This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Summer is coming. That’s the plan. Maybe by then we’ll be free to roam the downtown like we did last summer, especially on the weekends.

You remember those? Weekends, they came at the end of the work week. The way things are going, you can be half way through Saturday before realizing you’re the only one at the company logged in.

So last summer’s downtown pedestrian mall on Mississaga Street was, in a way, a marker for all of us the weekend was happening. Orillia council is letting it happen again, but in a slimmed down, yet expanded manner, only Friday nights, and they are trying to make the money go further by including the entire city, as if the problems downtown merchants face have gone away.

The whole point last year was to get people to go downtown when stores and restaurants were able to reopen. Elsewhere in town, where there is room to move part of a business outdoors, and many of the larger stores stayed open throughout, some looked on in envy there was money being spent creating a downtown atmosphere people might want to decide to enjoy .

The City closed off the street, which cost money for staff, and spent some more on entertainment. It was a good plan. None of the night spots were able to afford a band or a solo musician when they were limited at first to outdoor service, and then half capacity indoors The City also made some money available to restaurants to create patios in front of their storefronts because there weren’t acres of parking lots in front of them to carve out some space.

Musicians (and actors and the people who make actors look good, etc.) are still trailing everyone else for being able to go back to work. Sure some have managed to go online and do things, but the economics are not favourable at all and I think most of what people find online (even if you have to pay to get a viewing link) are just ways artists are using to stay relevant.

There were some downtown merchants who fretted over losing their parking spots in front of their stores – on a Friday and Saturday night, so council is trying to make everyone happy by cutting back the mall to one evening.

The part sparking all these words today is applications are open to artists get at some of the money set aside and for businesses to line up to be venues. The problem I see is the pot is the same size as last year, so it’s unlikely more artists will get work, and when you go downtown it may not be as lively since West Ridge businesses get to play ball too.

I’m not taking issue with the would-be venues across the highway. They are only going to be in marginally better shape to pay for someone to sit in a corner and sing some tunes. I think the City should have realized you can make money stretch, but only so far.

The Jazz Byrds at the August 2020 Pedestrian Mall

The pay scale is lopsided too. The scale shows solo artists will get $250, which is alright, but as you add people each takes home less so by the time you get to a 4-piece each member is only getting $125. If your band is a 5 or 6-piece, well, bring something sharp to cut that cheque up even smaller. That’s not fair.

** Drummers are musicians too, and often an expendable part of the band when the cash is absent. If anyone thinks they’ll hear drums accompanying the rest of any band I’d like to interest you in some land in the Wye Marsh.

Never let it be said a politician or bureaucrat can do enough of the right thing when going half way looks like good PR.

I don’t think anyone did the math on the pay scale. I also wonder how anyone thought expanding the geography with the same size pile of money was going to result in the same kind of thing as last year. Council should have kicked in another $30,000 from the emergency fund if they were going to add more than twice the geographical reach.

Also, as it happens in places of government, they’re calling it an animation program. Out here in the rest of the world we might call it an entertainment program – we’re all animated in some way, even couch potatoes. There seems to be a notion you can animated streets, but I think to do that you’d have to put in moving sidewalks and undulating roads. It’s a minor point, but I do work with words and I dislike the murderous attitude for the English language taken in places of bureaucracy.

Bottom line is only 30 artists got gigs last year, and it won’t be any more this year. If you can sing and accompany yourself on a guitar or keyboard, you’re in luck and you should apply right now (comeback afterward to read the rest of the column). Same if you have a venue. Sometimes, something is better than nothing.

Building Hope

The folks at the Lighthouse Soup Kitchen managed to hit their $14.5 million budget a couple weeks ago by reaching their $3 million public fundraising goal (the rest came from grants). This is good news. We do have a problem here in town these folks have been trying to help with for many years and the Queen Street facility opening soon will be a great thing in the community. I know some people don’t think it’s a necessary item to have, but I like things better than the way they are here, not the way they are in say, Vancouver.

There will always be a need for the Lighthouse to raise money to pay for operating expenses and to that end they have one coming up. May 27 to 29 they are having an online student art and woodworking auction. Students from Orillia Secondary and Patrick Fogarty are participating, and all students can donate artwork to auction.

They want to raise $50,000, which will give the students organizing the event the ability to name the youth wing of the facility. They have a good shot at it because the same people who provided the final building fundraising push, the James A. Burton & Family Foundation, are going to match bids 3 to 1, so winning auction bids in total only have to hit $12,500. If you go to the link above and scroll down you’ll see how to get in on the bidding, or to donate artwork

Online Distracters

The Orillia & District Arts Council’s Mother’s Day project premieres on their Youtube channel May 7 at 7 p.m. It’s an hour of music and art with Mart Solek, Gaia Orion and the Orillia Storytellers, and Mother’s Day messages from people in the community.

OMAH’s next History Speaker’s Night (online version) happens May 12 at 7 p.m. Zoom in to hear Bruce McRea talk about Sculptors of the Great War. He’ll speak about day trip places to see them and about the artists like Elizabeth Wyn Wood and Emanuel Hahn. Call 705-326-2159 to get on the link notification list for this free event.

Watch the Roots North Music Festival hour-long video concert featuring Alex Andrews and Marta Solek, Craig Mainprize, Darrin Davis and Amy Jefferies, Sam Johnston, Sean Patrick, and Zachary Lucky. It was shot at St. Paul’s Centre by Tyler Knight and Mark Webster engineered the sound. It’s a pretty good production which exceeds the quality of many other concert videos I’ve seen online. You can watch the concert now, and checkout other Roots North videos on their channel and if you visit their website and have a few bucks you can hit the donate button to support the continuation of the festival next April.

Entries for the Leacock Museum’s K. Valerie Connor Memorial Poetry Contest are open to June 30.  Each category has three cash awards ranging from the $750 top prize in the adult category to $25 for third in the elementary school-age children category. Go here to find out more details and get entry forms.

Zachary Lucky is playing online May 9 at 8 p.m.

Nate Mills has a new video installment. I guarantee if you watch, you’ll feel a lot better about your own state of affairs being stuck at home.

Check out Steve Caston’s videos on his Facebook page. The artist, musician and humourist has some new stuff to see regularly.

Max Metcalf  and his band John’s Cottage have some tunes and made some videos to enjoy.

The Opera House gets a cut if you buy tickets for a virtual concert by Whitehorse May 8 – but you have to use the sale code ORILLIA when you buy.

Steven Henry takes requests Saturday nights at 8 p.m. here. It’s good way to spend two hours.

Joe Huron plays jazz guitar Sunday’s at noon on Facebook.  Catch him here.

Creative Nomad Studios has a bunch of online art workshops happening, some of them are free. Find out more here.

(Photos by John Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: August 2020 downtown pedestrian mall.

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