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Arts Add Spark

Sandra and John Barth ignited their children’s lives with art. Now as president and treasurer of the Lakes District Arts Council, they’re adding that spark to the community of Burns Lake.

The Barths“We took our children to as many arts events as we could,” says treasurer, John. “Plays, musicals, outdoor theatre, art galleries, symphonies -- any opportunity to get ourselves and our children a chance to experience different art forms. We loved it.”

Founded in 2006, the Lakes District Arts Council is a result of a municipal vision to increase community growth through arts and culture. The previous arts council in Burns Lake folded 10 years ago when council members moved on to other things, so the Barths stepped in.

“It meant we had to start from scratch,” says Sandra. “And so we learned by doing.”

The couple both spent their working lives in the education field - John as a school district administrator and Sandra as a school principal - but retirement meant they had more time to devote to the council.

“We were known as high energy, enthusiastic, organized people,” John says. “Sandra and I have a passion for music and the arts, we knew there was a need, we had the time to devote and we were willing to make the commitment.”

Support, says John, came from all directions. Everyone pitched in to help-- locally, regionally and provincially.

“Some wonderful people really taught us the ropes. We were interested and passionate about what we wanted to do, but needed help in those first months,” says John. “When I think of the number of e-mails and conversations we had, it’s amazing. The support of all those people is really important to us. You can’t do it alone.”

The Barths both believe people’s appreciation for and taste in the arts is formed when they’re young, and exposure to the arts can lead to a lifetime of pleasure.

In keeping with that philosophy they’ve developed a program called Arts for Youth. Sponsored by the Rotary Club, school district, community college and small businesses, the initiative provides free tickets to youth for arts events.

“Youth are really the future advocates of arts and culture,” John says. “The arts council is building future artists, audiences and arts council volunteers.”

Another initiative works in conjunction with Process 4 Circle Arts Gallery, which displays works by visual artists on a rotating basis at local events.

The Arts Council’s website and ‘Arts Add Spark’ slogan are also new. The website provides another Lakes District forum to connect to the arts.

“We’re a very small community, less than three thousand, and we have to address what is relevant to the area, so what we’re able to do relies on co-ordinating events and working with other communities,” Sandra says. “It’s a real negotiating dance, but I think we’re doing pretty well.”

Geographic isolation and distance can also be a challenge. But according to John, the flip side of the isolation coin is people’s hunger for arts and culture. That hunger brings them out. Community members often tell the couple how valuable it is to be able to attend arts events right in Burns Lake.

And the community glow doesn’t stop at Burns Lake town limits. The name Lakes District Arts Council was a deliberate choice, aimed at including all communities around Burns Lake.

“The arts add something vital to a community, a village, a person, and a family,” John says. “That’s the reason we got involved, arts added so much to our children’s lives when they were growing up.”