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A hole in our arts

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Laurence and Jan Carrie Steven say goodbye to Sudbury; their contribution to the arts will be missed.

BY HEATHER CAMPBELL

Laurence and Jan Carrie Steven are taking their final bow as the curtain falls on their time in Sudbury. Retirement has beckoned, and a new life in southern Ontario is unfolding.

Laurence is retiring from a long and successful career as an English professor at Laurentian University. Jan, a former Northern Life blogger, is retiring as a pet rescue activist and social worker.

Laurence is also closing down Scrivener Press, the English-language publishing house that gave voice to many Northern Ontario writers.

The Stevens leave a significant legacy in their wake, having contributed many volunteer hours to the arts and culture landscape of the city.

I met with the couple in their Loach’s Rd. home among boxes and paint cans as they prepare to sell the house they lived in for more than 30 years.

As we sat in their spacious kitchen, Laurence shared that when he arrived at Laurentian in 1983 there were slightly more than 2,000 students.

I was just 30 years old and within four years I was appointed chair of the department,” he says. He was the youngest department chair in the country at the time. It turned into a great opportunity for him and his family.

I had more opportunities at Laurentian than I would have had at other schools. Being the chair allowed me to enact a vision,” he says.

The curriculum was updated and he was able to choose what he wanted to teach, something that would have been highly unlikely anywhere else. When he was vice-dean of the department, he was asked to develop an interdisciplinary graduate program. The interdisciplinary master’s of arts was launched within two years with a rather unique practicum component that was inspired by his and Jan’s extensive community work.

Many have met Laurence at his book launches and public readings for Scrivener Press. He started the press in 1995 to help Northern Ontario writers get published and obtain a foothold in the Canadian publishing industry. Scrivener eventually published 65 books in all. An incredible amount for basically a one-man operation.

He tells me the story of how the press started. “Jan wanted to turn her humour column about pets into a book,” he says.

She loves cats. She has been involved in pet rescue and adoption, initiating the Pet Match program and helping to foster abandoned animals until new homes could be found.

We compiled her columns, had my brother illustrate, and managed to design the book in WordPerfect,” Laurence says. Petcetera 1: In Fine Feather was published in 1995. This was the impetus for a new press specializing in northern writers.

Poet and Laurentian colleague Roger Nash was next to approach him to publish a book of his poetry.

The Stevens team found themselves involved in other projects to support arts and culture in the city. “We ended up at a meeting of the Sudbury Arts Council and it was voting to close,” explains Jan. “Knowing how difficult it is to obtain a charitable number, I voted against closing and volunteered to be the president.”

Laurence took the position of secretary and they worked to keep the arts council afloat and back to a thriving community resource. This was 1997. During the next five years, the council hosted an art gallery, a 60-seat black box theatre, and eventually Jan was hired as a part-time co-ordinator.

When they were invovled with the arts council, the couple initiated the Prison Art Project, bringing artists into the jail and displaying the results in the gallery. This was all the while they were raising four children and a house full of pets.

Also during this time, Jan returned to school and obtained her social work degree. She began counselling at the university in 2005.

As Laurence and Jan hand over their office keys, they reminisce about the growth of the community. The university now has more than 8,000 students, their children are grown, and more writers have access to readers thanks to self-publishing and e-books.

They are now looking forward to retirement and their new life. Jan will continue to advocate on behalf of abandoned pets, and plans to try something new by teaching classes on vegan nutrition and exercise classes for seniors.

As for Laurence, he says it might be his turn to do some writing. “I am interested in fiction, poetry, and maybe some family history,”he admits.

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