Canturbury Shaker Village, one of New Hampshire's leading cultural attractions, was among the sites visited by the Quebec trade delegation in 2002.
Its granite face carved by five of New England's great rivers, New Hampshire would never be confused with the land of milk and honey, a place of broad fertile valleys where the soil is soft and deep. Making a virtue out of necessity, New Hampshire turned its stones into a cash crop and harnessed its rivers to create a 19th century industrial dynamo of mills. Epitomizing this spirit of entrepreneurship were the Shakers of Canterbury, who launched business after business and reinvested the proceeds in community projects, fostering more growth and wealth.
Today the Shakers are gone and more recognized for a style of furniture noted for its quality, simplicity and integrity than their religious beliefs. Yet the Canterbury Shakers left a cultural legacy as well, and the restored Canterbury Shaker Village north of Concord is one of the state's leading cultural attractions. Trade and commerce are part of the Shakers' legacy, so it is fitting that representatives of this historic village participated in a trade mission to Quebec with delegates from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources (NHDCR), and tourism and business leaders. "To be successful in the international arena, culture and business must always go hand in hand," says Dawn Wivell, state international trade director and the delegation's chief sponsor.
French-Canadian roots run deep in New Hampshire with more than a third of residents related to the thousands of immigrants who left nearby rural Quebec to work in the state's mill towns in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many residents spoke French growing up, learned French songs and enjoyed performances of French-Canadian fiddling and storytelling. In addition to these cultural ties, Canada is New Hampshire's largest export market.
Exchanging Resources and Ideas
Renewed interest in New Hampshire's cultural ties with Quebec was sparked in 1999 by the state's participation in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which underscored the breadth and depth of the French Canadian legacy. In 2001, the state signed a cultural exchange agreement with Quebec. Updating a 1987 agreement, this one included visual and performing arts and highlighted ways that arts, heritage and library resources could be shared.
As much as the province and state have in common culturally, each has a different funding approach, a different way of doing business and very different cultural infrastructures. In some ways Quebec is more European than Europe, with a Ministry of Culture that oversees dozens of agencies and a budget that far exceeds that of the state arts council. However, the council being part of a unified cultural agency like the NHDCR--library, arts and historic preservation--allowed the two entities to interact as equals. Each of the divisions within the NHDCR could conduct discussions with their Quebec counterparts, exploring a wide range of topics.
"A cultural exchange such as this is about building relationships over time. It is not about taking a dance or theater company to a particular city and then leaving," says Van McLeod, commissioner of the NHDCR. Among the first steps after signing the agreement was to begin acquainting both sides with the artists, curators, archivists and organizations in each place. Canterbury Shaker Village was among the sites and museums visited by the Quebec delegation in the fall of 2002. Village curators gave the visitors a behind-the-scenes tour focusing on historic preservation, and hosted a dinner for the delegates.
The Arts Council Role
During this visit the arts council also facilitated discussions between Keene State College's Redfern Arts Center and the Montreal dance organization Tangente. Supporting a dance exchange was deliberate, according to Rebecca Lawrence, arts council director. "We are focusing on contemporary dance because our in-state dance resources are limited, and we can support more artists in that discipline coming here from elsewhere. Because of the two languages, disciplines that aren't language dependent are easier to exchange."
Soon after the Quebec delegation's visit, a few New England dance presenters attended a booking conference and special presentation by contemporary choreographers at Tangente. The result of these visits is an initial exchange that will send a choreographer/dance educator and dance students from Keene State College to Montreal for a three- to four-week residency, where they will be immersed in the Montreal dance scene and develop new choreography with local dancers and choreographers. Another exchange will follow later with a Montreal choreographer and/or dance company, who will be in residence for three to four weeks and tour New England.
Such exchanges allow students to become more knowledgeable about dance, artists to grow by being in other cultures and organizations to learn how to be better presenters and hosts. Lawrence sees this as a "long-term strategy of bridging cultures--educating each side in what the other has to offer. Our state role helps others see the arts as a trade commodity, which will expand markets for artists and develop a brand identity for our cultural institutions."
Writer and Editor: Kimber Craine Associate Editor: Jill Hauser Design: Benson Design Photo: Courtesy of Canterbury Shaker Village Sources:New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources