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Arts INC – Project Background

Project Background


Arts Council Wood Buffalo is in the process of creating an arts incubator space in downtown Fort McMurray. Arts INC will be designed to support and nurture a diverse range of arts and culture for residents across the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region.

This multi-year project began in 2018 with the Arts Recovery Project, funded by the Canadian Red Cross following the 2016 wildfire. Engagement with artists and community-at-large demonstrated the need for an affordable space for artists to work and create. Review the Post Fire Recovery in the Arts Strategic Plan to learn more about the history and process that planted the seed for Arts Inc.

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 former Landmark cinema building could be repurposed for an arts incubator, identify opportunities and challenges, and begin the process of envisioning and designing the project. Arts Council 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.

The study was completed in early 2021.

Feasibility Study Findings: Former Landmark Cinema Building

After engaging with the public in Fall 2020 and completing a feasibility study with Akron Engineering in March 2021, the findings are now available. Review the Arts Incubator Feasibility Study.

“To conclude, based on Akron’s comprehensive research, which is summarized in the Feasibility Study Report, we confirm that the former downtown Landmark Cinema Building is an excellent choice to be repurposed to an arts incubator for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.  When completed, this great initiative will be a value-added asset for the community and the fruition of Arts Council Wood Buffalo’s Strategic Priorities.” (Arts Incubator Feasibility Study, pg. XI)

“The Cinema Building can be efficiently remodeled to fit the needs of ACWB to house an arts incubator 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 to host special events.” (Arts Incubator Feasibility Study, pg. 113)

Public Engagement Findings

“Based on the many positive responses to the engagement survey, it is evident that many of our community residents appreciate the need for an arts incubator space and want to participate in it. Having this project come to fruition will be a red-letter day, as there will be a time when forces come together to create something not only creatively impressive, but economically vibrant and self-sustaining.” (Arts Incubator Feasibility Study, pg. 113)

Highlights – Survey Response Statistics:

  • Public engagement survey ran from Sept. 16 – Oct. 6
  • 410 individuals responded to the survey
  • 83.9% agree that an arts incubator would be beneficial for the Wood Buffalo region
  • 67.5% were not satisfied with the types of arts facilities currently available in the Wood Buffalo region
  • 58% were not satisfied with the arts, cultural and entertainment opportunities in the region
  • 45.9% did not self-identify as an artist
  • 43.4% self-identified as an artist

Review more Engagement Survey Findings here.

Community Benefits

“It has been proven in other communities in Canada, and around the globe, that art spaces create huge benefits to the residents economically, socially, and ensure sustainable growth. Our October 2020 engagement survey revealed the excitement of the community to have an arts incubator space developed in the region.

Communities that have embraced art incubators…are driving new business, spurring innovation, attracting talent and investment and, in the process, accelerating community development and improving the overall quality of life for their residents.” (Arts Incubator Feasibility Study, pg. 113)

In addition, Arts INC is in line with a number of goals and objectives as identified by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo:


The first milestone to purchase the future Arts INC property on Manning Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray has been accomplished. Now, formal design and planning will be done to repurpose the property into Arts INC as envisioned by our community.

Based on the Feasibility Study, the current cost estimate for this project is $14.7M to purchase and repurpose the property and get it into operation.  

Learn More About This ProjectFAQs

Q – 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 in Nova Scotia.

Q – Where will Arts INC be located?

– The future Arts INC property is located in downtown Fort McMurray on Manning Avenue. The goal is to remodel the building into an arts incubator space that can support arts, culture, business, and the community at large.

Q – Why did you choose that location?

– The former cinema building is no longer in use and has now been purchased by ACWB. The property presents many options and opportunities that are closely linked to the arts incubator concept, including a 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 public engagement by the Municipality has shown that this area is ideal for arts and cultural space as well as economic development. Arts INC will be a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

Q – What is a feasibility study?

A – A feasibility study will help determine if and how the former 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? 

A – 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. Arts Council 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.

Q – Where do you plan to get money to pay for Arts INC?

A – Part of the feasibility study is determining the cost of this project. From there, Arts Council developed a Fund Development Plan.

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 to fund Arts INC?

A – Arts Council is honoured to have the support of our municipal government for this project. On June 29, 2022, Mayor and Council unanimously voted to grant $5 million to fund Arts INC.

Arts Council is always open to discuss opportunities and synergies with individuals and organizations that could benefit everyone in the region.

Q – I live in a rural community. How will Arts INC benefit me?

A – Arts INC is located in Fort McMurray, but we welcome participation from all communities and groups from across the region.

Once established, Arts INC will use a “spoke and hub model” to provide services to rural and Indigenous communities.  The Artist in Residence program, for example, could be inclusive of the rural areas – artists would spend time mentoring residents in rural communities, but the artists would create their work at Arts INC in Fort McMurray.

Q – How can I help make this project a reality?

A – Anyone wishing to donate to this project 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 Arts INC.

Q – How much will Arts INC cost to build?

A – Based on the Feasibility Study, the current cost estimate for this project is $14.7M to purchase and repurpose the property and get it into operations.

