I don’t go out much. But I recently got ‘volun-told’ to help my artists’ group. You can blame Felicity Sidnell Reid. I joke that she twisted my arm — most graciously.
An author and radio interviewer, Felicity is always involved in the arts.
She and her husband John moved from big-city Toronto to Northumberland County 20 years ago.
“I love the country,” she says. “And I love the atmosphere of a small village. I feel more relaxed here.”
Felicity lives in “a small house on a large lot with a stream that runs year-round.”
Her book, Alone: A Winter in the Woods was published in 2015 by Hidden Brook Press. Skilfully written and illustrated, it’s a survival story about a teenager left alone to look after his family’s cabin and livestock in 1797 while his father fetches the other family members from abroad.
Welcoming and kind, she took my sometimes-strange speech and always-strange walk in stride, and made me feel at home at my first meeting.
The monthly breakfast-meeting is supportive, fun and opinionated. As chair, Felicity sets the tone.
“I love chairing the writers’ group,” Felicity says. “Although one might want to shut oneself up in an attic sometimes — to escape from all the email and phone calls – it’s a great bunch of people. And a lot of fun.”
“Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you’re herding cats?” I ask. “How can you be so unflappable and gracious with us all the time?”
“I taught high school for years,” she says. “You have to be unflappable. I’m not sure how gracious I am, but I’ve noticed that if you are, people tend to be gracious back.”
The writers’ group is productive. It initiated a literary radio show – hosted by Felicity and author Gwynn Scheltema – and a Festival of the Arts, being held November 3 and 4. All of SOTH is involved.
SOTH’s membership includes writers, artisans, musicians, performers and a variety of painters and other visual artists. They come from as far away as Toronto to the west and Kingston to the east.
But most, like Felicity, live in Northumberland County, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
“Driving through the countryside is always exciting because the hills themselves are so lovely,” Felicity notes. “There’s invariably another incredible view, maybe of a small lake or of Lake Ontario, or the next pretty town, or more hills covered with forest or farms, fields and animals.”
The Festival will be held in lakeside Cobourg, one of Canada’s most beautiful towns.
“We wanted to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday but, more importantly, the creativity and diversity of the arts in this region.”
Felicity and SOTH president Susan Statham are co-chairing the Festival. It includes arts competitions, a musical play, a concert and book launch, a book fair and art show, a panel discussion and exciting workshops.
“What do you hope it’ll do for Northumberland?” I ask her.
“Northumberland, like most places in Canada, is always changing,” Felicity replies. “It becomes more diverse and interesting because of change. We all profit from this. And the influx of artists in the last 30 years has led to increased vibrancy and innovation in the artistic community.
“I hope our programme will engage people from our many communities. We want to appeal to young and old, those who have lived all their lives in this area as well as newcomers.”
Although some Northumberland arts organizations recently folded, SOTH remains strong.
“An Ontario Arts Council study (June 2017) encouraged us. It reported that 90% of those surveyed agree that an active local arts scene helps make a community a better place to live and 97% agree that engaging children in the arts is important to their overall development.”
As for my involvement? A year ago, Felicity invited me to join the Festival committee. Committee members feel privileged to help, as does she.
“I love working with others and building a team, so conceiving and planning the festival have been exciting and very fulfilling.”