Introduction, and Chapter One: FIXT POINT meets Ellipsis Digital
Last year, the Ellipsis Digital team decided to expand the reach of our corporate social responsibility. CSR isn’t something we just pay lip service to—we plant trees, and wash cars, and donate funds and supplies to causes that we think are important. We also donate our time and skills to helping awesome Canadian charities take their websites from “aaargh” to “aaaahh.”
Working on Canada’s Worst Charity Website made us happy—it hit us in the sweet spot where aptitude and altruism overlap. We liked that so much, we decided to extend our reach to the arts. First, because we’re champions of the arts, both as fans and creators. Second, because we know that much like charities, artists and arts organizations are often too busy doing the work to promote the work. So we created The Arts Grant: a $25,000 package of our services—whether that was a website, or rebranding, or assistance with social media, or a shiny new marketing communications plan— for one Canadian artist or arts organization.
We received 81 applications for our inaugural Arts Grant, and had a terrible time shortlisting only five applicants — this country is full of amazing artists and organizations, and we were seeing just the tip of this talent iceberg. We handed the shortlist to our three-member judging panel who unanimously selected The Tale of a Town as the first recipient of The Arts Grant.
The Tale of a Town is a project of FIXT POINT, a not-for-profit theatre and media company based in Toronto. Led by managing director Charles Ketchabaw & artistic director Lisa Marie DiLiberto, FIXT POINT’s mandate is “to preserve local heritage and promote neighbourhood culture through the telling of tales across multiple platforms.”
The Tale of a Town is a national oral history and theatre initiative aiming to capture the collective community memory of our country’s main streets, one story at a time. Based in Toronto, the resident company works with local professional artists as they tour the country. Over the next three years, The Tale of a Town will tour across Canada, gathering downtown stories in small towns and big cities alike, and creating performance installations in the capital city of each province and territory. This national venture will culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, in commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.
Lisa says that The Tale of a Town was born of a curiosity about the main streets and downtowns across Canada that she travelled through as she was touring. She felt it was important to recognize and celebrate the community that comes of strong main streets, especially when many of Canada’s “main streets” are getting lost. They're collecting stories about what people can remember—from their own lives, not from stories they’ve heard—about how their communities have changed, and recording these personal memories, which then become part of our country's rich oral history, and are used in the creation of site-specific performances. (You can watch Lisa and Charles talk about the project below).
Since last April, they have talked to more than 600 people in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Ottawa and London, Ontario, and created six original site-specific plays based on those stories. In that time, they launched @taleofatown on Twitter and Instagram, and a Facebook page. They have podcasts that are distributed by The Walrus. At some point, they also jointly produced a son, Zevon Albert, now almost two years old, who accompanies them on the road as they tour.
Charles and Lisa noted that one of their biggest challenges was communicating and following up with the people who have been engaged in their project so far as interviewees, audience members or just plain fans. While The Tale of a Town is on a number of social media platforms, not everyone else is. Charles and Lisa want to continue to build momentum for The Tale of a Town, and create relationships and lasting connections with people, but they really don’t have a solid marketing strategy or communications plan.
So, the question is how do Charles, Lisa and The Tale of a Town engage their disparate audiences in a conversation so that these people can continue to share their main street stories with each other and stay connected with the project, regardless of age, geographic location and chosen platform?
Early in February, Charles visited London to meet with the Shawn Adamsson, Ellipsis Digital's VP of Strategy and Engagement, and digital strategist Andrew Amos. (Lisa was participating in the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s international arts festival, and the largest event of its kind in Western Canada.)
Charles came with questions and ideas; Shawn and Andrew brought their own questions and ideas. (That was all that Shawn and Andrew would divulge at this time.) It was an exciting and energetic meeting. And of course, Charles got a tour of the beautiful Roundhouse, soon to be Ellipsis Digital’s new home.
What will happen next? Where will our heroes go with their questions and ideas and technology and thoughts? How will they solve The Tale of a Town’s challenges? What will they create? Why do I hear the mellifluous tones of a 1940’s radio announcer as I write this?
Stay tuned for the next chapter of this exciting saga, when we’ll answer some of those questions...
(And if you’d like more background about The Arts Grant, you’ll find it right here.)