Tofino Profile: Marilyn Brewer
by Shirley Langer, Tofino
Marilyn is a sophisticated and experienced woman who takes the word community more seriously than most of us. That's because she knows from experience the wealth of human resources residing in every community--the people with talent and ability available to offer their talent for the interest and benefit of the wider community. For twenty-three years, Marilyn was Events Manager of Community & Educational Programs at Harbourfront in Toronto. Managing a team of fifteen or so, her job was to reach out to the cultural communities of that huge multicultural city, and give individuals and groups the opportunity to showcase their culture for their fellow citizens. Over those twenty-three years, she saw Harbourfront's modest programs grow on the reclaimed site of an industrial wasteland to become an internationally renowned cultural center. Over the years she has worked with First Nations, South Asians, Italians, Portuguese and dozens of other ethnic groups in presenting their artists, their crafts. Amazingly, these cultural events are always gratis to the public.
When I ask Marilyn to comment on some of the programs or Harbourfront festivals that were the most memorable for her, her first example revealed her humanist character. She described an extraordinary Harbourfront event called The Earth Spirit Festival. In 1988, the Canadian government formerly apologized to Japanese Canadians for systematic persecution during the Second World War, and provided some financial compensation for their losses of property. The Japanese Canadian Association decided to use some of the redress money to celebrate their cultural heritage by exploring similarities between their heritage and that of Canada's First Nations. Marilyn then talked about Harbourfront's School By The Water, a science program for elementary and secondary school kids through guided exploration of Toronto's waterfront. For several years, Marilyn collaborated with Peter Gabriel's organization, womad, the World of Music, Art and Dance. In fact, Harbourfront presented the first womad festival in North America. And then there were twenty-three Canada Days at Harbourfront to plan.
You could say Marilyn's passion is presenting artists and events to the public. "On reflection," says Marilyn, "I think it is observing the exchange that takes place between artist and audience that I find the most gratifying. It's upsetting to see how often funding is cut from arts programs, as though the arts aren't important, or even necessary."
Marilyn's original career choice was performing opera. She began singing while very young, studied at the University of Toronto Opera School and sang with the Canadian Opera Company for three seasons. Losing her motivation and direction while dealing with one of life's lessons, she decided eventually to follow another path. She interviewed for the job at Harbourfront, mentored by an individual who "opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of community, and the importance of giving community a voice." When she retired in 2002, she wasted no time in returning to Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. She first visited in 1982 with her then four year old daughter, Jennifer, after reading about Pacific Rim National Park.
"I was seeking ocean, coastline and natural beauty," she says. "The attraction was immediate, and after that, I visited Tofino every few years."
Once a resident, it's no surprise that Marilyn naturally gravitated toward involvement with the Pacific Rim Arts Society, known as PRAS. Did she think a small festival could be organized in 2004 with a budget of $10,000, PRAS wanted to know? Marilyn accepted the challenge, and the result was a small but excellent festival. Some of the performers were The Borealis String Quartette, Celso Machado, and horn player, Mike Herriot. This year, pras wanted to do something special, it being PRAS 20th Anniversary. So for the first time, in addition to wonderful music, tthe festival will present a theatrical experience featuring First Nations performer, Margo Kane, celebrated for forging and promoting aboriginal theater. Ms. Kane's company, Full Circle First Nations Performance, will perform Confessions of an Indian Cowboy. At this writing, Marilyn and her colleague Daysi Tattersall are occupied with a myriad of organizational details. "Funding is always a challenge," says Marilyn, "often coming through late, often making it necessary to confirm bookings at the very last minute." Nevertheless, Marilyn Brewer seems unflappable. What else would you expect from a pro with 23 years experience?
I probe Marilyn's feelings about not having followed the path of performance in opera. "I do miss singing. I do have regrets. The human voice is an extraordinary instrument inside us, capable of conveying emotion so wonderfully. And what a glorious way of life performing opera would have been! But I feel fortunate to have worked in the arts. Artists are fascinating because they are creators and often visionaries. Working with them enabled me to express my creative side."
Is there life beyond organizing arts festivals, I want to know? "I'd like to explore the possibilities of retirement," Marilyn replies. "I've always been very interested in textile art. I'd like to travel with friends. I definitely want to spend more time with my daughter and learn more about her work in the field of healing arts." What about your life here in Tofino, I ask? Has moving here fulfilled your expectations? Marilyn answers carefully. "The community of Tofino, the place as a whole, is unique, very special. I would like to see the community come together to articulate a vision for the future of our village. The community would need to put in place strong leadership to carry out and sustain that vision."
Spoken like a true community person.
Shirley Langer describes herself as a woman about town with a well developed civic consciousness.
Tofino resident Marilyn Brewer is a sophisticated and experienced woman who takes the word community more seriously than most of us.