Art as a tool in co-operative development / Fogo Island example

Graham and I (Emma) have had the privilege of traversing the fair island of Newfoundland for the last week and a half.  Interestingly, the cooperative movement has played an important part of the history of some Newfoundland communities. One such story involves the fishing and boat-building cooperatives on Fogo Island, an island community north of Gander. According to the Fogo Island Co-op:

In 1967, we had to make a life-altering decision on Fogo Island: leave our beloved island home and resettle on the mainland of Newfoundland and Labrador, or stay and find a way to make it on our own. We stayed and we made it our own. To ensure our survival, we turned to what we knew best for hundreds of years…the sea.

Following a process of community self-discovery now known worldwide as the Fogo Process, our fishers formed the Fogo Island Co-operative Society, a community-based enterprise on which we built the economy of our island. We built more boats. We built bigger boats. We took over processing facilities abandoned by private enterprise. We built more plants. We sought new markets.

The Fogo Island Co-op has not only survived, it has thrived now for over forty years. When giants in this industry failed, some merged, some sought government interventions, but the Fogo Island Co-op has remained resilient and continues to focus on the future.

This short film by the National Film Board documents the first meeting of this producer cooperative (after the initial coverage showing the teamwork of the fishermen). The NFB played an instrumental role in sharing the stories of the needs of the people in these fishing communities with each other (and now, the world). “Challenge for Change was a program that allowed communities to use film and video to incite social change. By recording people talking about the issues, and then playing those recordings back to the community, everyone was able to get a global view of what the problems were and work together towards resolving them.” (NFB website) By using film media, sharing the community’s collective stories was made possible, and played a significant role in saving these communities from depopulation and eventual resettlement.

The arts continue to have a transforming effect on the inhabitants of Fogo Island.   Now not only is a fishing community sustained by cooperation, but also an arts community is growing with the Fogo Island Arts Corporation. If you are interested in support for artists and powerful sea-architecture this video clip about the Artist Studios in Fogo Island is worth watching. Interestingly, the most recent writer in residence is former Hamiltonian, Sam Martin. Congrats Sam!

So what does this have to do with the Mustard Seed in Hamilton? Unlike the Fogo Island fishermen, we are not looking to create a producer co-op. However, we do recognize the need for a community-based response to the lack of wholesome food options in our downtown. We are proposing to catalyze a change as a collective of Hamiltonians seeking the good of our city, and our own health and happiness. The Fogo Process is inspiring in how it uses the arts to communicate this idea to the broader community. So how can we use the arts (film, photography, perhaps theatre or other visual arts) to reach a broad cross-section of Hamiltonians? This is a call out to filmmakers, artists, writers: will you help us create a vision about local food for all? Perhaps one day they’ll call this the Hamilton Process…

photo: Fogo Island Artist studio: Squish studio

2 thoughts on “Art as a tool in co-operative development / Fogo Island example

  1. Thanks Ashleigh – wonderful. Please email us directly (themustardseedcoop at so we have you on the keep me posted list (if you have not already). I look forward to brainstorming with you about how we can make this happen! emma

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