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How digitalization during COVID-19 has made Canadian art more accessible – Varsity



Disability is a prevalent experience among Canadians. The most recent Canadian Survey on Disability found that one in five Canadians aged 15 or above had one or more disabilities. The University of Toronto alone has more than 2,000 students registered with accessibility services. 

Whether physical, sensory, cognitive, or mental, all disabilities have the potential to pose significant barriers for individuals to fully enjoy the arts. Theatres may be wheelchair-accessible, but the bus ride to get there may not be; museums may display educational artifacts, but the stressful long lines may stop a visitor with autism from comfortably learning. 

These accessibility problems may have found a solution due to COVID-19’s impact on everyday life: digitalization.

What has been done

While originally a reaction to COVID-19-related lockdowns, many Canadian art institutions are now offering accessible online experiences of arts and culture.

Classical plays at the Stratford Festival may now be screened through the subscription streaming service [email protected]. Paid on a monthly basis, subscribers can watch historical performances, supplementary content, educational videos, and guest forums.  

Ensemble music by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) is now available on TSO On Demand, where patrons can purchase tickets to online concerts. Pass-holders can view hour-long performances recorded at Roy Thomson Hall as well as behind-the-scenes moments with special guests.

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s YouTube channel uploads videos in which curators and artists explain interesting collections. At no cost, viewers can hear perspectives from professional curators about art ranging from medieval artifacts to postmodern artworks.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) offers free online exhibitions, some of which are presented through Google’s Arts & Culture. There is also the newly created ROM AT HOME, where ROM experts take the virtual visitor on a guided artifact tour and provide educational activities that can be done by children at home. 

With all of these virtual adaptations, a wealth of arts and culture is now just a click away and brought to the comfort of our own homes. We should applaud what has been done since it undoubtedly alleviates disability-related obstacles, especially for those with physical and mobility disabilities.

Why accessible art should stay 

But more needs to be done to remove accessibility barriers altogether — and we may already be halfway there. 

Performances are already recorded, and now they just need the addition of closed captions or sign language interpretation for those with hearing impairments. Plays are already scripted, and now they just need more narration to assist those with visual impairments. Exhibit labels are already written, and now they just need image magnification and text-to-speech options.

The most difficult part of digitalization — that is, actually moving the content online — has already been done. Why should these efforts be wasted post-COVID-19? 

Obviously, the much more prudent choice is to let these adjustments stay. The immediate benefit of digitalization is the broadening of inclusivity for those with physical and sensory disabilities, as we have already seen. 

The long-term educational value of accessible digital art should also be considered. Individuals with cognitive disabilities, such as attention deficit disorder, may benefit as they are able to repeat performances as many times as they see fit and read exhibit materials for a longer period of time without worrying about being in the way of other visitors. 

Those with mental health conditions, such as social anxiety, may benefit as they can wholeheartedly learn and contemplate the artistic experience within the solace of their own homes and without having to be under the pressure of a distressing public environment. 

In short, digital art is an initiative with multiple rewards. It has made it easier for one fifth of Canada’s population to indulge in arts and culture by giving them greater control and less discomfort. In return, these accessibility advances provide a pathway for art institutions to promote Canadian art to those previously excluded. At the same time, digital art also contributes positively to Canada’s broader cultural education by making the learning process feasible and enjoyable. 

Beyond COVID-19

The pandemic, while presenting great challenges, offers a golden opportunity for the arts and culture sector to adapt, innovate, and improve. Previously hollow statements and commitments to accessibility are now — finally — forced into action. 

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada has ratified, promises to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats.” Right now is the perfect time to take that “appropriate measure.” Right now is the perfect time to refine that “accessible format.” 

Right now, we already have the foundation of digitalized art. All we need to do is fill in the remaining accessibility gaps and let these digitalization projects stay — for good.

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From agriculture to iconic Indigenous art, the North Battleford region has much to be proud of –



CBC’s virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories explores the hidden gems across Saskatchewan. You can invite CBC’s Laura Sciarpelletti to your community for a virtual tour. Visit to pitch your ideas.

It is worth looking at the land around North Battleford, Sask., through the strokes of Allen Sapp’s paintbrush. 

In his paintings you will find scenes of families helping families, Cree drumming circles, early ways of farming the land, mothers with their swaddled babies and families joining around the fire to eat. 

It’s a sincere look at what makes the community electric with life, strength and beauty. 

