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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 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

Nominations Now Open for Buffys 2021

Nominations, self-applications and sponsorship opportunities are now open for Buffys 2021 (a.k.a., Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards).

Arts Council Wood Buffalo is inviting residents from across the region to self-apply or nominate artists or groups for a Buffy in one or more category covering all artistic disciplines. Residents and community organizations are also invited to celebrate the benefits of local art through a number of sponsorship opportunities.

“Buffys 2021 will be our 6th annual arts awards showcase, which is designed to recognize and celebrate artistic excellence in our region,” says Programs Manager, Luay Eljamal. “Every day, our artists positively impact the people who live in Wood Buffalo from every demographic, and the Buffys showcase is a great way for us to highlight how the arts can benefit individuals, as well as society as a whole.”

The nomination process will lead to an awards showcase event scheduled for October 16, 2021, which will premiere online as a free cinematic experience. Each award recipient will be presented with a $250 cheque, a certificate, and an award (i.e., Buffy) that has been handcrafted by a local artist. Short-listed nominees will also be recognized and included in the showcase.

Twelve art award categories are available for public nomination, including Arts Administration, Arts Education, Craft, Creative Collaboration, Dance, Indigenous Arts, Literary Arts, Media Arts, Ken Flaherty Music Award, Rising Star, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts.

The deadline for nominations is July 15 at noon, and self-applications close on July 30 at noon. Good news for those who applied in 2020: the online portal will allow applications to copy their application and simply update accordingly.

The recognition given to each nominee and award recipient helps to raise their profile as professionals, add to their portfolios, and allow opportunities to thrive in our region and beyond.

A number of artist calls are currently active to help in the creation of Buffys 2021. Local artists are encouraged to apply for a number of paid opportunities available HERE.

“We couldn’t hold a Buffys showcase without the support of local community organizations, leaders and stakeholders,” says ACWB Executive Director, Liana Wheeldon. “You are a fundamental part of our arts community. We’re grateful for your ongoing support of the Arts Awards and for believing in the benefits of the arts for communities and the local economy.”

In 2020, the Buffys provided 80 paid work opportunities for artists, and picked up almost 14,000 views for the event premiere. A variety of sponsorship levels are available to allow organizations of all types and sizes to participate. 

For more information, or to secure your sponsor opportunity, contact Liana Wheeldon, Executive Director: or 587-674-1625 x. 100.

Arts Council Wood Buffalo is committed to equity and inclusion, and encourages applications and nominations from culturally diverse, deaf, disability and official language minority artists, groups and organizations. Arts Council recognizes and affirms the treaty rights of the Indigenous peoples of this land, and encourages applications and nominations from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals, groups, and organizations.

To learn more about the award categories, dates and deadlines, and to nominate or self-apply, visit

February 16, 2021

Announcing artist calls for Buffys 2021 and Annual Report

Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) has announced numerous artist calls aiming to hire local talent to support the creation of Buffys 2021 and ACWB’s 2020 Annual Report

“Creation of the Buffys is a collaborative, community project,” said Programs Manager, Luay Eljamal. “Through the artist call process, we invite artists to apply for paid positions to create various aspects of the arts awards. Not only does the final product result in a celebration of our local arts community, these calls are an opportunity for artists to develop their practice and build their professional portfolio.”

Current artist calls include a Graphic Designer, Set Designer, Screenwriter, Arts Awards Creator, and multiple Videographers to support the creation of Buffys 2021. In addition, ACWB is looking to hire a Graphic Artist to submit the cover art for ACWB’s Annual Report. All opportunities include artist fees for service. More artist calls related to Buffys 2021 will be announced in the coming months.

“The Buffys is one of our biggest events, and we love working with local artists to bring it to life,” said Liana Wheeldon, Executive Director. “In 2020, the Buffys provided 80 paid work opportunities for artists, and picked up almost 14,000 views for the event premiere. Each Buffys event is a unique opportunity for artists to showcase their work in collaboration with several talented individuals. We encourage all local artists to apply for whichever artist calls best suits their talents.”

Current artist calls for Buffys 2021 are on ACWB’s website at Artists are also encouraged to watch for upcoming calls for performers and emcees for the awards showcase.

Buffys 2021 is scheduled for Saturday, October 16, and will be broadcast free online as a cinematic experience.

Midnight Steampunk, the theme for Buffys 2020, served as the springboard of a raucous storyline written by Elizabeth Wells and Zachary Barrett, who hosted the show. Rob Hickey, who designed characters based on Wells and Barrett, along with Wendell the Raven, did graphic design.

The Buffy Awards themselves were handcrafted works of resin art created by local artist, Ambreen Ehtisham. Set and properties were designed by Ekaterina Petukhova.

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.

The Buffys is the local version of the Oscars and is an annual program held each October to recognize and celebrate excellence in various areas of the arts. This awards showcase is an investment in the future of the growing local arts community by supporting the region’s most exceptional artists through appreciation and employment opportunities, and connecting artists to the wider community.

For the full list of award categories, sponsors and support opportunities, and for more information about Arts Council and the Buffys, visit

Cover art for Arts Council’s 2019 Annual Report was created by local artist, Liam Mojique Legault, and can be downloaded from ACWB’s website.  Cover art submissions for ACWB ‘s 2020 Annual Report closes on Monday, March 1, 2021 at 4:30 p.m.

