Building generations of creators & patrons

Baby and Man relaxing in the snow

By Hollie Pratt-Campbell

It’s no real surprise that Greg Tilson’s son, George, is demonstrating some serious musical skill (particularly for percussion) at the early age of eight months. Greg and his wife, Annie Clifford, are both talented musicians themselves as members of the sprawling music collective The Gertrudes, and Greg has spent many years organizing music events and festivals in Kingston.

In 2010, he expanded this organizational work to all art forms when he became artistic director of the Kingston Arts Council. Every year, the Council administers over $500,000 in funding and advocates on behalf of local artists; it also creates unique and challenging arts programming and strives to increase audience development for Kingston’s arts and culture sector.

“I think of myself as way more of an arts organizer than an artist,” Tilson says. “I happen to be in a band, but even there I play the organizer role in addition to writing songs and stuff.”

All the same, he adds that coming form a music background allows him to be well in-tune with the needs of the local arts community. Indeed, he has found that Kingston offers quite a unique environment for artists compared to other nearby cities.

“The Kingston arts community is very intimate. Unlike Toronto or Montreal or other centres in the area, it’s very cooperative and people are supportive of each other.”

And this unique collaborative spirit is paying off for the city in a big way.

“Kingston is on the verge of becoming one of Ontario’s top arts destinations,” Tilson says, noting that Arts Council-run events like the annual Skeleton Park Arts Festival and the Porch Jazz Parade are examples of festivals that are becoming increasingly popular and getting both locals and tourists excited about the arts scene.

“It is a very simple equation for me: building community through the arts. [Porch Jazz, for instance, features] local jazz musicians on front porches while moving through the city with a New Orleans-style musical parade. This is an example of bringing art to the people of Kingston – in this case literally to their front doorstep.”

Fatherhood has allowed Tilson to become even further invested in the future of arts in the community. He and George now attend music classes through the program Music Together, run by Christina Foster out of Chalmers United Church.

“We both love it,” he says. “So I would say I’m now interested personally in how [we can provide more programming] for children and youth. One of a number of priorities for the Arts Council is figuring out ways for people to make careers as artists, and of course we want to help the Kingston arts community expand and grow. These are all pieces of the puzzle to making a sustainable arts and culture sector for the next generation in Kingston.”

Once construction is complete, the Kingston Arts Council will move all of its offices into the Tett Centre, and Tilson says it will certainly make their work easier to be “where the action is”:

“Magical things will happen when the Tett brings together so many diverse and creative minds into what will likely be the most exciting and spectacular arts hub in all of Ontario. There is presently an enormous appetite for the arts in Kingston, however the community continues to ask ‘where are the art spaces that are both social and public’? The answer is the Tett.”