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Local artists feeling the financial impact of prolonged pandemic

'Sales have pretty much dried up and I am dipping into my savings to pay those bills,' says local artist who echoes sentiments of many artists in 2020

After seven months of COVID-19 how are artists in our community faring? I reached out to a couple of local artists and a gallery owner in our community for answers to this question.

Chief Lady Bird is a First Nations artist from Rama First Nation. She was living in her one-bedroom Upper Beaches apartment in the city when the pandemic hit. She had been there since she was 18, while going to OCAD university and launching her career as an artist.

“I was content with where I was at, but knew I wanted to move back to the rez eventually," she said. "Though it was in my plans, moving home felt distant on the horizon. Soon after the pandemic 'started,' my family came to get me.

"I was in the midst of a breakup…and knew that the best place for me was at home with my family rather than isolated and alone while navigating my grief and feelings of loss and loneliness.”

Initially, Chief Lady Bird thought she would be back in Rama for a short time only, but time went on and she realized home was where she needed to be, for many reasons.

Her family helped her build an art studio for herself and she immersed herself in art, self-care, relationships, and communing with nature.

“Prior to the pandemic, I would often work myself to death, and felt burnt out," she explained. 

"I have always made work about body/land connections, medicines, family, Indigenous sexuality, etc. but I was making this work while living alone in an urban space," she said. "At times, that kind of made my subject matter feel fractured within my heart because it wasn't entirely my lived reality. So being here has deepened my connections and unlocked a lot of knowledge.”

Financially, for Chief Lady Bird, things are about the same as they were before the pandemic. She always did a lot of work online for various organizations and that work has continued. Some events were cancelled, but other work shifted into place.

She has noticed an increase in commissioned work for herself, and wonders if that is due to the time people are spending in their homes, and a desire to surround themselves with work that has meaning to them. Overall, the pandemic has been a positive thing for this young artist.

“I feel more motivated now than I have in a long time," she says. "I feel like I finally have the space and time to create work that feeds my spirit, and I am not just creating work to make enough money to pay for rent, insurance, bills, Uber.

"It's never been about the money for me but living in the city, it kinda has to be because everything is so expensive. Here, I worry less about that. My situation at the moment is perfectly structured to help me find my balance again," she explains. 

"And I am actually producing more work than I have in previous years. which is kinda cool. I haven't re-thought my career at all, but I have re-adjusted my lens and how I view my career and life as one and the importance of caring for myself and being in good relation with the land and my body.”

Other local artists are having more of a tough time with COVID. While full-time artists have been able to access CERB and other government support, part-time artists who have another full-time job have not been so lucky. Xavier Fernandes, a local multi-media artist (and life partner of the author), is one who is in that boat.

“I work full-time and depend on my art sales to pay for my shop and gallery space. Sales have pretty much dried up and I am dipping into my savings to pay those bills," said Fernandes. "It’s not where I thought I would be this year.”

Fernandes was in the process of building up sales in woodturning, a new venture for him, when the pandemic hit. He was in the Orillia Christmas Market last year and had been accepted into the Images Thanksgiving Studio Tour this October. He was also looking forward to this year’s Christmas Market.

The cancellations of all these shows has meant a substantial drop in income.

“I am trying to make it up by upping my social media and reaching out to patrons of my work. But it’s hard to broaden my clients when they don’t have an opportunity to see my whole body of work in person, like at a show," said Fernandes. "Something like Images, thousands of people would have seen my work. It’s hard to make up for that opportunity.”

Fernandes is finding it hard to stay motivated with such a significant drop in events.

“It is hard to go to the shop and turn new things when I have so much stock already and no large shows to exhibit it in. I have picked up some commissions in wood and metal functional art recently, so luckily that is helping a bit," he explained. "Right now, I will make just about anything in those media, so I can help pay my bills.”

Local galleries, which artists like Fernandes depend on to show their work, are also feeling the pandemic pinch.

Molly Farquharson, who owns Hibernation Arts, elaborates.

“Yes, I would say my gallery has been impacted…I would say that there were a lot fewer folks who did come in…especially since there were fewer tourists, and because of COVID I can't host poetry readings or music," said Farquharson. "I am lucky I have the support of the artists through all this.”

Both Farquharson and Fernandes say it is tough to sell art online; it is such a personal, textural, colourful thing which is hard to represent well in photos.

With Christmas coming up, please support your local artists and galleries. Chief Lady Bird’s work can be seen on her Instagram account.

Xavier Fernandes’ work can be seen at Peter Street Fine Arts Gallery at 23 Peter St. S. and on his Facebook Page.

You can see and buy many local artists’ work at Hibernation Arts at 17 Peter St. S.

Artists’ Life Stories starts Oct. 15 at the Orillia Opera House and runs for four days consecutively. Featuring Ian Thomas, Luke McMaster, Amy Sky and Maureen Jennings. Sit safely and socially distanced in the audience of 50 in the 700-seat Gordon Lightfoot Auditorium. For more information and to purchase tickets, go here.

Hibernation Arts’ guest artist this month is Mike Bailey, photographer. Artists from the Orillia Fine Arts Association also have a new exhibit up on their wall.

This Saturday, Oct. 17, as part of Culture Days, Hibernation Arts is having an Art Demo Day featuring demonstrations by local artists in different media. Collage Art with Patti Agapi will be from 12 to 1p.m.; Stitchery with Molly Farquharson from 1 to 2 p.m.; Artist Trading Card (ACT) with Laura Hinsberger is from 2 to 3 p.m. and finally there will be a Quilling Demo with Gayle Schofield from 3 to 4 p.m. Pre-registration is a must by emailing as there is a three-person limit for each demo.

Peter Street Fine Arts’ guest artist for October is Renata Mcginn. Renata paints acrylic on canvas and has captured bright abstract landscapes for her current series.

Lee Contemporary Art is showcasing a mother/daughter show featuring gallery owner Tanya Cunnington with four mixed media pieces of memories of her mom, and mother, Annie Kmyta Cunnington, who gave herself the challenge to paint onsite in Northern Ontario and Quebec for 26 straight days, and whose beautiful watercolours are the result. Lee Contemporary is upstairs at 5 Peter St. S.

Northern Joinery’s Makers Market has moved to its new location, 138 Mississaga St. E., and there are many beautiful and artistic creations inside to feast your eyes on. Check it all out today!

Mariposa Folk Festival’s Virtual Stage continues with a show featuring Joni Mitchell, including never-seen-before footage. The show goes live Thurs. Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. on their Facebook Page and afterwards on the Mariposa Folk Festival website.

Congratulations to local troubadour Michael Martyn on the release of his new video and single, Bad For You, which you can view on YouTube here.

Kudos to local Orillia Secondary School music teachers Laura Lee Matthie and Laura Christie on the start of their virtual band endeavour. We know kids are really missing the fun and connection that band gives them, so glad that these stellar teachers are stepping out with this exciting idea.

Last but certainly not least, the nominees for the Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards are out! Twenty outstanding people and organizations have been nominated in five categories. Thanks to everyone involved in this important endeavour to recognize our local creatives. The award recipients will be announced in a special awards video on Facebook on Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. so stay tuned!

If you have arts news, please send it to by Tuesday at noon to be included.