This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Friday night downtown turned into a good evening. The weather was comfortable, Creative Nomad Studios  had a sold out learn to paint workshop happening on the street, the Arts District had a few more artists set up, people were wandering about dressed kind of funny, and Streets Alive awarded the prizes for the Hippy Van art project.

I passed by Creative Nomad before anyone showed up and intended to come back to get a photo, but by the time I got back up that way it was too dark. There were small canvases set out for about two dozen people to paint on.

Allan Lafontaine

One of the things about the pandemic for me is time is almost meaningless. Sure, I know its morning, or afternoon, but Tuesday or Wednesday? The passage isn’t relevant either. It’s like I need a cue, or a clue, to put context to the passage of time. So, when I saw Allan Lafontaine, or rather, he accosted me dressed like Keith Richards auditioning for a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel I realized we were at Labour Day Weekend. The Port of Orillia, which Alan is the harbor master of by virtue of also being the managing director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce, was the scene two years ago for a pirate themed weekend festival.

In order to keep the idea alive Allan and about ten others were wandering the downtown in costume. There were a few event incidences – I think cannons were involved – at the Port and at the Leacock Museum during the next couple days and hopefully next year the festival will get to go full sail.

Regan Stevens

The first artist’s display I encountered in Peter Street was Regan Steven’s The Tie Dye Bin. She was decorating the road in front of her space and had cloth items – tie-dyed of course, to show. She’s also got jewellery to sell and you can see her stuff at Three Crows Speak Studio.

At the risk of forgetting to name one or more of the artists with displays, I saw stuff by Wes Trinier, Anita Leeman, Patti Agapi, Marlene Bulas, Gayle Schofield, Barbara Schmidt and Raune-Lea Marshall.

That’s when I ran into Craig Mainprize. He’s one of the artists who had a Hippy Van design. He was in a hurry up the street to the Opera House (his day job) because he took a few minutes to find out if he might be one of the prize winners for the Hippy Van public art project. He didn’t win.

I missed it because Leslie Fournier wasn’t allowed to say there was a prize announcing event like other years – or it would be considered an event and bring down a heap of restrictions in order to hand out envelopes. So instead of there being a few hundred on hand to witness and celebrate the work of the artists, there were only a couple dozen of the artists on hand.

Sean Patrick, Paul Baxter and Tim Kehoe

Paul Baxter set up a nice staging area and when I found him he was sitting in with Tim Kehoe and Sean Patrick playing some music. 

Dave Shaw took the grand prize, $10,000 for his wooden van creation. Samantha Vessios was 2nd and got $5,000 for her – you know when you come across an abandoned vehicle out in the woods and the woods have started to reclaim it, with grasses and plants growing all over the discarded hunk of metal – well it wasn’t like that. She planned to have things growing on and around her van.  Carley McCutcheon teamed up with Frank Ripley and created a sunset beach scene for their entry for their 3rd place, $2,500) entry.

Dave Shaw got just the ticket for his winning van.

The winners were chosen in part by public vote, and I’m sure you or I would have come up with a different slate of prize winners, though I think Dave’s van would be on most people’s lists. I’ve never really understood prize winning for visual art. It almost always seems to defy my sense of which pieces in a given exhibition are the best. I think we all have no trouble of eliminating which pieces fall short for many reasons. Disappointingly in many cases people reject an artwork purely on taste, you either like something, or not. However there’s a level of execution that has to be considered when money is on the line. Judging any art is a crap shoot without a solid list of criteria to achieve.

Time and again the pieces I would pick take into account, painting technique style (I don’t mean impressionism vs. realism or anything like that), colour – how it’s chosen and used, how the elements are laid out inside the edges of the canvas, perspective, contrast and other criteria. Two paintings of the same scene can show vastly different levels of execution. A loose impressionistic version might in fact have been better executed than a more detailed one next to it.

Me, I tend to look into the details after I have settled on a few that grabbed my attention right away. It’s the same way with music. There is a difference between a live or recorded performance. Most of the time our exposure is recorded music and we like some songs over others. Melody and lyrics play a huge role, but I’d argue liking one version of the same song over another boils down to how well it was recorded and performed, not necessarily whether you like musician A or B.

