June 15th, 2024

Eye on the Esplanade: What does a cultural programming specialist do?

By Jessica Siwy on May 2, 2024.

Families learning some new dance moves from our community partners with The Connection during Kid's Passport to the World this past March.--PHOTO BY RANDY FEERE

In my new role of cultural programming specialist, I have been frequently asked by friends and family, “What exactly do you do?” This has made me reflect. From what people might see, I help plan various events, but it is so much more than “event planning.”

I have been able to work with and learn from the cultural programming team for a few months now. Even though it might seem simple to an outside observer, taking an event to its result is anything but.

Earlier this year, I was involved with the planning of Kid’s Passport to the World. This annual free family event allows collaboration with local organizations, vendors and people who truly make it a success. When families first come in the Esplanade, the children receive a blank passport ready to be filled with stamps.

To receive these stamps, families must travel from organization to organization, booth to booth. While ‘travelling,’ these families are introduced to new and exciting cultures which may get them involved in dancing, learning new stories and crafts.

I was able to bring my take of Le Carnaval de Québec (the Carnival) to the Esplanade for this event! Being bilingual and having been lucky enough to experience the Carnaval de Québec firsthand, I wanted to add my personal touch.

While exploring how I was going to execute this task, I came across the ceinture fléchée or the Métis sash. That’s when I decided to link the Métis culture into the Carnaval because they go together.

I was fortunate enough to have a local connection who knows about the Métis sash and was excited to facilitate lessons at this event. She also incorporated some other fun learnings including learning Michif words and Jig dancing!

More recently, our cultural programming team created a new event called E After Dark, taking a new approach to a public reception for an exhibition.

The event featured the exhibition Julian’s Dread from Jamaican-born artist living in Calgary, Jae Sterling. We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could dance to fun music while including other engaging activities if they needed a break from the dance floor.

We incorporated a lounge area for people to sit and visit, a graffiti wall for people to make their own art, a photo booth for people to capture their evening on photo strips and included a few local vendors for the public to engage with. All the while including pops of Jamaican culture to tie in the artist’s heritage and exhibition influences.

We were excited to collaborate with a local organization who was able to engage with community members to showcase Jamaican dances, recommend music choices and even prepared signature Jamaican foods for people to try!

On the surface, we are event planning. However, there is a large focus on culturally enriched community engagement.

We incorporate culture into each of our events and connect our community with enhanced experiences while making accessible and meaningful content. We collaborate with local organizations and people who can showcase their culture and share their stories.

Together we can build a strong, inclusive community where everyone feels like they are a part of, and we are all better for it.

Jessica Siwy is a cultural programming specialist with the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre

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