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Our History

1968: The Oakville Performing Arts Council (OPAC) is formed by W.Ray Stephens. Having formed the Richmond Hill Symphony and being instrumental in the formation of the Oakville Symphony, along with Ken Hollier, Stephens felt there was a need for a group such as OPAC and acted as the Chair of the Council. The Council was made up of members of various performing arts groups in Town, and aimed to advise the recreation commission and Town Council to improve cultural programming in Oakville. Their first main objective was to investigate the need for a drama theatre and respectable auditorium for the community. Shortly after the formation of OPAC, Stephens became the general manager of the Frederick Harris Music Co. in Oakville and devoted his time to that business. Ten years after the initial formation of OPAC, Stephens offers office space free of charge within his company to the brand new Oakville Arts Council.

1969: OPAC establishes the first summer series of concerts, named Starlight Concerts, taking place on Wednesday evenings in Coronation Park in Oakville. The idea for the concerts was to allow amateur groups from Oakville to perform in their community, and to show Oakville citizens just how much talent is available in Oakville. Sunday evening concerts in Coronation Park featured the Oakville Citizens Band (presently called the Oakville Wind Orchestra).

1973: A representative committee, the Performing Arts Development Group, is born from OPAC. Comprised of seven local performing arts groups, this group began to work with a Town of Oakville sponsored Board to plan, fund and build the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts. Consequently, business leaders, politicians and the arts community working together on the Oakville Centre project came to recognize the wider significance of all arts organizations in community affairs.

1977: From the OCPA website, the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts opened its doors in October of 1977. Designed by the Thom Partnership, creators of the Shaw Festival Theatre, and built by the Town of Oakville, the Centre was financed by municipal and provincial grants and corporate and individual donations. The Opening program described the venue as,

"A people place that is a theatre, a concert hall, an entertainment tool, a dance and opera house, a film theatre, a lecture hall... A performing arts centre must be all of these, but most of all it must be a warm, happy, busy place that is a pleasure to visit as an audience or to work in as a performer or a technician.  Participation is what it is all about... Oakville residents may be in the audience one night, and perhaps, on stage the next."

1978: The need for an effective umbrella organization to represent not only the performing arts but also a wider array of creative arts including writing and publishing, visual arts, cultural and heritage becomes evident after the development of Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts. The OPAC reforms as the Oakville Arts Council, spearheaded by Marilyn Jones, and becomes an incorporated organization through the sponsorship and support of the Town of Oakville and a range of local arts and culture organizations. New programming is directed towards public communication to raise awareness of the many creative outlets which already exist in the community, audience development which assists cultural groups in their development, and public participation in the arts, which develops new opportunities that encourage people to use the arts as a creative medium for self development.

1979: The Oakville Drama Series is formed by the OAC and organized by Roy Hughes. This is the first such series offered in Oakville and the participating groups included Burl-Oak Theatre Group, the Oakville Players and Everyman’s Theatre. The drama series is still running today with the participation of The Oakville Player’s and West End Studio Theatre.

1979: The Spring Arts Festival is established and runs for well over a decade. Craftsmen, craft guild organizations and performing groups all participated by selling their crafts or sharing local shows at over 10 locations in Oakville.

1980: The OAC creates the Super Sound Series and is organized by Gordon Fawcett to increase public interest in a wide variety of musical performances, and to do so at a price significantly below the single ticket cost. Groups participating in this musical subscription series included Oakville Symphony Orchestra, Oakville Concert Band, The Oakville Collection, White Oaks Choral Society, and Tempus Youth Choir, and was held at the Oakville Centre for Performing Arts.

1980: A monthly calendar of arts events is created which publicized arts and arts related programs of all community groups and agencies. 3500 calendars were published every month and distributed across the community.

1981: Nancy Cameron is hired as coordinator for the Spring Arts Festival. In September 1981, Nancy was hired as the Council’s first part-time paid administrator, and the office was moved to a more central location to provide more easily accessible information about the arts community. 

1981: The Get-Away Program is established, which sold tickets and organized transportation to exhibitions and shows outside of Oakville, which included exhibitions at the AGO, the Shaw Festival and Massey Hall tours. The program was created to attract new members and get more people interested in the arts.

1984: From 1984 – 1987, the OAC participated in the programming of the “Town Hall Art Gallery”. This impromptu display space on the walls of the public areas of the municipal headquarters was created to help emerging amateur artists display their work in the community.

1986: The OAC sits on the Municipal Arts Advisory Committee (MAAC), a three-year program in which the OAC becomes instrumental in advising council on cultural grants allocation. It was decided that the OAC would be compensated for providing the service, and will convene a separate peer committee to review grant applications.

1988: Nancy Cameron leaves her post as Administrator for the OAC and is replaced by John Elvidge, former Assistant Director of Arts Etobicoke. 

1989: With the end of the MAAC program, the Town of Oakville Cultural Grants Program is established

1989: An Arts Facility Study Task Force is created to oversee the survey of member’s needs for arts and culture facilities in the Town of Oakville.

1989: The first Mayor’s Awards for Business and the Arts Gala dinner is established along with the Sheridan College Arts Awards Competition. Sponsored by CIBC, the OAC convened and organized the professional jury who selected the pieces of art created by students to be used as the award given to businesses that supported the arts. Students also got to display their work in the community. The Sheridan College Awards Program was an opportunity to connect craftspeople with businesses in Oakville.

1991: Janet Miller is appointed as new Executive Director.

1991: ArtWorks is created in 1991 to respond to a need for exhibition and sales opportunities for Oakville’s vibrant visual arts community. Ran by 14 volunteer members of the OAC, ArtWorks helps artists with marketing, openings, invitation design, publicity, hanging their exhibits and gave its members general exhibition experience. The resulting exhibitions have reflected the diverse and rich fabric of cultural activity in Oakville.

1992: The Above & Beyond Awards are established to recognize outstanding volunteers who have made contributions to the arts. Lucy Erskine, a local artist and silversmith, was commissioned to create a pin symbolizing the spirit of the award.

1992: Joanne Steel is hired as Public Relations Coordinator.

1993 & 1995: The Common Thread exhibitions launch, a community-wide celebration of innovation and tradition in textiles. Partners include the Oakville Handweavers and Spinners, Marjorie Carberry Hooking Guild, Oakville Stitchery Guild, Oakville Quilters Guild, Oakville Ring of Tatters, Oakville Museum, Sheridan College, Oakville Public Library, Oakville Art Society, Oakville Galleries, Town of Oakville and numerous local businesses. This exhibition is the catalyst for the first Festival of Fibre Arts in Canada in 1998.

1994: Joanne Steel is appointed Executive Director.

1994:  The first issue of the Oakville Journal’s 8-page pullout section, Arts About Town, featuring arts in the town of Oakville, is published on Tuesday November 8.

1996: The Wednesday Night Film Festival launches with partners, The Toronto International Film Festival’s Film Circuit, Famous Players Theatres, Cineplex Odeon Corporation, Oakville Place Shopping Mall, Bookers Book Store, Different Drummer Books, Oakville Beaver and Oakville Today. The film festival provided an alternative to mainstream films and built audience for Canadian films that would not otherwise be screened in Oakville. Films were screened on alternate Monday and Wednesday evenings from early September until mid-May.

1995: The Art for Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital (Art for OTMH) Program begins. The OAC works with other community members to acquire works of art for a permanent collection at Oakville-Trafalgar hospital.

1996: In September 1996, Town Council approved the Oakville Arts Council’s request to create an Arts Endowment Fund with the Community Foundation of Oakville. This was seeded by $25,000 from a cultural grants reserve that the Arts Council and the Town of Oakville established in 1995. The income from the Oakville Arts Endowment Fund is available for non-profit arts groups to apply to fund specific projects. Income from the fund not used towards grants gets reinvested to continue to grow the fund.

1998: The Common Thread exhibitions develops into the Festival for Fibre Arts, under the leadership of Christel Wille. It is open to all practitioners of fibre media and technique. The festival is a biennial event and is the only such festival in Canada. It brings together an exciting mix of professional and amateur artists and craftspeople from Oakville and across Canada.

1998: Sponsored by RBC and Remax, Arts About Town is revamped into a 24-page magazine from a simple brochure format, containing an arts event calendar and art-related news and articles provided by local arts groups. As the OAC’s primary communications piece, it was printed bi-monthly, and delivered to 44,000 Oakville homes, including every Arts Council member. In addition, over 100 community locations display the magazine thanks to a large sponsorship from The Shopping Network and the magazine could be downloaded from the OAC website. Up until the last issue was produced in 2012, AAT communicated arts news and highlighted professional and amateur artists.

1998: Telling a Different Story, a new online anti-racism through writing program, launches. The OAC, in partnership with Writers in Electronic Residence linked four schools through a web page in Spring 1998. Canadian authors David Moses, Cecil Foster and eventually Lawrence Hill, worked online with students to critique poems and short stories dealing with issues of racism, identity and relationships.

1999: A consortium of museums, art galleries and performing art venues from Halton and Peel gathered to create an audience development strategy. The resulting Arts West Program launched in May 1999 to meet a broad-based consumer demand for information on the arts and cultural events in the Western GTA, under the leadership of the Oakville, Mississauga, and Brampton Arts Councils. This unique partnership developed a phone-line, website and map.

1999: Joanne Steele resigns and Gillian McIntyre is appointed as the new Executive Director.

2001: Grace DeLottinville replaces Gillian McIntyre as the OAC’s new Executive Director.

2002 – 2003: Art$Vest is piloted in Oakville with the Arts Council’s assistance between December 2002 – June 2003. Art$Vest is a matching fund program developed by the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Culture, the federal department of Canadian Heritage and the Samuel and Sidye Bronfman Family Foundation. The OAC helped organize a training workshop for the groups and publicized the program. The goal for the pilot was to raise $50,000 to be available in matching money to support the arts in Oakville.

2004: Poetry Café launched in June 2004 to give local poets a chance to share some of their work with the public and to hear published poets read their work. The first featured poet was Catherine Graham, and later included other poets such as Julie Roorda, Patrick Woodcock, James Strecker, John Wing Junior, Stella Body, Anne Simpson, Stuart Ross, Ruth Pearson, Harold Heft, Di Brant and Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Toronto’s Poet Laureate. Meeting on the third Sunday of each month at Paradiso Restaurant in downtown Oakville, the Poetry Café provided poets a creative opportunity to share their work during an open microphone time. Participants also received a print copy of work read during the café.

2004: 60 participants from Halton Region attended “So You’re An Artist, Now What?” a 2-day professional development seminar held at the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington. Creativity Coach Theresa Sansome led 36 participants through a 12-week course entitled The Artist’s Way to inspire and unleash individual creativity. A special meeting of performing arts members was held as an information sharing forum and to discuss the support for a proposed cultural centre.

2005: The OAC’s Brochure Rack Program is introduced in five centralized locations for easy access to arts information. Many of our group members distribute brochures through the rack program, which avoids duplication of effort and makes for easy one-stop access to arts information for community patrons.

2006: Megan Whittington is appointed as Executive Director

2006: Creative Connections restarts. These are informal sessions with the goal of connecting members with each other. These would later go on hiatus and be resurrected in 2014, in partnership with the Town of Oakville. Held on the last Wednesday of each month, Creative Connections sessions are offered free of charge to artists and cultural workers from all disciplines.

2006: Monday Night at the Movies is created as an offshoot from the now defunct Oakville Film Festival, in partnership with TIFF’s Film Circuit. Made possible through the assistance of the OAC, Monday Night at the Movies (MNM) screened fifteen films at Encore Cinemas in their first year. In its second year, MNM became completely independent, operating in partnership with Film Circuit and as a member of the Oakville Arts Council and the Mississauga Arts Council.

