Move online, longer schedule both benefit R2R20 conference
BY DENNY SCOTT
With some significant changes to the event from previous years, the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity (CCRC) Rural talks to Rural (R2R) 2020 event went well according to CCRC Director Peter Smith.
“It was good and it was interesting,” he said. “We’ve never done anything like this. When we started R2R, we didn’t think about this.”
The event has been constantly evolving with each iteration, Smith said, with the 2020 event showing that, despite the distance between people and the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was still worthwhile.
The biennial event, which has been held three times now, has stretched from a two- or three-day affair into a nearly-two-week event that ran Nov. 16 to Nov. 28. Each day featured multiple events, including panels and workshops at lunch (from noon to 1 p.m.) and two events from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. each evening.
Smith said that running the event like that quickly began to feel like running a play, something with which he has extensive experience, including time he spent at the Blyth Festival.
“Spreading it over two weeks, it began to feel like a theatre run, which is in my blood,” he said. “You start with the noon-hour shows and then have a half-hour call, then an evening show for a couple hours.”
He said that not being bound to a physical space allowed the event to be well-attended, with 125 attendees joining from across the world, including South America, Africa and Europe. There were also100 presenters involved in different programs throughout the 13-day event to run the various panels and workshops.
“We couldn’t afford it if we did it in person,” Smith said, before adding that they may consider a hybrid model for the 2022 event.
“I love the live aspect of the events, like the meals and just being together, but there’s definitely some positive aspects to doing it like we did and having the events over a long period of time,” Smith said. “We could do something hybrid though, like having people in Memorial Hall to watch the discussion on a screen. It would be like watching a movie or a presentation from anywhere in the world. It could be Europe or Australia. South America or BC or Newfoundland. All it takes is a viable connection.”
The decisions to go online and spread out the sessions were brought forward by the planning committee, which Smith said was full of members under 30 years old who brought vibrancy to the planning process.
The opening night, which featured Dr. Leroy Little Bear, a Blackfoot researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Lethbridge, was great, Smith said.
“He offered some great insights,” Smith said. “He took us way back in time and brought us forward with an ask to reflect more about the world we live in. It was a great opening night.”
Smith said everything was recorded, a practice that was started at the 2018 R2R event. Sessions were then uploaded shortly after the event so that people in other time zones could watch it at their leisure.
Programs covered everything from virtual art galleries, which were available throughout the event, to discussions on rural government and agricultural technology, the latter of which, Smith said, resulted in an idea for an upcoming summit on agricultural technology and investment.
The goal of the event, Smith said, has been sharing ideas and networking and, with that in mind, he used the R2R event to announce the CCRC Radio program, which will bring people together throughout the year for interesting discussions. He said that through the initiative, there will be broadcasted events that can be enjoyed later. He said the first, a story circle with frontline healthcare workers, generated some great discussion.
“One of the things I found from the last two R2R events was that the dialogue didn’t really continue after the event,” he said. “I wanted to keep those conversations going. This time, we’re going to do it through CCRC radio.”
For more information, visit the CCRC website at ruralcreativity.org.