Member Stories

The Arts matter. They benefit individuals and communities. Every day, SAA members see how the arts can make a difference in their communities. Here are some of their stories.

We are always looking for examples of the various, important impacts our members have. These stories can be very helpful with our advocacy efforts. If you have a story to share, please contact Ian McWilliams ( Research Officer.

Regina Symphony Orchestra’s Orchestral Powwow

One of SAA’s Key Points is Arts Benefit Everyone.

Arts strengthen communities. They help people feel involved, create a sense of belonging, and enable intercultural understanding and friendship.

Canadians support the arts. Over 80% of Canadians surveyed said good reasons for supporting the arts include how: the arts enhance creativity and innovation; the arts help people understand other cultures, and the arts can contribute to personal well being.*

Regina Symphony Orchestra’s Orchestral Powwow

Orchestral Powwow performance, 2017 Sâkêwêwak Storytellers Festival at the First Nations University of Canada, ReginaOrchestral Powwow brought together a drum group, powwow dancers, an RSO ensemble, and singers in performance at the end of the 2017 Sâkêwêwak Storytellers Festival. Orchestral Powwow is a collection of chamber symphonic works composed around Powwow pieces by Canadian cellist Cris Derksen. She characterizes them as “bringing our Aboriginal music to the centre of the European model and we as aboriginal artists lead the way with our drums and our heartbeat to create new forms of music.”

Orchestral Powwow is both a musical performance project and a symbol of Canadian multiculturalism. It created unprecedented artistic genres and opportunities for community engagement. For Cris, the project “responds to a perceived need to truly incorporate Aboriginal artists in art that claims Aboriginal credit.” She spent a year composing and transcribing with a library of powwow albums to create a new, extremely powerful, genre of music.

Cris told CBC news: "It was a way for me to reconcile who I am as a classically-trained colonial Indigenous human. It's something you've never heard before. We take that white man conductor telling you what to do completely out of the scenario and instead of having a conductor, we follow the heartbeat of the Indigenous drum."**

Dancer Teddy Bison spoke to CBC news about the process of collaboration: "Now that we are making it a reality, it's exciting. It's different because the timing's different … men's fancy dance is a very aggressive dance and a lot of the music that we have been practicing to gives a softer feeling. That was my biggest challenge, to soften things up."**

The Regina performance of Orchestral Powwow was successful on several levels: as a collaborative performance project, as a celebration of multiculturalism, and as innovation in arts/culture. It is an example upon which similar work can be built. Multiculturalism in a modern society amounts not only to acknowledging our diversity, and celebrating uniqueness, but also uniting differences in such a way that allows us to move forward together in cohesiveness, creating better communities together. 

Innovation, particularly through arts and culture, seeks to find new ways for communities to move forward together, propelled by intercultural understanding, and collaboration for the betterment of all.

Cris has recently released the finished recording of Orchestral Powwow, originally conceived by herself, and Robert Todd of the Tribal Spirit Powwow label.


With files and photos from the Regina Symphony Orchestra and Sâkêwêwak.

*Strategic Council, Building the Case for Business Support of the Arts: A Study Commissioned by Business for the Arts, Feb.2015.

**Bellegarde, Brad, “Regina Symphony Orchestra performs with Indigenous drum group,” CBC News, Posted: Feb 05, 2017 5:30 AM CT, Last Updated: Feb 05, 2017 5:30 AM CT

Sum Theatre, Saskatoon

One of SAA’s Key Points is Arts Benefit Everyone.

Arts strengthen communities. They help people feel involved, create a sense of belonging, and enable intercultural understanding and friendship. (Canada Council, Impact of the Arts on Canadian Life.)

Joel Bernbaum is the founding artistic director of Sum Theatre, where he founded Saskatchewan’s first-ever free professional live Theatre in the Park. He recalls a succinct review of their early work.

In our very first year of Theatre in the Park a gruff looking man in his 60s came up to me after the show. He gestured to the set pieces in the park and said:

"I don't go to theatre ... 

And I don't know what that was...

But I liked it!"

And I thought to myself, "This is one of the reasons we are doing what we do."

Joel is variously an actor, director, educator, journalist, and playwright based in Saskatoon. He also serves on the SAA Board as Secretary.

Theresa Stevenson, Robert Grier, Donovan Scheirer, Krystle Pederson, Nathan Howe, Alison Jenkins and Kristi Friday    in Sum Theatre's Theatre in the Park 2016 production of Little Badger and the Fire Spirit

  • Theresa Stevenson, Robert Grier, Donovan Scheirer, Krystle Pederson, Nathan Howe, Alison Jenkins and Kristi Friday in Sum Theatre's Theatre in the Park 2016 production of Little Badger and the Fire Spirit.
Regina Symphony Orchestra’s "Link Up! The Orchestra Moves"

One of SAA’s Key Points is Every Child Deserves an Arts Education. The RSO's Education and Outreach programs like Link Up! demonstrate why the Arts Matter.

Tanya Derksen, Regina Symphony Orchestra's Executive Director shared with us about RSO's inspiring program: ‘Link Up! The Orchestra Moves’ -- a shining example of substantial student engagement in terms of the numbers of students meaninfully engaged as well as the scale of the final concert event.

