[Watershed Presents]

Celebrating Resilience, And Much More

Northumberland Festival of the Arts extends its reach to include a larger audience and to welcome performers into a brighter spotlight.

Like crops that have been biding their time in the fields, art and artists are ready to burst back into the sunlight. They remind us of the resilience of a region’s people and the promise of a new dawn for the arts. Artists and artisans were hit hard during COVID but showed extraordinary innovation, finding new ways to perform and exhibit (see “The Show Will Go On,” page 44). And this September, over a hundred creative souls from Port Hope to Brighton, from Lake Ontario to Rice Lake, will showcase their arts through performance, learning, collaboration and participation. Curtain up on the Northumberland Festival of the Arts 2022 (NFOTA22).


Previous incarnations of the Festival in 2017 and 2019 took place in Cobourg at a single venue over one weekend in the fall. Audiences were appreciative but localized, and artists brought their work to just one location. But for this year a unique dream took shape: more than two weeks of events across the entire region, ranging from concerts to quilting bees, from pottery displays to poetry readings.

When planning began in 2020, no one imagined what the world would look like two years later.

The seeds for NFOTA22 were sown by a small group of artists and art lovers over two years ago. “We were anxious to build on the success of past events while at the same time breaking the mould and expanding the scope to places less travelled, where art is not always as visible,” says Gwynn Scheltema, the Festival’s president. “Northumberland is so rich with inspiration and talent, and we believe the whole region should be on the map as a centre of arts and culture.”

In 2020, when planning for NFOTA22 began, no one could imagine what the world would look like two years later. With the thundercloud of COVID looming over everything, the idea of putting on any event – let alone an ambitious arts festival – seemed overwhelming. Would artists be available? Would venues be open? Would audiences be able to attend?

Still, the Festival’s theme, Celebrating Resilience, inspired and motivated the crew of organizers, and the creative energy has been palpable since they began. Credentials on the planning teams run deep, with volunteers from many professional and artistic disciplines donating their time and expertise.


And this fall, it will all be happening as they had dreamed. From September 16 to October 2, NFOTA22 will feature dozens of events taking place at venues across Northumberland and Alderville. The Festival’s vision called for an event that was accessible, affordable and participatory. As NFOTA22’s mission statement notes: “Art is not just a pay-per-view experience. It’s up close and personal.”

To that end, audiences can choose to attend a play reading in Warkworth, a savanna walk in Alderville, a seminar on writing murder mysteries in Brighton, or a folk music concert in Cobourg – from among dozens of opportunities. The famous Apple Route Studio Tour will partner with NFOTA22 to highlight the work of two dozen artists and artisans. And there will be a repeat of the popular Words on a Wire poetry event, with a unique twist this year – the readings will be capped off with the unveiling of a picnic table (yes, a picnic table) that has been inscribed with poems, which is to be paraded along King Street in Cobourg.


The Festival even has its own theme song: “Spread the Word,” composed by Lynn C. Bilton and performed by local musical group What Fun!

And spreading the word has been another successful effort. A visit to the NFOTA22 website or its YouTube channel is a brilliant way to learn about the Festival and hear from those who are helping to make it happen, with stories, interviews, photos, music and much more.

The seeds planted in 2020 are set to flourish. Art and art lovers will again have their days in the sun.

As festival time approaches, the hard work is just beginning. A host of volunteers has already participated in the organizing, fundraising and recruiting. But welcoming so much talent, not to mention so many audience members, will take still more de – dication and legwork. NFOTA22 is always on the lookout for volunteers to help. Experience not necessary. Resilience a definite plus.


Story by:
Christopher Cameron

[Summer 2022 departments]