Local Hero: Wendy Carter bring arts education into the lives of thousands of school children in Dufferin.
Wendy Carter: One of our 2008 Local Heroes
Wendy Carter is a woman on a mission. She wants to bring arts education into the lives of thousands of school children in Dufferin. And, remarkably, as co-ordinator of the Dufferin Youth Festival of the Arts, that is just what she has achieved.
For five mornings each spring, 500 students and a hundred or more educators, volunteers and guests gather in the cavernous space at Orangeville Baptist Church. By the time all 3,000 or so participants go home, this non-competitive spectacle brings together twenty-nine elementary and secondary schools from the public, separate and private systems – even home-schoolers are included. Featuring several choirs, along with other musical performances, dance, drama and visual arts, it is a creative extravaganza.
The seeds of Wendy’s enduring passion were planted in 1997. At the time, music programs had been cut from school board budgets, and instruments were literally gathering dust. A group formed to see if something could be done. At a brainstorming session, teacher Mary Runciman suggested a community-organized arts festival. People liked the idea, and Wendy leapt at the challenge: “I began to think ‘what can I do?’ I taught piano for thirty years, so I understood performance.”
The first event was held with a few schools in 1998 as a two-day affair, and it has grown steadily ever since. It’s a massive undertaking. School administrators and teachers organize participating classes from individual schools and assist students in preparing their performances. On each of the five mornings, a different group of schools comes together, with the students forming an enthusiastic audience while they await their turn on stage.
Staging such a large and complex affair is a team effort, and Wendy effusively rhymes off a small army of individuals who have played pivotal roles. Among them, her three co-co-ordinators over the years – Jaime Wouters, Noelle Klassen and Marilyn Logan – Joy Bell, who “was instrumental in the early years,” and David Nairn of Theatre Orangeville, radio host Bernadette Hardaker and a legion of teachers, school administrators and parents. The organizing committee planning the 2009 event includes no less than twenty-three people.
The development of community partnerships has also been critical. In addition to Theatre Orangeville, Dufferin Arts Council and Upper Grand District School Board have provided support with transportation, logistics and a web presence. Orangeville Baptist Church, recognizing the value of the event, now donates the space for free. Wendy’s husband Terry hasn’t escaped recruitment either: his law firm is a corporate sponsor.
After eleven years, Wendy’s enthusiasm shows little sign of flagging. She is currently completing a master’s thesis that assesses the festival’s potential to complement curriculum, and feels the event could serve as a case study in other locations. “It would be good for other communities to hear what we did with no budget. If we can, anybody can,” she insists.
Still seeking ways to embrace even more of the community, Wendy also has plans to involve children with developmental disabilities.
Truly a maker of music, Wendy Carter plays down her contribution: “When something comes naturally it’s not work, it’s a joy.”