Allen Sapp (left), Ruth Gonor (centre) and Allan Gonor (right) in their home in North Battleford in the late 1960s or early ’70s. (Submitted by Leah Garven)

Sapp was a Cree painter born on the Red Pheasant Reserve, 30 kilometres south of the city of North Battleford. As a child, he was often sick, so he watched people and his surroundings. That is evident in his paintings. 

Sapp eventually moved to North Battleford, which sits by the North Saskatchewan River, to try to make a living as an artist by selling his paintings door to door.

He gained momentum when, in 1966, he met art collector Dr. Allan Gonor, who recognized Sapp’s artistic talent. Gonor encouraged him to paint what he knew — life on the reserve.

Sapp began to do just that. And by the 1970s, His work was known across North America. 

Allen Sapp playing his drum for visiting students at the Allen Sapp Gallery in North Battleford. (Submitted by Leah Garven )

Today, his work can be found at the Allen Sapp Gallery in North Battleford. 

“Allen captured that agricultural life at a very difficult time for most people, let alone First Nations people who had pass and permit restrictions upon their endeavours of making a living,” said Leah Garven, curator and manager of the gallery.   

“He recorded in his paintings a lot of traditions and ceremonies that were technically banned and outlawed … Speaking for people from Red Pheasant First Nation, of course they’re very proud of their son and who he became and and how he represented their community.”

We still have people who come to the gallery, men in their 60s and 70s, who will just weep looking at the paintings because of the memories that he brings back for that generation and that way of life that’s kind of gone.– Leah Garven

Prior to his death at age 87 in 2015, Sapp drove around the North Battleford in a big Cadillac wearing big hats and other cowboy fashions.

“He was a larger than life character in town. He was very singular and very much an individual. He brightened the historical cultural persona in town,” Garven said. 

Garven describes Sapp as humble, loving, sensitive and generous.

“He was brilliant, frankly. In his last days when he would visit the gallery, he knew exactly where he was. And he would come alive when he saw his paintings and he’d sing a song when he come to the gallery,” Garven said.

“We still have people who come to the gallery, men in their 60s and 70s, who will just weep looking at the paintings because of the memories that he brings back for that generation and that way of life that’s kind of gone.”

One of Garven’s fondest memories of Sapp is the way he would interact with children at the gallery. Sapp would often sing and play his drum with them. 

“I think he had a huge impact on the thousands of students that he met over the years. Imagine the power for Indigenous youth to have a prominent building in North Battleford dedicated to the art of Allen Sapp. In my mind, we work every day for Allen.”

(CBC News)

Positive stories

When you think of North Battleford or the neighbouring town of Battleford, what comes to mind?

It might be headlines about crime. Or maybe it’s the historical armed conflict between First Nations and white settlers in 1885.

For the people who live in the Battlefords and surrounding area, there is much beauty and much to be proud of. 

Photographer and journalist Matt Jacques hosts Untapped: An Original Battlefords Saskatchewan Podcast. The podcast focuses on positive stories and the people within the community.  (Matt Jacques)

Rob Rongve is the co-creator of Untapped: An Original Battlefords Saskatchewan Podcast. The podcast, hosted by photographer and journalist Matt Jacques, focuses on positive stories and the people within the community. 

“We decided to create the podcast series to try and maybe showcase that things are very, very good here. Despite what the headlines may say as far as crime and other social issues in the community, you don’t usually hear the really positive stuff coming on the news,” said Rongve.

“North Battleford has been very publicly advertised as the crime capital of Canada. It’s not the reality for the vast majority of us that live in the community.”

That is not to say that the city and surrounding area does not have crime and social issues, Rongve said. It does — particularly due to poverty, he said. 

“But there’s a huge amount of work being done in the community to help and change that. The podcast was one way to promote the very, very positive underbelly of our great community.”

Rongve said podcast episodes about young and diverse people who are doing things to help their community or beginning creative projects are what impact him the most. 

The City of North Battleford. (Matt Jacques)

Taste of North Battleford

Have you ever wondered if you could enjoy a proper sit-down meal at a restaurant while also catching a live game of curling? Yes, that may be the most Canadian question of all time.

Well the answer is yes, you can. 

Rachel Lee owns and operates Beaver Grill Exprezz with her husband Howard in North Battleford. 

Howard and Rachel Lee own and operate Beaver Grill Exprezz in North Battleford. In the background is the local curling rink. (Don Somers/CBC)

The Korean couple moved to the city from Vancouver six years ago and serve up many different cuisines, including Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Western. 

