This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

There was a concert last Saturday night. The Orillia Youth Centre and Roots North presented another fall fundraiser, this time at the Sunset Barrie Drive In.

The North River (Nick Keays, Kristina Skeries and David Kaye) opened the show just after the sun went down, so the venue name was functional. I was close enough to the stage to hear the music by way of the stage monitors. Those further back could tune in to an FM signal in their cars. I only spot monitored the radio and it sounded pretty good. There were a few cars around me who had their radios up loud enough to supplement the stage sound, so that was a bonus.

Dan Taylor and Kristy Piper

Everyone parked in every other spot. Some people like Dan Taylor and Kristy Piper, who came from Toronto, seemed to have done this kind of thing before, with chairs and other outdoor concert necessities for easy viewing in the back of the pickup truck.

The stage was set up in front of the screen, which they made use of. Several cameras were used to feed the video, which gave it more of a professional look than having just one camera locked of on a wide stage shot. There were a number of North River fans familiar with their repertoire as evidenced by honking every time a song concluded. Maybe we’ll get used to doing that at concerts and the Opera House will have to start supplying air horns for concerts there.

There were Terra Lightfoot fans on hand too. The key difference between act one and act two was she was solo. This demands different performance standards to keep an audience engaged and Terra has enough experience to up the game. This is the goal of every concert organizer, provide something a little more as each act hits the stage.

Of course Hawklsey Workman brings a lot of performance experience. Beside the polish years of performing adds to stage presence, it has a to start with something. In this case, you don’t have to be familiar with the tunes, the performance of them is enjoyable in its own right. Add years of road stories told in funny and engaging ways. I saw no reason for anyone who didn’t already know Hawksley’s music to feel disappointed in the show, he is a fantastic performer. He’s a great story teller too, though because of the FM broadcast, the naturally disseminated sound I was listening to didn’t always provide enough substance to get the whole story.

I did however catch some of the stories related to his various connections to Orillia over his lifetime. Did you know he donated his tonsils to the Soldiers Memorial Hospital tissue disposal program when he was a kid?

Live and on the screen

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Of course the main point of the show was to put some money into youth center programs. On that note, they’re still counting, but the early prognosis is it will be more than $13,000. This not as great as last year, or the year before, but you know what? Under the circumstances this is beyond what I expected. Congrats to everyone involved, and to sponsors, Dapper Depot and Harvey’s who help insure the ticket money goes to the youth center.

Leacock And Money

Diving back into the master plan for the museum Orillia council accepted two weeks ago, the lead consultants, TCI Management Consultants, made a number of recommendations that will cost a fair amount of money, a top estimate of $3.5 million, to achieve.

People naturally start with the big number, which is the top end of a range, and say things like, why pump more money into something which isn’t drawing people? Who cares? Or not all that is necessary – do the minimum. You know, the kinds of things people said when building the pyramids, the Louvre, the Orillia Recreation Centre, and so on.

They miss the part about this being a ten year plan and not all of it would be spent at once. The consultants are at least aware enough to have told council the pandemic is going to upset their proposed time line and padded two extra years into their time table.

Many councils have balked at how much is spent on the museum, some councillors have done more than balk. The French government puts $180 million towards the Louvre’s $350 million annual budget. Is that a fair comparison? It’s debatable. But if the one museum in the world everyone knows about and a significant number of people travel from around the world to go to it every year needs government support, what hope is there for any other museum to break even without state support?

It takes a critical mass, at the very least, to recognize something is worth preserving to justify spending money. That Leacock, author and museum, has been pushed to the back of the room by decision makers speaks more to the quality of decision makers than it does the amount of expenditure.

Reversing decades of slippage of cache and visitors to the Leacock Museum has to start with us and our municipal council before the province, the national government, corporations and individuals with deep pockets are going to throw money at it.

What things are recommended council spend money on? A change with the configuration and use of rooms in Swanmore Hall, construct an event pavilion, construct a permanent stage for performances, change the use of rooms in the house regarding exhibit space which is currently on the second floor (move exhibits downstairs, create programming rooms upstairs), make improvements to the grounds (pathways, parking) and deal with the café (more below). Those are the physical items.

Staffing is to be addressed too. The museum has been operating without a full-time curator for a few years and the consultants say it should be full-time. That’s hard to argue with. A programming position should be created, which makes sense if more programming is to be created to draw visitors.

One of the things I really like is the consultants don’t like the wheelchair ramp any more than I do. They call it an eyesore. I’ve called much worse. It should never have been built at the front of the house, and if it had to be at the front, which I am not even close to being convinced it should, make it look like it belongs there rather than a 21st century addition to an early 20th century architecture. They’re not saying move it, but really it should be moved to the back allowing visitors to enter through the sunroom. And if the recommendation to improve parking in the back is taken it would be better for people who need to use a ramp to get into the house than it is now.

Some of these things are going to be capital outlays. Some annual operating budget expense, but the consultants believe increasing visitors and program attendance from 13,000 annually to 30,000 over the next 5 years will result in the City’s operation contribution falling from $300,000 to $264,000 annually because of increased revenue and sponsorships.

Of course, more people through the doors is the goal, and should be. Physical improvements and additions are going to help. Right now too much of what happens at the museum, on the grounds, is weather dependent and easier access to buildings and a pavilion will cure some of that.

