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May 2021 Centre Stage with Tasheena Rae

Tasheena Campbell comes from a very strong, talented family. “They taught me that if I want something bad enough, I need to go for it and claim what is mine.”

Taking her family’s advice to heart, Tasheena has a simple recipe for her success: “First, I see it. Second, I learn it, and then I do it.”

“When I was young, I always knew I was destined for something great,” said Tasheena. She began by expressing herself through writing. Now at age 26, she has blossomed as an artist, and feeds her passion for creativity through beauty and esthetics, as well as music, theatre and videography. 

Based out of Fort Chipewyan, Tasheena is a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and has been living in the Wood Buffalo region her whole life. “Growing up in Fort Chipewyan isn’t easy for artists. We don’t have many resources, so I taught myself through YouTube and learned from Indigenous artists on social media.”

“I focus on keeping the traditional lifestyle alive by incorporating Indigenous ways and current lifestyle into how I do my business,” said Taneesha. “I own a small beauty business called Beautee Vibes, and I do eyebrows and eyelashes while working on my new videography business, Big Dreams Productions.”  

Not only does Tasheena keep herself busy as an artist and entrepreneur, she also has a one-year-old daughter, “who has such a bright future ahead of her.”

Taneesha’s taste for videography began in high school. “Some of my friends introduced me to music and making videos, and that’s when it hit me that I love art.” 

In February, Tasheena was invited to collaborate with True North Aid for the Ballantyne Project, where she documented the donation of arts and craft supplies, toys and games for youth and elders. Typically, these resources are not readily available in Fort Chipewyan. 

“I was contacted by Arts Council Wood Buffalo to be the videographer,” said Tasheena. “I felt honored to get our community noticed. It was fun to work with our youth and leadership while making this video.”

Watch Tasheena’s video for The Ballantyne Project on Facebook: @TheBallantyneProject

Her reputation as an artist continues to grow, and she has also been invited to be the videographer for an upcoming event with Athabasca Tribal Council for National Indigenous Language Day. “I will be interviewing elders and others who are preserving Indigenous languages.”

“To me, being an artist in Wood Buffalo means being ambitious and getting my work out there as an Indigenous artist,” said Tasheena. “My goal is to give other Indigenous people hope and courage to take the chances to meet new people and go for any opportunity that’s given to them.”

Learn more about Taneesha’s art and beauty business on Facebook @BeauteeVibes or on TikTok @tasheenarae, and keep an eye out for updates on her new videography business, Big Dreams Productions.

Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn (@artcouncilwb). Become an ACWB member for arts information, artistic development, resources and opportunities!

April 27, 2021

April’s 2021 Centre Stage with Emmalyn Soriano

“I believe in the imperfection of art,” says Emmalyn Soriano. “Imperfection allows us to explore our creativity and encourages us to try arts and writing. Art is for everyone.”

This is the foundation of Emmalyn’s philosophy for her explorations as a painter, poet and photographer. 

Emmalyn in her art studio

“When I was in elementary school, I loved to draw scenery,” says Soriano. “I also joined slogan and poster-making contests, but I never won.” Fortunately, that didn’t stop her. 

Since moving to Fort McMurray in 2014, Soriano has had one of her poems published in Northword Magazine, three poems included in Words in Motion, three paintings displayed in Arts in Motion exhibits, and one of her paintings has been printed for the Municipality’s Street Banner Program. She has also been nominated for a Buffy for Literary Arts as part of ACWB’s annual Excellence in Arts Awards.

Emmalyn’s artwork

Emmalyn is from the Philippines, where she had worked as a Registered Nurse, Nursing Lecturer and Clinical Instructor. Nowadays she works as a Medical Office Assistant, which she considers supportive of her talents.

She has been living in Fort McMurray with her husband, Gudy, for seven years, but finds it very difficult being away from her parents. “That’s why I started painting and taking pictures,” says Soriano. 

“I never thought that I would be able to write poems. I’m not very good with grammar and sentence structure, but it happens. It’s like magic. Life is just full of surprises.”

At the Lake by Emmalyn Soriano

Much like Bob Ross, the classic TV painter and art instructor, Emmalyn sees happy accidents as an opportunity for improvement. 

“Mistakes with color blending, blurred shots, struggles with sentences, grammar, and facing hundreds of rejections are all part of mastering our craft. I keep on submitting my work to artist calls, entertaining rejections, and celebrating invitations for exhibits and paper publications.”

Northern Alberta is quite a different environment from her home in the Philippines, and she draws on the nature found in her new surroundings for inspiration.

