U.K. native fired up for future with SPARC
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | April 28, 2016
Greg Thomas has found his dream job more than 5,000 km from home, in rural Haliburton, Ont.
The 36-year-old father of two, who hails from the U.K., is overjoyed to be the new network coordinator for Supporting Performing Arts in Rural Communities (SPARC).
He started the job at the end of March, taking over from Elisha Barlow.
“I saw this job and I was like, ‘Oh wow. If I could write my own job, this would be it,’” said Thomas in an interview.
Barlow was the coordinator for just more than a year, but didn’t reapply for the position.
For the majority of his career, Thomas has been a youth and community worker. He married a Canadian (the two are no longer together) and moved to Canada in 2005. He worked in Toronto’s Jane and Finch area, developing a hip hop theatre group for youth.
“I’ve always done community work and youth work. I’ve always found drama to be the best way to engage at risk and underserved youth,” said Thomas.
He went back to his hometown of Derbyshire, England for a brief period before returning to Canada. That’s when he found out about the position with SPARC.
“A friend sent me the link and said, ‘I think this would be a good fit for you,’” he recalled.
While in Canada, Thomas spent many summers in Bancroft. He was familiar with the Haliburton Highlands and aware of its reputation for the arts.
With his knowledge of the many barriers facing artists in rural and urban areas, he’s well-equipped for the job.
“I like the challenge of rural communities,” he said.
In the next three years, Thomas will work with the SPARC community across Ontario, the network steering committee and the Arts Council~Haliburton Highlands. SPARC’s mission is to “connect creators, producers, presenters and animateurs to sustain and grow the performing arts in rural and remote communities.”
It currently falls under the auspices of the Arts Council.
Thomas is excited about being part of a province-wide network addressing some of the biggest challenges facing performing artists in rural areas including access to affordable space, transportation and mentorship, he said.
Formerly known as the Symposium for the Performing Arts in Rural Ontario, SPARC started with a four-day symposium in Haliburton in April of 2014. More than 130 people from across the province attended.
Seven months later, a Network Summit was held to help determine its future direction.
The Arts Council recently received a three-year, $548,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) to develop the network.
“Building inclusive and engaged communities together, this initiative is helping people have a say in shaping the services and programs that matter to them, and has an impact on the lives of 500 people in the community,” states the OTF’s website.
Thomas is working four-and-a-half days a week, three of which are spent in a shared office with the Arts Council in the Haliburton Creative Business Incubator. Since he doesn’t have his license yet, he rides his bike near Bancroft to Cardiff—a distance of about 60 km—twice a week and is picked up there. He rents a place but stays at a local bed and breakfast midweek.
Thomas has received support from the Arts Council and the steering committee, and is getting to know the community.
“It’s a friendly environment and community to come into.”
His hope is that SPARC will continue to flourish long after he completes his contract.
“Success for me would be if I could step away and it would still carry on growing and being a lot better,” he laughed.
“If it could sort of have its own momentum, then I’d be a happy man.”
To learn more about SPARC visit sparcperformingarts.com or call 705-455-7617. Thomas can be emailed at email@example.com.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.