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COLUMN: OMAH makes history with popular speaker series

OMAH adapted to COVID and managed to take its series focusing on local history to an even higher level, says arts and entertainment columnist

This week, I chatted with Orillia Museum of Art and History’s (OMAH’s) executive director, Ninette Gyorody, about OMAH’s long-running history speaker series and how it changed during the pandemic.

OrilliaMatters: Tell me about your history committee, and the history speaker series, pre-COVID.

Ninette Gyorody: The museum’s vision and mission reference its strong mandate to promote and celebrate local history and offer programming that engages our stakeholders. The history committee has a central role to play in delivering on that mandate, working with our staff team.

Members of the committee contribute their knowledge and expertise in organizing programs and other social events of historic interest; help ensure that historical information created and presented as part of historical programming is retained in the museum’s records for public access; help develop advertising, articles and social media content; liaise with the Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards committee and suggest or nominate people or groups for award recognition, along with many other important contributions to OMAH's operations.

The history committee has expertly organized the annual speaker series for over 15 years. The committee has always been made up of dedicated volunteers with a keen interest in educating our community about local history. Just prior to the disruption of the series because of the pandemic restrictions, the speaker evenings held at OMAH were always sold out.

OM: Tell me about the history speaker series during the pandemic. How they adapted, challenges and rewards.

NG: COVID-19 happened, and the speaker series was put on hold. The focus turned to generating history-based content for regular social media posts and generating content for the eblast that is sent out every two weeks. To generate further history-based content, some of our speakers agreed to have their full presentations filmed and hosted on OMAH's YouTube channel.

Eventually, the committee reconvened and agreed to host the speaker series virtually, after the success of the 2020 Carmichael Art History lecture featuring Jim and Sue Waddington. The committee recognized that the potential audience was becoming more comfortable with Zoom. Also, the feedback in surveys sent out after the art history lecture showed that the audience was ready for more.

The history committee met the challenge head on and exceeded its expectations, presenting seven history talks so far via Zoom. The talks have generated more donations and even larger audiences this way. After the talk by local historian and author Dave Town, the committee shared these results:

  • Maximum 100 heard the talk via Zoom (max 88 capacity live at OMAH)
  • Over 400 clicked on the recording of the talk (previously no recording, so it would have been 88 maximum viewing the talk)
  • Increased donations to OMAH, increased renewed memberships and new memberships via the registration process for the event

At an early 2021 presentation to council about OMAH's operating plan for the year, Councillor Tim Lauer shared his praise for the speaker series and said don't stop offering it virtually. The committee will continue to host the speaker series virtually while they explore the option of livestreaming.

OM: Fantastic results especially with such a steep learning curve! Tell me about the upcoming Carmichael Art History lecture on Nov. 17.

NG: Dr. Anna Hudson's talk, The Legacy of the Group of Seven: The Toronto Community of Painters' Art and Social Progress, explores a socially conscious community of painters who came together in Toronto during the 1930s. In the years leading up to the Second World War, they imagined a society transformed by art and developed a shared visual language: a psychologically powerful ‘representational form’.

Dr. Hudson is a Professor of Art History and Visual Culture in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University in Toronto. A former Associate Curator of Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, she has published extensively on Canadian art and curated a wide variety of exhibitions and permanent collection installations.

We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Hudson share her presentation with our community. She is an engaging, articulate and accessible speaker, who is incredibly knowledgeable on the topic as it was the focus of her doctoral dissertation. The presentation is a great complement to the Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition: Tradition Transformed, now in its 20th year.

The exhibition can be viewed Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets for Dr. Hudson's talk can be purchased here.

OM: Thanks, Ninette! Looking forward to the talk!

This coming weekend is your last chance to see Mariposa Arts Theatre’s show, Love, Loss and What I Wore. Limited tickets are available through the Orillia Opera House box office here.

Creative Nomad Studios is hosting drop in and paint days, Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Cost is $10 and you can pay in person or online here. Proof of full vaccination must be presented to participate. Lots of other great workshops on their website, under Community.

Jakob Pierce is playing at Fionn’s Saturday at 8 p.m.

Cloud Gallery presents a solo exhibition by Gordon Harrison, opening reception Friday at 6 p.m., grab your free tickets here.

Hibernation Arts has a new Underground Gallery, in the depths of the gallery at 17 Peter St. S. Come and shop artists’ work, in time for Christmas.

The Big Event’s 7th Annual Ugly Sweater Bowling Party is a go, Dec. 17 from 6 to 11 p.m. All proceeds go to The Sharing Place Food Centre. Register here. Hurry, lanes are already 50% sold out!

Finally, Express Yourself presents Pop-Up Musical Time, this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s Centre. This all-ages fun-filled day will focus on learning some music, improv, dance and more, of “Fiddler on the Roof”. Go here to register.

Lots of holiday markets this week, get your local shopping done early!

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