“Nature is always the subject of my work,” says Emmalyn. “When I go for a walk, I pick up random pebbles, leaves, flowers and wood chips. Pebbles have unique shapes, like jigsaw puzzle pieces. It’s difficult to put them together to form a figure, but it’s fun and rewarding. I use dried leaves and wood chips as the canvas for my paintings. The challenge is to be gentle, so they don’t break into pieces.”

Emmalyn has a solid appreciation for the local arts community. “There are many opportunities for us to showcase our work and talents, and get recognition as well.”

She leaves us with a few words of wisdom:  “As an artist, don’t give up on your craft, sometimes we lose motivation and focus. Take your time, process, turn that brush/pen into a sword, face your struggles and keep going.”

Learn more about Emmalyn Soriano and her artwork on ACWB’s Artist Directory.

Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb).

March 25, 2021

March’s 2021 Centre Stage with Andrew & Chris Pottie

Spotlight on Andrew and Chris Pottie

“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.

Follow Andrew and Chris on Facebook or YouTube (@theborderpines), or catch their shows on Twitch @twitch.tv/borderpines. For drum lessons, contact Andrew at [email protected].

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.

February 22, 2021

February’s 2021 Centre Stage with Crystal Mercredi

“I often hear people say you can either be an artist or a business person,” says Crystal Mercredi, “but I think that being good at one doesn’t make you bad at the other.”

Crystal was first exposed to photography when she got a Polaroid camera at age seven, and has been taking photos ever since. 

“In retrospect I have had a camera in my hand most of my life, and started by documenting most of my grade school friendships.”

Later in high school, she took Communication Technologies and learned the basics of composition and how to develop black and white film. “I spent those years playing with experimental techniques with friends and laughing at what we had created in the dark room.”

Mercredi is an Alberta girl, having lived in Grande Prairie, Calgary, Edmonton, Killam, and Fort Chipewyan, but she’s been in Fort McMurray since 2008. 

“Prior to having children, I was a teacher,” says Mercredi, “however after having my second, I decided to stay at home until they were in school. During that time my plan got sidetracked, because I rediscovered my love for photography and it became an all-encompassing obsession.”

Nowadays, Crystal Mercredi is a well-known local artist and business owner. In 2019, she was nominated for the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce Female Leadership Award, and in 2020, she received the Visual Arts Award (Buffy) from Arts Council Wood Buffalo.

“I had never thought of myself as an artist – at least not a visual artist – because I’d had teachers tell me I was a logical thinker, not a creative one, and I believed them. Now I know that it’s okay to be both, and being ‘good’ at math doesn’t make you ‘bad’ at art.”

“I pride myself on continually improving my business capacity along with my artistic ability.”

With this mantra in mind, she has taken her art and turned it into a successful business. Life and Portraits is a digital media studio specializing in headshots and corporate marketing photography while also offering corporate event photography and marketing videography. 

“The Night the Ancestors Danced”

The brand was developed with a passion for promoting local businesses and the people behind them.

“This also means Life and Portraits is committed to growing capacity within our region for other small business owners, and giving back to agencies that make this region home,” said Mercredi.

Learn more about Crystal Mercredi’s art and Life and Portraits on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or on her website.

You can also find Crystal on Arts Council’s Marketplace, where you can buy local arts and craft, or even open your own virtual shop. Marketplace is a free benefit for Arts Council members. Visit artscouncilwb.ca/marketplace to learn more.

Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb), or browse our website for arts information, resources and opportunities.

January 27, 2021

January 2021’s Centre Stage with Courtney Sweeney

Courtney Sweeney is a wife, mother of three small children (and a very large Boxer), and loves to go to the gym. She’s also a self-confessed entrepreneur and bead-aholic.

“It started with beaded bracelets,” says Sweeney. “I’d seen so many on Pinterest and I thought, ‘Hey I could do this.’ So I started by making a few bracelets for family and friends, and it took off from there.”

Now she is wrapping up the third year of owning her business, Mind, Body, Soul Beads & Beyond, and despite everything that’s happened in 2020, it’s been one of her best years.

She moved from Calgary to Fort McMurray with her family when she was two years old, and has lived in the region ever since.

“I have always been into the artistic side of things,” says Courtney. “I loved to paint, draw, and write in my younger years. As I became older, my hobbies turned more to fitness, and I really started to go that route. Then my family took precedence and everything else took a back seat.”

Later, the entrepreneurial side of Courtney started to grow and she experimented with different business ideas. “They weren’t for me. There was nothing creative about them, and nothing I could 100% say was my own. So, I started beading bracelets.”

