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Council passes Wood Buffalo Culture Plan

On Tuesday, May 14, Council unanimously passed the Wood Buffalo Culture Plan, which is designed to promote arts and heritage initiatives in Wood Buffalo during the next ten years. ACWB Executive Director Liana Wheeldon has been a part of the WB Culture Plan committee, and says:


“ACWB supports the proposed plan’s stated vision, that ‘Wood Buffalo is a culturally diverse and socially inclusive municipality in which arts and heritage are vital to its social, economic, and environmental well-being.’


We look forward to moving ahead in partnership with key organizations such as Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray Heritage Society, McMurray Métis, and other important community cultural organizations as the RMWB Administration works with the established community-based advisory committee to transition from development to implementation and evaluation of the Culture Plan.”


The plan has five priorities, including promoting the region’s cultural environment, developing cultural facilities and resources, supporting collaboration and innovation, encouraging inclusivity and accessibility, and improving cultural awareness.


Other proposals include a public art plan, supporting rural cultural programming and increasing support for cultural facilities.


“What we want to do is embrace that diversity and ensure that all regions of this municipality are well represented and their definition of culture is showcased,” said Dave Boutilier, Chair of the Arts Council Wood Buffalo. “This plan is the vehicle that will drive that.”


Read the full article in Fort McMurray Today HERE.

May 14, 2019

May 2019’s Centre Stage with Nerdvana: The Web Series & Erin Schwab

Written by Hanna Fridhed, Engagement Coordinator


This month, for the very first time, Fort McMurray will host Tri-Level Meetings. These quarterly meetings, typically held in Edmonton or Calgary, bring together different levels of government related to arts funding- municipal, provincial and federal. May 8 through 10, ACWB is proud to welcome the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Edmonton Arts Council and Calgary Arts Development to Fort McMurray as part of these meetings. The visitors will have the opportunity to see: ‘Suddenly Mommy’ which is a one-woman show at Keyano’s Recital Theatre, view We Heal: An Exhibition in the Keyano gallery and meet with local artists, heritage, and arts organizations from around our region. Also, Canada Council will host one-on-one sessions with artists from any discipline to discuss the organization’s grant opportunities and best practices to utilize while applying for grants. These sessions are a continuation from the information session and artist one-on-ones Canada Council held last month. This is a great opportunity for local artists to learn more about obtaining funding, provincial level grants and how they can help further their artistic development and bring visions to life.
The evening of May 8, residents will have an opportunity for informal discussions with representatives from the different areas during the Meet and Greet Event held from 5:30pm-8:30pm in the Keyano Rehearsal Hall, hosted in partnership between ACWB and Keyano Theatre & Arts Centre.


Learning opportunities such as these are valuable to artists to further their practice. Even if an artist feels they are not ready to apply for a grant, having made connections to different organizations and hearing first-hand some ‘tips and tricks’ for successful application is a great to have when the time comes.


Erin Schwab, a visual and woodwork artist in Fort McMurray, received funding for her professional art practice from Alberta Foundation for the Arts grants and local municipal grants that helped cover the cost of workshops for her students. “Without access to the funding the work would not happen or be substantially reduced in scope and access for participants,” says Erin. “Artists often bear the financial burden to start projects that can reach far into the community and have continuing impact for years, with only the hope of recovering costs, let alone making a profit. Grants allow the artist to make choices not burdened by personal affordability but what will have the greatest impact on their work and participants.”


Local artist group NERDVANA has also benefitted from receiving grants. NERDVANA: The Web Series, which was made possible through the Telus STORYHIVE program, has been nominated for the Miami Web Series Awards, and has prompted the group to begin writing Season 2. The group behind NERDVANA has applied for and received funding on several occasions, culminating in 2017 when they received $100,000 to create NERDVANA: The Web Series Season 1. “The funding was a tremendous help that allowed us to compensate all the artists involved in our projects. It literally saved us from dying from exposure as we were able to rent generators to keep us warm during the cold Fort McMurray shoots,” says director Tito Guillen.


Learning how to write grant proposals can be an arduous process: “It’s not fun. The process varies between funding bodies, but they often ask for many of the same things,” explains Schwab. “Budget, project proposals, statements about the work, resume, portfolio, and then the final reporting once the project is complete. The more you do it the easier it gets, and you begin to build relationships with the funding bodies which is important.”


If you are interested in learning more about Canada Council and their New and Aspiring Artist program, visit

May 2, 2019

April 2019’s Centre Stage with Sedef Uzer Prakash

Written by Hanna Fridhed, Engagement Coordinator


Sedef Uzer Prakash is a graphic designer hailing from Turkey, Istanbul. After moving to Vancouver, BC in 2001 as an ESL student, she came to Fort McMurray in 2012 with her husband. Sedef is the Art Exhibit Coordinator with Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo at the Kirschner Family Art Gallery at MacDonald Island Park. An artistic person with thirteen years’ experience as a professional graphic designer, Sedef has always been interested in the arts and design, and expresses it through multiple disciplines, including music.


