This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

This is an important week for art in Orillia. The City has a public input session happening January 19 at Creative Nomad Studio in order to gather ideas, gripes and concerns about public art.

The study is being conducted by Cobalt Connects and the aim is to create a long-term strategy. Think of it as goals to work toward, not a plan for the next year. What will likely come out of this kind of thing are recommendations for council and the culture office of where people think there should be public art, how much art, and what kind of art. How much to budget and, very likely, who makes that art.

Of course a lot of you have concerns about what happened in December with a significant amount of money for art to install around town being awarded. If you want changes about how these things proceed, you need to go and say so. It’s not like something hasn’t been said, but dozens of voices beats a few.

You Can Write. I Know You Can.

I think writing is a fundamental part of our lives. Even if some of us don’t write, or don’t like to write, we still read what others have written every day.

I also think each of us can write. Think about it, we all use the language daily to speak with each other. We’re very familiar with words, yet most people hesitate to put on paper, or their monitors, those same words because they think they are terrible writers. Did anyone ever say to you – you’re a terrible speaker? I mean in daily conversation. We all know getting onto the Opera House stage and speaking to a dozen or a few hundred people is frightening and that’s not what I mean.

Every day we tell other people our stories. What happened at work, how frustrating it is to drive on the streets or navigate a cart in a grocery store, why you are late or early, and how we feel about ourselves, or someone, or something. Each of us are storytellers. We just don’t see ourselves that way and we don’t recognize writing as being an extension of telling a story.

The thing about writing is, first of all, we all tend to think like we should write like some example we are familiar with (usually the boss’s memos at work), or how journalists write in newspapers (which seems to me is the bulk of the reading we all do), or in a formal manner. Is any of that writing interesting? Would you read it if you didn’t have to? Of course you wouldn’t. You read that stuff because you must or get sucked in because someone came up with a clever headline (and then stop reading after two or three paragraphs because the writing is boring). So, stop writing like you think you are supposed to (i.e. someone else).

Second, it takes practice. It’s like Sean Cullen said to me during an interview years ago when I asked what advice he had for young people. He answered, “Practice safe sex. Practice, practice, practice.” Writing is the same way.

The first time is going to suck, mainly because you forgot the rule above – don’t write like someone else does. We also don’t think we know grammar rules well enough. Do you speak? We use grammar rules every day. No one speaks like Yoda, just write like you talk. It gets better with practice. Conversely, the more you write, the better you will speak.

We all have stories we’d like to make permanent by writing them. That was the secret behind the success of the Orillia Public Library’s Lifescapes program, lots of people had stories to tell about their lives, even if it was only for their families to consume.

Do you know Stephen King has an editor? So does Quentin Tarantino, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy and J.K. Rowling. Nobody is perfect, though some are more perfect than others. Trust me, Danielle Steel, V.C. Andrews and E. L. James need editors, good editors, not the ones they have. I can’t imagine having to read one of their manuscripts before an editor does their work.

I can say, over the years editing by Julie Langpeter, Dave Dawson, Nathan Taylor and Mark Bisset helped me be a better writer. My point is we all need to have a second, sometimes a third set of eyes look at what we’ve written. What is clear to you looks like mud to someone else and a question can help you see that.

Stephen Davids

Enter Stephen Davids. He leads a writer’s group called Just Write Orillia. The group used to meet the library, but went online when the pandemic happened. It was, and still is free to participate and 70 people have been a part of the group over the last 4 years.

He’d like to return to meeting in person, but being online revealed some disadvantages to meeting at the library.

‘I think we’re looking for a home. We‘d love to be back in the Orillia Public Library, (but) when we were there, they closed the door at about a quarter to 8. Some of the members found that very difficult. Coming at 6 and missing dinner was awkward and then we have to finish up by 7:45, and if we want to go 5 more minutes it’s impossible,” he said.

Stephen always had a creative streak. He was a DJ on the U of T’s (CIUT-FM) and at clubs, but ended up running software companies until retirement. He returned to Canada and converted the cottage on Bass Lake his family had for 45 years to year-round living. He found he needed something to do in retirement.

“I applied to Surrey University (U.K.) for a master of arts in creative writing and they accepted me and I passed it with merit,” he said. Here he created and taught a course, Professional Writing For Digital Environments, at Lakehead University until the pandemic hit.

He liked the idea of being part of a group of writers and joined the Mariposa Writers’ Group from which came two volumes each of the anthologies Our Literary Lapses and Mariposa Exposed, so he created Just Write Orillia, “just to be helpful and have the social interaction with other writers, and the creative stimulation because you hear other people tell stories in their way and it inspires me in my own writing and life as well,” he said.

“It’s sort of an outgrowth of the fact the Mariposa Writer’s Group just sort of evaporated and I saw a real gap because there was an interest in local people learning to write better. They have stories they wanted to tell, they didn’t know how to do it. They wanted the camaraderie, the social aspect that comes with being with other writers.”

He looked into what other writers’ groups around the world did and used the best ideas. Each member is encouraged to bring something they wrote to share (but they don’t have at every meeting), and once read the author remains silent while the rest of the group offers constructive criticism (which includes what they liked). Stephen stressed the criticism has to be put in positive ways. It’s like having a bunch of editors whose function is not to make you feel like you didn’t earn your paycheque, but to help your writing get better.

Several members have won awards for pieces they wrote and one got a job as an editor.

