The School of Athens, by Raphael. The Civic Theatre is trying to be a modern-day Agora.

COLUMN: Ideas Café to Community Buffet – Civic Theatre creates the new Agora

From the Civic Theatre’s Brian May

By Brian May

I’ve been away. What did I miss?

When we left, our pear tree was being kissed by the mid-September sun, and we returned in time to hear the first rumours of snow on the passes. Clearly, we missed something.

Oh, and I almost missed the election. In 2015 it lasted over 70 days, so this one rushed by and I only caught the tail end. But I’m pleased to see the world didn’t end quite yet. We have time. Time to thank those who served, advised, and campaigned and time to look forward to meeting and working with whomever will fill those roles for the next four years.

When you get involved in community affairs you soon realize that, regardless of party or global values that affect the big picture, half of the work for elected representatives is to learn, listen, and lend a hand locally. And they all do.

Now it’s time to hunker down. Time to talk with neighbours about what you’ve been doing and what you might do. I’ve also been able to share time with a small group called the Ideas Café. The purpose is simply to share a bit of accumulated wisdom, toss in a few facts, offer perceptions, and put a few patches on the world. Topics can range to whatever captures the group’s interest and I suppose the rules are simply to share the mic and be respectful.

But you get the idea. It’s a conversational exercise where you hope to learn a few things and come away with something positive.

Now let’s expand that. Have an Ideas Buffet. A regular feast of events that can expand horizons on any topic that interests a community. In ancient Greece, the Athens Agora — the town square — was the place where Plato hosted his Dialogues. It was the heart of the city where ordinary citizens bought and sold goods, and where politics, math, and science were discussed, and ideas were passed around. To some degree that’s the basic idea of Don Johnston, one of our board members. In his words, to “bring big ideas into our community and put big ideas out into the world.”

Of course, it’s warmer in Athens. We need to move inside.

Fortunately, one of the mandates we’ve given ourselves is to establish the Civic Theatre as a centre for dialogue and community-building. A fully developed media arts centre would provide the venue and the organization to put it in place permanently, and really, we’ve been working toward that goal for a number of years.

Since 2013, The Civic has hosted the Local Intelligence Gathering symposium, Kinesis – a three-day development festival for filmmakers, two years of the Disruptive Innovation Festival Livestreams, and three Rural Artists Support Weekends. They have also partnered on the Arts Roundtable, the Truth and Reconciliation Summit, Kalein Centre speaker events, and a great special event documentary about raising chickens. I don’t raise chickens but I did make it to that one. Chicken People is a great film.

And now…. with financial support from the Hamber Foundation we are planning the Civic Dialogues Symposia Series. The series will consist of five individual symposia, each centered on a pivotal regional industry: Building and Property Development, Environmental Security, Food Security, Health Care, and Cannabis are our projected topics.

These symposia will be single-day events with objectives to bring key regional players together to engage in dialogue about pressing industry-specific activities, knowledge exchange, and collaborative problem solving. We hope they’ll also bolster ties between geographically isolated communities within the region.

As one of our board members said at a recent theatre event, “The Civic is building a home for our imaginations – a centre for entertainment, education and innovation. For generations memories and friendships have been nurtured here. For generations to come we will talk, create, learn, laugh, and grow as a community.”

It all happens in the Agora.

Over the last year and a half our membership has grown from 800 to over 1,500. They’ve seen how the theatre offers great value and opportunities, and we’ve seen how the energy and ideas flourish. The support is wonderful. So, check it out. Until then, we’ll see you at The Civic.

Brian May is a board member of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society.

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