Jacqueline Soczka is the Manager of Culture for the City of Orillia (Ont)., Parks, Recreation and Culture Department. Culture Days spoke to Jacqueline about how cultural hubs (including alleyways) were created in different parts of the city to encourage participation in Orillia Culture Days.
My advice to other Community Organizers is to embrace challenges as an opportunity to enhance your event. In hindsight, I believe the changes we made were the key to our success.
CD: What inspired you to first get involved in Culture Days?
JS: Before joining the City of Orillia as the Manager of Culture, I had been involved with Culture Days in Clearview Township. As a small municipality, it was an excellent opportunity to be part of something bigger that had the power to help elevate our local arts and cultural community. As a Culture Days participant, suddenly, on a very small budget, local artists were given national exposure through the provincial and national marketing campaigns. Therefore, when I came to Orillia, it was an easy decision to get involved to grow our own Culture Days initiative.
CD: What shape did Culture Days take in Orillia, Ontario?
JS: Orillia is home to a number of cultural centres within its historic downtown, including the Peter Street Arts District, the library, Opera House and Museum of Art and History. To avoid competition and enhance flow between activities, our local organizing committee looked at creating two principle hubs that were activated at different times throughout the day. In the morning, the Farmers’ Market hub featured a rotating Conduct Us stage where two local bands and two choirs took turns taking direction from the crowd. The activity was coordinated by the Orillia Performing Arts Forum, a group of local performing arts organizations that works to coordinate scheduling and marketing opportunities. In the afternoon, activities shifted to the second hub in the Peter Street Arts District. Initially, we planned for a road closure. However, due to uncertainty regarding the weather and turnout, we decided to move the activities into the street’s alleyways. The move created a great dynamic for both artists and visitors, with art, dance and music echoing through the alleyway into the street. Logistically, the alleys were easy to fill, and small tents provided shelter from the weather, ensuring there was no disruption in activities. This year, with several dozen alleyways across the City, the committee hopes to increase the number of Orillia’s Culture Days activities.
CD: How did you attract and mobilize participants?
JS: We offered several incentives to attract participants to our event, depending on the nature of the participant. For businesses in particular, our marketing materials focused on the opportunity to receive free publicity at the local, provincial and national level. For activity leaders, we offered them free advertising in our City’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Guide, which is delivered to over 6,000 homes in Orillia and provides an extensive listing of recreation programs in the City. We also offered early bird registrants the chance to be featured in our high-definition promotional video, one of the focal points of our marketing campaign. However, the incentive that resulted in the greatest flurry of registration was the chance to qualify for an honorarium to help cover the cost of supplies that enhanced the participant experience.
CD: What were the greatest challenges you faced as a Community Organizer? What advice would you give to other Community Organizers?
JS: In organizing this type of event, I am not sure if there is one specific challenge that stands out. There are many items that need to be considered, including weather, infrastructure needs, marketing to artists and the public, etc. Sometimes, it takes time for a vision to develop that suits the needs of the community. For instance, the idea of the alleyways only came up in early August at a planning meeting for another arts festival. At that meeting, it became clear that Orillia did not need another road closure. To set itself apart, Culture Days would therefore have to define itself differently -- hence, the activation of the alleyways. My advice to other Community Organizers is to embrace these types of challenges as an opportunity to enhance your event. In hindsight, I believe the changes we made were the key to our success.
CD: In what ways would you consider Culture Days a success in Orillia?
JS: Orillia has a rich and robust cultural community. Music, visual art, performing art, digital media, storytelling and a wide variety of other genres of art abound. Throughout the year, two or three of these genres often come together during one of our many street festivals. However, what I find unique and appealing about Culture Days is that it brings together a medley of artists and artisans, without exclusion, to create, celebrate and share with each other and with members of their community. In saying this, I was thrilled to see artists taking in activities alongside the public. Often immersed in their own projects, Culture Days provides artists themselves an opportunity to explore other genres of art. For me, this was an exciting part of the Culture Days experience. I also loved how it empowered even our youngest participants to stand up on a podium and conduct a band or pick up a paint brush and add to a famous Carmichael painting. Visit TheCityofOrilliaYou Tube channel to watch our new highlight reel.
CD: What was the key to creating a successful Culture Days in Orillia?
JS: The success of our event is attributed to the hard work and dedication of the many men and women behind our City’s creative economy. Through my position, I have had the pleasure of working with local arts and cultural organizations on a number of different projects, including artsVest and Doors Open. Drawing on these connections, we were able to find the necessary resources and partners to carry out our Culture Days activities. From risers and chairs to tents and promotional support, our local Culture Days activities are a labour of love for the entire cultural community.
I loved how Culture Days empowered even our youngest participants to stand up on a podium and conduct a band or pick up a paint brush and add to a famous Carmichael painting.
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