On Friday, Nov. 12, the Peace Stage began an inaugural run as part of an unprecedented initiative called The Kindness Project. Isabel Cisterna, founder of Neruda Arts, said the aim is to bring professional art to neighbourhoods, making it accessible for a wider audience, including children.
“[It’s] so that kids can come out and see something spectacular…It doesn’t have to be music. It can be theatre, it can be puppetry, it can be poetry, it can be anything. That’s the beauty of this trailer, right?,” she said.
The project had a stage that could be transported around the region and included Laurier’s library and Community Music program as well as Quarry, the St. Jacobs communications company associated with the Heart Beats Hate movement.
House of Friendship helped arrange the nine-stop itinerary, including Emmanuel Day Care Centre in Waterloo, Hats Off in Cambridge, Extend-A-Family, along with the Chandler Mowat and Victoria Hills community centres in Kitchener.
Neruda Arts is in its 20th year serving in the region as a presenter of music, dance, drama, and literary and visual arts from around the world. The organization took lessons learned from dealing with the challenges related to COVID-19 and made some fundamental changes to its operations, which are now based in St. Jacobs.
Tamara Menon, acting artistic director of Neruda Arts, said in a public announcement last summer that they started focusing on supporting artists as best they could.
“We shifted our focus to support the artists in a way that is best achieved, at this time, through social media…[and we] equipped an audio/visual studio called Sound on Sound (SOS), where we have the tools to further the careers of local musicians and more,” the announcement said.
And yet, the Neruda team was aware that many artists facing barriers were still left.
So they hit upon the idea of building the Neruda Arts Peace Stage, a mobile performing arts presentation platform that can be taken anywhere including villages, neighbourhoods, schools, retirement homes, parks, parking lots and driveways.
Sandra Dunn, a blacksmith from Two Smiths in Bridgeport, was part of the planning and construction process. People were invited to contribute through a modest online fundraising campaign. By the fall, it was built, paid for and ready.
The project went into the communities bearing gifts of music and encouraging words to families as they came out to receive holiday hampers as the dark days of the year set in.
“The Kindness Project has taught us many lessons. Children take to kindness like bears to honey, in a natural way. Adults required more understanding but once they were open to receiving, they enjoyed the experience and told us that their hearts needed it more than they had imagined,” Cisterna said.
“We had a very successful first run. Let’s hope for more art, more kindness and more community building in the future,” she said.