ACWB‘s website also lists ongoing artist calls for local, provincial and national Opportunities & Calls, which is updated regularly and includes job opportunities, grants, contests, RFPs, and RFQs.

Local groups and organizations can also share arts opportunities through ACWB’s website by contacting

February 9, 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 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:

Visit 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

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.

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:

Visit 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 for arts information, resources and opportunities.

October 23, 2020

2020 Buffy Awards: Successful Steampunk Celebration of the Arts in Wood Buffalo

Arts Council Wood Buffalo would like to congratulate all  Buffy Award recipients and nominees, and send out a heartfelt thank you to the sponsors, performers,  volunteers, and Arts Champions that made the 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards a raving  success. 

“We are so grateful to all event sponsors: In-Kind Midnight Event Sponsor, Fort McMurray International Airport; Presenting Sponsors, Suncor, and the Friends of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts; Media Sponsors, Country 93.3, and 100.5 Cruz FM and Mix 103.7; and Supporting Sponsor, Staples. Thank you for believing in the Arts Awards and for continuing to support the community through this recognition event,” said Executive Director, Liana Wheeldon.  

The Excellence in Arts Awards (also known as The Buffys) premiered for free on October 17 as an online  cinematic experience. The full broadcast is still available on Facebook and YouTube.  

Buffys watch parties were held all across the region in place of a live event this year. In Fort Chipewyan,  Donna Aubichon, ACWB Rural Art Support Liaison, hosted a watch party for Elders in the community,  observing health and safety protocols. 

“The Wood Buffalo region has an incredible amount of talent in all shapes and sizes,”said Luay Eljamal, Programs Manager. “Thank you to everyone who nominated an artist or group for an award and to  those who took the time to submit their nomination materials. We also want to thank all the artists and  performers who responded to artist calls for this event, and the volunteers who helped while we  recorded the show. The Buffys serve as a good opportunity for everyone to reflect on their artistic  practice, and be recognized for their contributions to our region.” 

Presented by Arts Council Wood Buffalo, the theme for the awards showcase was Midnight Steampunk  and celebrated local artists and arts organizations. This year, the arts community recognized 85  nominees through 14 virtual award presentations, including the Lifetime Achievement Award that went  to Tantoo Cardinal, and the Arts Champion Award that went to Florence Weber of Points North Gallery. 

The Buffy Awards themselves were handcrafted works of resin art created by local artist, Ambreen Ehtisham. Each award mimicked the beauty of geode rocks in different color combinations suitable for  each specific award category.

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. 

Midnight-Steampunk-themed Gear Bags and Buffy Stuffys are still available through Eventbrite. 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. Canvas Gear Bags are loaded with a candy sack (in the style of the annual candy  bar), acrylic drink coaster, ACWB face mask, Buffys pin, event program, and sticker.  

Participate by buying this unique memorabilia. All proceeds will go towards supporting future Buffy Award showcase events and celebrations. Opportunities to support the 2021 Buffy Awards through sponsorships or donations are open now.  

Check out and continue to share Buffy experiences on social media using hashtags #buffys2020 and  #ymmartstogether. For the full list of award recipients and nominees, sponsors and support opportunities, and for more  information about Arts Council and the Buffys, visit

October 19, 2020

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

Month of the Artist

Did you know September is Month of the Artist in Alberta?

Did you also know that Alberta is the first and remains the only province in Canada to dedicate a month to artists?

Month of the Artist is an annual celebration of artists and the value they bring to the province, both socially and economically.

Now let’s take a few minutes to do what artists do best: use our imagination!

Can you imagine space in Wood Buffalo that is a dedicated centre for artists to gather and work on their craft? What if that same space was also a venue for performances of all disciplines? How about a workshop space for artistic and professional development, a place to showcase the creations made by local talent, and for the community to gather and celebrate creative energy?

Are you still with me? 

Now let’s imagine that same place could also be used to host events, festivals, markets, and offer opportunities for the community to engage in the arts together.

Can you envision that?

What we have just imagined is an arts incubator. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our community had an arts incubator that could support the arts in the ways we’ve just imagined?

Arts Council Wood Buffalo is currently working on realizing this for our region. We are in the early stages, and you can participate in this process and help shape this idea into a reality. 

You can help by exercising your imagination and sharing your thoughts in ACWB’s Arts Incubator survey.  Open until October 6th, 2020, you can take the Arts Incubator survey and share it with your friends, family, colleagues, and social media followers. Your feedback will help identify what is needed in this arts incubator and who will use it. This information can then be used as we study the former Landmark Cinemas theatre on Manning Avenue to see if that space could be re-purposed into an arts incubator for the community.

Your feedback will help show potential funders, community leaders and decision makers that we need an arts incubator in the community. Your feedback will help Arts Council Wood Buffalo when we apply for grants, funding opportunities, sponsorships and other support needed to realize this arts incubator we have just imagined.

Let’s celebrate Month of the Artist by showing Alberta and Canada that it’s a year-round event in Wood Buffalo.

Fill out the survey here by October 6.  Learn more about our plans for the arts incubator here