“We grew up in Nova Scotia, where our father played music his whole life,” said Chris Pottie. “That’s where it all started for us musically.”
Andrew and Chris Pottie have established some serious musical roots in Wood Buffalo. You may have seen them performing with their band, The Borderpines, at Tavern on Main, community events such as HomeTown Hockey and YMM Food Fest, or at the intimate theatre show where they released their first album in early 2019.
“Our music scene in Antigonish, Nova Scotia was unbelievable,” said Chris. “We had an endless supply of local bands and musicians to play with, so we started organizing, promoting and running our own shows at all-ages venues. This really sparked our love for live audio production, which we continue to do here in Fort McMurray.”
Chris came to Fort McMurray in 2009, and Andrew joined him in 2013. While Chris focuses on playing guitar, singing and writing songs, his brother, Andrew, is the perfect complement filling in on drums, percussion, vocals and production.
If you haven’t seen Andrew performing, you may have seen him supplying audio, lighting, and recording services at events of all types. He’s also a drum instructor.
“Due to a lack of regular live events,” said Andrew, “I decided to offer drum lessons to aspiring and early drummers to help them reach their drumming goals.”
“In just the handful of years I’ve been here,” said Andrew, “I already have so many fond memories from being a part of this community – while on the stage, in the crowd, or on the audio controls.”
“We’d normally be performing in town at least once a month,” said Chris. “Our current focus is writing music for a few projects. We do regular livestreams on Twitch since the pandemic started last March, where we’ve been raising money for the FMSPCA.”
“We’re also recording the second The Borderpines album,” said Chris. “We’re expecting to have the album released this spring.”
The Borderpines includes local musicians Bill McCrone on bass (who hails from the same area as the Pottie brothers), Jeremy Rice on guitar, and Amanda Rice on vocals.
“Loose Change is a fun side project where we’ve been creating some drum/bass electronic songs,” said Chris. “This spawned from our Royal Blood set we did for the Tavern Tributes,” a series held at the Tavern on Main through 2018 and 2019 featuring various groups of musicians performing sets of music by preselected bands.
“I’m also so grateful to have received the Ken Flaherty Music Award at the 2019 Buffys, after being nominated among all my music peers,” said Chris.
Nominations and self-nominations are now open for artists or groups for the 2021 Buffys. Learn more about the arts awards at artscouncilwb.ca/buffys.
Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb), or visit the website and become a member for arts information, resources and opportunities.
Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) is working to create an arts incubator space that can support and nurture a diverse range of arts and culture in our region.
Follow us here or on social media (@artscouncilwb) for ongoing updates, news and more as ACWB works through the process of making the arts incubator a reality for Wood Buffalo.
What’s an arts incubator?
An arts incubator is a purpose-built space that can be used as a centre for artists to gather and work, a venue for performances, workshops and galleries, a community gathering space, and even host events and festivals. Examples include cSPACE King Edward in Calgary or Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design.
Downtown Fort McMurray – Landmark Cinema 6 Building
ACWB is looking to purchase the Landmark Cinema 6 Building, located in downtown Fort McMurray, with the goal of remodelling the movie theatre into an arts incubator space that can support arts, culture, business, and the community at large.
Investment Readiness Program – Government of Canada
In early 2020, ACWB received funding from Community Foundations of Canada via the Investment Readiness Program (IRP) to conduct a feasibility study to determine if and how the cinema building could be repurposed for an arts incubator, identify opportunities and challenges, and begin the process of envisioning and designing the project.
ACWB worked with Akron Engineering on this feasibility study, and engaged with artists, residents, stakeholders, and businesses to get feedback on the project to evaluate the benefits for everyone in our region.
Next Steps: Study / Engagement Results & Funding Plan
Next steps for the proposed arts incubator include evaluating feedback from the community and the results of the feasibility study provided by Akron Engineering due in late 2020. Any plans for an arts incubator will be informed by both the feasibility study and engagement feedback.
ACWB will then develop a funding plan to purchase the old Landmark Cinema building (or another location), and begin more detailed planning to renovate the space to meet the needs of the arts community.
Help Make the Arts Incubator a Reality
Anyone wishing to donate to this project or other ACWB initiatives may do so through our website – donations $50 and over are eligible for a Charitable Donation Receipt and donors can specify which program, project, or service they wish their donation dollars to support, including the Arts Incubator.
Q – What’s an arts incubator?
A – An arts incubator is a purpose-built space that can be used as a centre for artists to gather and work, a venue for performances, workshops and galleries, a community gathering space, and even host events and festivals. Examples include cSPACE King Edward in Calgary or Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design.
Q – Where will the arts incubator be located?
