Heavy metal bands and wrestling events.
That was my answer 10 years ago when I was asked to describe Moncton’s culture.
I’d been living in the city for a few months, working an early morning shift that limited my social excursions. My 1990s Nova Scotia high school French left me completely unprepared for a bilingual environment and, despite taking conversation classes with Alliance Francaise, I found the Acadian culture very intimidating and hard to connect with.
It seemed to me that the majority of cultural events, aside from the local heavy rock and country bands (which were amazing music scenes, but not to my personal taste), were classical and conducted primarily in French. This left me extremely disconnected from the community and it wasn’t long before I moved away.
Today, if you asked me to describe Moncton’s culture, my answer would be much different. I haven’t improved my language skills (just ask my Grade One French Immersion student who constantly corrects my pronunciation!). My work and social connections are different, and yet still limiting in terms of how often and in what ways I can participate in many events. But my connection to this community has improved vastly because of the changes that have been happening in the Greater Moncton Area.
A perfect example of a cultural shift was this week’s announcement launching a new festival, FLASH Moncton. This event promises to brighten the darkest days and nights of winter (mid-February) with the use of projection technology. Organizer Lisa Griffin, one of the people behind the vastly successful Festival Inspire, described it to Moncton’s City Council like this: “You can expect some of Moncton’s larger buildings to be mapped out and creating optical illusions to change the cityscape temporarily. People can expect something that’s never been presented in Atlantic Canada, it’s basically bringing in really high-level light, technology-based artists.”
Projection mapping uses computer software to create incredible images that can overlay irregular shapes, such as buildings. It’s common now with professional sports teams and places like Disneyland; not something that is generally associated with small cities and art festivals. I think it’s, in a word, inspired. To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little left out that Moncton hadn’t created a nighttime art experience like Nuit Blanche and Lumière. Now I’m thrilled that instead of following that trend, we’ll be starting our own with FLASH.
This is part of what I’m feeling in Moncton these days. There’s a culture of creativity. A culture of progression. People aren’t waiting for things to happen, they’re taking charge and making it a reality. There’s almost a sense of adventure, a feeling that it’s worth the risk to take a chance and dream big. I am confident to say I know consider the Greater Moncton Area to be a welcoming community that encourages diversity and builds on its past, rather than feeling stuck in it. As Festival Inspire co-founder Matt Williston said to city council, “It’s making Moncton cool enough to stay.”
It’s not just these two initiatives. There are start ups like Tuba and Tuxy, shops like Impertinent and Carte Blanche, community productions at the Capitol Theatre, a float spa, outdoor skating rinks, and pop-up coffee houses in shipping containers. There are events like Master Mindset and Work of Heart, community initiatives like Project Nice List and Becca Told Me To. People are connecting and collaborating in exciting ways. There is a shift in attitudes and dialogue when it comes to what is possible for this small East Coast community, and that is the culture that I now associate with Moncton.