I think the same thing goes for visual art. Some of it is just better. Some of it shows the artist’s understanding of how to work paint better. That’s exactly why museum all over the world are full of art from relatively few artists. Does anyone think 300 years ago there were not thousands of people making art and why is it a few dozen are remembered, studied, and their work survive? First, I’d argue, those artists knew how to make paint that would last and not dry up, crumble and blow away.

The artists which tend to have had staying power were also the ones who changed things. They had better drugs and knew their craft so well; they could make new things others didn’t think of.

So, this year’s Streets Alive winner, to me was a clear choice. I thought so the day the sculptures were put on the street. While everyone else was going right, he went left. His piece is like the others, but it’s also not the same at all. There will be grumblings from some who stuck with the metal blank and used their talent and design chops to set themselves apart, but Dave and Samantha in this case, plus a few other’s thought, why stick with just the blank? And went from the 2 dimensional to 3 dimensions. Not all who did pulled it off as well. Certainly not all who stayed with the blanks didn’t suffer lack of creativity; there were many I liked for the originality of design and execution.

What makes it more difficult is with an exhibition like this, which attracts artists who have years of experience and talent is, if Dave doesn’t make a Hippy Van, or doesn’t come up with making it 3D, the whole ball game changes and maybe none of the three prize winners are selected and a different slate gets favoured. I think the choice gets harder in that case because too many vans displayed a level of technical achievement and now you get into personal taste regarding what you like or don’t like.  If it were music, and you don’t like country music, no matter how well a tune is constructed and performed, you aren’t going to vote for it and if enough people in on the decision don’t like the genre, that’s bad if an amount of money is involved.

In perspective of other years, the winners tended to be the ones that went so far outside the norm, but also understood their craft so well, they knew how far to venture past what was expected and how to execute what they did. I haven’t always agreed with the choices at the time of announcement, been surprised by some of them, but in the end, on reflection and by virtue of many of the pieces still being around to view, the choices were the right ones. It certainly doesn’t mean there weren’t other pieces I liked as well, or more.

The other aspect of this series of projects is choosing what the subjects would be each year. Which was best? The chairs, the guitars, the letters, doors, bikes, vans, story poles (story poles, who would ever have foreseen how well such a simple idea would turn out). I’ve never thought to ask why Leslie chose each year’s piece (the guitars was an obvious one), and maybe I will ask at some point, but there were some choices I thought – what the heck? How is that going to fly? What should be evident to all, is when you need to do something completely different with something routine, put some artists on the case.

If you haven’t been downtown, take some time to do so, wandering time, and check out the vans. Many of them will be around for years to come, but they’ll be harder to see in totality – unless, you pick up one of Mike Bailey’s posters of the vans. They’re available in two sizes (24×36 – $65, or 16×24 – $55) and you can order one by emailing There will likely be some program booklets available at Jack & Maddy A Kids Store too.

It’s too bad the pedestrian mall is done for the year. I still don’t understand why the season didn’t go through to Thanksgiving, but rather than be bummed it’s over, I’m glad it happened at all.

Nominations Open

I’m keeping much of what I wrote last week, but I’ve come up with a few other suggestions. So, I’m just going to add them to the mix. The nomination period has started for the 2021 Orillia Regional Arts & Heritage Awards. The Orillia and District Arts Council and the Orillia Museum of Art and History combine their efforts for this each year.

The nomination form is online here. As in the past there are 5 categories:

  • Education in Arts, Culture and Heritage
  • Emerging Artist
  • Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication
  • Event in Arts, Culture and Heritage
  • Qennefer Browne Achievement Award

Looking at the categories here’s the people and things that come to mind.

Qennefer Browne Achievement Award – This award isn’t tied to any work in the last year and can be for a body of work. On that note, Leslie Fournier has ten years of Streets Alive public art projects under her belt. She’s also hand her hand in a few other art projects, particularly the last few Christmas’s.

Education – Both the music teachers at Orillia Secondary School; they had to really do something different and came up with splitting their classes between a keyboard section and a percussion section (on drums borrowed from the Orillia Youth Centre). Mariposa Folk Festival started an online tutorial program, the first of which was with Lance Anderson speaking about a 10 things you won’t find in a text book, but need to know if you are going to be a professional musician.