A – The feasibility study is based on the former Landmark Cinemas building in the heart of downtown on Manning Avenue.
Q – Why did you choose that location?
A – The former movie theatre building is no longer in use and up for sale. The property presents many options and opportunities that are closely linked to the arts incubator concept, including theatre, movie and rehearsal space, large rooms, and outdoor space for parking, markets and events.
In addition, the building is located in the downtown area, which has been identified by local government as an area for redevelopment. Findings from the municipal government’s public engagement has shown that this area is ideal for arts and cultural space as well as economic development.
Q – What is a feasibility study?
A – A feasibility study will help determine if and how the cinema building could be repurposed for an arts incubator, identify opportunities and challenges, and begin the process of envisioning and designing the project.
Q – Where did you get funding for the feasibility study?
Q – Where do you plan to get money to pay for the arts incubator?
A – Part of the feasibility study is determining the cost of this project. From there, Arts Council will create a Fund Development Plan and Capital Fundraising Campaign.
Additionally, there are a number of grants available provincially, federally, and through private corporations that support the development of arts infrastructure. Examples of potential funders could be Canadian Heritage and Alberta Foundation for the Arts.
Q – Will any you be using Municipal tax dollars or funding to pay for the arts incubator?
A – Arts Council has not requested or received municipal funding to pay for this project. However, Arts Council is always open to discuss opportunities, synergies and ways to complement strategic planning for the benefit of everyone in the region.
Q – I live in a rural Indigenous community. How will the arts incubator benefit me?
A – Arts Council has proposed an arts incubator to be located in Fort McMurray, but we welcome participation from all communities and groups from across the region.
Once established, the arts incubator will use the “spoke and hub model” to provide services to rural and Indigenous communities. The Artist in Residency program could be inclusive of the rural areas. For example, artists would spend time mentoring residents in rural communities, but the artists would create their work at the incubator facility in Fort McMurray.
Q – How can I help make this project a reality?
A – Anyone wishing to donate to this project or other ACWB initiatives may do so through our website – donations $50 and over are eligible for a Charitable Donation Receipt and donors can specify which program, project, or service they wish their donation dollars to support, including the Arts Incubator.
You can also help by participating in the Arts Incubator Survey (open until Oct. 6, 2020) or in any other potential public engagement opportunities. Follow Arts Council on social media (@artscouncilwb) or visit the ACWB website regularly for updates and information.
Q – How much will the arts incubator cost to build?
A – Part of the feasibility study is determining the cost of this project, including renovations, purchasing the property and operations.
Q – How much does the cinema property cost?
A – Fair market value will be assessed if the feasibility study indicates that this project is viable.
Q – How much will the arts incubator cost to operate?
A – It is difficult to know what the operation costs would be before a detailed design of the arts incubator has been finalized. We are working with funding professionals to better understand costs in greater detail.
Q – Will the arts incubator earn revenue? If so, how much?
A – Yes. One of Arts Council’s financial goals for this project is that this arts incubator be self-sustaining within 4-5 years of opening doors to the community. This means that the arts incubator would eventually operate based on revenues earned from serving the community, sponsorship and donors.
Q – What will happen with the profits/revenue earned by the arts incubator?
The arts incubator will be based on a business model known as a ‘social enterprise.’ Social enterprises are revenue-generating businesses with a twist. A social enterprise is a revenue-generating business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to deliver profit to shareholders and owners. (Definition provided by BC Centre for Social Enterprise.)
In a world that seems to make less sense every day — especially in 2020 — it’s not surprising that the arts continue to be misunderstood.
“It must be hard for Arts Council with nothing to do during the pandemic.” “I guess there aren’t many people creating art during quarantine.” These are just a few of the comments that Arts Council staff have heard since the world began shutting down in March 2020 to address COVID-19.
To be fair, many have wondered about the future of the arts — including many artists. However, as we approach the end of 2020, it’s reassuring to see that artists have adjusted by expressing their art in new formats: online, through social media, or in physically distant contexts.
So what is the role of art in the time of COVID?
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear,” says Toni Morrison (Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, editor and professor).
The Art of Conversation is a perfect example of fearless creativity. In late April 2020, as the world was focusing on quarantine, Arts Council Wood Buffalo began paying to commission local artists to create art based on phone conversations with isolated seniors and Elders across the region.
The project was a collaboration with St. Aidan’s Society, and the idea was to have artists engage in phone conversations with seniors and Elders, then create a new piece of art inspired by that conversation. Arts Council would purchase the artists’ completed pieces, with the goal of having it gifted to the partnered senior or Elder.