“Creating is my method of release. I am able to release all my emotions, thoughts and feelings by creating art or craft projects,” says Sedef. “Especially living in a place like Fort McMurray (and by that, I mean living with temperatures below minus 20), I would recommend everyone to pick up a hobby in visual arts and add some more meaning to their life other than working and watching TV. I would like to encourage hidden artists in town to come out from their houses, attend gallery receptions, and socialize with artists and art lovers in town.”


On April 11, 2019, the 8th Annual Timeraiser auction event will be at the Kirschner Family Art Gallery. This is a program by FuseSocial in partnership with Arts Council Wood Buffalo and the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo.


“Timeraiser is a silent auction with a twist. Instead of bidding with art, participants bid with volunteer hours,” explains Sedef. “It’s always a well-attended event by the local arts community, volunteers and the social profit sector. Everyone interested in attending can get free tickets on Eventbrite.”


Last year’s event showcased 31 art pieces in the main gallery and 12 budding youth artist’s pieces, with almost 175 guests in attendance to bid their time. An event such as Timeraiser is beneficial for the local artists, the social profit sector, as well as the community: “The art is purchased from local artists for a fair market price and is showcased at the gallery for a month,” she says. “Through the bidding process over 3,000 volunteer hours are being generated that help the local social profit organizations, which provide programs and services to the populations that are in need of support. That’s a great impact and such an amazing initiative by FuseSocial!”


Visit the FuseSocial webpage to read more about Timeraiser and their other programs. The 2019 Timeraiser happens on Thursday, April 11, starting at 6:00 PM. To learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for updates and news.

April 2, 2019

March 2019’s Centre Stage with Jennifer Dahl

Written by Hanna Fridhed, Engagement Coordinator


Jennifer Dahl has played the piano since she was five years old. Having grown up in Fort
McMurray, she moved away for a few years for school and travel, but returned in 2004 with her
Grade 9 Piano Certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music. The Royal Conservatory
Certificate Program provides a recognized national standard and sequenced program for people
studying music, as well as supports independent teachers with innovative, high-quality
resources. Jennifer has also been trained in Kindermusik, and is a Music For Young Children
(MYC) teacher. She now teaches piano in Fort McMurray through her program Music with


“Babies sing, toddlers bounce along with the beat, preschoolers learn with action songs,
children memorize lyrics so quickly, and teenagers find meaning in the musicians of their
generation,” says Jennifer. “Music is integral to our daily life.”


An opportunity Jennifer offers her students is participation in the annual Oilsands Rotary Music
Festival. Entering into its 44 th year, this music festival aims to develop amateur musicians in
Wood Buffalo. It is a chance for musicians to hear each other play, to learn from experienced
professionals, and to learn the process of preparation, practice, and performance. “It brings
expert artists into the community,” explains Jennifer, “and it brings together music students from
across various disciplines (speech arts, band, etc.). The students get to meet others who share
the same interests. Art is a fun way to work on memory, logic, research, thinking in categories,
and fine and gross motor development.”


The Oilsands Rotary Music Festival, who works to develop and foster love and appreciation of
classical music and speech arts primarily, offers classes in guitar, piano, choral, speech, and
musical theatre. “It takes a lot of work, but I still involve my students because it offers
professional development for me as I hear the adjudicator’s comments, and see the other
wonderful selections performed by students who aren’t my own,” says Jennifer. “It takes many
hands to make the festival come together, but the volunteers and the board are very dedicated.
The awards are donated by local businesses and individuals who support the arts.”


As an arts educator, Jennifer has experienced the positive impact of music on children and
youth. She says “understanding music, and other arts, teaches us patterns, systems, how to set
goals and achieve them, continuous improvement, and ultimately how to connect with our
emotions. It connects us with each other. Art is expression of emotion. It connects us from
human to human. Children are naturally emotive and art is a creative outlet for emotional


If you want to get involved in the Oilsands Rotary Music Festival, or would like to make a
donation, visit

March 2, 2019

February 2019’s Centre Stage with Andre Wilcox

Written by Hanna Fridhed, Engagement Coordinator


Many of us recognize his voice from the radio or have seen him at events around town as the energetic
emcee – Andrew Wilcox is the Program Director for Mix 103.7 and 100.5 Cruz FM. Originally from a farm
outside Camrose, Andrew moved to Fort McMurray five years ago. The things that made him fall in love
with the Wood Buffalo region are the strength and diversity, and the welcoming nature of the people
here. In 2018, Andrew launched his new podcast Wander w/ Andrew Wilcox, where he interviews
people who explore unique ways of looking at particular things.


