How The Arts Are Rebuilding Fort McMurray
There are still many questions about the rebuilding process in Fort McMurray, but everyone can agree that it will require collaboration, resilience, determination, and creativity. Given these characteristics it should come as no surprise that Fort McMurray’s vibrant arts community has played an important role in the rebuilding process since the evacuation in early May.
As residents of Fort McMurray dispersed across the province and country, Wood Buffalo artists looked for ways to keep the community connected. Alongside artists from Edmonton and Calgary, Fort McMurray musicians performed for line-ups of evacuees at emergency debit card sites. Although these musicians were themselves displaced, they made opportunities to reconnect with their community through music. The healing process was evident as weary evacuees smiled, danced, or simply exchanged hugs and high fives with their favourite McMurray musicians. It was clear in these brief moments that a sense of normalcy had returned – if only for a short while.
Over the past month, Fort McMurray artists have shared their emotions and experience of evacuation through paintings, music, film, and spoken word. They have been shared across social media and with each “like”, “share” and “retweet”, Fort McMurray residents have said, “Yes. Me too. I know exactly what you are going through.” It is in these ways that art has helped the healing process and allowed Fort McMurray to share its collective story of despair, sadness, and ultimately, hope.
Not only have Fort McMurray artists assisted with the rebuilding process. Within days of the evacuation, the arts community across Canada reached out, offering supplies, instruments, space, and funds for Fort McMurray artists. They also donated their talents to support more general fundraising efforts in the form of benefit concerts, t-shirt sales, and art prints.
Since evacuating, Fort McMurray artists have continued to prove they are a force to be reckoned with, representing Wood Buffalo on a provincial scale. The locally produced play “Cheque Please” took the Alberta Drama Festival Association (ADFA) Provincial One Act Play Festival by storm, earning: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Production. And two Fort McMurray web series (“Nerdvana the Series” and “Rig Pigs”) were awarded STORYHIVE funding to complete their work. STORYHIVE, supported by TELUS, provides support for emerging content creators in British Columbia and Alberta. These web series tell unique Fort McMurray stories and continued production despite the evacuation. Finally, on May 29th, the Keyano Conservatory End of Year Dance Recital, perfectly titled “The Show Must Go On,” took place at the Maclab Centre for the Performing Arts in Leduc, Alberta. These young dancers (wearing donated costumes and shoes) showed how resilient a community can be by giving some incredibly technical and moving performances to a crowd of Fort McMurray supporters. While these may seem like small instances of regrowth, they were in fact significant opportunities to tell the Fort McMurray story and to bring our community back together.
As Fort McMurray residents begin the familiar journey home along Highway 63, artists will continue to play a role in rebuilding. The arts and artists of our region help define Wood Buffalo. Only weeks before the mandatory evacuation, Arts Council Wood Buffalo and Hill Strategies Research Inc. completed comprehensive research on the importance of arts and culture in the region. Eighty-six per cent of residents agreed that arts and culture activities make a community a better place to live, and 81% of residents felt that arts and culture are important for their overall quality of life. Already, plays, short story anthologies, concerts, and films are being planned to help tell the story of what our community has endured. These memorials are an important part of the healing process. Equally important are the everyday arts experiences that residents have come to expect.
Whether it’s a play at Keyano Theatre, knitting at Points North Gallery, or choosing an instrument at Campbell’s Music, these are moments where the arts provide a sense of normalcy. From the everyday to the extraordinary. They help bring and weave the community together and define who we are as residents of Fort McMurray. These are the moments that rebuild home.