Q – How much does the property cost?

A – A fair market assessment determined the value of the property and was completed by an independent third-party assessor.

Q – How much will Arts INC cost to operate?

A – It is difficult to know what the operation costs will be before a detailed design of Arts INC has been finalized. We are working with Project Management professionals and consultants to better understand costs in greater detail.

Arts Council has also created a 7-Year projected operating plan and budget to ensure success of the project.

Q – Will Arts INC earn revenue?

A – Yes. One of Arts Council’s financial goals for this project is that Arts INC be self-sustaining within 4-5 years of opening its doors to the community. This means that Arts INC would eventually operate based on revenues earned from serving the community, as well as from sponsorships and donors.

Q – What will happen with the profits/revenue earned by Arts INC?

A – Arts INC is 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.)

November 19, 2020

Arts INC – The Campus for Creativity

Experience a world bursting with creativity. Step into a space where every corner oozes inspiration, every wall tells a captivating story, and every room transforms into an artistic canvas. Arts Council Wood Buffalo is embarking on an exhilarating journey to establish a haven for the arts, a cultural powerhouse that energizes both the imagination and the local economy.


Arts Council Wood Buffalo is grateful for the continued support we have received as we move forward in creating Arts INC, a purposeful community space where art and creativity have infinite possibilities.  Arts INC will feed creativity while fostering economic and cultural growth, right in the heart of downtown Fort McMurray. 


Exterior rendering of Arts INC

Interior rendering of Arts INC

Arts INC Floor Plan



Arts INC Milestones

  • In December 2022, Arts Council Wood Buffalo was thrilled to take possession of the former Landmark Cinema property, marking a major milestone in the Arts INC project.
  • On June 29, 2022, RMWB Mayor and Council unanimously voted to grant $5 million to fund Arts INC. We are honoured and grateful to have the support of our municipal government for this project. Read more here.
From L to R: Dawn Booth, Board Director; Luay Eljamal, Programs Manager; Liana Wheeldon, Executive Director; Sharon Heading, Partnerships Manager


Project Background 


Arts INC is the culmination of many years of research, engagement, and study. Click here to learn more about the project background.  



Sponsor Arts INC


Join us on this journey and become a part of Wood Buffalo’s enduring arts legacy. We need forward thinking sponsors and investors, who realize the transformative power of the arts on lives and communities. We’re offering the one-of-a-kind opportunity to etch your legacy into the heart of Wood Buffalo through our building naming rights sponsorship campaign. 

November 30, 2020

Five Reasons Why Art is Crucial to Rural Communities

By Hunter Pratt, ACWB 2021 Summer Communications Intern

Gregoire Lake – Photo supplied by Nicholas Vardy Photography

Growing up in the rural community of Anzac, I have learned the importance of having art around. Anzac, as small as it is, makes up for its size with the people that live here. My community has had many art-related events in the past, which prove time and time again how art brings us together. However, I believe that these events should not just be for special occasions. I believe rural communities should have year-round access to the arts. Local artists in the area should not have to wait months for the next dance class or market just to express themselves. Living in a rural community should not be cause for limited creativity. If anything, living in a small community should enhance creativity.

Here are five reasons why art is crucial to rural communities:

  1. Art creates bonds.  Depending on situations, elders and seniors in rural communities often live alone. Having an outlet for community members, like a painting class, can improve one’s mental health. Art allows people to meet others where they can bond over shared interests. Not to mention certain arts like beading and cooking can create bonds between old and young, which is crucial to rural communities for passing down traditions.
  1. Art tells the stories of our rich history. Rural communities often have the most interesting stories as to how they came to be. Having artists in our communities can allow them to learn the history and create art that encapsulates it. It is important to keep the history known, and art plays a crucial role in how younger generations can learn from it.
Anzac – Photo supplied by Hunter Pratt

3. Art captures the beauty of our surroundings that only locals see.  Small communities do not get enough praise for keeping natural habitats preserved. Not only are wetlands and lakes key for species’ survival, they are natural art pieces that are often overlooked. These natural art pieces are often in rural areas. I encourage anyone that lives near to these, to use their creativity and make art of them. For art is the only way to truly capture the beauty of nature.

Gregoire Lake – Photo supplied by Nicholas Vardy Photography

4. You never know where you’ll find your passion. Having access to the arts in local areas can allow people to find their passion. People in rural areas are often overlooked for opportunities due to their isolated location. By giving people in rural communities a chance to try different arts, new passions will surely be discovered. This is crucial for boosting community morale and creating improvement.

5. Mental health.  Mental health is important, especially when you live in a rural area. It is important to take care of yourself, and art is a perfect way to do so. Art is more than just enjoyable. Art can act as a stress reliever. Art conveys emotions for you when you feel unheard and need to express yourself. Having opportunities to practice art forms should not be neglected in rural communities. Having more accessibility to art can make a community thrive and improve mental health and quality of life.

What can we do?  In order to implement the significance of these principles, we must take action. I strongly urge everyone to create from the resources available. Community members, natural habitats, and history are all great resources to be put to use. Find your inner artist and create from your community. As stated previously, living in a rural community should not be cause for limited creativity, it should enhance it. In closing, art is crucial to all rural communities for growth, culture, improvement and many more reasons. We have the space to create, now we must do so!

