Project director with the Blyth Arts & Cultural Initiative 14/19 Inc., Smith was the keynote speaker prior to the April Flavours dinner April 26.
The Valley Regional Enterprise Network invited Smith to share his experiences in Blyth, Ontario in the revitalization of a small community and its surrounding area through working together.
Having worked in theatre, television and film across Canada, Smith returned to direct the Blyth Festival in 2012 and found himself caught up in the creation of a cultural hub.
Smith said communities have to ask themselves – what are we passionate about and then remember, “that it’s easy to get along with those you agree with.”
Like rural Nova Scotia, Huron County has an older population. Manufacturing losses and little viable employment for youth prompted an immediate, combined and concerted effort to stem the tide.
The Blyth Arts & Cultural Initiative was formed in 2013 to transform an old hall/theatre and develop the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity (CCRC) as a cultural hub in the former Blyth school.
In doing so, Smith noted, the community is learning a lot.
Smith showed a slide of how in the summer of 2014 the initiative hosted ‘Fare on 4’ – a dinner for 1,419 people with 100 volunteers alongside - on the main street of Blyth.
“It brought the community together from all socio and economic strata with an energy that was inspiring.”
Smith described a three-pronged initiative that includes a $3.8 million renovation of the Memorial Hall, which opens in 10 days, the development the centre and a rural trust for long-term sustainability.
According to Smith, artists have a brilliant ability when it comes to problem solving, yet it can seem like they speak another language.
He said better understanding of the arts perspective is called for, along with municipal cooperation to further cultural hubs. Consensus building and short meetings, Smith called two further pieces of advice he’d offer.
The Blyth Theatre Festival is going into its 43rd season. Two chefs are opening a commercial/education kitchen in the hall as well to train new chefs.
The Grant and Mildred Sparking Centre, which houses the rural creativity centre, is geared to other artistic disciplines, entrepreneurship and innovation. They include: fashion arts and textiles, new media and communication.
The centre hope to collaborate with the local Amish community of St. Helens and Theatre for Architecture, Architecture for Theatre in Holland to create a theatre built in a day.
Port Williams linen advocate Patricia Bishop and Linda Best of the FarmWorks Investment Cooperative have visited Blyth.
A panel of agricultural entrepreneurs, chaired by David Eisnor of South Shore Farms and Futurpreneur Canada, shared their positive experiences about selling to local consumers.
Thian Carmen, who was Nova Scotia’s youngest registered farmer at 14, told the audience about being allowed to use fallow farmland to raise lamb.
An engineer by training, Emily Tipton of Boxing Rock Beer in Shelburne spoke about the growth in craft beer in this province.
“There’s still room for growth,” she stated when 93 per cent of beer consumed in Nova Scotia comes from outside the province.
Vegetable farmer Andrew Rand of Pereau spoke about the foresight of the eight farmers in his area who banded together in the mid-1980s to sell produce, while Dakota Varen, a Tremont farmer, explained how that continues for small-scale organic farmers in western Kings County.
Linda Best of FarmWorks explained how in four years the co-op has invested $1.4 million in 60 entrepreneurs.
The Valley Regional Enterprise called its information session Food – A Main Course for Our Economy.