By Chris Drost
The Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands is looking forward to the future after facing two very difficult years with the pandemic, which has changed everything.
“In 2020 we questioned, what do we do now? Then, in 2021 we worked on how to make things work in the new normal. This year we are looking to brighter days ahead,” outgoing chair of the Arts Council Kate Butler said.
At this point, Butler said, the Arts Council is looking at ways to support members and to find different approaches for reaching out to them.
“There are lots of local artists and artisans who are looking for new ways to offer what they do,” she explains. One way was through the launch of the Digital Comfort Studio.
“In 2021, we launched a program for our members called the Digital Comfort Studio which was hosted with the assistance of the HCDC,” Arts Council director Chris Lynd said, referring to the Haliburton County Development Corporation.
“Additional funding was also obtained through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, which made it possible for the Arts Council to hire co-ordinators, artists and other professionals to present their expertise, advice and feedback to Arts Council members and the arts community through an eight-week program,” Arts Council director Pat Jones said.
“It had become apparent at the beginning of the pandemic that in-person sales were going to be affected negatively and that even without the effect of the pandemic, online sales were becoming the way of the future. Many artists needed assistance with this move, so we hosted a series of online workshops led by experienced artists who had expertise in building an online presence. The topics included creating a successful profile on social media, understanding the ins and outs of e-commerce, the important elements on a website and relationships with consumers.”
Kathy Purc, a literary artist who has lived in the Haliburton Highlands for 30 years, thought the Arts Council might be more for visual artists, than a writer like herself. Since launching her memoirs in the fall of 2020 in a book called, Stonehouse stories : The Memoir of a Free-Range Kid, she had to re-think how to promote her work.
“All those thoughts of an in-person book launch and going on the road were cancelled.” Prior to getting involved with the Digital Comfort Studio workshops she had little online experience. “I dove right into it and found it was a place I belonged. There were lots of visual artists but we are all storytellers,” Purc said. She completed the entire session and learned a lot from a variety of facilitators and other artists. She describes it as a very intensive program where she learned about everything from branding, logos, use of colour, and the different social media platforms.
“There was lots of homework, but it was perfect for the time, and I love learning. It helped me make connections and gave me confidence. I am looking forward to learning more about podcasting this spring.”
Following the Digital Comfort Studio program, the Digital Comfort Café was designed as an extension. A series of four individual workshops were offered covering Instagram, using IG analytics, platform, social media and more.
If that were not enough, the Arts Council also became a member of the online shopping platform called ShopCloseBuy, a growing e-commerce site created by Technicalities Plus of Haliburton.
“Through the Arts Council ShopCloseBuy account we promote the work of our members who sign on with us for this free service. Members can display their products and events, and direct buyers to their own website for sales,” Lynd explains.
The AC Literary Arts Committee, Haliburton Reads and Writes, has focused on virtual events and has initiated a program called “6-Minute Escape,” which can be viewed any time on the Arts Council YouTube channel. These compilations of short videos are entertaining and inspiring. The most recent one was produced in partnership with the Halls Island Artist Residency, featuring the artists from the 2021 summer residency.
The Arts Council, in partnership with Canoe FM, continues to offer the weekly radio program The Story Circle in which local writers read short stories or poetry.
The Arts Council is currently working on three projects for 2022, which will provide work opportunities, sales and promotion to our members, and will engage with the community at large.
“These plans will be adapted depending on the state of the pandemic over the next few months, but we continue to move forward with optimism,” Lynd said.
The first is a Community Workshop Project which will bring a number of workshops to community members of all ages, delivered by Arts Council artists and artisans. This project is expected this spring when artists can can meet face-to-face and learn some new techniques and enjoy the company of others.
Next is a County Arts Trail through the summer and autumn, which will place the art and crafts of Arts Council members in selected locations across Haliburton County. A map will lead visitors to view the work in interesting venues and provide contact information for each artist.
And last, the Haliburton Reads and Writes committee is planning an event which is tentatively being called “Bookapaloosa” in the fall, which will include a trade show for all things literary, workshops, book readings and presentations by known authors. There will be something for readers and writers of all ages.
“We have done a lot to pivot, to pivot, to pivot. We keep learning as we go and anticipate that 2022 will bring better things ahead and are actually feeling optimistic,” Butler said. She adds that they have a fantastic board that works well together and members are always willing to take on projects.
The Arts Council recently held its annual general meeting where Scott Walling was elected as the new chair. The transition has already begun for this change in leadership. Further information on the Arts Council and its programs is available at www.haliburtonarts.on.ca.