Sustainable Orillia: The Arts And Culture Sector

By Gillian Lowry – Special to SUNonline/Orillia

The acclaimed documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is a perfect example of an artist using a medium to portray an urgent message. While the images may be hauntingly beautiful, the documentary encourages, demands an emotional response, which can lead to change in behaviour. As artists we can use our voices to inspire change in others.

The arts often sound the alarm. In modern times the Vietnam War caused many a songwriter to respond. Who can forget John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio? Environmental protest in song perhaps began with Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (They paved paradise and put up a parking lot).

The word on the page, too, has been a chief form of protest in fiction and non-fiction. Most pertinent to Sustainable Orillia’s mission, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, started the environmental movement.

The arts and culture sector of Sustainable Orillia includes participants from many different practices. We hope to address topics related to artists working in many mediums: painters, drawers, sculptors, photographers, print makers, performers, and others. What changes have they made to their individual practices to be more green? What ideas do they have for more change?  

We can discuss how to use our voices and mediums to strengthen the sustainability message. The arts invoke feelings; working together we can raise awareness. As artists we have ways of communicating that access a wide audience, and we need to take advantage of that.

Every artist and artistic venue (be it a gallery, studio space or concert hall) hosting a cultural experience here in Orillia should be following the Mariposa Folk Festival’s lead, aiming to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and to inspire the community. It would be wonderful to discuss how arts and culture’s venues and businesses can ‘green’ up their establishments. Can an art show be made plastic free? Can we switch to all LED light bulbs in gallery spaces? Getting a group together to make changes that are easily attainable will be effective. This kind of action can ripple through a community and become trendy in the best kind of way.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what difficulties the arts and culture sector in Orillia faces, because it is such a broad category. In general, there is a certain creative process one goes through to reach an end product, a process which can involve a lot of waste. Materials can sometimes be toxic and disposing of them can be difficult. More eco-friendly options can be cost-prohibitive. Since there is limited access to art materials in Orillia, getting supplies often involves a trip to Barrie or Toronto, often a long solo trip in a vehicle.

There are many events in Orillia related to arts and culture, and, despite the best intentions, there can be a lot of waste – plastic cutlery, straws, and cups—even though there are good rental options for dishes, as well as compostable dishes. The last minute run for fast food and drinks can result in waste; it would be great to see major strides being made there.

With awareness regarding waste and the state of the environment increasing, many artists have taken it upon themselves to make their work more environmentally friendly. Personally, in my own practice, switching to eco-friendly materials and ethically-made products has felt right. Switching to greener products can also prove to be healthier.  

There may be no end to ideas that artists may come up with in pursuit of sustainability in Orillia.  I’m interested to see what others suggest on May 25th. Perhaps a car pool group for material pickups, or an online group where to share ideas and mentor each other on best practices, or weekly column in the local paper with tips are needed. Maybe it could lead to a group show, yearly exhibitions, or performances. There really is no limit

Sustainable Orillia will have an art show at the May 25th event and we are currently accepting submissions for works of any medium related to climate change and/or the environment, Please email  for more information if you are interested in submitting your work.

Editor’s Note: This is the 4th in a series of articles by members of the Sustainable Orillia mayor’s task force in advance of the launch of a community initiative May 24 and 25. The initiative is designed to provide local, attainable, solutions for the effects, economic and quality of life, of climate change. The Sustainable Orillia launch weekend takes place at the Orillia Community Church (Friday night) and Lakehead University (daytime Saturday).

(Main Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) The Mariposa Folk Festival has lead the way on sustainability for years, this photo is from 2013.

(Photo by Pexels; Image by Susan A.J. McTavish)


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Also see – The Mayor’s Task Force: Sustainable Orillia

Climate Change: A Learning Opportunity

Sustainable Orillia: The Agricultural Sector