“All the people who come to our restaurant, they’re all from everywhere … all different diversities … all different taste buds. But we have so many different [items on] the menu that they get to choose many different options here and they all enjoy,” Lee said.

The restaurant sits atop of the curling rink that is home to the Twin River Curling Club. Diners can catch the action. 

“It’s definitely excitement that you can see when the curling is happening. And also the customer gets to join as well.”

Vietnamese noodle soup from Beaver Grill Exprezz in North Battleford. (Beaver Grill Exprezz/Facebook)

Lee said their spin on the traditional Thai rice noodle dish Pad Thai is the favourite dish among customers. Her personal favourite is the Korean Kan-Poong Chicken — a deep-fried chicken breast mixed in Korean sweet and spicy sauce with rice. 

Elsewhere in North Battleford is Armoury Brewing Company. The microbrewery opened in late 2018 and quickly become a hub for the community. It was started by five friends and the enthusiasm is palpable as soon as you wank through the doors. 

The taps are always rotating with beers ranging from simple lagers to special holiday brews. Right now Armoury has the cinnamon Vi-Co stout — a bold stout with dark chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and lactose. 

Armoury Brewing Company opened in North Battleford in late 2018 and quickly become a hub for the community. (Don Somers/CBC)

Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum 

Let’s head across the river to the town of Battleford. There sits the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, a treasure trove of memorabilia including uniforms, photographs, baseball bats, baseballs and trophies.

“Baseball played such a big role in the development and the settlement of this province. It was a game that everybody could participate [in].They did not need a whole bunch of equipment,” said Jane Shury, president and CEO of the museum.

Baseball also turned out to be a bit of a matchmaker.

“Baseball became a social event. Many of the ballplayers played ball because it gave them something to do. They loved the game and they would meet their girlfriend at the baseball game. And so the girls also would go to the game to watch the game … but mostly to see if they could find themselves a boyfriend!” Shury said. 

Between 1876 and 1883, Battleford was the capital of the Northwest Territories. The first recorded baseball game in the history of the North West Territories was played there on May 31, 1879. 

Today, you can find a picture of that historic game at the museum. 

Shury’s favourite artifact is a photo of the pitcher in an 1886 baseball game in Lumsden. That pitcher was Walter Scott, the first Saskatchewan premier. The image has been made into a mural that covers a wall outside the museum. 

Also outside the museum, you will Canada’s biggest baseball bat.

(CBC News)


Residents and visitors of North Battleford and the surrounding area do not lack things to do and see in the great outdoors.

Head 70 kilometres east of North Battleford and you will find Crooked Bush — equal parts magical and eerie.

Crooked Bush is considered to be a botanical mystery. The Crooked Bush trail winds through a cluster of aspen trees that twist and turn in all directions … except, for some unknown reason, upwards. 

Then, 50 kilometres north of North Battleford, is Jackfish Lake. It’s a gorgeous body of water surrounded by several beaches, with three campgrounds and several hiking trails at Battlefords Provincial Park.

The lake provides great fishing with perch, walleye, pike and whitefish. An annual ice fishing derby takes place every February, usually attracting more than 2,000 competitors during non-COVID times.

Saskatchewan’s first Black settlement

Murray Mayes will repeat at least 20 times in an interview how hard it was growing up in Saskatchewan’s first Black settlement during the first half of the 20th Century. But he will immediately follow that up with how thankful he is for those hard time, because they made him stronger.

Mayes has a lot of joy, and a lot to be joyful about. He exudes pride and love for all his children, who have gone on to have successful careers, give him grandchildren and make differences in their communities. 

Murray Mayes is a descendant of black pioneers in Saskatchewan. (CBC)

Mayes was born at the beginning of the Great Depression in the Black settlement of Eldon — 100 kilometres northwest of North Battleford.

After the U.S. Civil War many freed slaves, like his grandparents Joe and Mattie Mayes, moved to Oklahoma to begin a new life.

“Then some of the people that came from the south came up and see these African people. And they said, ‘let’s re-enslave them.’ And they thought, ‘we better get out of here,'” said Mayes. 

Freed slave Mattie Mayes was a well-respected midwife in the Eldon district. (Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan/R-A10362)

At the time, Canada was inviting people to settle in the country and cultivate the land. 

In 1910, Joe and Mattie Mayes led a group of Black families up from the U.S. The pioneer family bought about 49 hectares of land in Saskatchewan for $10.

