This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Anyone got a match? Last week’s arts column landed like a Russian incendiary bomb and lit a ton of fires. As the Lone Ranger said a few times, “My work here is done,” almost.

My intention always was to follow up this week with what I think can be done to make sure what happened last week with the announcement of the art selected for a $276,000 City-wide public art project doesn’t happen again. So here goes.

Informing my ideas are conversations I had this week. It is not coincidence the City is engaged in a consultation with the consultants Cobalt Connects to update the public art policy and create a strategy for advancing creation of more public art. The same grant ($330,000 total) is funding the study and it is important you communicate with the consultants now and voice your concerns, and more importantly offer some solutions as you see them. Jeremy Freiburger, of Cobalt graciously said you can email your thoughts to him at There were individual and group consultations on Wednesday and I took part in both. Guess what the main topic of discussion was?

If you look back at what I wrote last week, you’ll see I did not place blame on individuals, but instead focused on the policy that lead to the result. I have spoken about many times before about ensuring Orillia and area artists emerge as grant winners (ties or close calls go to those who live here kind of thing).

Many people, artists, are hurt and angry about what transpired. They should be. I am too and I can’t draw a straight line without a ruler, so I have no horse in this race. But, I think energy should be directed toward fixing the system, and I think it can be fixed.

One way relayed in the group discussion was an example of what happened in Burlington. There was a similar incident involving the same kind of money for one piece of art. After the uproar the solution found was to remove the arts jurying process from under the yoke of legislation and control at City Hall (bureaucratically or by council) and setting up an independent committee which wrote its own rules according to how the arts community wanted them.

We can definitely do the same here. The Art in Public Places committee is under the wing of the Orillia Museum of Art and History, but it is a committee of council and has to play by arcane procurement rules. I know some of the committee are feeling bad about how this thing is being received, but they were only doing what they could according to the rules of engagement they operate under.

Two things need to happen and one has two parts. There needs to be a jury selection process developed now and continually updated so when projects land there is a pool of jurors with various talents available. It should be limited to 51% working artists to avoid artists being placed in the awkward position of judging work of friends and family. The jury also should have at least 75% people who live in Orillia or the surrounding townships (many of our best known artists we claim actually live outside City limits). I think it’s good to have outside perspective, but a minority of the votes.

Alongside this there needs to be detailed and clear submission criteria developed – a template – including demonstration of an artist’s competency and ability to create the art in question, material and logistical considerations, cost analysis, and evaluation of the design (we asked for elephants, you submitted a cat), etc. It needs to be weighted so that the aesthetic value of what is being asked for is not the greatest consideration since no two people will ever agree on what the best art is (we asked for cats, you submitted cats, but we like this one more than that one, but less than this other one).

The second consideration is almost the entire evaluation process needs to be blind, no names. The way I see it working is the score card is filled in and out of all submissions maybe three are semifinalists. At this point all that is left is usually ‘which design do we like best.’ That is important, but as I said, taste for one is not taste for all. There could be a re-evaluation of semifinalist scores, a closer look before the last step, if desired.

Once a subtotal is established and semifinalists selected then residency comes into play. In my view a score card out of 100 points should have a reserve of 10 for residency applied at this last stage. An artist living in Orillia gets 10 points, anyone from the surrounding townships gets 9, someone who used to live and contribute here 5, and beyond that zero.

Theoretically the scoring for the final three will likely be close and therefore any of our own semifinalist artists will carry the day. If submissions from far way are so clearly superior on all the criteria the process of judging and scoring will reveal that before the final stage and a residency score should not affect the outcome.

The study taking place has other considerations too. Funding sources being one, but the focus is a long term strategy which will inform more immediate planning, so if you have ideas make them known.

I intended to include a gallery of the selected art last week, but it looks like I didn’t, so here they are.

Water Plant by Soon Cho

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Home Stretch

The last couple of Christmas events this year are on this weekend. Saturday the Christmas Pantomime Cinderalla: Stepsitsters’ Revenge is at 2 p.m. at the Opera House. This is touring production from Mansfield Entertainment. You can get tickets online.

Sunday at 2:30 p.m.  The Orillia Silver Band’s concert has guest, Tom Hutchinson, principal cornetist with the U.K.’s Cory Band performing with them.

The Cory Band is the current European champ and has been 7 times in the last 15 years. Hutchinson will be featured on three tunes and the band will play stuff by Holst, Sparke and Tchaikovsky. You can find tickets online for this concert, or get them at the door.

Cellar Singers

Last weekend the Cellar Singers had their Christmas concert. I’m noticing bigger audiences at the Christmas events. I was worried revenue from smaller audiences through the fall were going to effect the various groups, but it seems people are deciding to go out once again.

The Cellars followed the pattern of their last concert and performed 4 short pieces in the first half. Two were arrangements of traditional carols. Silent Night’s was by former Cellar music director and conductor Albert Greer. The others were new, as in you likely never heard them before. Christmas Song by Toronto’s Eleanor Dailey was pretty interesting. I find her writing is either very clever, or too clever.

I think this program format is more accessible for those who don’t normally go to choral performances. Throw a small bunch of different things at them, they’re going to like some of it if not all of it, before getting into the longer pieces some people will really get into, and many will get fidgety about. It’s kind of like warming them up with contrasts because the longer pieces may have all the parts thematically composed, but the sections tend to be quite different from each other (not always, but often enough). Here, with Vivadli’s Gloria the 12 sections were contrasted by using soloists (Alexandra Teske, Mary-Jane VanPypen and Autumn Debassige) as leads, or as true soloists while the choir went for a smoke break. I think this is the first time in a while the Cellars have had two soloists pulled from the choir itself and the third, Autumn, is a working singer from Orillia. Vivaldi also changed up the time, tempo and style with each section.