Originally, The Art of Conversation was meant to be a series of face-to-face workshops, which would culminate in a collaborative design for a mural to be installed in Fort McMurray’s Arts District. COVID-19 has prevented those in-person meetings (for the time being), but the pandemic made the program more important than ever as art helped participants make personal connections, enhance their health and mental wellbeing, and overcome feelings of isolation — despite physical distancing.
In early December, a virtual exhibit of the art produced during Art of Conversation was released for viewing on Arts Council’s website, along with stories about the project and reactions to the work.
While quarantine and physical distancing became the new reality, Arts Council Wood Buffalo made it their priority to adapt how they support artists across the region.
The first program to be adapted was the Artist in Residency & Mentorship Program (AiR), presented in partnership with Keyano Theatre & Arts Centre in March 2020. Originally, AiR was planned as an in-person series of workshops hosted by award winning, multi-disciplined theatre artist Michelle Thorne, while she directed The Great Gatsby for Keyano Theatre.
The program was quickly adapted into a series of free online workshops. This was the first time AiR had been held in an online format, and participants reported the workshops to be informative, exciting, and an effective strategy for dealing with the pandemic.
Later in the summer, Arts Council hired Geoff Jones (a former Fort McMurray resident) to be the Artist in Residency Project Coordinator and would develop resources to support future AiR programming. Geoff quickly got to work with ACWB Programs Manager, Luay Eljamal, on the second AiR session of 2020, which began in the fall with local humourist and storyteller Carla White.
White’s residency includes writing, publication and creativity workshops offered to the local community while she develops a script dramatizing the events, demographics, learnings, and community-building that arose out of the 2016 Horse River Wildfire. The project will end in a stage reading of White’s final script, which is scheduled for December 11, 2020.
Another example of adapting the arts to a new format was Around the Campfire, hosted in May 2020, and inspired by the traditional Nashville-style guitar pull. This virtual livestream event was hosted in partnership with Friends of Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts (FoSECPA) and Country 93.3, and featured local singer-songwriters taking turns playing songs, and swapping stories and personal recollections.
Performing artists included Éva LaPrairie, Shantelle Davidson, Dan Gillies, Max Noseworthy, Aaron Deslandes, and Mychela. With over 13,000 views, the event was in the style of a traditional guitar pull, as artists shared stories about their songs and their playing style, and engaged with the audience in between performances of their original music.
Arts Council also adapted to artists’ needs by enhancing their connection with rural communities. The first step was to hire two Rural Arts Support Liaisons (RASL): Donna Aubichon, based in Fort Chipewyan, and Jules Nokohoo, based in Janvier. The RASLs’ task is to work with rural residents to co-envision and develop new initiatives, programs, and services to meet their unique artistic needs. Additionally, the RASLs’ goal is to enable communities to engage with the arts, crafts, and traditions of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
For many, tradition has been turned on its ear, but the RASLs have been using this as an opportunity. Recently, Aubichon combined tradition with innovation by hosting an online beading workshop in Fort Chipewyan as a way of sharing knowledge and staying creative. Aubichon also coordinated a mask-making workshop as a way of using the arts to mitigate and cope with COVID-19.
The Arts Awards (a.k.a. The Buffys) have become an annual tradition in Fort McMurray, but haven’t typically been as prominent in the rural communities. In October, Fort Chipewyan residents took part in their first Arts Awards watch party (observing health and safety protocols). Residents, artists, Elders and community leaders joined together in a small group to recognize award nominees and recipients in the community.
This watch party was just one of many activities planned to create more inclusivity with the talented artists that live and create in the rural communities.
The Buffys – the local equivalent of the Oscars – was broadcast on October 17 as a free online cinematic experience as a way of respecting the health and safety of the hundreds of artists and supporters that attend the event each year. Instead of inviting people to an awards event typically held at Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts (SECPA), it was broadcast for free to homes across the region and beyond, with an estimated 13,800 viewings (some as far away as Japan).
The awards showcase also featured a number of collaborative performances by local talent and a raucous steampunk storyline written by Elizabeth Wells and Zachary Barrett, who hosted the show. Performances included a diverse range of dance pieces, original and classic music, comedy, and theatre supported by visual arts, functional sets, costumes, props and puppets, all of which were tied together by local video artists Matthew Lorenz, Matthew Piercey, and Neville Video Productions to create a cinematic steampunk experience.
As local businesses and residents have struggled from economic pressures resulting from COVID, and recovery from flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, a special project was created to support artists wishing to build their business know-how in the arts world. In August, Arts Council hosted a series of four online workshops (free for members). The Getting to Sold workshops were designed to help crafters, artisans and new artists get their products to market, and was a huge success with 21 registrants.