2006: Arts Connections is launched, a new service for members providing a listing of opportunities, including calls for entry, calls for props and other oddities, auditions, workshops, lectures, networking and funding opportunities and artist space.

2007: Bernadette Ward is hired as Communications Coordinator and Editor, Arts About Town, in January.

2007: The OAC is instrumental in having April approved as “Poetry Month”. With Mayor Burton’s support, a group of volunteers from all the Oakville poetry groups put together an exciting, stimulating and varied program of poetry events.

2007: In November, Pamela Keywan is hired as membership coordinator and office administrator.

2008: This year saw the launch of a new e-publication designed to enhance public awareness of art events.  ArtMatters is distributed on-line to all members and to 31 media outlets across the GTA. This publication highlights events a week in advance.

2008: The Inaugural launch of Guide to the Arts occurs. The pocket-sized guide was made possible through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and distributed to 38,000 homes.

2008: OAC collaborates with Humber College, The Mississauga Arts Council and the Town of Oakville, offering organizations, often managed completely by volunteers, an opportunity to develop their skills in arts management. This certificate program offered a series of part-time courses in the areas of leadership (boards), resource development (sponsorship, marketing communications, fundraising) and management (budgeting, grant writing).

2008: OAC celebrates its 30th anniversary. Over $16,000 in gross revenue is raised through sponsorship, ticket sales and silent auction donations.

2009: Inaugural launch of “Cogeco Stars Among Us” fundraising event. In June 2009, the OAC shone a spotlight on local talent with a “red carpet” event that celebrated, entertained and awarded local artists in the disciplines of: literary arts, media arts, performing arts and visual arts. This event ran until 2013.

2010: The OAC and Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn forge a partnership with the goal of developing an Arts & Culture policy. The policy briefing was delivered to Minister Chan at the Liberal Provincial Council in Ottawa in early February 2011 and a formal presentation was made in the Ontario legislature. In October 2010, the OAC sent a survey to all local electoral candidates to gauge their position about the role of the arts. The survey responses were used to help inform local artists in their decision-making at election time.

2010: The OAC receives $40,000 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant over 24 months to enhance the organizational capacity through the development and implementation of a new membership model. This funding enabled the OAC to strengthen services and grow membership and subscribers.

2011: Following months of negotiations over the course of 2010/11, the Oakville Arts Council and CommUnity Arts Space signed a memorandum of understanding that outlined their joint intention to align both purpose and resources. This document was the first step in the development of a united arts leadership for the Oakville Arts Community and the exploration of a combined role and presence at Queen Elizabeth Park Cultural and Community Centre.

2011: The Oakville Arts Council leaves its offices in the Downtown Library location into the newly developed Queen Elizabeth Park Cultural and Community Centre.

2012 / 13: The first Oakville Youth Arts Council is formed to develop events, activities, and programming for youth and student artists of all disciplines. The Council works to bride the gap between "emerging" artist and "professional" artist, and offers youth the opportunities to professionally perform and exhibit in the Oakville community. The one year of operation saw many pilot projects: a coffee house, art battle, exhibition, and Culture Days. These events were designed to empower youth involved in every major arts discipline.

2013: Ray Chisolm is appointed interim Executive Director upon the resignation of Megan Whittington

2014: Bernadette Ward is promoted to Executive Director

2014: Giulia Simonato and Alison Myers-Gomez are hired to developed and coordinate the new OACvol program. Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Volunteer Program launched by engaging in stakeholder meetings to assess volunteer need and capacity, reached out to known volunteers and began new relationships with the not-for-profit volunteer sector (Volunteer Halton).

2016: Oakville Arts Council founder Marilyn Jones passes away at age 86.

Phone: (905) 815-5977  |  Email:  Address: 2302 Bridge Road, Oakville, ON, L6L 2G6

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