The café is a particular point of interest. I used to go there every Friday afternoon to have a beer and just relax. It really is a great spot to do that. Not so much anymore. I did try to do that a couple times last year, but the café wasn’t open. I’ve also had some great dinners there over the years, so quality isn’t really the issue. Most people surveyed had issues with the café.

The main issue is ability of operators to be consistent with hours and the ability of the kitchen to function for both the café operation and the banquet operation. An option  is to discard the café operation. The consultant believes this is not something which will help attract visitors, but they do say if it’s to be continued regular hours are needed, and the kitchen facilities need to be expanded so café operation and banquet operation (prep since most banquets begin after café closing hours) can happen simultaneously.

The main recommendation is to farm out the café/banquet side to a chain like Williams or Starbucks if the emphasis is on café, or a Keg or Montanas if banquets are to have equal footing.

In fact, the first action council asked staff to do was find a food service to operate the café. There’s a problem here. No one is going to want to bring in a branded operation if there isn’t enough traffic. Franchises don’t generate traffic, they locate where the traffic already is. Heck, there isn’t even a noticeable sign on Atherley Road directing people to the museum, so there is a lot of work to be done before even Coffee Time will be interested. I have a feeling the report back to council will say no one is interested until a number of milestones are achieved (i.e., boost visitors, and fix the kitchen situation).

Also, the kind of traffic a franchise needs is transient; drive thrus are important, or at least easy in, easy out. I’m sure the residential neighbours are going to happy with increased in and out of neighbourhood traffic constantly all day long. It needs to be an eating destination, or part of the attraction for museum visitors, people who are going to spend some time there.

I think the correct approach is to attract someone who has creative and successful restaurant operation skills and put them on staff. Give them a budget to decorate, outfit, and hire some wait staff. Make some structural changes to the building with an eye to upgrading inside as demand dictates. And don’t expect an immediate increase in patrons. These things take time. You don’t buy a reputation, you build one.

If people start to think of Swanmore/Leacock as the place to go for a meal, lunch or dinner, even for breakfast, or an afternoon refreshment and it becomes habit, numbers will increase. But you have to provide an atmosphere, a good menu and prices first.

The key position for such an operation needs a personality, not famous, but every single successful restaurant in Orillia has a key personality identified with it, they hire staff who have a similar attitude. Everything about the operation reflects the personality of the key person – that’s what City Hall should be looking for. Give them a couple years to start to produce results because it’s not like they are going to be operating on Mississaga Street or Memorial Avenue, they will have to build traffic. Capitalize on the grounds, the museum atmosphere, and for heaven’s sake, make it well-known it’s going to the only place in town on the water.

There’s more to dissect on the spending side next week.

Award Nomination Deadline

October 2nd is the deadline for submitting nominations for this year’s Orillia Regional Arts & Heritage Awards. This is the second year the Orillia Museum of Art and History and ODAC combined their previously separate award programs. You can go here to see the criteria and start assembling your nominating material. The categories are Education in Arts, Culture and Heritage; Emerging Artist; Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication; Event in Arts, Culture and Heritage; and Qennefer Browne Achievement Award. Check out last week’s column for some of what I think would be good nominations.

And let’s add to the mix so the historical side has some representation. There are three Facebook groups that have emphasis on Orillia of the past. Check out You know you’re from Orillia Ontario if you remember…, Orillia Past and Present and If you grew up in Orillia….you remember…., maybe you’ll believe one of those should be nominated.

The Shorts

*  Tyler Knight has been working on a series of videos about Northern Joinery, which is the manufacturing part of Makers Market. It looks really good and Tyler mentioned he’s doing it with an eye toward creating a series for HGTV or something like that. This video has a bit about the table being made for Creative Nomad Studios and there are two other videos here.

The Fitzgeralds

*  The Opera House has some interesting things happening in October. Each night from the 15th to the 18th the Artist Life Stories Series presents an evening of interview, music and Q&A from audiences in the same manner as when Rik Emmett was last here. The first night is with Dougie Franklin, I mean Ian Thomas (this is about the music). Ian is a funny guy. Every time I’ve interviewed him has been hilarious. Next evening it’s with Luke McMaster, then Amy Sky and then Murdoch Mystery author Maureen Jennings. Oct. 3 The Fitzgeralds perform. If you like fiddle music and dancing this is for you. Tickets are available here.

*  There are two youth center fundraisers happening to establish scholarship funds. One in memory of Jake Beers the Beers family calls hxmesweethxme. Check out their Facebook page for opportunities to contribute. Anitta Hamming also created an online raffle for two of the paintings created for the Metamorphosis project. You can get a ticket here, and you can also see, or buy, other art at that link.

*  Did you go to the Carmichael Lecture this year” Of course you didn’t. There is, however, an online discussion of Carmichael by Wil Kucey of Canadian Fine Arts you can watch online. OMAH has another round of the QuarARTine, 6×6 pieces for auction here and the gallery is open by appointment, 705-326-2159.

*  The Orillia branch of Dress For Success has a progressive, online, raffle called Toonie Tuesday. The next jackpot draw Oct. 6 is $1,570. Tickets are $2 and you can buy as many as you like. Check their Facebook page frequently for updates on the jackpot and weekly winners.  

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia; Images Supplied)

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