Ross Creek is Back: Live and In Person!

Ross Creek is Back: Live and In Person!

It almost feels normal.

Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, just outside Canning, is offering day versions of their traditional overnight arts programs for youth this summer, and the place is a flurry of (physically distanced) activity. The grounds are being readied, gardens watered, menus prepared, and camp leadership is getting ready to welcome their staff, who arrive soon to spend the summer in a leadership program.

But this year is different. Staff lunch tables have names on them so that people who are “bubbled” together eat together but six feet apart from colleagues. The floor stickers arrived recently to help people keep their physical distance, and Program Director Ian Funke-McKay is putting the finishing touches on the camp schedule that had to be revised because of the restrictions on overnight camps and class numbers.

Executive Director Chris O’Neill says she feels lucky even in the changed climate. “We have always operated day camps alongside our overnights, so while we know it is harder on families, and restricts those who can attend, at least we know we can still give a great program series within the guidelines. We have many colleagues who can’t and it’s really hard to miss a year of camp.” She says that in a year that’s been marked by loss and sadness, she feels camp is going to be even more important for some families to bring back joy, creativity, and a sense of normalcy.

There are some significant changes to camps that will impact Ross Creek, aside from overnight camps being prohibited. Camps are limited (as of this writing) to 10 people per workshop, including the staff and faculty, which O’Neill says is about half of what they usually have. Ross Creek has also had to reduce their weekly offerings from six workshops to four to make sure the staff and volunteers can distance appropriately, and they won’t be able to bring in some of their national and international faculty, staff, or campers.

The impact on the budget of the centre is significant.

“Ross Creek was hit hard by the closures, and while the federal and provincial measures have been really helpful, we have lost about 80% of our overall earned income this year,” O’Neill says. This includes the loss of all the school field trips, spring artist residencies, and adult workshops and events, and of course the resident theatre company, Two Planks and a Passion, which is not able to perform this summer. O’Neill says they are watching government announcements carefully and are hoping for a continuing of the Emergency Wage Subsidy as well as the CERB for independent workers like artists. “So many people in the Ross Creek Community are artists who are not eligible for EI, and if they are performers, won’t be able to get back to work for many months. We are committed to doing whatever we can to keep them going, while also making sure we will be there for them in the future.”

O’Neill says her biggest concern about the downsizing of camp is the lack of access. “We normally have space in our programs so we can provide financial aid, and we have donations to the RJ Owen bursary fund to ensure that families who need help don’t lose the opportunity for one of our camps.” With such limited spaces this summer, and fewer donations, she says they have been reaching out to community organisations to help support families from their communities to reach camp. “The Women of Wolfville just stepped up to help two girls from the community attend and we are so thrilled.” O’Neill says the support is indicative of the kindness and sense of community she has felt over the past few months.

She says her mantra has become “make as much lemonade as we can.” Ross Creek turned on a dime in the spring when the pandemic hit, turning the kitchens into a food hub for hungry families, making art kits for low-income community children, and delivering their first online programs. That all led to some learning for the centre, as they worked to keep their far-flung community connected and saw possibilities in certain kinds of online programs and adult programming for the future. O’Neill says they will continue to offer some interactive online programs later in the summer and into the fall that will help keep people creative as they are in different stages of reopening.

She says those plans are coming in a few weeks, but right now they are laser focussed on getting ready to safely welcome their first campers on July 2. “We are so relieved that we can be working and providing meaningful artistic experiences for families this summer. Sometimes the word ‘mission’ can lose its meaning because we say it so often, but we really are driven here to make art accessible and exciting for all ages, and we feel very, very lucky that we can do some of that this summer.”

You can see a short video tour of the facilities and see Ross Creek’s approach to camp safety here: