State of the Arts: 2023 was an eventful year for the arts in Sudbury


Post-COVID, Sudbury’s arts and entertainment community is doing just fine

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Periodically, it’s important to sit back and reflect on the arts in our community. What are our community achievements for 2023?

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The Sudbury Arts Council’s (SAC) report card for 2023 reveals that, post-COVID, we’re doing very well.

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New arts venues: This past summer, the YES Theatre’s inaugural Refettorio season was home to two excellent productions, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Forever and For Always: Shania Twain.”

Audiences sat under the stars, loving the open-air concept and enjoying well-produced shows and scrumptious gelato. Add to this a record-breaking July/August sold-out run of the popular musical “Jersey Boys” by YES, and it’s been a banner year as they settle into their new permanent home.

A second new downtown performance venue, the Knox Concert Hall on Larch Street, was highly anticipated. Knox Church has been transformed. Its first concert starring crooner Alex Bird was a truly memorable evening. Congratulations Liana Bacon and Dan Guillemette on providing us with this exciting new hall.

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Two new arts venues in one year? Almost unheard of in any city post-COVID.

Liana Bacon is co-owner of Knox Hall (formerly Knox Presbyterian Church) on Larch Street in Sudbury, Ont. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network
Liana Bacon is co-owner of Knox Hall (formerly Knox Presbyterian Church) on Larch Street in Sudbury, Ont. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

New art galleries: At least three new galleries rolled out the welcome mats in 2023. The November opening of the Gillian Schultze Gallery on Regent Street was celebrated with a packed house, live music, food and door prizes. Her large-format paintings are particularly stunning.

Artist Carmen Martorella’s new gallery at 6 Baker St. features her own work, as well as that of monthly guest artists. The gallery is quaint and the work well worth the visit. Her varied collection includes small works, such as hand-painted cards and bookmarks, and often jewelry.

Upper Kathleen Street has developed its own vibe, and the newest addition is Amberhill Gallery and Gift Shop. Owner Sarah Moreau not only has unique gifts but has an exhibition space available for rent by artists and crafters. It’s a busy new space and one that adds yet another outlet for local artists.

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A city of festivals: While our main arts festival season stretches over the summer, the calendar is so jam-packed that some overflow is inevitable.

It was music, music and more at the Northern Lights Festival Boréal in early July, followed by River & Sky’s multi-day camping jamboree, and finally Up Here with its focus on music and murals.

Artists from around the world have gathered in Sudbury for almost a decade for Up Here, making us a premier destination for arts enthusiasts in the region. In 2023, the volunteer-run festival announced its first general manager in Jayme Lathem from North Bay. Five new outdoor murals were added to walls throughout downtown.

The annual Jazz Sudbury Festival showcased musicians from far and wide at Place des Arts in September. One of the hottest events in the festival is the New Orleans-style Jazz Walk. Artistic director and musician Allan Walsh and his swinging group led the crowd from venue to venue in downtown Sudbury, stopping at five venues where other musicians awaited the traveling audience. The 2023 Jazz Walk was a sell-out.

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The fun has continued through the year as Jazz Sudbury takes over the Place des Arts’ Bistro every Wednesday night.

Festivals are not always about music. In November, writers from across the nation, including Balise Ndala and Hiro Kanagawa, joined local voices gathered to entertain and educate at Wordstock Sudbury. It was exciting as fabulous writers wowed in-person and online audiences for a successful literary festival, its 10th edition.

Sudbury visual artist Carmen Martorella will be opening her new gallery at 6 Baker St. in Sudbury, Ont. on August 12 and 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network
Sudbury visual artist Carmen Martorella will be opening her new gallery at 6 Baker St. in Sudbury, Ont. on August 12 and 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network Photo by John Lappa /John Lappa/Sudbury Star

Sudbury writers: Latitude 46 Publishing and Wordstock Sudbury both constantly support and celebrate our many talented writers. This fall, Sudburian Waubgeshig Rice’s new book skyrocketed to national acclaim, being selected as one of the 100 best 2023 books by The Globe and Mail. “Moon of the Turning Leaves” follows on the heels of Rice’s first novel, “Moon of the Crusted Snow.” Campbell organized a book launch for Rice at Place des Arts in October, a memorable night for all who attended. Rice then set off on a six-week book tour.