“I have always loved fossils and gemstones, but I never fully understood or appreciated them until recently,” said Sweeney. “I started creating gemstone jewelry for friends and family with the intention of trying to tune my energies into that specific person’s needs and wants. The ability of gemstones to bring intention and awareness into peoples’ lives and help them along their journey gave me goosebumps.”

Sweeney is business savvy and has been partnering with various local businesses to get her products out into the community. You can find her work at Life Force Herbal Healing Centre, Chocolates & Candlelight, and Exhale Yoga & Barre. She’s also been building her product line to include necklaces, key chains, and her newest popular creation is bands for smart watches.

“My love and knowledge is expanding with each piece I make, tuning into frequencies, healing, and meanings for each one.”

Her latest venture includes joining Arts Council’s new online Marketplace. “I was approached by Arts Council to try Marketplace, and to me it seemed like a win-win opportunity. With Marketplace, I get the opportunity to get myself out there more.”

Learn more about Courtney Sweeney and her made-to-order, completely customizable jewelry on Facebook (@mindbodysoulbeadsandbeyond), Instagram (@mind_body_soul_beads), or on her website: www.mbsbeads.com.

Visit artscouncilwb.ca/marketplace to learn more about Marketplace, buy local arts and craft, or even open your own virtual shop. Marketplace is a free benefit for Arts Council members. 

January 11, 2021

November 2020’s Centre Stage with Ambreen Ehtisham

The awards for this year’s Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards (also known as the Buffys) were created by local resin artist, Ambreen Ehtisham.

“The awards came out more beautifully than even I had expected,” said Ambreen. “I am honoured that my work has been presented to such amazing local artists in the community.” 

“I got my inspiration from natural geode rocks. I designed the sketch of each award according to the categories. Each award mimics the beauty of geode rocks in different color combinations suitable for that specific award category.”

This year’s arts awards showcase was broadcast on October 17 as a cinematic experience featuring award presentations for fourteen categories. A short video of Ambreen’s creative process and work was also aired during the show.

Originally from Pakistan, Ambreen immigrated to the community in 2005 and is proud to call Fort McMurray her home. She has a loving husband and four beautiful children, but is also keeping herself busy as an artist and entrepreneur.

“I have been passionate about the arts for as long as I can remember,” says Ambreen. “I fell in love with resin when I first saw it in one of the workshops I attended during my college life. My parents didn’t have the means to let me learn resin arts along with providing for professional education for myself and my siblings. But they certainly instilled in me the spirit of not letting your passion go.”

“After my youngest child started going to school, I was ready to follow my dreams of working with resin, and currently, most of my work is in resin mixed media.”

Locally, Ambreen has been involved in projects such as the 2020 Timeraiser event by FuseSocial, but she’s also expanding to reach an international audience.

“I recently submitted one of my pieces to the International Open Call from Boomer Gallery in London, UK, and my work was accepted into the first round of the competition.”

She is also proud to be one of six ambassadors from around the world for Mrs. ColorBerry, one of the most prestigious brand names in the resin world. 

“This has been a highlight of my work as an artist and is a dream come true,” said Ambreen. “It’s an honor to be a part of this amazing team and represent Fort McMurray and Canada on an international scale.”

Learn more about Ambreen Ehthisham, her art, ordering custom designs, and upcoming projects and events on Facebook (@ambreenehti), Instagram (@ambreen.ehtisham), or her new website: www.ambreenehtisham.com.

Visit artscouncilwb.ca/buffys to learn more about this year’s Arts Awards. Check out the award recipients, nominees, and sponsors. Visit Arts Council Wood Buffalo’s YouTube channel to watch the full awards showcase, including performances from local talent, award presentations, and much more.

Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb), or visit the website at www.artscouncilwb.ca for arts information, resources and opportunities.

October 23, 2020

August 2020’s Centre Stage with Shantelle Davidson

Shantelle Davidson’s first memories of being an entertainer made her feel nervous and very excited all at the same time. Even from a young age she knew that music was her purpose, and she needed to pursue it.

“I started singing onstage with my Grandma and her band when I was 6,” said Davidson. “I enjoyed piano, voice and guitar lessons.” She hasn’t looked back in her musical rearview mirror ever since.

Hailing from Rainy River, a small town in Northern Ontario bordering on Minnesota, she grew up singing in church and at local talent shows. Davidson moved to Fort McMurray with her family in 2005. “I remember being so excited to live in a ‘big city.’ I became a part of the arts community, singing in choir, musical theatre, and Keyano Theatre. I’ve been here 15 years.”

