Do we call Cape Breton post-industrial now? I’m not sure of the official designation for a town once IV-fed by coal, steel, and cod, now surviving on the industry of tourism and call centers. To me, it’s just home, the place I love and leave.
In early spring of this year, the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design called for submissions for the inaugural Lumiere event. The idea was to present free art to the public in unconventional spaces in Sydney’s downtown core. I was familiar with the concept, having attended Halifax’s much larger version, Nocturne, several times.
It was a perfect venue for Waywords and I eagerly entered an application with my project idea: place a typewriter in a public space, invite people to participate by responding to one question: What Kind of Creature Are You? There would be music, too. When Lumiere accepted my project application and offered me a psychologist’s office as a venue (the humor of which did not escape me), I invited pals and fellow Cape Breton songwriters Breagh Potter and Ian MacDougall, to join me for the evening.
It rained on that night in October. It does that in the fall in Cape Breton. Settled above Charlotte Street in the white-walled room with an audience of waiting chairs, we were all a little worried nobody would show up.
Sydney’s downtown is more banks and chain hotels than art venues and public space. Aside from the absurd “Big Fiddle” towering over the under-utilized harbour front, there is little visible representation of the diverse set of artists, thinkers, and doers residing in Sydney. The University is miles away from the downtown core, as is the area’s only proper theatre. An old nightclub was just shut down and sold to build a parking structure and I pictured Joni Mitchell shaking her head knowingly
at this classic lack of creative initiative in downtown development. But there were many people working hard to make Lumiere happen, and people came out in surprising numbers. The rain stopped, too.
It was really an honour for my little Olivetti and I to be a part of Lumiere. I leave Cape Breton so often, fail in loyalty in the wintertime, struggle to understand the place as whole and instead believe my twenty-five acres in the North River Valley is somehow more real. I return to Cape Breton like a kid returns to her mom’s house to do laundry: selfishly and by necessity, but secretly out of a deep, deep longing for home. I was there alongside artists who live and work in Cape Breton full time.
At the end of the night, I packed up the typewriter and vowed to be home more often in 2012.
"Waywords" is supported by the Nova Scotia Department of Culture & Heritage