“For the most part, the act of creating is an individual, isolated pursuit,” says Alan Langford, Canadian Multimedia Artist and President of Spirit of the Hills Arts Association. “Yet at the same time, creative sparks, ideas, and innovations don’t always come from isolation, but from interactions with people and the environment, from unstructured and unexpected situations and conversations.”
In this series we feature interviews and discussions with Individual Artists, Leaders of Arts Groups and Organizations, Civic Leaders, and Arts Lovers in our county.
Alan talks about how Spirit of the Hills Arts Association (SOTH) has supported artists in Northumberland for over twenty years, about growth in the community and about the role that Northumberland Festival of the Arts plays in that growth.
Q: Who is SOTH and what does it do on the Northumberland arts scene?
A: Spirit of the Hills is a not-for-profit, volunteer run association of writers, artists, artisans, performers, and supporters of the arts. We draw our membership from Northumberland County and surrounding areas. In a normal year, we organize several art shows at local venues, mount a juried art show, and organize exhibits at festivals and book fairs.
Our website offers member profile pages and we serve as a way to promote member activities through the website, newsletters and social media. Over the past year we’ve shifted much of this activity online, but will returning to in-person activities as it becomes safe to do so.
Over the years, we’ve published a successful series of anthologies of our members’ work. Our members have also organized and presented two successful Festivals of the Arts, which have served as the genesis of NFOTA.
Q: What are your hopes/thoughts/concerns about Northumberland as a place that nurtures the arts and artists?
A: We have a truly amazing range of creative talent in Northumberland, and to a great extent it is undiscovered. Like our creative community, Northumberland is a largely undiscovered county. As people become more connected through communications technology and as prospects for remote work increase, we’re seeing a significant shift in population from urban areas — and accelerated by the pandemic.
While this is a good development since it increases local markets, my concern is that it can also drive up the cost of living to the point where creatives are displaced, a familiar pattern in urban areas and now in rural Ontario.
Q:What is your organization’s proudest achievement related to the arts?
A: I believe our greatest achievement is operating successfully for over twenty years completely dependent on the contributions of volunteers. We’ve worked very hard to help our members during the pandemic by having several online book fairs and art shows, including a very popular viewer’s choice contest. Helping our artist members reach new audiences, both locally and globally is something we can be proud of, yet at the same time there is much more we can do.
Q: What current activities/plans does SOTH have to grow and be recognized?
A: Our primary purpose is to increase the recognition of our individual members rather than the SOTH organization. If we do a good job of meeting our member’s needs and providing value, growth will take care of itself.
While I am proud of our achievements to date, to a large extent our success has been dependent on contributions by a relatively small number of individuals. There is much more we could do given more participation. One of my goals is to increase the number of members who get involved. I think we can do much more with small contributions from a larger group of active volunteers.
Another long term and perhaps more personal goal is to build a stronger sense of a creative community in Northumberland. It is my hope that SOTH can find more ways to offer opportunities for our members to interact and inspire each other across creative disciplines. We can then all have a deeper appreciation of the vast talent in Northumberland, and hopefully, it will in turn inspire new work and new forms of expression that continue to reflect the uniqueness of the region and form a sense of identity.
Q: How can NFOTA work with and help grow the organization and the profile of the arts in Northumberland?
A: I think NFOTA is already making a significant contribution to this. As the profile of the arts in Northumberland increases, I expect that the ranks of our membership will also increase.
Our Northumberland landscape provides the “spirit” to Spirit of the Hills, and I think it’s easy to see how it is a deep well for art and creativity. I encourage everyone to directly experience the environment in which we work. Connection to our landscape will lead to a deeper appreciation of the written, visual, and performative works of our members and all creatives in Northumberland.