South of 60 curator believes in the culture of the Madawaska Valley

BARRY’S BAY – ‘Cultural mapping’ has become a bit of a catch phrase throughout the province of Ontario lately, as many municipalities have started packaging and marketing their various heritage and cultural centres on websites and in literature.

Anya Blake, an employee of the township and curator for the South of 60 Arts Centre in Barry’s Bay, sees the mapping process as something that will definitely benefit the Madawaska Valley area in more ways than one.
As her job encompasses visitor information, an arts centre and a museum, Blake has her fingers in a lot of different areas within the spectrum of her job.
“I’m in my 11th year with this position. Because my job is linked with tourism, it’s also linked to arts, it’s heritage and it’s culture. I work with culture,” Blake noted.
Blake has always believed that the concept of culture plays a huge role in the overall wellbeing of a community.
Lately, the cultural mapping project has been taken to new levels as many different municipalities across Canada have re-vamped their heritage and packaged it for outsiders.
As the Harper government has continually cut funding to the arts, heritage and culture, cultural mapping is a project, which basically shows  firsthand how vital and central those areas are to a community.
The mapping basically allows outsiders to have a clear definition of the identity of the town or city through each of the municipalities’ various heritage and cultural sites.
In the town of Dryden, Ontario, the cultural mapping project was a huge success in 2011 and has massively helped the tourism industry.
After the main paper mill of Dryden ceased production in 2008, the cultural mapping project was sought out to help grow the community and attract outsiders.
With the help of the project, which mapped the entire Kenora district, Dryden has been able to highlight unique aspects in their community.
These flashpoints include the 5.6 metre tall mascot, ‘Max the Moose’, which sits alongside the Trans-Canada Highway, a community festival called Moosefest, and the bolstering and marketing of their Walleye Masters fishing tournament.
The mapping paradigm first became popular, though, thanks to a man named Karl Shutz who helped to save the community of Chemainus, British Columbia from completely collapsing.
Originally finding its roots as a logging town in 1858, Chemainus is now internationally known for its eye-catching 39 outdoor murals. The outdoor gallery, which Shutz had a hand in creating, stemmed the tide of collapse and helped ignite the tourism of the area, after the sole mill of the town closed in the early 1980’s.
Chemainus saw several new attractions come to life, including several antiques dealers, a theatre, eateries and many more stores.
Overall, the cultural mapping project helped to create 300 businesses in Chemainus.
Local residents of the area are now known as Chemainiacs.
Although the Madawaska Valley’s specific mapping model would look a lot different than that of Dryden or Chemainus, it’s important to see how culture has revitalized those communities.
Blake sees culture as a main driver for a community, and a contributor to the overall well-being of a community.
“I’m always interested in how culture plays a part in the health of a community. I think it’s linked to social health, mental health and financial health,” she said.
After some extensive research, Blake found out that there is grant money available for the project that would help to create a cultural map of the Valley.
“It’s happening in a lot of communities. For us, it’s happening at the county level, which means that the municipalities could develop their own plans with a lot of the groundwork done by the county,” she added.
Blake sees the project as benefiting both the citizens of the Valley region and the structure of the township.
Story continues in the August 29 issue of The Valley Gazette.