I just thank God I came through all those hard times because I learned so much from them.– Murray Mayes

They weren’t exactly welcome, however. The Canadian government discouraged black immigration, preferring white immigrants, according to Mayes. 

The family set up a life in Saskatchewan regardless. 

During the Depression, Mayes lived in a one-room log house with eight other people.

“I used to trap weasels and did some hunting. We didn’t have a gun even out there. We were so poor,” Mayes said of his upbringing. 

“We struggled and we had bedbugs. But I just thank God I came through all those hard times because I learned so much from them.”

Three generations of the Mayes family in front of the Shiloh Baptist Church they built. (Leander Lane Family Photo Archives)

Sweetgrasss First Nation

Saskatchewan has a rich agricultural history. As early as 1885, Battleford area farmers had formed an agricultural organization. Then in 1906, the North Battleford Agricultural Society was formed. It advocated for farmers and ranchers and spotlighted their successes in the industry.

The Cree First Nation of Sweetgrass — located 25 kilometres west of North Battleford — is part of Saskatchewan’s agricultural legacy.

Garry Albert and his wife Carma Swimmer Albert on their farm in 1997. They have been married for 47 years and counting. (Submitted by Garry Albert)

Back in 1884, a reserve was surveyed for Sweetgrass band members. At that time they sold hay and wood, and kept gardens and livestock.

Today, Sweetgrass farmers like Garry Albert carry on the tradition of their ancestors. Albert’s efforts have produced results that he takes great pride in.

Albert is a third-generation crop farmer with 55 acres of land. His grandfather began farming on Sweetgrass land in about 1920. His father would go on to farm the land as well. Albert took over in 1974. 

The Sweetgrass First Nation reserve had between 12,000 and 15,000 cultivated acres around 1920, according to Albert. 

In 1992, the federal and provincial governments signed a treaty land entitlement agreement with Saskatchewan First Nations. Under the agreement, the First Nations received money to buy land on the open market.

“With that Sweetgrass has gone forward and purchased an additional 12,000 and 15,000 acres of land. And ever since then, I’ve been continuously cropping.”

An aerial shot of the Sweetgrass First Nation. (Submitted by Chief Lorie Whitecalf)

Albert thinks he was always meant to become a farmer. He said he knew from an early age. 

“I think I was as young as 10 years old I was involved with following my grandfather around and my dad. I would be with my dad on an open-cab combine. He was combining into the evening, and I’m there in a little platform falling asleep … a little blanket covering me,” he said.

“Then there would be times he’d be hauling grain on a small truck to Cut Knife, which is only about 15 miles from here. I’d be right there. I never turned them down when they asked me if I wanted to come along.”

Albert said he clearly remembers his grandfather running a team of horses and a wagon on the farmland. 

“I’d go with him to a little pasture to the north of us where he kept a few horses and maybe a few cows. That was the biggest fond memory about my grandfather.”

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Cellist turns locked-down museums into backdrop for –



By Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) – It’s an ideal pairing for the COVID-19 era: a musician who cannot play for a live audience and sumptuous museums that cannot welcome visitors. Cellist Camille Thomas has put them together to create what she hopes will be a balm for troubled times.

She is carrying out a series of solo performances of classic works set against a backdrop of deserted museum interiors in and around Paris. They are filmed and posted on the Internet.

During the pandemic, she has performed at the Palace of Versailles, the Institute of the Arab World and is scheduled next week to perform at the Grand Palais, a vast exhibition space next to the Champs Elysees. All the venues are shut because of France’s COVID-19 lockdown.

A YouTube video of her performing at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in October had been viewed 36,575 times as of Friday.

“I wanted to symbolise with these images the loneliness of musicians without the public, of museums without visitors,” said Thomas.

She was speaking in a room of the Museum of Decorative Arts this week where she played the Kaddish, a piece written by 20th century French composer Maurice Ravel.

“Of course people need medical care in this pandemic time but they also need care for the soul,” said Thomas, 32, who has a recording contract with a classical music label.

“I believe that art and music is healing and it’s essential to … feel that, after this difficult time, all this beauty is waiting, it’s still there and it’s worth fighting for it.”

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Review: Pathetic Fallacy is a weird weather report, an art history lecture, a green-screen farce – and one of the best livestreams of the year – The Globe and Mail



Each evening, a different local actor steps into Pathetic Fallacy in the starring role and follows instructions on a monitor while standing in front of a green screen.