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Last March, Wordstock also hosted its own, smaller edition of the Canada Reads competition in partnership with CBC Sudbury. Hosted by Jonathan Pinto, five local personalities each championed one of the five selected novels. Though Beth Mairs, Zoi Monroy, Negar Saeidi, and Alex Tétreault gave it their all, it was Sudbury’s current Poet Laureate Kyla Heyming who won the audience over.

Place des Arts: Over the course of its first full year of operation, Place des Arts has become the venue to attend for both French and English-speaking audiences alike. While there are still some growing pains, its successes are laudable.

In addition to a full calendar of programming from its founding members, which includes original plays from Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, musical performances from La Slague, and thought-provoking exhibitions at Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario, Place des Arts has also started to bring their space to life. They’ve hosted their own art shows (you can currently find Connor Lafortune’s works in the lobby) and have launched a new speaker series, which has so far included the likes of Tomson Highway, Jesse Wente, and Marc Mayer.

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Earlier this month, they also opened their highly anticipated bookstore, sorely needed since the last French-language bookstore in the city closed its doors almost a decade ago.

A celebration was held at the official opening of Place des Arts du Grand Sudbury in downtown Sudbury, Ont. on Friday April 29, 2022. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network
A celebration was held at the official opening of Place des Arts du Grand Sudbury in downtown Sudbury, Ont. on Friday April 29, 2022. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network Photo by John Lappa /John Lappa/Sudbury Star

Sudbury’s international clown school: Sudbury is becoming known throughout the world for its clown school, One North Clown and Creation. What began on Manitoulin Island under the leadership of Mump and Smoot’s John Turner has continued thanks to the hard work and dedication of his former students and collaborators.

“In 2023, we had participants from New Zealand, the U.K., California, New York, Seattle, and across Canada. The international response to our clown school has been overwhelming,” said artistic director and general Manager Jenny Hazelton. “We’re expanding in 2024 with four teachers and six weeks of programming in July and August.”

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The world follows the red nose to Sudbury.

Welcome to Zigs: Though he’s no stranger to causing a commotion, local theatre creator Alex Tétreault burst onto the scene in June with “Nickel City Fifs,” his first full-length creative project, which he coproduced along with Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, in addition to writing and directing.

This wacky, clownish comedy was performed to sold-out crowds at Zigs Bar on Elgin Street. A young, diverse, and dynamic team of local artists brought this fun and deeply weird story to life.

A staged reading of “Sudbury Saturgay Night,” the show’s English-language translation, was also presented during last May’s PlaySmelter Festival, again to rave reviews.

Hopefully, it’s not the last we hear of this show or its creator.

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The Nutcracker Travels: Puppeteers Jenny Hazelton and France Huot and writer Matthew Heiti are currently taking their show “A Maritime Nutcracker” to New Brunswick. Adapted from the trio’s 2021 production “A Sudbury Nutcracker,” created with the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra, this retelling of the classic story features puppets and overhead projectors.

“We’re doing three shows in New Brunswick in December in three different cities,” explained Hazelton. “St. John, Fredericton and Moncton. We travelled with six musicians from Symphony New Brunswick … I love this show so much with its visual beauty, analogue technology and tiny environmental footprint.”

Looking ahead: As we look forward to what the next year has in store, we want to thank you, dear reader, for supporting this community and its artists. Artists don’t always have it easy, but without you sitting in those seats or cracking those book spines, it would be a heck of a lot lonelier. Wishing you many happy returns and we hope to see you again in 2024 for what already promises to be a year to remember.

State of the Arts is a bimonthly column supplied by the Sudbury Arts Council.

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