“It makes me feel a little more confident I am able to help other people with their writing. I’m not talking about War and Peace, or winning the Pulitzer Prize or anything, but I can really help,” Stephen said.

You can join. Members have been as young as 80 and as old as 12. To find out more about the group (or if you have space where they can meet) you can call the library and ask about Just Write Orillia, or email

Art Stuff

OMAH has their annual Winter Gala fundraiser January 21 at Hawk Ridge Golf Club. The guest speaker is Lakehead University chancellor Dr. Rita Shelton Deverell. She is an author, theater and media artist, and Governor General’s Performing Arts Award recipient in 2022 (same class as Tomson Highway and David Foster). She grew up in Orillia and has lived in Oro-Medonte for almost three decades.

Art by Marlene Bulas, Catherine Cadieux, Annie Kmyta Cunnington, Charles Pachter, Robyn Rennie and Prudence Smith will be raffled. Will Davis and Chris Robinson will be playing music.

Tickets are $100. If you are thinking, “Darn, Jan. 21? I’m in Sacramento on that day,” but still want to donate the ticket cost (which will support OMAH’s endowment for long-term sustainability and children and youth programming) you can do so and a Lakehead humanities student can go in your place. There are not many seats left, so you better get them online right away – plus, they’re going to cut off sales early in the coming week because the cook wants to know how many meals to make.

OMAH has Amanta Scott’s exhibit, Eyeing Medusa, up January. 21; January 28 two exhibits, Great Tait: The True Story of Orillia’s First Millionaire and Burner Herzog by husband and wife team of Gary Blundell and Victoria Ward (who had Project Voyager – an artistic documentation of Champlain’s travels – at OMAH in the fall of 2019) will be up; another husband and wife team,  David Alan Hill and Christine Mack, have a photographic exhibit called Beyond the Fence up February 4; the monthly History Speaker’s Night is January. 18 at 7 p.m. with Dave Town talking about the Black Swamp Gang who terrorized Simcoe County (Jarratt) in the 1880s (not be confused with the Black Donnellys – different part of Ontario, 1840s), it’s on Zoom so register online.

Art By Laurie Garbutt

Creative Nomad Studios has a few programs starting in January, among them are two Creative Kids Clubs (different age groups) and a Monday evening small dog social program; get details and registration info online. Creative Nomad is having a spring market in May. Artisans can apply to participate online. Cloud Gallery is going to have a series of Meet The Artist events in 2023. The first is January 21 and you can meet Kate Taylor form 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. there will be new works by Taylor to see. Hibernation Arts added Laurie Garbutt to the roster of artists works on display. Peter Street Fine Arts still has their holiday season 6×6 show up to the end of January.  

The Shorts

  • Mariposa Arts Theatre had a social night in December and it was so successful, they’re having another Jan. 20 at their Brammer Drive rehearsal hall. The Old Dance Hall Players will be performing. It starts at 7 p.m. Space is limited and you can get a ticket online.  MAT also has Blithe Spirit on stage in April and are looking for hair and makeup artists; Email
  • The Mariposa Folk Festival’s February Blues happens Feb. 4 at the Opera House. Lance Anderson is once again the bandleader and with him will be Matt Weidinger, Bobby Dean Blackburn, Verese Vassel-Brown, Thomas Nelson and Mike Sloski. You can get tickets (better hurry, it sells out every time) online.
  • The Orillia and District Arts Council with support from Canada Council for the Arts has part two of their seven part exhibit A Visual Reconciliation happening January 18 from 4 to 6 pm. At Georgian College in theater C112. Four artists, Xavier Fernandes, Ted Fullerton, Paul Shilling and Julie Tian interpreted from their own cultural background and from their lived experiences. The project is broken up into 7 parts with each focusing on themes from the Seven Grandmother Teachings. They displayed and spoke about their work for the Bravery teaching last November at Creative Nomad Studios. Each segment’s resulting artwork will be shown at different venues. This time the theme the artists worked with is Honesty (Gwekwaadziwin).
Kellie Loder
  • Roots North has their second artist booked for April’s festival. Kellie Loder joins Juno Award winning Michael Kaeshammer on the menu. You can get festival passes now online.
  • Arts Orillia has three events happening soon. Dancer/choreographers Emma Kerson and Jane-Alison McKinney will do Hard Wire at the Opera House Jan. 19. BoucharDanse performs Tres Loin Jan. 26 at the Opera House. On Feb. 4 at Creative Nomad, they have the dance film Reduced by Aliyah Beckles-Gaines who will be on hand to talk about the film and read from her book, We Are Here: Stories From Southern Georgian Bay BIPOC Women. You can find tickets for all three online.
  • Express Yourself Performing Arts is putting on a play, James and the Giant Peach, in June. They are holding auditions for kids 8 and older now. Their women’s and children’s choirs performed at St. Paul’s Centre’s benefit for Ukraine concerts. The theatrical program is a learning program and there are registration fees. You can find more detail and registration info online.
  • Couchiching Craft Brewing has Nolan and Eric in to play Jan. 14; Will Davis and Chris Robinson do jazz Jan. 15; Wilverine spins vinyl Jan 19; Steven Henry, Joe Huron and Ian Ross play Jan. 20; Reay is playing January 28, it’s a fundraiser for the Sharing Place Good Bank and tickets are $15… Quayle’s Brewery has Jacob Pearce playing in to play Jan. 14 and Ron Whitman is in Jan. 20… Sammy is playing Picnic Jan. 14… The Mudmen play the Opera House Jan. 27 (tickets).

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

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