Emerging Artist – I don’t know if Reay still qualifies. The band’s debut concert at the Geneva was the last concert held in Orillia March 7, 2020, so maybe; at any rate their album, Butterfly Tongue Revisited, is fantastic and deserves some kind of local recognition. Ayden Miller’s band, New Friends, is technically from London I guess, but they’ve been putting out some solid new music this year; plus he’s been added to Bleeker’s live performance complement. Cassie Dasilva has really grown as a songwriter and musician. She’s put out two new tunes in the last month; it’s not just the music, the videos are very good too.

Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication – I believe Marcel Rousseau has been doing some exemplary work on his Orillia Past & Present Facebook page. An obvious nominee is Creative Nomad Studios. Remember the old Biway store? Thought so. Anitta Hamming has basically erased my memory of it with the restoration and repurposing of that building.

Event in Arts, Culture and Heritage – So much happening here, and I’m sure I’m going to miss something. I think the Opera House is a good choice because last summer they figured out a way to have summer theater (which many other theaters copied) and had the first public performance in Canada post stay-at-home. Mariposa Arts Theater is a good choice too because they went outdoors and in a big way with their Twelfth Night production. They used all the Leacock grounds and house had to offer for staging opportunities. I can’t leave out Matchedash Parish’s Mariposa Folk Fest concert at the Opera House. This may have been one of the first indoor concerts with an audience (184 people went) and was a great way to get back into the swing of things.

OMAH Stuff

OMAH has Welcome Home to Orillia., which tells the story of 11 people who now call Orillia home, but didn’t always. It’s fascinating to read each person’s story and to see some of the things they included in their exhibit space. Also see Will McGarvey’s exhibit, Sticks and Stones. You can also check out the opening with Will and Jill Price online.

There’s an interesting workshop with Jill Price happening September 18 and 25. Some of you have fur coats hanging around you don’t want to wear, but you also don’t want to get rid of them. Make them into something else. You need to register and theirs is a fee to participate.

OMAH’s Speaker’s Night September 15 is with Dr. Chris Decker who will be speaking about the life of Dr. Norman Bethune. It’s on Zoom, so you have to call, 705-326-2159 to register and get the link to the event.

Short Takes

As time crawls by, the mix between online entertainment and things you can go to is changing, so I’m changing the header. When things go back to normal I’ll go back to the old Shorts format.

Creative Nomad Studio has an exhibition happening. See Mike Bailey’s Catching Light photo exhibit. It will be in the main gallery, which has been housing Cloud Gallery. Cloud isn’t going away, there’s still other works to see in other parts of the building. Creative just reserved the ability to stage its own exhibits on occasion. The opening reception (remember those) is Friday night and you need to register to attend.

The first big community event of the new era is the 171st Orillia Fall Fair September 11. Unlike other years it will be for one day only, but they are packing a lot into it like the Demo Derby (you can register your neighbour’s car here) and truck and tractor pulls. Email to get tickets ($10 adults, $5 kids, free for those under 4).

David Kennedy @ HIbernation Arts

Hibernation Arts has decided to return their concert program to the dance card. It’s a small affair, smaller I suppose with the restrictions (for $20, two shots and a mask you get in). The first one is September 16 with Alex Andrews and Marta Solek from 7 to 9 p.m. This month’s guest artist is David Kennedy. There will also be a Sustainable Orillia show from September 20 to 25.

Have you listened to Matchedash Parish’s CD, Saturday Night? And, did you catch their Mariposa Folk Festival Opera House concert online, you can watch here. And Mariposa has posted several new videos on their Facebook Page of other artist performances.

Ayden Miller and his band, New Friends, have another new pop new tune called Purple Candy which premiered last Thursday during Global TV’s series, Private Eyes. Check out other tunes by the band on their Youtube channel. You watch the video now.

The pipe organ at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian is 100 years old this year. The anniversary is actually at the end of September. Marshall Martin, who gets to play the thing all the time, said it’s too soon to be able to say whether there will be an event to mark the occasion. With 5,000 pipes it’s one of the largest organs in Canada.. There’s a video the church has produced that shows all the workings and Marshall explains what all the parts do.

Aaron Mangoff has put out 5 EP’s and 3 singles in the last year and you can hear them here.

Check out Stuart Steinhart’s excellent new album, It’s About Time, on Bandcamp.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Streets Alive prize winners Carley McCutcheon and Frank Ripley (3rd), Leslie Fournier, Dave Shaw (1st) and Samantha Vessios (2nd).

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