The Getting to Sold project will culminate in an online resource called Marketplace. Marketplace is an online portal hosted on the ACWB website where artists can sell their arts and craft, build their following, and develop their dream of getting their art on the market. Art lovers can search, sort and shop for local arts and craft that have been made with community spirit. As an added bonus, it’s an opportunity to shop local, support local, and participate in the arts community.
In August, Arts Council made the call for artists to pre-register and help with populating Marketplace and testing before launching the platform to the community. Over 50 artists registered, ensuring a robust group of vendors would be listed in the Marketplace with their arts and craft to be sold to the community in time for the Christmas holiday season.
While discussions and engagement has been ongoing for a couple of years, the process of creating an Arts Incubator in Fort McMurray began in earnest in early 2020. An Arts Incubator is a community space that can support and nurture a diverse range of arts and culture. The wheels are now in motion to remodel the old Landmark Cinema 6 building in downtown Fort McMurray and transform it into an Arts Incubator space for the region.
After completing a feasibility study and public engagement throughout 2020 — including a public survey with more than 400 responses and dozens of conversations with stakeholders — ACWB has now started creating their funding plan and branding for the facility.
The arts incubator will be located in downtown Fort McMurray, but will be available as a centre for artists from across the region to gather and work. It will also be used as a venue for performances, workshops and showcases, as a community gathering space, and to host events and festivals that offer a broad opportunity for engagement with the arts.
In March, Arts Council began issuing free extensions for memberships that were set to expire. Memberships were extended until November 30, and since March, over 70 extensions were given free of charge.
The goal was to ensure that despite COVID, flooding, or any of life’s challenges, artists still had access to membership benefits, news, artist calls, opportunities, and connection to the arts community. This small gesture was intended to support those who have had other priorities in their lives beyond thinking about paying for membership fees.
Arts Council also created a new Membership Bank as part of the Giving Tuesday campaign in May – and will do so again for December 1 – to make sure memberships are barrier-free, so anyone in the region can have access to the benefits of ACWB membership and be a part of the unified voice for the arts in Wood Buffalo.
Support yourself and others through the arts by being an ACWB member, sponsor, donor, or volunteer. Take part in this regional movement and ACW-Be an Arts Champion for Wood Buffalo. This movement aims to support the ongoing response to COVID-19, recovery from flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, and the well-being of residents across the region.
Arts Council in 2021 and Beyond
To those who have been wondering what the arts community has been up to during 2020, this is just the tip of the paintbrush. The arts have been alive and vibrant throughout 2020 despite the misconception that the arts have stopped to wait for COVID-19 to quietly go away never to return. View the Art in the Time of COVID-19 infographic for further information about how ACWB has been advocating for the arts community in 2020.
With that said, from everyone at Arts Council Wood Buffalo, we look forward to supporting the growth and success of the arts in Wood Buffalo for many years to come — especially in the midst of uncertainty. Learn more about local (and beyond) arts initiatives, opportunities and achievements at artscouncilwb.ca or follow Arts Council on social media to stay connected with the arts community: @artscouncilwb.
Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) officially launched Marketplace today. Marketplace is an online store where ACWB members can sell their artwork, and shoppers can buy local arts and craft made with community spirit.
“The objective of Marketplace is to give local artists an opportunity to develop as entrepreneurs and provides them with a resource where they can sell their work online,” said Executive Director, Liana Wheeldon. “Marketplace is unique for our region because it features only local artists, but anyone from around the world could shop for art made in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.”
Pre-registration for Marketplace opened in August following a series of Getting to Sold workshops tailored to help artists get their craft from a hobby to market. Nearly sixty artists pre-registered for Marketplace since August and were invited to begin setting up their shops on November 19.
“Throughout our engagement with the arts community, we learned that artisans needed more places to sell their work,” said Special Projects Manager, Sharon Heading. “Given the current economic climate, selling art has become even more challenging. Marketplace will empower artists to showcase their work and provide healthy opportunities to develop their craft and business acumen.”
Marketplace is free for ACWB members to use, however a 5% commission is charged to cover PayPal transfer fees should artists choose this payment method. Other payment methods are also available.
Marketplace is available to all local artisans. All they need to do is register for an ACWB membership. Membership fees vary by type and timeframe, including individual, non-profit, group or business from one to five years.
One of the benefits of being a member includes having access to ACWB staff as a resource for assistance. Marketplace is available to artists of all experience levels, and those who may need help with their online shop can easily reach Arts Council staff at [email protected] or at (587) 674 – 1625 ext. 104.
