Ottawa, Friday, January 22nd 2021: It seemed a far-off dream for the Ottawa-Gatineau-based arts organization. Back in 2019, as members of the Board did some blue sky thinking at a retreat MASC in its 30th year, there was talk of one day expanding MASC programming across the country. Wouldn’t it be amazing if MASC could exist in every city in Canada? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could offer arts programming to schools and communities, regardless of geographical boundaries and limitations? 

Many plans were put on the backburner in 2020 as MASC dealt with the challenges presented by school strikes, provincial cuts to arts funding, and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic. But with these challenges arose opportunities: in times of adversity, the creativity of artists cannot be underestimated. 

“It was so disheartening having to cancel all our bookings for the spring, not to mention a huge financial blow to the artists. We are proud that MASC was able to cover 50% of fees for cancelled bookings, so the artists could still support themselves during this difficult time.”

MASC Co-Executive Director Micheline Shoebridge

“But we couldn’t stop there! Our artists still needed to work, and our school and community partners were relying on us. So, we put our thinking caps on and came up with some pretty remarkable ideas.” 

MASC Co-Executive Director Wendy Hartley

In partnership with their 138 artists, MASC staff spent six months creating and refining the MASC Online Program consisting of interactive virtual performances and workshops in all artistic disciplines – dance, music, literary, media, dramatic and visual arts – that would be offered to schools and communities. The artists became well-versed in Zoom, YouTube, Google Meet, and more. 

One of the unforeseen perks of this new program was that MASC artists could now offer their workshops and performances across Canada… just as the organization dreamed might happen in the future. Even before the school year commenced, MASC was accepting bookings as far away as YellowKnife

MASC also worked with their artists to create professionally filmed Videos-On-Demand, so that schools and communities would have access to high-quality video performances in dance, drama, and music for up to 500 students. Bookings also include a follow-up Q&A between the artist(s) and a group of 60 participants to deepen cultural and curriculum links.

“Through MASC, Bboyizm offers a school performance called The Evolution of B-Boying that tells the history of Street Dance with a focus on b-boying and b-girling starting from the 1970s to today. It’s educational, it’s fun, the students love it. It was amazing for us to create a Video-On-Demand with multiple camera angles to really showcase the talented dancers we have in our group and offer students the best possible show.”

Crazy Smooth, founder of Bboyizm Dance Company.

Today MASC offers over 200 virtual programs, the equivalent of 35% of their total programming. And the program continues to expand. In 2021, MASC has plans to create online programs with even more artists and to continue filming Videos-On-Demand, as well as promotional videos for the artists. 

Over the next couple of months, MASC hosts two virtual festivals for francophone participants. The inaugural IllustrAuteurs takes place on February 12 and features a full day of workshops and performances for aspiring writers and illustrators in grades 7-10. And for the first time in the festival’s history, Festival de danse en milieu scolaire will take place online and offer dance activities throughout the month of March for students in grades 9-12. Both festivals are open to students across Ontario and are currently at 90% capacity.

Teachers and community partners have expressed their gratitude for the availability of this programming and how impressed they are with the quality of the offerings: 

“I want to thank you for your continued professionalism, patience, and amazing coordination last week for all our virtual workshops. My colleagues and I really appreciated the quality of the workshops and I know that the students who were present enjoyed the workshops too. All artists were wonderful to work with and they were quick to adapt their in class workshops so easily to a virtual platform. Most of all, MASC artists have proved once again that they are not just experts in their disciplines but amazing individuals!” 

Shaz Tyndale, OCDSB Teacher

Since the pandemic began, MASC has also had the opportunity to offer in-person Programming at-a-distance to combat isolation and encourage collaboration. Visual artists Claudia Salguero [Ottawa Citizen] and Nicole Bélanger have dropped off art kits with instructions to community members, who create individually their own pieces of what will become a collaborative mural. Over the summer, Suzan Richards led Afro-Caribbean dance classes for seniors who boogie from their balconies in Lowertown [VIDEO]. And Junkyard Symphony has taught drumming to students in the woods near their school. 

In 2021, in line with Covid-safe municipal and provincial guidelines, MASC is optimistic about planning even more in-person programming in both urban and rural communities across Ottawa-Gatineau.