Learn more about the arts in Wood Buffalo and opportunities for local artists (including our rural communities) at, or follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on social media @artscouncilwb.

August 3, 2021

Applications Now Open for Fall Residency: Suncor Indigenous Artist

Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) is now accepting applications for the Suncor Indigenous Artist Program until June 30, 2021 at 12PM.

The Suncor Indigenous Artist Program supports one Indigenous artist within ACWB’s Artist in Residency program. This iteration of the program will run for three to four weeks between September and December, 2021.

ACWB is encouraging Indigenous artists from across Wood Buffalo and Canada to apply for this opportunity.

“We would like to thank Suncor for their generous support of the Suncor Indigenous Artist Program,” said Executive Director, Liana Wheeldon. “We are proud to be part of a collaborative project that supports the preservation and expression of Indigenous art and culture in our region.”

Much like the Artist in Residency program, the Suncor Indigenous Artist Program follows the traditional residency model and is based on the idea of making art and engaging with the community through art. Applicants’ artforms could range from Dance, Literary Arts, Media, Music, Performance or Visual Arts. ACWB also welcomes applications from artists who feel that they belong to other artforms. The selected artist may choose to focus on traditional or non-traditional Indigenous art forms.

“We are excited to welcome the incoming artist to our region and support them with the development of their original work while they mentor local artists at the same time,” said Programs Manager, Luay Eljamal. “This is an excellent opportunity to expose our community to Indigenous cultures both within and beyond the boundaries of Treaty 8 Territory.”

The selected artist will spend time creating work inspired by the environment, culture and people of Wood Buffalo. The selected artist will have an artistic career based on using traditional knowledge, skills and materials to create new works of art.

Arts Council will act as host to the selected artist for their time in the Wood Buffalo region. This typically includes arranging long-term accommodations, providing creative/studio space (in partnership with other organizations), administrative support, consultative services, and covering costs for the aforementioned items, as well as a per diem, and any materials and supplies that the artist may need for the duration of their residency.

Health and safety best practices to reduce the risks of COVID-19 will also be followed based on recommendations from the Government of Alberta.

Visit the ACWB’s Artist in Residency webpage for details, timelines, submission criteria, FAQ’s and the Artist in Residency Handbook. For more information or submit a proposal, please contact Nick Vardy at or (780) 742-5887.

May 7, 2021

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

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 For drum lessons, contact Andrew at

Nominations and self-nominations are now open for artists or groups for the 2021 Buffys. Learn more about the arts awards at

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

Art in the Time of COVID-19: 2020 in Review with ACWB

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).

Art of Conversation

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.

Artwork produced includes crafts, paintings, poems and songs. But the most beautiful result has been the new friendships and experiences created through over 36 pairing — 31 artists and 34 attendees (seniors and Elders) — for a total of 65 participants.

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.

Artist in Residency & Mentorship Program (AiR)

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. 

Around the Campfire: Music, Stories & Songs

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 in the Rural Communities

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 – Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards

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.

Getting to Sold & Marketplace

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.

Arts Incubator

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.

Membership Extensions and Giving Tuesday

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.

Giving Tuesday is a global movement, and on December 1, ACWB is inviting Wood Buffalo residents, businesses, and organizations to participate in Giving Tuesday on a local scale by becoming an Arts Champion

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.

Now you might be wondering what’s in store for the arts community in 2021. Canadian cultural icon William Shatner has a simple philosophy: “The good life is one that’s artistically made.

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 or follow Arts Council on social media to stay connected with the arts community: @artscouncilwb.

November 27, 2020

Arts Council Wood Buffalo launches online Marketplace

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 or at (587) 674 – 1625 ext. 104.

Marketplace product categories include: 

  • Canvas / Paper
  • Craft
  • Decorative
  • Fashion
  • Functional
  • Indigenous
  • Literary
  • Textile

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. 

Visit Arts Council’s website to learn more about Marketplace and how to participate, or become an ACWB member today. 

This project has been funded by the Canadian Red Cross as part of the Arts Recovery Project.

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.

October 2020’s Centre Stage with Rob Hickey

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.”

See Hickey’s geared-up graphics and characters embedded throughout the 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards on October 17. You can also keep up to date with their projects and artistic endeavours at or

Visit 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).

September 28, 2020

2020 Arts Awards: Get your Gear Bag & collectible Buffy Stuffy

Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) is inviting artists, supporters and residents to order their Buffy Stuffy and Steampunk Gear Bag.  Visit Eventbrite to buy Steampunk Gear in preparation for the 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards on October 17. 

“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.

Buy Steampunk Gear Bags through Eventbrite, and visit to learn more about this year’s 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards, check out the nominees, shortlisted artists, and event sponsors. 

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.

September 4, 2020

May 2020’s Centre Stage with Ashley Freimark

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

May 1, 2020

April 2020’s Centre Stage with James Ritchie

“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

April 1, 2020