Marketplace product categories include:
Canvas / Paper
The Getting to Sold workshop series was a way of taking artisans through the process of getting their craft from a hobby to market. Marketplace is the next logical step and is a tool for artisans to enhance their learning through practical experience. In the coming months, participating artisans can expect an in-depth manual outlining the key learnings from Getting to Sold. Arts Council’s Business of the Arts learning series also ties in with the theme of offering local artists opportunities to build their capacity to compete and thrive as artistic entrepreneurs.
ACWB is a non-profit society and charitable organization that supports the growth and success of the arts in Wood Buffalo. ACWB was established to raise the profile of the arts in the region and provide support to all facets of the arts community.
The 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards are set to air on October 17, and the graphics for this year’s steampunk theme were created by local illustrator and comic artist, Rob Hickey.
“I was very excited to work on the Arts Awards, because steampunk is such a cool and challenging theme,” said Hickey, “but I knew I could nail it. I wanted to find a balance between honouring the chaos and detail demanded for a steampunk aesthetic, while creating graphics that were clear, readable and easy on the eyes.”
Rob Hickey was born and raised in Fort McMurray. “Other than some college courses in Toronto, I’ve lived and worked here my whole life.”
As an artist, the medium that interests Hickey the most is storytelling and comics. “I am an illustrator and sequential artist with a specific focus on telling stories with LGBT characters.”
“I loved cartoons as a kid and I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. I was introduced to a large and diverse artist community online as a teen, and I’ve been involved with and inspired by it ever since.”
When Hickey isn’t doing freelance digital illustrations for productions such as the 2020 Buffy Awards, they are also the Art Director for Twisted Gears Studios, a local production company.
“We have two ongoing projects that are returning from COVID-related hiatus. They’re great fun for me because they are ‘actual play’ podcasts, which means the work I create for them is decided by the players’ choices and rolls of the dice.”
“Additionally,” says Hickey, “we are planning to film a short, which I am co-writing and directing.”
Working in a smaller community has allowed Hickey to connect with and get to know folks more personally than they would elsewhere. Hickey is also getting more exposure to different kinds of art.
“I know painters, crafters, musicians, and videographers here. I’ve had the opportunity to try out different things because of this, like the above mentioned short film. This small community has been a great help in regards to looking for work and projects as well. Word of mouth certainly goes far here. That’s how I’ve gotten most of my work.”
“We are facing such tough times here,” says Hickey, “but there are many incredible people pushing for more engagement and connection between different groups of artists and with the city at large.”
Visit artscouncilwb.ca/buffys for details on where to watch this year’s cinematic steampunk Buffy Awards experience via Facebook, YouTube, or Shaw Spotlight. Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb).
“This year, the Arts Awards are going to be a little different,” said Programs Manager, Luay Eljamal. “Arts Council is hosting a cinematic Steampunk Buffys experience that will be broadcast online through Facebook, YouTube and Shaw Spotlight as a way of as respecting physical distancing while still celebrating and acknowledging all of the amazing talent in the Wood Buffalo region.”
Tickets for the event are free, but viewers are encouraged to visit Eventbrite to reserve their free ticket, buy a Steampunk Gear Bag and Buffy Stuffy (sold separately), or support the Arts Awards by making a donation.
“We know how important the Awards Showcase event is to artists, sponsors and supporters,” said Executive Director, Liana Wheeldon. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for everyone to participate in the Buffys while they watch the event. This year, we are bringing the Buffys to our audience instead of asking them to come out to the event.”
Arts Council is also introducing the Buffy Stuffy, a brand new Arts Awards tradition. Buffy Stuffys are limited edition, collectible plush toys modelled off each year’s event theme. This year’s Buffy Stuffy is Wendell the Raven, who is modelled off one of the Midnight Steampunk characters designed by local artist Rob Hickey.
The Midnight-Steampunk-themed canvas gear bags are loaded with a candy sack (in the style of the annual candy bar), drink coaster, face mask, Buffys pin, event program and sticker. Buffy Stuffy sold separately.
As the October 17 event date approaches, Buffy followers are encouraged to participate by gearing up with steampunk-themed costumes, and sharing photos, congratulations and creations by using #buffys2020 and #ymmartstogether.
Ashley Freimark has a simple approach to the arts: “My theory has always been, try everything!”
Nowadays, Freimark mostly focuses on visual and performing arts, but over the years she has been passionate about all of the elements of theatre: acting, directing, writing, stage managing, and costuming. She even dabbles in guitar and vocal performance. “I’ve written three songs so far, my first regarding my experience losing my grandfather.”
Freimark moved to Fort McMurray for the first time in 1996, when she was two-years old, and spent the majority of her childhood and teenage years in the region. Freimark was introduced to the arts through the school’s music program while attending Dr. K. A. Clark School.
