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OMAH, ODAC weather pandemic to provide programming to community

Arts columnist puts spotlight on two local institutions' past and their upcoming events
Orillia Museum of Art and History exterior
Orillia Museum of Art and History. Contributed photo

Today I would like to shine a little light on two of the venerable arts institutions in our area: the Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC) and the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH). Both have long and proud histories in our area, both have been through their fair share of turmoil and adversity, and both seem to be coming through the other side of this as well.

ODAC was formed in 1999 and in its first few years hosted several roundtables with diverse topics of interest to its membership. It had a storefront at 23 Peter St. S. and hosted arts events there, as well as offering its gallery space to artists for showings, a meeting space, and storage space.

In 2006, ODAC was granted charitable status, and had its first annual general meeting. In 2008, ODAC moved to a larger storefront at 37 Mississaga St. W. There was improved gallery and meeting space, and a full-time administrator, who sent out a weekly arts news e-newsletter, and was available to help creatives with many different needs.

Sadly, the three-year Trillium grant that funded all this came to an end in 2011, and things went downhill for ODAC from that point. The office was relocated to a hidden room deep in city hall, there was no administrator, no funding, and the board seemed somewhat at a loss as to what to do with such limited means.

But happily, over the last year or so, despite COVID-19, things seem to be looking up again for ODAC. Several new board members, including the addition of local dynamo Christine Hagar, seem to have revitalized this local institution. A new mandate has also helped. From its (also new) website:

“The Orillia & District Arts Council (ODAC) serves the arts community by bringing people and resources together to enrich the cultural, economic, and intellectual life of our community. Our VISION is a strong united creative community working together to enhance culture in our area. Our MISSION is to empower, advocate for, and celebrate all art forms in our community and region. Our VALUES are inclusiveness, life-long learning, respect for art and artists, diversity, community and freedom of expression.”

Over the past year, ODAC has:

  • Secured grants for the Starry Night Art Tour (postponed to 2022)
  • Launched a new program, Discovering the Artist Within: Expressive Arts for Mental Health, and hired local artists to teach it
  • Secured funding from several sources for the above program
  • Redesigned its website
  • Cosponsored the annual Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards
  • Advocated for local creatives to allow street closures for exhibit and performance opportunities
  • Live streamed the 2020 Ontario Culture Days
  • Produced and recorded a YouTube production, Tribute to Moms, for Mother’s Day 2021
  • Revised its bylaws and expanded its board
  • Moved its offices into Creative Nomad Studios
  • Supported Streets Alive 2021

ODAC has also come up with a new tag line: “We advocate for all creatives. We celebrate their work. We educate the community.” I like it!

ODAC is selling annual memberships and they are $40 for an individual, $50 for a business or organization, and $20 for a student. Buy one today and support the work this historical institution is doing for creatives in our community. Click here for more information.

Another venerable institution in our area, OMAH, has also had its ups and downs through the years. OMAH was also born in 1999 and it took a lot of hard work and a lot of persuading to secure the Sam Steele building for this crazy idea of an art and history museum, and then a lot of money, time, and sweat equity over many years and many renovations to turn that old building into the gorgeous and functional three-story-plus-basement structure that you see today.

Of course, OMAH has grown in terms of staffing as well, from humble beginnings with very few staff and many volunteers to more staff and lots of volunteers today.

OMAH has been in the historic Sam Steele building on Peter Street South since 1999 and serves as the hub of the arts district in Orillia. From its website: “The Orillia Museum of Art & History will be a cultural centre open to all that will inspire creativity and celebrate history by creating excitement and wonderment for the arts, history, and culture communities. Our vision is to be the anchor for the significant and growing arts, local-history and cultural community in Orillia and surrounding area by offering exciting exhibits, events, innovative programming and activities that reach out to and engage all citizens, seasonal residents and visitors.”

And OMAH is definitely living up to its word. From speaking to executive director Ninette Gyorody, “The programming team is on fire,” she enthused. “We have programming for all ages, in art and history, all summer long.”

So, let me give you a little rundown, and you will see what she means.

Summer camps: OMAH is offering nine weeks of summer camps this year, for ages five to 12. These are in-person, full-day camps with varying themes, starting from July 5. Themes include superheroes, travel, clay, painting and lots more. For information and to sign up, click here.

Saturday morning programming: From July 10 to Sept. 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., OMAH is offering drop-in art in the courtyard for your family. If you are out and about in downtown Orillia, stop by the OMAH courtyard for family fun. It’s only $2 per person or $5 per family, up to four members.

See You on the Patio: from July 2 to Sept. 3, OMAH is participating in the City of Orillia’s See You on the Patio programming. Drop by the front of the museum for a fun, family-friendly activity. Prices are the same as above.

Historical Walks: Also on Friday nights, starting at 7 p.m., OMAH will be offering guided historical tours of downtown Orillia, about an hour and a half in length. You will hear many stories you haven’t heard before. Book now as space is limited. Only $10 per person ($7.50 for members). You can book by going to

So there you go! Two venerable Orillia cultural institutions that are going great guns. We are lucky to live here.

A few brief notes before signing off:

Friday night art walks resume on July 2 and continue every Friday from 6 to 9 p.m., to coincide with the See You on the Patio program. Peter Street will be closed. Come and browse art in your favourite local galleries and on the street, and buy a piece or two!

The film Coming Out Cops (from the makers of Underground Orillia) explores the experiences of 2SLGBTQ+ police officers, their relationship with community and expulsion from Pride parades, told in their own words. The film will be available for viewing for a limited 24-hour period in celebration of Pride Month, from 7 p.m. June 26 to 7 p.m. June 27, on the website here.

The K. Valerie Connor Poetry contest closes June 30, so get your submissions in now. For more information, click here.

That’s all for now, folks. If you have arts news, send it to by Tuesday at noon to be included.