April 29, 2021

Article at theyyscene.com

An Artist for Alberta: Joal Kamps is the province’s newest Arts Ambassador

It is jarring now, as a viewer, to watch a musician standing in a darkened auditorium, facing an audience of none. How long has it actually been since Albertans have seen a stage?

That moment must have been every bit as overwhelming for Calgary musician Joal Kamps, as he filmed a promotional video at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium to announce his term as Alberta's arts ambassador and artist in residence.

Beginning in October 2020, about midway through the Coronavirus pandemic, Kamps has spent the last several months meditating on the best way to face this unique and unprecedented challenge as a representative of an industry that has been all but decimated over the past year.

"Part of my role as the arts ambassador is to communicate with government the various challenges and successes artists are having in the province. With the pandemic and the various regulations, it's had a massive impact on the live events sector. Any of the performance-based disciplines, even visual arts, any opportunities where people are required to get together to communally experience something, those types of events are just gone for the time being," says Kamps, who was chosen from a shortlist of eight area individuals.

Kamps comes from an arts-oriented background, saying his parents "saw a bit more of a creative side in me" when he was younger, enrolling him in various visual and dramatic arts programs throughout the city. From there he took an interest in music, playing in his junior high school band, forming his own punk band in high school, and then branching out to folk music, which has earned him numerous accolades, including a Western Canada Music Award for contemporary Christian/Gospel album of the year for his debut solo album, Sojourner.

But it was seeing American folk musician Ellis Paul perform live that inspired Kamps' decision to make a career out of making music.

"Through music, he said he had been able to buy a home for his family, and for me, that really solidified what I wanted to do with my art. I didn't want to be famous, but I wanted to be able to provide for a family one day."

And, indeed, music has since become a family affair for Kamps, who now performs alongside his wife, Lauren, as folk duo Flint & Feather. The two are collaborating on "Wild Rose," an original song and performance-art project as part of Joal's artist residency.

The project will incorporate multiple disciplines, including music, literature, dance and visual arts, highlighting a diverse range of talents and cultural backgrounds.

Kamps says the project is based on Alberta's history and "Rocky Mountain folklore," with a view to the future, focusing on resiliency, unity, and community - all desperately needed in this particularly tenuous time.

"It touches on the personification of Alberta as a woman. This is someone who has gone through a journey that has had lots of ups and downs, has been very colourful, and yet this individual has persevered throughout all of it."

Dogged dedication to their craft has been the driving force for many Alberta artists this past year, and while the various shutdowns and restrictions have led to an opportunity for individuals to learn and cultivate long dormant creative interests at home, for those who rely on the arts as a source of income, it's difficult and daunting to create new content in the absence of their most prominent muse: an audience.

"To be brutally honest, many established artists, back when the pandemic started, we all had this very optimistic view about the amount of creative content that we were going to generate during this slow time," says Kamps.

"But it's almost been a little bit paralyzing in a certain sense. You want to sit down and create, but you don't feel the motivation. You want to go out and experience that energy that comes from public engagement and artistic collaboration, but my life has been devoid of that for the past year. Those things fuel artistic creation, so many, many artists that I've spoken with have been struggling with disappointment in themselves - and I can put myself in that boat."

Still, Kamps hopes his role as arts ambassador can be a vital part of the discourse between stakeholders in Alberta's arts communities and the Alberta government to find long-term solutions that are "viable, fair, equitable and accessible.

"In my dream world, there would be some kind of program or funding that might facilitate that return to normal where venues are still able to make a living, can pay their staff, and where artists can also make a living," he says.

"I would argue that the arts are essential. And I think anybody would be really hard pressed to prove that they've gotten through this pandemic this far without engaging in one form or another.

"I think there's a real hunger and a longing for the arts. These are the very things that fuel our soul. These are the things that help us process emotion. These are the things that give us a hopeful vision of what the future can be."