Following that experience, she wanted to be involved in the arts and began exploring writing and acting. She even considered a career as an arts teacher. “No matter what path I took, theatre and the arts were right there all along.”
She left Fort McMurray in 2008, but her love of the arts continued to flourish in Edmonton. Eventually however, her experiences in Fort McMurray brought her back. “Truth be told, I never imagined I would ever move back,” said Freimark, “but after meeting my current boyfriend (who, fun fact, was my school crush from grade 6 to 9), I ended up moving back in 2018 to be closer to him.”
“Fort McMurray has been such an integral part of my life,” says Freimark. “It was such a wonderful surprise to find so many more opportunities when I moved back to the community that first fuelled my love of the arts.”
Freimark is astounded by the growth and support she has seen in the local arts community. “Everyone is so welcoming and open to new ideas and new faces. It’s like I found my family away from home all over again, which is very motivational to just go out there and do what I want to do.”
Freimark has wasted no time since she came back to the community. As a multi-disciplinary artist, she started to get into painting as a hobby, but nowadays, is looking at painting more seriously. She also spends her time volunteering for the local theatre community.
Until local events were cancelled or postponed in March due to social-distancing efforts, she was an assistant stage manager for “The Great Gatsby” at Keyano Theatre, and directing a self-written play entitled “Embrace” for the ADFA One-Act Theatre Festival.
“I’m a big mental health advocate,” says Freimark, “having dealt with anxiety and depression ever since I was a teenager.” The theme of mental health inspired Freimark’s play, “Embrace,” and she wrote parts of the script in the midst of anxiety attacks. “It’s been a really freeing experience writing the script.”
Stay tuned for the rescheduled ADFA One-Act Theatre Festival to see her play, or follow Ashley Freimark on Facebook and Instagram to see her art: @fantasiefreimarkcreations. If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn or visit the website at www.artscouncilwb.ca.
“Some of the hardest workers in the world are in Wood Buffalo,” says local visual artist, James Ritchie. Work ethic is one of the biggest lessons he has taken from being an artist in the region.
While some professionals get up early (or late, depending on the shift) to catch a bus out to site, this professional artist is also known to get up as early as 4 a.m. to go out to his garage studio and work for up to 12 to 14 hours a day.
“I figure that if I’m going to live here, I need to bust my butt just like everyone else does,” says Ritchie.
Nowadays, he’s making a living as a visual artist in Wood Buffalo. His home studio offers privacy and few distractions, so he’s very productive even though he says he still has a lot of work to catch up on. Some of his current projects include commissioned paintings, works for local non-profits like Fuse Social’s Timeraiser event, or an ongoing project for the Fort McMurray Golf Course.
Working with oils and acrylics, Ritchie takes a visionary, surrealistic approach to painting abstracts, animals and nature. Growing up in Nova Scotia, he spent a lot of time outdoors. “I’ve always had a special relationship with the forest and wildlife.”
After studying graphic arts out east, a two-week vacation to Vancouver morphed into a ten-year stay. While in Vancouver he continued to practice his art, participated in live painting competitions (with two Golden Brush wins), hosted corporate paint nights, and taught painting classes to at-risk youth.
“The crazy thing is, some of the kids with the most potential didn’t believe in themselves,” said Ritchie. “I was one of those kids once, so I get it. I’d like to start teaching classes in the community to gain [a better] understanding [of my own work], and eventually lead art retreats. I feel that I’ve taken punches that I can help aspiring artists avoid.”
Not only does he want to continue growing as an artist, he also wants to continue growing as a professional. Ritchie moved to Fort McMurray about one and a half years ago to be closer to family, and taking the plunge as a full-time artist has helped him to take his work more seriously.
He used to sell his art for relatively low prices, because he didn’t feel like he was at a professional level yet. Now that he is coming into his own as an artist, he is treating his art more like a business and learning to charge accordingly for his work. This has helped him to fund his craft and sustain a living. It also shows his audience that they are investing in quality. Plans are in the works for his first exhibition in Fort McMurray for later in 2020. Follow James Ritchie on Facebook and Instagram to see his art, inquire about sales, and get updates: @dr_ritchie. If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn or visit the website at www.artscouncilwb.ca.
There has been a surge of awareness of the literary arts in Wood Buffalo over the past few years. It’s not that there are more literary artists in the community, but rather more literary artists are coming out of their writer’s dens to showcase their work and contribute to the local arts community.