March 10, 2017: RSO’s ‘Link Up! The Orchestra Moves’

Link Up! – The Orchestra Moves engages 2500 Grade 3-6 students from a diverse range of 41 schools in 4 school divisions across Southern Saskatchewan. The program is an integrated music experience for Grades 3-6 students in Regina and southern Saskatchewan. Students have the opportunity for hands-on learning in their music classes culminating in an interactive concert at The Conexus Arts Centre with the RSO. Now in its second year, the program has increased from 1,500 to 2,500 students.

Link Up! is exciting and engaging:

image from ""“It was a wonderful event and you could tell from the buzz in the room that the students were so excited to be part of it. I was amazed at their beautiful singing and playing. The symphony did an excellent job engaging the students while teaching them about music. Bravo to all involved. I hope that this will continue next year and I will certainly work to support my teachers as this program moves forward.” - Literacy Coordinator/Arts Education Support for Regina Public School Division

“What a FANTASTIC IDEA, and then a wonderful execution on the symphony’s part!” - Arts Education Specialist at Ecole Elsie Mironuck Community School

Using Link Up in classrooms helps address the need for high-quality music education by providing a complete curriculum for teachers of all levels of musical experience. Students are introduced to the live orchestra – in many cases for the first time in their lives – and foster music skills. RSO musicians also benefit: connecting with students and music educators and hopefully fostering a lifetime love of the orchestra.

Teachers noted their students’ excitement about the concert as well as the pride in the musical skills they were developing. Such skills will be a head-start for band classes that start in grade 6.

RSO worked with Saskatchewan arts education consultants to create a direct connection between the Link Up curriculum and outcomes and the Saskatchewan Arts Education Curriculum, therefore fulfilling provincial objectives for arts education for the teachers and students in Saskatchewan.

RSO’s Link Up is made possible via collaboration with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI).

One of SAA’s Key Points is Every Child Deserves an Arts Education.

Teaching the Arts is valuable. The arts teach cultural literacy, artistic skills and techniques as well as a wide range of other valuable skills. Arts Education Outcomes include skills such as critical and creative thinking, social development, and increased motivation to participate in the community, and lifelong involvement in the arts.(1)

Arts Education also Drives Innovation, as Dianne Warren's report for the SAA explains:

“The students in school today are the 21st century learners we’ve talked about for so long, and it behooves us to ensure that they acquire – through studies in the STEM subjects and the arts, through curriculum and partnerships with the professional arts community – the skills and abilities that will make them the future innovators of Saskatchewan.”(2)

Arts-engaged low-income students are more likely than non-arts-engaged peers to attend and succeed in college, obtain employment with a future, volunteer in their communities and participate in voting. Arts-integration models help close achievement gaps and support crucial brain development in learning.(3)

With files from the Regina Symphony Orchestra

(1) Canada Council, Impact of the Arts on Canadian Life.

(2) Warren, Dianne. Future Innovators: Developing Creativity Through K-12 Arts Education in Saskatchewan Schools. Saskatchewan Arts Alliance, August 15, 2016. p12.

(3) President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools, Washington, DC, May 2011.

Arts Benefit Everyone: Congress 2016 Stories

At the SAA’s 2016 Arts Congress, keynote speaker John Holden gave a simple, eloquent statement about the power and importance of culture:

It changes our thinking. And thinking is important.”

We agree.

Throughout the weekend, delegates contributed their own thoughts about the importance of arts and arts organizations, adding them on our “Everyone Benefits from the Arts” wall. To get brains working, three topics were offered as thought starters:

  • Every child deserves an arts education…
  • The arts benefit my community by…
  • Arts organizations are important to my community…

Empllying Me

Responses were creative, varied, and numerous. Many began with the provided thought-starters and connected the arts and arts organizations with issues like equity; expression & identity; health & well-being; as well as connection & engagement.

Inspired by the statement “Every child deserves an arts education”:

  • Because ART is just as important as SCIENCE
  • Music builds better brains – yes, really!
  • Arts increases literacy
  • Everyone needs to feel free to be a child – to learn & play through the arts

Arts make better brains

Specific anecdotes to the importance of Arts Education:

  • A little third grader from a French immersion program in Regina upon seeing a wonderful 'skating' performance said to the director who presented the show, “Madam, I've never seen anybody skate in French so well!” Art opens up minds and fills the gaping void of cultural and linguistic misconceptions.
  • “It makes school possible for my neuro-atypical children”
  • “My 9-year-old son with ADD is able to sit and focus when making art. It's like the explosive ideas in his brain can be visually & kinetically expressed. That never happens with a worksheet. Thank Heaven for Art!”

Cards inspired by the phrase, “The arts benefit my community by”:

  • inspiring creativity, creating connections, and connecting people from every walk of life
  • making it a community… not only the place where people live.
  • building community & connection!
  • bringing us together

Responses also identified the many ways in the arts can make tangible, serious contributions to community members’ health, wellness, and even safety:

  • Through the arts you can educate & engage.
  • Creating a safe space
  • Giving new rituals to replace destructive addictions
  • Giving people a reason to live & promoting healing
  • reflecting, questioning, challenging - to encourage a more human community
  • Seeing transformation in people given permission to be themselves, by 'their' people.
  • Art saves lives. Art builds bridges.