He also kept each short. The words are in Latin and I lost track following along since my ear for Latin and recognizing it on the page isn’t so great. I thought there were still four sections to go and it was over. The strength of this piece is Vivaldi doesn’t hit you over the head with repeats. He just puts the idea out and moves on, not risking he would lose the audience with long stretches of sameness.

New Year’s Eve

Couchiching Craft Brewing has a New Year’s Eve event with Rocksteady doing the music. Get tickets online.

Mariposa House Hospice has New Year’s Eve fundraiser happening at Hawk Ridge Golf Club. You can get a table for 8 ($1200) by calling 705-327-1610; extension 104, or email

Dan Bazinet is playing Studabakers. Get tickets at the Hog N’ Penny for their New Year’s Eve party;

The Quality Inn (Highwayman Inn) used to be the place to go for a comedy show New Year’s Eve. It still is, but it used to be too. Kevin Christopher and Jeff Elliott are the comics. Dinner and the show is $99. Call them at 705-326-7343 for reservations.

Before You Spend Consider This

You can spend your money on anything you want. You can also spend your money on gifts in ways that benefit artists and performance groups here in town, doubling the effect.

Tickets are usually a great thing to give; getting an envelope Christmas morning, and the recipient remembering you are responsible for them having a great time many months later. For older folks and particularly younger ones a weekend pass to the Mariposa Folk Festival is hard to beat. The lineup hasn’t been announced but they have a 21 year history of not disappointing and surprising audiences. You can get passes at a discount right now online.

The Roots North Music Festival in April also has weekend passes on sale online at a discount. They also don’t have a line up yet, but the payoff is better than a dud lottery ticket.

Summer theater here has been pretty good the last few years. It looks like they are sticking with a formula of doing two Norm Foster plays, Moving In and Half Way There. You can’t go wrong with a Foster play. The third is Mark Crawford’s Bed and Breakfast. You can get tickets for one or all online.

The Orillia Concert Association still has the bulk of its season to happen. For $90 you can get a seat for three concerts – and there’s the possibility of a fourth happening in June. They lean on classical programs, but it’s not strictly. Call the Opera House box office to get the season pass. This year they are selling tickets for individual concerts too.

With the music side of things, you can always go to Alleycats Music and ask what they have available from local bands. They do have CDs, but some stuff has been issued on vinyl. Most of what you might be looking for is digital and your best bet is to go to Bandcamp and search by artist name, song, or album title. You can then get a digital download (and most of them are so inexpensive you could get a few albums for the price of a case of beer). If you’re not sure what to get, have a look at some of the past columns, especially in the Shorts section; I usually embed a Bandcamp link to the music.

Reading material is always a good choice. There are so many books to choose from. Manticore Books is a good start for books by Sherry Lawson, Jim Foster, William Bell, Jay Fallis and so many others. The Orillia Museum of Art and History has, I think, a bigger selection of books by local authors on subjects relating to our history, especially if they are by David Town. OMAH also has the brand new The History Of Orillia In 50 Artefacts available. It’s the book version of their current exhibit.

OMAH also has a good selection of smaller pieces of art and crafts made locally. Don’t forget to go across the street and check out the 6×6 Christmas themed art at Peter Street Fine Arts, or almost next door at Hibernation Arts where you’ll find all kinds of stuff that won’t break the bank account. Three Crows Speak gallery is also on that side of the street and there are a lot of smaller items to choose from.

Also, many of the restaurants and coffee shops have art on the walls by local artists, and it’s almost always for sale, so if you see something you like, or you think someone else will like, ask.

The Shorts

  • A number of people asked about the lights not being on at night on the tree at the Opera House. I spoke with Wendy Fairbairn and they’re on a timer and supposed to be on from dusk to dawn. She said there is no one at the Opera House except on show nights to notice, so she thanked me for asking. She said if a breaker tripped that could be the problem, or they have found the plug connecting the lights has been pulled a few times. She said she’d have staff check into it.
  • Congrats to Derick Lehmann, organizer of the annual Ugly Sweater Bowling Party. It happened Friday night and $4,050 was raised for the Sharing Place Food Bank.
  • You can still take the DOMB’s survey to give feedback about your experience with the See You On The Patio program of last summer. Orillia council got an interim report on the results from over 700 contributions and you can see read some of the highlights here. The survey period is extended so more businesses can contribute. It doesn’t take long to do and you can find it online.
  • The City and the DOMB have a contest happening called the Orillia Discover Downtown Goosechase Scavenger Hunt. It uses the Goosechase app which you can get from Apple, or with the Google Play Store. There are 50 missions to choose from to complete, such as uploading a receipt from a Wednesday night date, finding the Elf and getting a photo, or a photo of your favourite store, etc. There are weekly prizes worth $300 and a grand prize of $1,000 of Downtown Dollars good at most stores. The contest runs to December 31.
  • The Coldwater Studio Tour isn’t until next June, but artists who want to participate can visit their website to find out how to apply.
  • Couchiching Craft Brewing has the fabulous Run With The Kittens playing Dec. 17; Will Davis and Chris Robinson do jazz Dec. 18; Angie Nussey is in Dec. 22; Liz Anderson Dec. 23; Reay is playing Jan. 28, it’s a fundraiser for the Sharing Place Good Bank and tickets are $15… Mark Stewart plays the Grape and Olive Thursdays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. … at Quayle’s Brewery Sammy is in Dec. 17; Cam Galloway plays Dec. 18… the Hog N’ Penny has Steven Henry in Dec. 17 to play… Washago Lions Jam Night happens at the Lions Hall from 7 to 11 p.m. Dec. 21… Chris Lemay plays Studabakers every Friday night.

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

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