Outaouais Live!, an English-language series dedicated to the arts in the Outaouais region of west Québec, premiered on Videotron’s MAtv the week of May 24 and is still ongoing. Produced by the 100 Mile Arts Network and the Regional Association of West Quebecers (RAWQ), the 12-episode arts magazine format series promises to showcase musicians, artists of various practice, galleries, and cultural and performance spaces.
Each 30-minute episode highlights a musical act that will open and close the show. In between, the series will introduce viewers to visual or other artists in their home studios, a gallery, or another cultural space, including La Grange de la Gatineau, the Wakefield Mill, the Galerie Old Chelsea, the Pine Lodge Resort, and Brennan’s Hill Bar.
The series’ host, local musician and composer Claire Bestland, hopes that Outaouais Live! will showcase the artistic endeavours of local artists, as well as the region’s warm, welcoming, and creative atmosphere.
“A lot of people think of the arts as a serious practice, as something that people go to big cities to pursue,” says Bestland. “But in fact, very significant work is done in rural places as well, just on the street corner and everywhere. We’ve got this too!”
Bestland, originally from The Pas, Manitoba, travelled to Wakefield a few years ago for a gig at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. Touched by the warm welcome she received, she never left.
“The village kind of adopted me, I guess. It’s a very supportive place here. My experience has been amazing,” she says. “I got to know a lot of different artists in the area, as well as people traveling through as tourists. Whether it’s visual artists, people in theatre, whatever it is, we all sort of congregate.”
For Bestland, the affordability, openness, and conviviality of the Outaouais have all helped foster the rich and diverse art scene of the region. “There’s a history in Wakefield where there were a lot of draft dodgers that came up in the sixties from New York City, and they brought the spirit of nonconformist counterculture. And I think that’s really continued. People on a deep level seem to come here and drive through to share those kinds of ideals, which are, I would say, at odds with the status quo.”
These ideals, combined with a sense of warmth and hospitality, have attracted a number of artists from all walks of life. Many have made the Outaouais a staple stop on their tours or adopted it as a home in which to pursue their craft. Bestland recalls Wakefield’s first Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebration, in which anglophone artists were not only welcome, but encouraged to partake in celebrating the Québécois holiday.
“I was absolutely terrified,” says Bestland. “The most scared I’ve ever been for any gig in my life because I thought I was going to, you know, do terribly. I don’t speak French! But I’ve never gotten a warmer, more amazing reception at any gig in my life. People absolutely loved it.”
It is this atmosphere of warmth and collaboration, where artists support an encourage each other, rather than compete, that Bestland hopes will be celebrated through the series.
Although Bestland is enthused by the all artists the series will feature, she hopes audiences will pay particular attention to some that are close to her heart, including tapestry artist Thoma Ewen, activist and public installation artist cj fleury, songwriter Mia Kelly, and musician, adventurer, and musician/playwright Ian Tamblyn.
“Ian has been healing the community,” says Bestland. “He’s done so many workshops, he has given back a lot, he has been really generous, he’s a gem to us here. I’m a huge huge fan! I’m excited about all of them, because I think everybody has solid things to offer.”
Although Bestland recognizes how difficult the past year has been, she also says COVID has given many artists like herself time to reflect and create. “In general, for artists, in my experience … I found COVID to be the opposite of the chase, for me, because it just gave me time to create a record and write a whole body of work and then go and record it. So for me, it’s been an incredibly productive time. But I don’t like talking about that, because for a lot of people I’ve talked to it’s been really really hard on them.”
Bestland hopes Outaouais Live! will be an opportunity for artists to share their works created in confinement, and to get out of the house and connect with the world again.
“I feel grateful that they asked me to do it because it just got me out and around people, with of course distance and all, everything was safely done,” she says. “I’m already quirky, you know, so another three months of being on my own, I could only get weirder!”
Outaouais Live! airs on MAtv at the following times:
Thursday at 9:30am and 10pm
Friday at 2am and 10:30pm
Saturday at 1pm and 7:30pm
Sunday at 3am, 8am, 11:30am, 3pm and 10pm
Monday at 8am and 7pm
Tuesday at 2am, 8am and 9pm
Wednesday at 12am, 3am, 1pm and 7:30pm
All the episodes of the Outaouais Live! series will be also be permanently available on the 100 Mile Arts Network YouTube channel from the week they are first aired.