One such artist is Dorothy Bentley. Since the 80’s, Bentley has called Fort McMurray home, and throughout her education, she excelled in creative writing. A high school English teacher noticed Bentley’s talents and pointed her toward courses at Alberta Arts and Culture. Bentley was also encouraged to prepare a children’s book manuscript to submit to an agent. That encouragement spurred her to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
While her working life took her down the path of writing articles, columns, and producing web content, she wanted to focus on poetry and prose. “It has taken a large shift in my thinking to allow myself to write that which satisfies my own heart. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable. As a result, I am now an emerging writer of poetry, short stories, a children’s picture book, (and I have several unpublished novels in a drawer).”
When asked what it’s like to be an artist in Wood Buffalo, Bentley says, “allowing the landscape and the community to shape one’s artistic practice has been part of my writer’s journey, which is what my picture book, Summer North Coming, is about. The poetry recounts the seasonal changes and activities specific to this area. Part of what most creatives do, I believe, is find beauty and significance of place wherever they find themselves.”
Bentley boasts about the local literary arts community: “There have been and there continue to be some great things happening in Wood Buffalo for writers, such as calls, contests, and fairs through Arts Council, the Words in Motion Poetry Contest, the Library’s (WBRL) writing classes, the ongoing opportunity to submit to NorthWord Literary magazine, of course, and Multicultural Association’s upcoming offering (Western Perspectives Festival).”
Up until a few years ago, Bentley never had a consistent writers’ group or attended regular poetry workshops. Now she’s part of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA) and has been to several conferences outside of the region. She’s also a WGA advocate: “I found belonging to the Guild connected me to a larger, vibrant writing community.” Once a writer becomes a member of the WGA, they receive a bi-weekly newsletter with training and publication opportunities (many accessible online) and a whole range of other services such as help with manuscripts and the submission process. This brings connectivity and equipping to a new level.”
Bentley was recently appointed the Regional Facilitator for the WGA and will be hosting a variety of literary workshops in Fort McMurray, including weekly Write Nights on Tuesday evenings at the WBRL, which provides time and space for writers to create. Those interested in learning more about the upcoming workshops can connect through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Wood Buffalo Facebook group and through the WGA website.
If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Visit the website at www.artscouncilwb.ca.
Fearless, curious, respectful, and giving, may not be the words that come to mind when we think of the general stereotype of youth in society, but are appropriate when describing Mitchell Steeves, a youth in Wood Buffalo worth highlighting. Mitchell was born in Langley, BC and spent his early years in Salmon Arm, BC. At the age of nine, with an impressive and growing resume in the arts, Mitchell moved with his mother to Fort McMurray. His accomplishments to that point included a first place prize in the Shuswap Writers’ Guild Competition for his written and illustrated story “The Little Boy and the Giant Rat” and graduating from the Music for Young Children program where he first experienced the joy of music, while learning the basic skills necessary to build a strong future in music.
Not one to bask in the limelight, Mitchell may seem like an average teenager. However, his interests are expansive and achievements are notable. Now, as a youth attending Westwood High School, his interests include acting, painting, drawing, fabricating three-dimensional art, story writing, piano, bagpipes and his new found interest in filmmaking. He has participated in a youth theatre production with local theatre company Theatre; Just Because, spent a year in teen hip hop class at Generation Dance Studio, has displayed his visual art at McMurray Experience and the Timeraiser art exhibition, plays the bagpipes in the Legion Pipes and Drums Band, and has many small projects on the go. Most recently, Mitchell has partnered with an individual in Janvier for a video project that aims to share their incredible stories and show how we can respectfully learn from each other.
In addition to his vast interest in the arts, one of Mitchell’s favourite things to do is volunteer in the region. Mitchell has spent countless hours volunteering with the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, the Legion, Emergency Social Services, Wood Buffalo Recreation Society, and Arts Council Wood Buffalo. When reflecting on volunteering, Mitchell says, “The best part about being an avid volunteer is seeing the smiles on people’s faces and the great feeling of being useful.”
As someone who doesn’t always feel as though he fits in, he’s found his place within the arts. Mitchell explains, “When I am immersed in art, I don’t feel isolated, I know there’s a vibrant arts community thriving here in the RMWB, of which I am a proud member.” Mitchell goes on to say, “I am beginning to understand that art is life and life is art. Art is everywhere I look and it’s in everything I do… For me, art isn’t just simply making fancy objects, art is a way of life, a language, a way to connect people together regardless of age, gender, colour or religion. Art is the foundation of our society, and must grow to produce a rich and meaningful life.”
Many look at youth like Mitchell and see the potential our community has, where he looks at what the community is doing and sees the potential it has for him to prosper. “Being an artist here in the RMWB allows me the freedom to express myself creatively and to be accepted as a valuable community member who contributes culturally with the ability to fearlessly share my talents with others.”