“It's a podcast for minds that like to wander,” says Andrew. “The topic can be almost anything, but the
hope is that it creates new perspectives from meaningful conversations. One thing I have always loved
about radio is its ability to have fun, human conversations between the songs, to say things that make
you think and reflect. The podcast format seems like a natural progression of that aspect.”


Topics covered on Wandering w/ Andrew Wilcox so far are open-mindedness, self-control, and living
with wildlife. In “How to look back to help moving forward”, an episode about Greek history, philosophy
and democracy, Andrew and Matthew Sears of the University of New Brunswick talked about how
taking a deeper, more well-rounded look at the past can help us approach the future.


The podcast ties into his love for radio, both being great mediums for promoting other artists: “My
artistic background is a healthy mix of trying and failing. I’m a huge fan of music and film and I love to be
a part of it any way I can, but it took me a long time to find where I fit in,” he says. “I have attempted
everything from theatre to roadie to stand-up comedy and found the best place for me was professional
fan. I like giving a platform or voice to people more talented than myself.”


His love and support for the local music scene, and our community, is evident: “The YMM Music scene is
a close-knit group of incredibly talented musicians who are working very hard to keep live music going in
Fort McMurray. We have many local pubs that are very supportive of having live music in their venue,
which is great. I would love to see more artists come here and experience our great community,” says
Andrew. “I think that Fort McMurray has an incredible arts community that too many people are missing
out on.”


There are many ways to be an artist. Sometimes, by being an arts enthusiast, you become an artist
yourself. “What I love about Fort McMurray is that it attracts hard working people who want to create,”
says Andrew. “If you are one of those people, and I believe we all are in our own way, do your thing,
make your art, and get out there.”


The podcast Wander w/ Andrew Wilcox is available through iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. Tune into
local radio to keep up with what’s going on in your community, for local information and support, and –
of course – music.

February 27, 2019

January 2019’s Centre Stage with ACWB

By Hanna Fridhed, Engagement Coordinator

Last year included major progression within both the arts community and Arts Council Wood Buffalo, and 2019 is
kicking off with a bang! The Government of Alberta named January the inaugural Month of the Artist, which
includes a province wide Artist in Residency program. We also see positive development of the arts within our
region: arts and culture is specifically named in the municipal strategic plan, and ACWB received Red Cross funding
to address the issues facing artists highlighted in our Post Fire Recovery in the Arts Strategic Plan. The most
prominent challenge presented in this plan is the lack of arts infrastructure – studios, makerspaces, exhibition
opportunities, materials and equipment. Another challenge is the lack of affordable commercial space. Artists are
entrepreneurs and small business owners who share concerns over empty space kept out of reach by exorbitant
rental rates. Municipal council has committed to addressing these issues in their strategic plan, as well as in
developing a Culture Master Plan and a Downtown Revitalization Plan. Major institutions in the community, such
as Keyano College, are looking at how to address these needs as well. The introduction of the Arts District as an
ACWB arts tour led to widespread enthusiasm for an artistic and cultural specific area downtown. With the
feedback received, we hope the momentum will continue leading to an established arts district in Fort McMurray!

There is a lot of exciting things happening within ACWB this year. For example, we are expanding our learning
series with the launch of a new program focused on the creative development of artists. The program's goals are
developing artistic practice and creative work, as well as networking and connecting artists with each other and
their peers in the wider Canadian artistic community. 2019 also marks the fourth annual Wood Buffalo Excellence
in Arts Awards, which celebrates the achievements and work of the region's artists, arts administrators, arts
educators, and arts champions. We are developing a new initiative in partnership with St. Aidan’s Society that will
bring art and seniors together, and we are reaching into the rural communities to identify and engage artists. This
year will see a revamp of our website and membership program to make it easier for artists, media,
key stakeholders and general community to know and understand who ACWB is and what we do. We are also
working on more online tools for artists and community groups to grow their capacity in the arts.

ACWB is proud to celebrate the Month of the Artist by highlighting our diverse arts community, featuring artists of
all experience levels and disciplines. “Artist” covers all artistic disciplines including visual arts, dance, music,
performing arts, fine craft, literary arts, performance, photography, and alternative or new forms including
multidisciplinary arts, multimedia and circus arts. An artist is a maker and a storyteller, a connector even at their
most introverted. Artists remind us to take a moment and see the beauty of our existence, even with all our flaws.
It’s about building future generations on a history of celebrating the arts and making it not just a luxury but a part
of everyday life.

Here’s to a brilliantly creative 2019!

January 2, 2019