The Culture Days Journey
In 2009, SaskCulture began working with national partners on a new initiative designed to increase public awareness, accessibility and engagement of Saskatchewan citizens in cultural activity in communities across the nation. SaskCulture took on the lead role for Saskatchewan to help launch the first-ever, across-Canada celebration of culture, called Culture Days in the province, which took place September 24-26, 2010. Over the next 10 years, Culture Days became a key initiative for promoting culture at the heart of communities and supporting accessible, interactive cultural programming in the province. Since its inception, SaskCulture served as part of the National Coordinating Committee along with representative from across the country and SaskCulture’s CEO took a seat on the National Steering Committee (which ultimately became the Culture Days National Board of Directors).
In its first years, SaskCulture communications engaged in extensive network promotion to encourage cultural leaders to plan and host Culture Days events. In 2010, an across-Canada media event was held simultaneously across the country on April 20, to help increase awareness of the movement and encourage cultural community involvement. Initial sponsors included CBC Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport (now known as Saskatchewan Parks, Culture and Sport) and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. The Government of Saskatchewan proclaimed Culture Week in Saskatchewan for the first time, and continues to proclaim the event each year.
In its first year, thousands of events were registered in the national Cultural Days database from across the country. Saskatchewan organizers registered over 130 cultural activities taking place in 23 Saskatchewan communities. It was viewed as a success for a first-time initiative.
In 2012, the Culture Days Funding Assistance program was introduced by SaskCulture to help support non-profit cultural groups holding Culture Days activities over the weekend. Originally, the fund offered $120,000 in 2013-14, but by 2017, due to lower revenues from the Trust Fund, the fund only distributed $90,000 and by 2019 only $70,000 was available.
By 2013, Culture Days had gained a foothold in Saskatchewan’s planning calendar and won an award from the IABC Gold Quill Awards for its efforts in 2013. By this point, over 250 cultural activities, from close to 100 different organizers, in over 50+ communities, were being held, each year reaching over 30,000+ participants, not to mention the participation in events and activities leading up to the weekend celebration.
While from 2012-2015, the levels of interactivity remained around 35 – 55%, the amount of diverse and inclusive activities continued to increase to 30% of all Saskatchewan in 2015. Public sentiment remained high for Culture Days, with 98% of participants surveyed satisfied with the activities they had attended, and 74% planning to attend more arts and cultural activities in their communities as a result of Culture Days.
SaskCulture was recognized nationally for the introduction of its Animateur Program. In 2010, the program was originally set up with one Animateur travelling and engaging people in cultural activity around the province for one month leading up to Culture Days, but by 2011 it had grown to include up to four Animateurs each year, engaging hundreds more community participants along the way. The Animateur program was altered in 2015 to focus on outreach for SaskCulture and focused community engagement. With new responsibilities, the new Community Engagement Animateurs had very little to do with Culture Days. However in 2017, a new pilot Culture Days Animateur program helped identify and engage new communities in Culture Days, bringing artists to communities and encouraging more than 10 new communities to participate in Culture Days. The program is running in its third year in 2019.
In 2017, it was noted that Culture Days had definitely hit a plateau. Activity registration was down and volunteers were starting to pull out due to burnout. However, attendance still continued to rise due to larger events such as Nuit Blanche in Saskatoon and Regina. In its 10th year, Culture Days remained a draw to those interested in the idea of Culture Days and highlighting culture in their community. After a review of the program, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public gatherings, several changes were implemented for Culture Days in 2020, which included new sponsorship programs for hubs and small group gatherings, and an emphasis on virtual programming. The focus on virtual programming was shared acoss the country.