Orillia Regional Arts And Heritage Awards

By John Swartz

Wednesday evening the Orillia & District Arts Council and the Orillia Museum of Art and History will have the annual Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards at the Geneva Event Centre.

This is the first time this new award is being presented to people and groups nominated in 5 different categories. ODAC previously held 9 annual awards and OMAH had their history awards every other year since 2015.

The first award category is Education in Arts Culture and Heritage. Both organizations had similar awards. The nominees are Leanne Young and the Otter Art Club. Leanne is an Orillia Secondary School history and drama teacher. She took students to Vimy in 2017 and Juno Beach in 2019. Her students made 4 presentations at the OMAH History Speaker’s Night about their trips. Leanne also has produced and directed plays and musicals.

Travis Shilling and Naomi Woodman started the Otter Art Club a year and a half ago. They teach young people about art of all kinds. They have had exhibitions of student works and included the students in the Mariposa Folk Festival’s Studio Point activities.

The Emerging Artist Award is a carryover from the ODAC Awards. It has not always been the case recipients have been new artists and it’s not limited to nominees from visual arts as one might think. All nominees, however, are new to the Orillia arts scene. This year Craig Mainprize and Mary Jo Pollak are nominated. Craig’s art career has taken off since he returned to Orillia and Mary Jo, in the year she’s been here, has gained notice and involved herself in community arts organizations.

The Heritage Restoration Renovation and/or Publication Award is a carryover from OMAH.  The title speaks for itself. This year there is only one nominee, the Friends of the Washago Water Tower for their three year effort to beautify the village landmark. They raised $42,000 to put art by John Lebarr on the tower.

The Event in Arts Culture and Heritage Award has 4 nominees in 2019. The Chippewas of Rama Powwow and Starry Night both had their best years ever in 2019 with the largest crowds attending. The Mariposa Folk Festival also had a successful 2019 with their 20th anniversary event in July (20 straight festivals here, not counting the three festivals in the 1960s).  The Orillia Heritage Centre organized the Leacock Vintage Boat Festival last summer at the Leacock Museum. They brought in many older watercraft and highlighted Orillia’s boat building historical past.

Both OMAH and ODAC had achievement awards designed to highlight the exceptional and outstanding achievements during the award qualification period. This year much of the criteria remains the same, but the award has a new name, the  Qennefer Browne Achievement Award. Qennefer was often a behind the scenes driver of many things connected to both arts and history endeavors in the community. The nominees this year are Leslie Fournier and Linda Tiffin. Leslie is the reason we had a Festival of Banners (which the downtown to this day continues to have banners, though not specifically from that project) and Streets Alive, the annual public art event which gives us the sculptures which dot the downtown each year.

Linda Tiffin is often not the public face of many Arts District events, but as the Starry Night folks say, that event wouldn’t happen without Linda’s efforts. She also was a key player in getting the Peter Street Block where all the galleries are official designated the Arts District by Orillia council.

Presenters of the awards in each category are Daniel Bazinet, Christina Hartwick and Paul Baxter who won ODAC Awards last year and Suzie Burtenshaw of the Coldwater Steampunk Festival and Richard Joliffe of the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum – both nominees and winners in the past.

The presentation changed in 2018 from a little get together in the green room at the Opera House to an awards show at the Geneva and blew away attendance expectations. As with last year, Paul Baxter bought his television and film set knowledge into the mix to create a real awards show stage and setting. This year the Little Big Band will be on hand to perform before and after the awards and provide some travelling music, just like on TV, for award recipients as they make their way to and from the stage.

2018 ODAC Awards
2018 ODAC Awards (Photo by Deb Halbot)

This writer is the MC of the awards, and with along Paul, Jacqueline Soczka and Anna Proctor, we reinvented the awards night into a true annual celebration of the arts, and now heritage of Orillia.

The event is free to attend, but based on last year’s attendance you will want to arrive as close to doors opening at 5:30 p.m. as possible. The awards presentation starts at 6 p.m.

(Photos by Deb Halbot)


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