When St. Mary’s Polish Church in Whitney Pier was destroyed by fire in November 2014, the loss to the local community was unimaginable.
The CoMM Lab, built to promote collaboration and community-based research on music, dance, performance and other media was supported by $399,915 from the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust.
Dr. Marcia Ostashewski, CBU Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology and a Tier Two Canada Research Chair in Communities and Cultures, saw the tools of the CoMM Lab as a way to create the required repository for St. Mary’s Church, but also a bigger living interactive multimedia resource that could house past and present research about the contributions of diverse ethno-cultural groups to the social and cultural landscape of Cape Breton Island.
As the only designated site recognizing Polish Nova Scotians, the heritage building had been documented extensively in pictures and drawings. There was also plenty of promotional material and digital versions of historical documents floating around the community. The key was to gather it together in a single location where it could be viewed collectively by those charged with rebuilding, and the community at large.
With the launch of diversitycapebreton.ca in August 2015, the public now has access to collections showcasing the impact of various cultures, including Polish, Croatian, Ukrainian and Jewish communities.
“Our aim was to have an extensive database of records and documentation that would be useful to the many cultures of Cape Breton Island. The database will continue to grow and diversify as we move forward with the project,” says Dr. Ostashewski.
Dr. Ostashewski says in the past year, several projects developed in concert with the CoMM have addressed social issues and positively impacted the community. The projects have resulted in tangible research outcomes including exhibits, CDs, documentary films, performance pieces, and publications, as well as virtual, web-based resources.
The CoMM Lab supports intensive creative, critical public outreach and education programs, she says. This has been welcomed by local communities and has translated into events that have attracted scholars, community members and other interest groups.
Another well-received project was Singing Storytellers. Last fall, the project hosted a Symposium involving African musicians who led workshops with hundreds of schoolchildren around the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, and included a highly-attended full-day of workshops at the McConnell Library. “This event gained national attention from libraries across the country and I, along with a representative from the McConnell Library, have been asked to speak in Toronto about the collaboration,” says Ostashewski.
Dr. Ostashewski, together with a team of faculty and student researchers, and professional arts and media collaborators, community service organizations and local elders, have used the CoMM Lab to provide local at-risk youth with training in media, visual and theatre arts. The youth were then involved in creating films, CBC Radio segments, music recordings, creative writing, spoken word pieces and other digital multimedia that addresses local environmental and social justice issues.
With lots of innovative projects underway, Dr. Ostashewski says it is no surprise that the CoMM Lab is attracting international interest from faculty and top-tier research universities and that new partnership projects and collaborations are on the horizon.