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Local creatives find inspirational ways to thrive amid pandemic

'We all miss being in the crowd at a show, or on stage looking out into a sea of fans ... but there are still a lot of positives,' said local hip-hop artist Zain Campbell

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

With the one-year anniversary of the pandemic here in Orillia, I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some local creatives and find out how they have weathered this past year, what changes the pandemic has brought to their creative work, and what they see the future looking like for them.

This week, I talked to three local or from-local creatives: Zain Campbell, a local hip-hop artist and producer; Shawn Clarke, a roots musician from Orillia who currently lives in Toronto; and Travis Shilling and Naomi Woodman, artist and photographer, and founders of Otter Art Club, a studio for young artists. Here’s what they had to say:

How did the pandemic change things with your creative work?

Campbell: “COVID really changed how a lot of musicians, labels, platforms conduct their business. We have never been exposed to such a time as this. We had to think on our feet. There are now such creative ways of putting together and arranging live events, specials, award shows. Streams and social media engagement have become higher due to such a high demand of consumers being laid off work and stuck at home.

"We all miss being in the crowd at a show, or on stage looking out into a sea of fans. We miss the street grind. But there are still a lot of positives for musicians and how they can successfully distribute their music during such trying times.”

Clarke: “On a creative level, I started thinking about how to do more things at home. Pre-pandemic I wasn’t too interested in at-home recording, I wasn’t too confident in my abilities. I’m still not all that confident in those abilities, but the pandemic has helped me see that it doesn’t really matter. There are more important things. It’s been very liberating in that sense, I don’t really care about things like release schedules, or what sort of direction I need to be going, I can do what feels right because ultimately, what does it matter?”

Otter Art Club: "In the spring of 2020 the world changed and we all changed with it. Instead of focusing on all the things we couldn't do anymore, we found new ways to survive. We discovered that studio is everywhere and art is necessary.

"Otter Art Club is more than an art class, it is a safe, positive, and welcoming environment where we can find inspiration, great conversations, and motivation. We started the club almost three years ago as a way to give youth access to professional materials in a studio space.”

Where are you now, one year since the start of COVID, with your work?

Campbell: “Still the same ol' song and dance to be honest. I continue to shop my music around. Networking and collaborating has been a lot more virtual now since COVID started. I personally feel the whole pandemic has made me hungrier as an artist. Currently working on my second studio album during these trying times. Ample time to dig deep within yourself as an artist.”

Clarke: “One year after the pandemic I find myself more anxious about what the future holds. I’d love to make my next full-length album, but I’m not interested in doing things online, I want friends in the studio, I want hugs after good takes, etc.

"I’m also not sure how touring will continue, I had hoped to be doing more tours, but I’m not sure what that will look like. Do my contacts even run event spaces anymore? Will people be more worried about having friends crash on their couches? Will people even want to go out and see music anymore? I hope so. I certainly do.

"But I tried my best to be creative over the past year, I was able to release two EPs of music using only the means I have here at home (which are meagre but did the trick). I was able to experiment more, and I believe it will positively inform my future releases.”

Otter Art Club: “We are now working with all ages online, including a group of adults on their road to recovery. With the generous support of our incredible community, we raised money which allowed us to hand out artist materials to over 250 youth in the past three months. We spent months sourcing out the best quality supplies and have recently become a retailer for the iconic Blackwing pencil.”

Where are you headed now, and how are you feeling about that?

Campbell: “Nowhere but up. Slow and steadily. I have an amazing body of work being recorded and I am beyond stoked to finally start the promotional phase of this project. Finding creative ways and reputable outlets to help promote my upcoming studio album. I feel good about it.”

Clarke: “I’m heading into uncertainty, but I’m healthy and so are my friends and family. I’m also comforted in the fact that we’re all heading into the same uncertainty, so we’re not alone. I hope we can seize on that and begin helping each other out more.”

Otter Art Club: “We are excited about the future because anything and everything is possible. With our online classes we are able to work with larger groups and have people joining us from all over the country.

"We are also bringing back our guest artist events online with a comiczine workshop on Sunday, March 28. Benjamin Shannon and Steve Manale will be back at Otter Art Club for this third workshop, but their first time online with us. Benjamin Shannon is the digital art director for CBC and has worked for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, DC Comics and many other high-profile clients. Steve Manale is the creator of the webcomic Superslackers and has worked for YTV, Nickelodeon, the Toronto Raptors and Chickadee Magazine. It is important for us to introduce our youth to other exciting artists that inspire us as well.”

Talk about inspirational. In a year in which their industry was completely gutted, these local artists have kept their passion, worked hard, and have hope for the future. A good lesson for all of us. And that, my friends, is why our creatives are so important to all of us.

If you have arts news, send it to annaproctor111@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon to be included.