and rural landscape of Waterloo region.

The Region of Waterloo has chosen the artists and arts organizations to receive money through the 2018 Arts Fund program. 

One of the few programs in the country "that awards grants directly to artist-led projects," the arts fund chose 37 projects, totalling $209,620 in grants. As an example, here are four artists from various genres:

Synth album

All three members of the Seagram Synth Ensemble are graduates of the Wilfrid Laurier University's music program. Their album will largely be recorded in James Dowbiggin's home in Kitchener. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
The artist(s): Seagram Synth Ensemble, a trio of electronic musicians that include James Dowbiggin, James Reesor and Dave Klassen. 

The project: $5,000 to record first album. 

About their sound: "Last month we did a concert where we just played in a movie theatre for images of Saturn taken by the Cassini space craft. So that was a lot of fun, and something we'd only done once before. In a large sense, improv plays a big role in our music," Dowbiggin told CBC K-W.

In their own words: "We will be using most of the grant to have a sound engineer, a colleague from Wilfrid Laurier University, actually, who's going to be doing the mixing, the mastering for us, and everything."

"We're definitely working our full time jobs and breaking our backs in that area, just to make ends meet. This is going to be a passion project for sure, that the region is helping us put on." 

Play about gay purge 

Page 1's production of the play Chetchnya will be on stage at Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre in March, 2019. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
The artist: Isaac Mule, Page 1 Entertainment.

The project: $4,000 to produce and mount the play Chechnya, about the recent purge of LGBTQ+ people in that country.

About the play: "[It] explores two same-sex couples living in Chechnya and the story involves the night of their escape from the gay purge."

In his own words: "Essentially, the government [in Chechnya] is not a fan of gay people, and so they're encouraging family members to 'out' other family members, to sacrifice them, to burn them, to kill them. There's been reports of gay men and women being sent to concentration camps across Chechnya and in Russia."

"Last year, in 2017, Canada actually brought in 40 people from Chechnya. So our story revolves around these characters who have heard of people getting out and they are looking for a way out themselves."

"There's been a lot of work done over the years to highlight the struggles of people living in Kitchener-Waterloo, specifically the LGBTQ community. I think there's a misconception that because we can get married and things like that, that there isn't a lot more really to do, but there really is — when we look at other countries that still need support and still need education, and I think this is a step towards doing that."

Large-scale landscapes

Isabella Stefanescu will be working on her large-scale paintings (pictured in background) throughout 2018, and then will begin the search for a gallery interested in displaying her work. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
The artist: Isabella Stefanescu.

The project: $8,000 to create a series of large-scale paintings on the changing urban landscape of Waterloo region.

About her style: "The reason I'm doing this large scale painting, rather than small ones — the small ones are a snapshot, you can understand them at a very sort of immediate level. The bigger paintings, they have surface in which you can get immersed. But also, they are our scale. It's a way of actually becoming part of the landscape."

In her own words: "One of the sorrows of a landscape painter in the new world is that people have built ephemeral landscapes. They build decay into the buildings and structures. So quite often you lose that sense of recognition that you might have from a landscape that has been really preserved."

"Our skylines are changing, our buildings are changing, our countryside is changing. We have old historical pictures, but somehow there's this underestimated pleasure in having a painting and going to a spot and thinking 'yes, this is where this person saw this.' "

Non-fiction music therapy book

Sarah Pearson also received an Arts Fund grant in 2017, to produce an album. This year she plans to write a creative nonfiction book about the relationship music therapists have with their work and art. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
The artist: Sarah Pearson.

The project: $10,000 to write and publish a non-fiction book looking at the relationship music therapists have with their art.

About her motivation: "I came to be a music therapist because of my own fraught relationship with music. It's been my place of greatest joy and my place of greatest hurt and wounding, and I don't think I'm alone with that."

In her own words: Often what music therapists end up doing is just evangelizing music, and talking about how amazing music is and it's so great for wellbeing. 'It's amazing! It's the best! You should hire music therapists!' That makes sense given that it remains sort of a fringe healthcare profession and I think there's a story behind that. Whenever we start talking about something that is so amazing and perfect and great... there's a shadow behind that." 

"So I'm curious about lifting up those stories."

"The feeling of having a grant is amazing," said Pearson. "[If not for the Arts Fund grant] I probably would have written a couple of articles. But a book is a long-form project and I need someone holding me accountable to see it through."

So I'm really honoured and just thrilled — I'm thrilled — to have this grant."

The full list of recipients can be found on the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund site. 


Jackie Sharkey is a regional producer supporting CBC bureaus across Ontario. She has been been based in Kitchener since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC radio in Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU.