Cambridge native Sonya Poweska is the new executive director of the Guelph Arts Council.

Cambridge native Sonya Poweska is the new executive director of the Guelph Arts Council.

GUELPH — At only 30 and spilling with energy, Sonya Poweska has taken on perhaps the biggest challenge of her young life.

The recently appointed executive director of the Guelph Arts Council is only a few weeks into her new job, but already she has been meeting and greeting artists with the enthusiasm of someone who has big plans for this most artsy of communities.

Step one: bring stability to the organization.

“The last few months have been turbulent for the GAC,” said the Cambridge-born Poweska during an interview at her downtown Guelph office.

The reference here is to the departure of the council’s most recent director, Anne McKay, after only a year on the job.

Prior to that, the council was led by Sally Wismer who had headed the organization for 22 years before retiring, leaving an impressive legacy.

Poweska hopes to take the arts council in a different direction and “directly meet the needs of the community” as well as connecting with the immigrant population.

“I hope to be able to offer some opportunities.”

At present, the council has a membership of 450 artists and craftspeople, operates on an annual budget of just over $200,000 and employs two full-time staff.

They have learned to be a frugal bunch and like most arts councils, have scrambled for the limited pool of funds available through the Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium and special project funds from organizations such as Guelph Community Foundation.

The organization also receives funding from the City of Guelph and County of Wellington.

“Arts councils are going through an incredibly turbulent time right now,” said Poweska. “We all need to pool our resources.”

The council held a number of workshops last summer, hoping to gather input from the public.

“We have that information and need to implement it,” she said. “I’m willing to respond to those needs.”

Poweska considers herself “a builder” — someone who lives to create, as an arts administrator and an artist. Ask about her own artistic talent and she grins, saying she rejects labels, having done everything from fine art to crafts, though her first love is filmmaking. Her earliest foray into the arts was taking a drama class at Southwood Secondary School in Cambridge.

“I was very fortunate to have amazing teachers,” she said, noting it was through her teachers’ encouragement she ventured into drama.

In 2000, as an Ontario Arts College student, Poweska won a Centre in the Square drama award and an award of merit at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival for directing.

She said that though her parents were not artsy, they were always arts supporters and she inherited that passion.

“I grew up in Cambridge and I’ve always been involved in the arts,” said Poweska, who holds a master of arts from Carleton University in film studies.

She began her career in Ottawa, working for a film festival.

“I was on a four-month contract … I stayed for four years,” she said. Overseeing the growth of the festival, she branched out to include youth at risk and the multicultural community.

When it was time to move on, Poweska joined the Mississauga Arts Council as its fund development and events co-ordinator.

After 18 months on that job, she was ready to move on. “There’s only so much building you can do,” she said.

Besides, Poweska was ready to move closer to her old stomping grounds.

“I was fully aware of what was going on in Guelph,” she said.

“Guelph is unlike any other city. People love this city. The richness of the art community here is vast.”

In her new job, Poweska will oversee arts council programs such as the highly popular historic walking tours, expansion of Art on the Street , supporting various art initiatives such as the Guelph Festival of Moving Media, Doors Open , Youth Opportunities award, professional workshops and development and Schmoozefest, a regular networking opportunity for those involved in the arts.



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