Ecology of CultureSome respondents wanted to ensure that the personal benefits of the arts in their community were not overlooked, completing the phrases as follows:

  • “The arts benefit my community by… EMPLOYING ME!”
  • “The arts benefit my community by… Making me a HAPPIER person”

Such themes – expression & identity, connection & engagement, health & well-being – were also apparent to people identifying how “arts organizations are important to my community.”

  • gave me my identify. finding community.
  • People of like mind & common interests drift together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. … they organize to create opportunities that improve community engagement.
  • healing local & the bigger community
Sâkêwêwak Artists' Collective Inc.

Adam Martin, Executive Director Sâkêwêwak, bravely answered SAA's question “How is the World Different because your organization exists?” He noted:

Sâkêwêwak offers:
-    Opportunity to Indigenous artists
-    Gallery/workshop space
-    Helps partners ensure inclusion of Indigenous artists in a variety of programs
-    Advocacy for indigenous arts issues

We are a multidisciplinary organization
Our annual storytellers Festival began in 2000.
-    It's every February
-    Highlights traditional and contemporary Indigenous arts.
-    Storytellers 2015 featured over 40 indigenous artists in 11 events over 6 days.
-    Approximately 700 people attended, all events were free and open to the public.

Saskatchewan is becoming a place for indigenous artists to meet and discuss theory, issues and best practices in Indigenous arts presentation. Sâkêwêwak has supported their efforts, i.e.: 

  • Stronger Than Stone (2014);
  • Tribes 20th Anniversary & Symposium (2015);
  • Moving Foreward, Never Fogetting (2015);
  • CARFAC Aboriginal Artists Symposium (2014);
  • Sâkêwêwak’s Indigenous Artists’ Symposium: Education & Activism Through the Arts (Feb. 2016).
Godfrey Dean Art Gallery, Yorkton

Donald Stein is the Director of the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery.This story is a great example of the Gallery fulfilling its vision of providing meaningful engagement with visual arts.

In December 2015, Chad MacDowell brought his Yorkton Regional High School Photo 30 class to the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery for Haley Polinsky’s food photography exhibition. Haley is a Toronto-based food stylist, chef and photographer. Born and raised in nearby Theodore, SK she’s also a childhood Dean Gallery art class alumnus and this was her first solo exhibition.

While the Photo 30 class was polite and very respectful in person, in their written assignments to assess the images and the presentation, they were harshly critical of the work done by the curator! And since I had curated that show, I was delighted to receive honest and unedited criticism of my work. 

The group impressed me with their skills observing and articulating ideas regarding context and aesthetic choices. I invited them to re-arrange the photographs in Haley's exhibition to correct the deficiencies they identified, and it was a stronger show after their changes.

By coincidence, Yorkton area photographer Todd Schick had a series of images awaiting an exhibition in our Atrium community gallery. Todd is an emerging photographer and an active member of the Yorkton Photography Guild. I asked the Photo 30 class to curate Todd Schick’s exhibition and select the images for his show. All the images in the main floor lobby and in the Atrium gallery on the 2nd floor were chosen by the class.

- Godfrey Dean Art Gallery

Todd Shick’s work, Curated by Photo 30 class of Yorkton Regional High School, was shown in the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery’s exhibition: Todd Schick: Auto Select --

The Godfrey Dean Art Gallery opened in 1981, building upon a tradition of Yorkton Arts Council shows dating back to the 1950s. The vision of the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery is to provide people in the Yorkton region, and their visitors, a meaningful engagement with visual arts. The only professionally-operated public art gallery within a 150 km radius of Yorkton, the Godfrey Dean curates, exhibits and promotes the work of local, provincial and national contemporary artists. 

Saskatchewan Festival of Words, Moose Jaw

Amanda Farnel of the Saskatchewan Festival of Words sent this example:

Being the only multi-day literary festival in Saskatchewan and being the first literary festival in Saskatchewan by 15 years we were able to bring nationally acclaimed writers from all over Canada to Saskatchewan. We are feeding a love of reading and writing in an age that is largely digital by bringing people together at one festival where they can share a love of reading with each other. Our free programs for youths encourage creative thinking and allow anyone the opportunity to explore their talents.

Through Performers Cafe we give young and unknown writers a voice and a chance to gain confidence in their talent. We try to create nonjudgmental spaces for writers and poets to grow their craft.

For a personal example: I started attending Performers Cafes back in high school 10 years ago. As a person with anxiety it was difficult for me to engage with other writers. Performers Cafe, along with the festival, allowed me to get experience with performing which allowed me to gain confidence in myself. Even after leaving the arts and getting a degree in science I used it to have confidence in my ability to report on my research, and it is what led me back to the arts to support the festival now as an employee.


Amanda Farnel, Administrative Assistant

Saskatchewan Festival of Words