Sustainable Orillia: The Arts and Culture Sector

Culture Addresses the Sustainability Question

By Gillian Lowry – Special to SUNonline/Orillia


The acclaimed film Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is a perfect example of an artist using a medium to portray an urgent message. While the images may be hauntingly beautiful, the film encourages, demands an emotional response, which can lead to change in behaviour. As artists we can use our voices to inspire change in others.

The arts often sound the alarm. In modern times the Vietnam War caused many a songwriter to respond. Who can forget John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio?

Environmental protest in song perhaps began with Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (“paved Paradise and put up a parking lot”). The word on the page, too, has been a chief form of protest in fiction and non-fiction. Most pertinent to Sustainable Orillia’s mission, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, started the environmental movement.

The arts and culture sector of Sustainable Orillia includes participants from many different practices. We hope to address topics related to artists working in many mediums: painters, drawers, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, performers, and others. What changes have they made to their individual practices to be more ‘green’? What ideas do they have for more change?

We can discuss how to use our voices and mediums to strengthen the sustainability message. The arts invoke feelings; working together we can raise awareness. As artists we have ways of communicating that access a wide audience, and we need to take advantage of that.

Every artist and artistic venue (be it a gallery, studio space or concert hall) hosting a cultural experience here in Orillia should be following the Mariposa Folk Festival’s lead, aiming to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and to inspire the community. It would be wonderful to discuss how arts and culture’s venues and businesses can ‘green’ up their establishments. Can an art show be made plastic free? Can we switch to all LED light bulbs in gallery spaces? Getting a group together to make changes that are easily attainable will be effective. This kind of action can ripple through a community and become trendy in the best kind of way.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what difficulties the arts and culture sector in Orillia faces, because it is such a broad category. In general, there is a certain creative process one goes through to reach an end product, a process which can involve a lot of waste. The materials can sometimes be toxic and disposing of them can be difficult. More eco-friendly options can be

cost-prohibitive. Since there is not a lot of access to art materials in Orillia, getting supplies often involves a trip to Barrie or Toronto—often a long solo trip in a vehicle.

There are many events in Orillia related to arts and culture, and, despite the best intentions, there can be a lot of waste—plastic cutlery, straws, and cups—even though there are good rental options for dishes, as well as compostable dishes. The last minute run for fast food and drinks can result in waste; it would be great to see major strides being made there.

With awareness regarding waste and the state of the environment increasing, many artists have taken it upon themselves to make their work more environmentally friendly. Personally, in my own practice, switching to eco-friendly materials and ethically-made products has felt right. Switching to greener products can also prove to be healthier.

There may be no end to ideas that artists may come up with in pursuit of sustainability in Orillia. I’m interested to see what others suggest on May 25th. Perhaps a car pool group for material pickups? Perhaps an online group where we can share ideas and mentor each other on best practices? A weekly column in the local paper with tips? Maybe that it could all lead to a group show, yearly exhibitions, or performances. There really is no limit

Sustainable Orillia will have an art show at the May 25th event and we are currently accepting submissions for works of any medium related to climate change and/or the environment, Please email for more information if you are interested in submitting your work.


Sustainable Orillia will launch its work in Orillia at a one-day event at the main Lakehead University campus on Saturday May 25, preceded by a screening of the highly acclaimed film “Anthropocene” at the Orillia Community Church theatre the previous evening, Friday May 24 at 6 pm. Both events are free and open to the public. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Advance registration is required. < web address to come>

— Submitted by Gillian Lowry.   Phone:  705-330-4989