Growing up so close to America, it was almost like it was her destiny to spend some time in the south. “One day at Westwood [Community High School], I saw a poster for auditions to The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in Los Angeles, California. I thought I would give it a shot. I couldn’t believe it when I got the acceptance call from AMDA offering me a scholarship.”

Davidson graduated from AMDA in 2008, and spent time in Vancouver working as an actress and recording original music. She later returned to Alberta to record her solo debut album in Calgary, which was released in 2015, earned impressive reviews, and was played on radio stations across Canada and the United States.

As part of her busy musical career, Davidson performed some of her original music at ‘Around the Campfire: Music, Stories & Songs’ in May 2020. Inspired by the traditional Nashville-style guitar pull, she took turns playing songs, and swapping stories and personal recollections with a number of local singer/songwriters, which was streamed live from the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts.

The Guitar Pull “was so fantastic,” said Davidson. “I loved hearing the songs and stories from the other artists, as well as sharing my own. I was just over the moon to take part.”

“I feel so privileged to work and play here,” says Davidson. “Inspired by so many great people in our community, it makes it easy to create. There are so many opportunities. Most of all, I love the way our community supports the arts.”

Despite the uncertain times, Davidson had been recording new music with help from her friends at the District Recording Studio (before the flood), and continued recording new vocals for the project down in Edmonton with Dan Davidson, as well as Clayton Bellamy of The Road Hammers. “It’s a challenging time for everyone. As an artist, I feel called to inspire more than ever.”

Stay tuned for Davidson’s new single “Looking Up,” coming this summer on Canadian Country radio. Keep up to date and listen to her music by following @shantelledavidsonmusic on Instagram, Facebook
and YouTube.


Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb), or visit the brand new website at www.artscouncilwb.ca.

July 24, 2020

July 2020’s Centre Stage with Kritsana Naowakhun

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Kritsana Naowakhun has been fascinated with art from a very young age. While his true passion is for painting and visual arts, he is a man of many talents, including cooking Thai and Asian cuisine. 

“To me, culinary arts and visual art can draw many parallels.”

Naowakhun’s first exposure to art was through his grandfather, who had an artistic background as a temple painter in China. “My grandfather would take me to Chinese opera, create beautiful ink drawings of magical creatures, and tell fascinating stories of faraway lands.”

“My mother saw that art gave me joy and purpose.” 

Naowakhun’s family supported him as he studied art through elementary and high school, and he eventually studied sculpture at Silpakorn University, the most prestigious art university in Thailand. “Only 55 people are selected out of thousands who apply, and luckily for me, I was one of those students who was accepted on my first try.”

Kritsana Naowakhun in the studio (Photo supplied by Kritsana Naowakhun)

He came to Fort McMurray in 2012 to start a new life with his Canadian wife, supporting her dream of teaching and creating dance while providing a good life for their children.

“In my artistic journey here in Canada, my first impressions were about the amazing new landscapes and animals I would encounter. After moving to Fort McMurray, I saw the beauty in how so many cultures can coexist while keeping their heritage and connection to the land. I want to express my impressions of the world around me through my Buddhist outlook on life and human nature.”

For the past seven years, Naowakhun has been teaching painting classes at Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts (SECPA) and has developed programming for artists of all ability levels and ages ranging from six to adult. 

Under normal circumstances, he teaches eight classes a week at SECPA. However, he has adapted to the physical distancing practices and teaches virtual painting and drawing classes from home.

Naowakhun has been busy in the local arts community. He has been part of two art shows with local artist, Shauna Kelly, three solo shows at The Kirschner Family Community Art Gallery, two art installations for the igNIGHT public art exhibition, he has painted a fox sculpture along the TOTAL Aboriginal Interpretive Trail at MacDonald Island Park, and he has participated in the local Artist in Residency program.

He has also been active on a provincial scale, participating in the Best of Northern Alberta by Alberta Society of Artists, Beyond the Patch by the Art Gallery of Alberta travelling show, and the New Wave by CARFAC. You can see his show online, or purchase his art at the Bugera Matheson Gallery in Edmonton.

To see or purchase his work, visit Kritsana Naowakhun’s website at www.kritsana2005.wixsite.com/kritsana-art, or follow him on Instagram: @artbykritsana. Find his art or classes on Facebook at Art by Kritsana Naowakhun, or Art Class with Kritsana Naowakhun at Suncor Energy for Performing Arts. 

If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb), or visit the website at www.artscouncilwb.ca.

July 2, 2020