As Mitchell has boasted, there is a vibrant arts community in Wood Buffalo! If you’re interested in being involved in the arts, connect with Arts Council Wood Buffalo through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn and on their website at www.artscouncilwb.ca.
Many people in Fort McMurray will recognize, if not already have it on their walls, the wood cut resin art in the shape of Alberta with a heart on Fort McMurray. Kim Blatchford, the artist behind the creations, has lived in Fort McMurray since 2006 and although Kim enjoyed painting throughout her life, she didn’t actively pursue Art until 2016. Once she started Kim says, “painting was something that was just flooding out of me, I could do 3 pieces in one night. I wanted to do it all day, every day.”
It all started when she noticed resin “Flow Art” online. She was instantly hooked and decided to order epoxy resin to give it a try. Kim recalls “I fell in love with my first pour. It was kind of like a science experiment, every time I created an art piece, I learned something about the medium and how things mix with it. I would run into problems and have to learn from my experience.”
Kim did not pursue resin art with the intention of making a business from it. “I can’t believe how far I have come. My art was simply something that I enjoyed, but people liked it. They were offering to buy my pieces and commission me for specialty ones. So it kind of just took off. I would create a piece and post it online and somebody wanted it or wanted one like it. It literally just flowed. I enjoyed doing it and people enjoyed having my art, so I kept going with it.”
It hasn’t been hard for Kim to find her place in the Arts Community in Wood Buffalo as her experience has been nothing but supportive. “I feel that it is really unique experience being an artist in Fort McMurray, because it is a small community but a big city with so many opportunities,” she says. “I feel like in a city like Edmonton I would have to fight for space at a market or compete against other artists, but in Fort McMurray, I feel encouraged and welcomed.”
This summer Kim attended Arts Council Wood Buffalo’s Arts Match, a speed networking event for artists, where she got to talk to other local artists and collaborate on ideas or future pieces. The support has continued, as she states, “the local art community has been excellent and very supportive. Everyone is so willing to share their time, ideas and experiences. I have had locals cut my wood, photograph my art, share market tables with me, etc.”
View Kim Blatchford’s artworks on her Instagram and Facebook pages @kimblatchford.art. To learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo and our programming, visit www.artscouncilwb.ca and find out how you can be involved in the vibrant Wood Buffalo arts community! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for updates and news.
Interview with Twisted Gears Studios for our monthly snapd Wood Buffalo artist feature Centre Stage with Arts Council Wood Buffalo!
Twisted Gears Studios is an Audio/Video Production Company that specializes in Role Play Game (RPG) content, run by Zachary Barrett and Derek Snow, and they are celebrating their one-year anniversary of producing content! “Twisted Gears Studios is a brain-child of mine and Derek’s,” explains Zachary. “We both love tabletop RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons, and board games. The thing we both loved about them was the improvised narrative aspect of it, where players make snap decisions that can (and often do) go horribly awry.”
Zachary was born and raised in Fort McMurray, and first became involved in the arts through theatre in high school, both as an actor and on the technical side. He left home to pursue film school and acting, but moved back after finishing his degree. He is currently the Stage Manager at Keyano Theatre, and spends a lot of his time producing Audio Video content. “In high school I played a game that had an awesome story,” Zach says. “It inspired me to go to film school and make something like that a reality. When Derek and I got to talking about recording our own games, it seemed to be a perfect blend of all of the things I had been doing the past two decade, and Derek’s even longer experience, running games.”
Twisted Gears Studios is currently running two live cast RPG shows, and is working towards expanding the operation: “We are hoping to get a consistently streamed game on the go,” says Zachary, “and we are creating more video content. Over the summer, we put together two competition pieces that are available online. We would love to organize RPG events, which is a great opportunity to get involved in the arts. I want to reach the people who are the age that I was when I first discovered acting and Dungeons and Dragons. Having those artistic outlets available at that age helped me a lot socially.”
As they are beginning their second year, Zachary reflects on the process: “It is an interesting thing starting an arts business in Wood Buffalo. Returning on the tail end of the boom allowed me to save up to purchase the equipment we needed. What has proven difficult is the work schedules; both from a broadcasting and a recording point of view.” Something that has stuck with him is the versatility of the Wood Buffalo arts: “I personally think the arts community here is insane!” he muses. “The amount of work opportunities once you start looking is huge. When I got back from school, I had one non-arts related job, but since then I have only been working in arts-related fields since. It was a goal I set out for myself when I was younger, and I feel like I have accomplished that here in Wood Buffalo.”
TGS comes out with a new podcast every Tuesday. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram: @TheTwistedGear and on their Facebook Page. You can search their shows on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and YouTube. Do not forget to leave a comment or review!