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Youth-engaged art-based research in Cape Breton: transcending nations, boundaries, and identities

Faculty Advisor




performance, research-creation, practice-based research, Indigenous studies

Abstract (summary)

In 2017, in conjunction with celebrations of 150 years of Canadian Confederation and with funding from government programs, young people from across Cape Breton Island were invited to participate in a performance creation project to explore narratives and experiences of migration and encounter. Youth (ranging in age from seven to nineteen) from disparate places, including Membertou First Nation (a reserve), Chéticamp (an Acadian, francophone town), Étoile de l'Acadie (a francophone school and community centre in Sydney), and Whitney Pier (a district of Sydney that is home to diverse immigrant cultures, primarily from Barbados, Italy, Newfoundland, Poland, Croatia and Ukraine) all met in their own communities. They listened to elders discuss their own experiences of migration and encounter, and responded by creating new performance pieces grounded in song, dance, film (including new technologies such as virtual reality and 360-degree cameras), spoken word and story. They came together on 22 October 2017 to share their creative work with one another and with public audiences. We examine issues that arose during the creative process and of young participants' post-process reflections, according to each of the ways in which Vertovec ("Conceiving") has identified transnationalism. Interpretations of the Cape Breton youths' own senses of rooted place are positioned in relation to transnational experiences present within their communities. These young people's expressions of the local (for example, Acadian step dance and Mi'kmaq traditional drumming) morph into expressions of the transnational (for example, hip hop and pop music production); musical expressions use so-called traditional instruments (bagpipes or hand drums), DJ mixing techniques, djembe, Acadian folk music, and Elvis. Problematizing assumptions about what it is to be a Cape Bretoner, and interrogating how migration and resulting encounters have shaped how these young people choose to express themselves, this paper examines how they simultaneously express and contest transnationalism.

Publication Information

Ostashewski, M, Heather Fitzsimmons Frey, and Shaylene Johnson. (2018). "Youth-Engaged Art-Based Research in Cape Breton: Transcending Nations, Boundaries, and Identities." Jeunesse, 10(2), 100-125.


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