Behind every local art event and program are those who make it all happen, and one person who works hard to make Orillia’s arts community thrive is Christine Hager.
Since moving to Orillia more than 20 years ago, Hager has found herself involved in a variety of non-profit organizations in the city.
She has volunteered full-time at Couchiching Jubilee House, served as executive director of the Sharing Place Food Centre and, for the past eight years, has worked as secretary for the Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC).
One might think Hager, given her resumé, has had a lifelong passion for non-profit work and the arts, but her involvement in Orillia’s creative scene stems from a background in business, and her artistic career is limited to her hobby of sketching horses while growing up.
“I am not an artist. I do not paint or sculpt anything … but I love art,” she told OrilliaMatters. “It’s part of your soul. Everything around you is art. People just need to open up their eyes and recognize that.”
Originally from Sudbury, the soon-to-be-70-year-old Hager comes from a background in inside sales. She spent much of her career working for mining companies.
She said her current path began through making connections with others.
“You get tapped on the shoulder by somebody, you go for coffee, people ask you something,” she said. “I moved down here around 2002, and that’s when I kind of fell into doing not-for-profit work.”
Her background in business and sales has helped Orillia’s arts scene grow. Most arts programs and events in the city need funding, after all, and that’s where Hager shines.
She recently stepped down from her position as secretary to take a role in revenue development for ODAC.
“That’s what we need right now. We need the stability to be sustainable. We can’t depend on grants. You have to have a diversified revenue stream,” she said. “I’m the best one to do that because I have the most contacts.”
Her transition to non-profit work happened smoothly, and it continues to bring her great satisfaction.
“It’s given me that sense of satisfaction that, when I tell someone I can understand how (they’re) feeling, it’s because I’ve been there, and I can empathize with what they’re going through,” she said. “One of my favourite things at the food bank was until you walk a mile in somebody’s shoes, you have no right to criticize them.
“It’s always teaching and educating the public. That’s all these positions have always been. The public needs to know the reality of not-for-profits and vulnerable people, homeless people, and hungry people — and the arts people, too. They are trying to make a living as well.”
When Hager joined ODAC in 2014, “the board was very thin,” she said, but the organization now boasts an array of opportunities for local artists, thanks to the work of Hager and others.
ODAC hosts numerous art exhibitions for members, local and county art projects, public events, and more, on top of advocating for its members and other local artists.
One new program rolled out through ODAC is its Helping Elders with Arts (HeARTS) program, which provides seniors with the chance to learn a variety of art styles, art history, and enjoy physical activity on a regular basis.
With all her work helping the local arts scene thrive, Hager — who said she enjoys Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles — does not take much downtime for herself.
She also volunteers with St. James’ Anglican Church through its Sunday breakfast program, social justice committee, and community garden.
While she hopes to eventually take a bit of a step back from her responsibilities, Hager said she loves connecting with people.
“It’s nice meeting people. I love meeting people and developing the network that I have,” she said. “That’s been one of my big things: just getting to know people, building relationships, and then finding opportunities.”
Looking to the future, she hopes to see ODAC gain a full-time staff member and become a true “umbrella” organization that provides opportunities and advocacy for all local artists.
More about ODAC can be found here.