Youth-Engaged Art-Based Research in Cape Breton: Transcending Nations, Boundaries and Identities

  • Marcia Ostashewski
  • Heather Fitzsimmons Frey
  • Shaylene Johnson
Keywords: performance, research-creation, practice-based research, Indigenous studies


In 2017, in conjunction with celebrations of 150 years of Canadian Confederation and with funding from government programs, young people from across Cape Breton Island were invited to participate in a performance creation project to explore narratives and experiences of migration and encounter. Youth (ranging in age from 7 to 19) from disparate communities, including Membertou Mic’maq Reserve, Chéticamp (an Acadian, Francophone community), Étoile de l’Acadie (a French immersion community in Sydney), and Whitney Pier (a community of immigrant cultures, primarily from Barbados, Italy, Newfoundland, Poland, Croatia and Ukraine) all met in their own communities. They listened to elders discuss their own experiences of migration and encounter, and then responded by creating new performance pieces grounded in song, dance, film (including new technologies such as virtual reality and 360 degree cameras), spoken word and story. They will come together on October 22nd to share their creative work with one another and with public audiences. I propose an examination of issues that arose during the creative process, and young participants’ post-process reflections, according to each of the ways in which Vertovec (1999) has identified transnationalism. Interpretations of the Cape Breton youths’ own senses of rooted place is positioned in relation to transnational experiences present within their communities. These young people’s expressions of the local (for example, Acadian step dance and Mi’kmaq drumming) morphs into expressions of the transnational (for example, hip hop and pop music production); musical expressions use so-called traditional instruments (bag pipes or hand drums), and also use DJ mixing techniques, djembe, Acadian folk music, and Elvis. Problematizing assumptions about what it is to be a Cape Bretoner, and interrogating how migration and resulting encounter have shaped how these young people choose to express themselves, this paper examines how these young people simultaneously express and contest transnationalism.


DOI: 10.1353/jeu.2018.0019

How to Cite
Ostashewski, M., Fitzsimmons Frey, H., & Johnson, S. (2019). Youth-Engaged Art-Based Research in Cape Breton: Transcending Nations, Boundaries and Identities. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 10(2), 100-125. Retrieved from
Articles on Canadian Youth and Culture in Transnational Perspective