Mission to bring history to life through song

The City of Mission is wants local songwriters to reimagine moments from the community's past

Inside the Mission Community Archives, reams of newsprint preserve the first draft of Mission’s history. Now, the city wants musicians to bring those stories back to life.

This summer, Mission is asking local performers to participate in its new musical storytelling project: The Mission Record. Four musicians will be chosen to turn a story from the archives of the local newspaper (The Mission Record) into an original song, recording and performing it for the community.

It’s an unusual approach for a municipal arts and culture department, but it’s one the city hopes will allow artists and community members to appreciate local history in a new way.

Turning history into song is not a new practice; Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting memorial to the SS Edmund Fitzgerald has been a Canadian and international hit since it was recorded in 1976. But for municipalities, it’s still uncharted territory. 

(The Current reported on the challenges municipalities face when they take on new creative projects like logos in 2023.) 

“Municipalities often have creation opportunities for visual artists, but there's not always the same opportunities for performing artists,” Mission’s manager of arts and culture Mark Haney said.

Haney, a musician himself, said The Mission Record is a chance to change that. 

The Mission Record will see four Mission musicians commissioned to write four original songs based on Mission’s history. The successful artists will participate in a workshop at the Mission Archives in late spring, where they will get inspiration for their projects. 

What exactly their inspiration will be is up to the artist, however. Whether it’s a folk song about Chinese labour on the CPR, a rap on logging camps in the city’s northern reaches, or a ballad on the creation of the Stave Lake dam, each musician will choose how they want to represent Mission’s history. The piece could be interpretive or incorporate a fictional narrative, but must be grounded in a specific historical account.

After the workshop, artists will have two and a half months to develop their song, and then half a day in a studio to record it.

The songs will finally be premiered at Mission’s H20 Follies event on August 23, as part of a summer-end party for the community.

The Mission Record project is part of the city’s year-long Your Stories Our Mission program, which aims to use community stories to build connections in the city. A number of events are taking place with the Your Stories theme, including development workshops for new plays, hands-on museum workshops, and a recycled instrument orchestra performance. (We’ll have more on the “Recychestra” in a future story.)

The call for songwriters closes on May 1. Participants will be announced on May 15. Each selected artist will receive $1,000 for the composition of their work, and $500 for the recording and live performance of it. (The city will pay for the recording studio time and an audio engineer to mix the tracks.) Artists will retain the rights to their final work, but the City of Mission will have a non-exclusive license to work in perpetuity.

Artists have blasted municipalities in the past for not appropriately compensating artistic efforts. The Current has talked to three musicians, two of whom have applied for The Mission Record project, about how this proposal compares. All said Mission’s offer is reasonable, but note that independent musicians as a whole are underpaid. (The Current will have more on that in a future story.)

Applications for the project should include a written statement outlining the artist’s interest in the project, as well as two audio files of past original work. For more information, email [email protected]

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