By: Lory MacDonald – President, Artfest Ontario.
Artfest Ontario has evolved over the past 10 years to become a favourite among exhibiting artists and Artfest patrons. However, we did start from humble beginnings. With the sudden 2006 closing of the well loved Toronto Signatures Christmas Craft show of 25 years, artists and artisans were left with a big gap in their most profitable season. We knew the One of a Kind show would not be able to accommodate all of us, so a small group of artists got together and embarked on a journey to find a way to carry on. We had no idea what we were doing and quickly discovered the challenges, risks and financial barriers of organizing and promoting an art & craft show. The Metro Convention Centre, where we had exhibited for 25 years was way beyond our financial means. So, we started looking for a new venue and discovered the Distillery Historic District. The area was up and coming and we thought it was perfect! As working artists, all of our time was gobbled up making our craft. We sought out a professional show promoter who would be able to take the lead and, unlike us…actually knew what they were doing!
Don Nausbaum became our man, an experienced event manager, promoter and professional photographer too. Starting a brand new show is very challenging and our first endeavour, the Christmas Show, was not very successful. It turns out that most Torontonians did not like going down to the Distillery in the winter- very windy and cold with no direct streetcar. Of course that has all changed with the highly successful Christmas Market- which is not an Artfest event…but I am getting away from our story.
Don quickly saw the potential of summer art & craft shows at the Distillery. With the unique location and historic appeal, it was a perfect setting for his vision so he launched Artfest Toronto at the Distillery on the three summer long weekends. It was a great partnership. The Artfest promotion helped the Distillery owners solidify the District as an arts destination.
So where do I, the current owner of Artfest Ontario, fit into the equation? As part of the initial group of artists who forged ahead looking for a new Christmas show, Don asked me to work with him to help book the exhibitors for the shows. I became the face of Artfest among the artist community. It was a lot of work and fun as I worked by Don’s side. All was going very well and the shows were growing.
Then suddenly in 2010 things took a dramatic turn. Don called me in to have a meeting. He had become seriously ill. He handed me the computer hard drive and said, “ You have to take over the shows… today! I’m not going to make it. ” I was shocked and extremely upset about my close friend and mentor being so ill. And, as you can imagine, also terrified of the daunting task and responsibility ahead of me to carry on the shows. “I can’t do this,” I said. “Yes you can,” Don said “And you will be very good at it. Just follow the instructions on here and don’t change anything. You will be fine. I have taught you everything I know about running these events.” Gulp.
Don passed away 6 weeks later of pancreatic cancer and left behind his beautiful wife Madeleine and two adoring children Nick and Crystal. It was a rough summer for all of us. But the shows carried on and we made it all work with the help of his two close friends Steve Veale (still part of the Artfest Team) and Gord Clint. I had basically become an instant show promoter. And it has not been without dozens of challenges. As time has gone by, I have added my own flair to the shows, but continue to heed Don’s words about not changing things too much. Artfest Ontario now has live music and children’s programming, a great fresh food truck area and more. It has been an awesome journey and I love it…even all the hard work.
In 2012, I launched Artfest Kingston in City Park and this has become a full family art festival thanks to the larger space. The artists love exhibiting in the Artfest shows and have asked me to organize more. That is how Artfest Port Credit came into existence in the beautiful Memorial Park. I hope you can join us as the Artfest family of shows grows and thrives. Come and see what is unique about our art and craft shows. Perhaps it’s because they are designed through an artists eyes...with rainbow coloured glasses.