Anita Rochon/Handout

  • Title: Pathetic Fallacy
  • Written and directed by: Anita Rochon
  • Actors: TBD
  • Company: The Chop presented by Rumble Theatre
  • Year: Runs online to November 29, 2020

The Chop is one of those brilliant little companies based out of British Columbia that was thinking deeply about future forms of theatre long before the pandemic hit.

Pathetic Fallacy, its co-artistic director Anita Rochon’s clever, unclassifiable 2018 show about weather, God and art, was born out of the idea of creating a touring theatre piece that would not require her to actually physically go on tour.

How useful to have that in your pocket as a performing artist right now.

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This is how Pathetic Fallacy, which is live-streaming nightly from Vancouver’s Rumble Theatre until November 29, works.

Each evening, a different local actor steps into the show in the starring role, puts on a blue-and-white striped Breton shirt and follows instructions on a monitor while standing in front of a green screen.

An in-person audience would get to watch two things unfold at the same time: On one side of the stage, the unrehearsed actor flailing around trying to keep up with the directions; on the other, a projection of the quirky documentary about weather and art that this actor’s image is being sucked into, narrated by and occasionally featuring video of Rochon in tricot rayé herself.

For this live-stream-only version, stage manager Emelia Symington Fedy, who is also co-artistic director of the Chop, calls the shots on what the at-home audiences get to see at any given moment: The farcical frenzy in front of the green screen, the smart if idiosyncratic documentary, or both at once.

If it sounds overcomplicated, it’s not: It’s funny, like watching an unprepared TV meteorologist try to give a forecast.

The substance of Pathetic Fallacy is a short visual exploration of the history of the depiction of weather in art and television.

Samantha Madely/Handout

I tuned in on Wednesday to see Jonathon Young, the charismatic co-creator of the internationally celebrated B.C. dance-theatre hybrid Betroffenheit, take part in this avant-garde experiment. Arggy Jenati, Aryo Khakpour, Omari Newton and Jivesh Parasram are on deck for the next performances.

The substance of Pathetic Fallacy is a short visual exploration of the history of the depiction of weather in art and television. (It’s just 60 minutes, the perfect length for a livestream, or at least my pandemic attention span.)

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There’s a segment in which Rochon, in recorded form, talks about a 1836 painting of the Connecticut River by the English-born, American painter Thomas Cole, finding all sorts of insights in its details into the shift between the idea of weather as a God or an act of God, to weather as a natural phenomenon we can predict and maybe even shape as humans.

A later segment sees Rochon dissect a more recent masterpiece of visual art about passion and precipitation: The 1982 music video for the disco hit It’s Raining Men by the Weather Girls.

All the while, keep in mind, there’s the overlaid physical comedy of watching the transposed Young – or whatever actor happens to be in front of the green screen in a given performance – attempt to point to the right place in the painting at the right time or join in the choreography in the music video. The Breton stripes made Young seem like a mime gone mad.

Though the magic of the green-screen technology, Rochon, in filmed form, and her stand-ins, who are live, also share a few scenes – having a conversation on an airplane or in a restaurant about the show’s themes. (Candelario Andrade and Milton Lim are credited with the projection design, which is of high quality.)

Young is a quick enough wit that these were the highlights of the performance of Pathetic Fallacy I watched. He flexed his expert improv comedy skills here, but also was genuinely thoughtful in responses to questions about why the world population is growing so quickly and whether the earth can actually “hurt” (or if that’s ascribing a human emotion to nature, see: the title of the show).

The crisis hanging over Rochon’s show is not COVID-19, but climate change. And yet while Pathetic Fallacy often takes the form of a lecture, the tone is never lecturing.

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Indeed, Rochon sets up the entire experiment as a kind of environmental paradox. She tells us right off the top that she decided to make a touring show that she wouldn’t have to tour in order to reduce her carbon footprint as a jet-setting theatre artist – but also because she wanted to stay put and have a baby, which would increase that footprint many times more than a few flights to international festivals.

How do you create – theatre or life – knowing that creation may make the planet a worse place? The theatrical tricks Rochon deploy to explore this question aren’t necessarily new, but they’ve been combined in a fascinating new way. Pathetic Fallacy is a weird show that is also wise and seems to have found its perfect form in these live-streamed times.

Pathetic Fallacy is streamable through nightly at 7:30 p.m. PST; tickets are “pay what you decide.”

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