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Jaymie Lathem wants North Bay/Nipissing to take pride in its creative sector

'Delivering these everyday things that people are so used to just gets lost in the shuffle but if we don’t support the creative sector it will just disappear and we need every city to be fighting to sustain its creative sector'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home. 

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Taking pride and taking ownership of the city we live in is the concept behind a new walking audio tour, designed by Creative Industries.

“We are developing a Downtown / Waterfront Audio walking tour called It Happened Downtown,” says Executive Director Jaymie Lathem.  

“It is a ton of community led stories that you will be able to listen to while walking around and it's all done through geo-catching, so when you walk by certain areas, the stories will start to play.”

The audio tour will be launching soon, created in partnership with Tourism North Bay through the Driftscape app.  

Lathem says, “There are lighthearted stories as well as some amazing stories that will just make you go ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that happened here.’ It’s a chance to not only populate the downtown area a bit more but also a chance to take a little bit more pride and ownership in our city by hearing these stories. I really think this will help people realize that everyone has a story about North Bay and the downtown area.”

This is just one of several artistic and creative projects that Lathem has helped start or create herself.

“I’m an artist by trade. I was that kid that was not really too good in school at anything other than art class,” says Lathem.  

“With art being my go-to in terms of feeling comfortable and confident and recognizing that it was something that I was good at, it just led me to a path of continuing within that subject matter, no matter what I wanted to do in life.”

Lathem says she went to “all the art schools.” Including Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay, as well as post-secondary education at the University of Guelph, OCAD University, the Alberta College of Art and Design and finished her Fine Arts Degree at Nipissing University,

She came back to North Bay after her year in Alberta because she was having a baby and wanted to be closer to her support system.

“Having a child and being a single mom, I wanted to be closer to my family and I wanted to be in an environment where I wanted to raise my family. I had a great childhood in North Bay and so I came back and that was the first year they were offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Nipissing.”

Getting your Fine Arts degree is one thing, but putting it to use is another, and Lathem says she wanted to figure out how she could do more to help support the creative sector of North Bay

“The best way to do that is to volunteer. So, I started joining some boards and organizations and started to figure out the inner workings of how a lot of programs exist. A lot of organizations such as galleries or program-based groups are not-for-profit and so that helped me figure a lot of things out. I was able to then start my journey as someone who was being paid to work in the creative sector as an NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation) Intern at the North Bay Regional Health Centre as a Studio Art Technician.”

Lathem says she likes to do things based on need and impact and says she saw a gap in the mental health side of the hospital when she opened an art studio for drop-in classes.

“I realized that a lot of folks only have limited amounts of time outside of their own sections of the hospital. So, I developed an art cart and started going to them. That’s where I really saw a bigger impact happen. That was really great and I learned so much, just about how to create programs and do things that are based on impact,” she says.

“I also brought musicians, such as portions of the North Bay Symphony in to play in the public spaces of the hospital where the various levels of the hospital are open floors and the music would echo through and it was so amazing. People and staff would stop and listen, and it would change the mood of people there too. It was really lovely and impactful just to see how the arts can positively affect an environment.”

From there Lathem ran a Youth Studio out of the Near North Mobile Media Lab which was above The Moose restaurant at first and then moved to the Kennedy Building.  

“I worked at the section 23 school through the Children’s Aid Society and it was doing arts education. Again, I saw a gap in the sense that these kids didn’t have anywhere to go after school that was safe and free and had food and they were just teens that were at risk,” she says.

“There are so many things that our city was missing that could help those youth fill their time with. So, I developed a drop-in centre for teenagers, but because I was integrated through the youth at risk, they saw me as someone they could trust. We had high school students from all different schools that just wanted a place to hang out. It was really great and really organic, and I ran that for three years.”  

But the Youth Studio and the Art Cart are no longer running due to funding.

“When funding is ‘scarce’ the first thing that always gets cut is the arts,” says Lathem.  

“It’s usually never due to lack of impact, it’s almost always based on funding and feeling that it is an elective.”

Lathem says the thinking behind that needs to change and they have numbers to back up the fact that governments should be investing in the creative industries sector.

The cultural industries contribute $58.9 billion in economic impact to the Canadian GDP. That’s bigger than sports. That’s bigger than the forestry, mining, and auto-industry combined,” says Lathem.

“The statistics point to the impact this industry has, but I think there is still a huge lack of data for creative sectors and a huge gap for data in small and rural communities. We have no data to show that impact for North Bay/Nipissing. Most of the data come out of the larger urban cities. So, pulling stats from there isn’t always relative to our numbers here and that is a huge problem. We don’t have anything to show what the industry does to augment the business sector. There is data that says we are impactful, but I think people have a hard time believing it.”

Lathem says the perception is that most jobs in the creative sector are just glorified hobbies and that some people don’t “take part” in the cultural industry at all. However, she argues that this sector is integrated into our everyday life.  

“You listen to the radio and your favourite song comes on, that’s the creative sector affecting your day through music. You go home and watch a movie or television, that’s the creative sector. Picking out the perfect furniture to match the rest of your living room, that’s all design-based, again creative sector. Your iPhone or Android was designed by creative thinkers who are working within that sector. Delivering these everyday things that people are so used to just gets lost in the shuffle but if we don’t support the creative sector it will just disappear and we need every city to be fighting to sustain its creative sector,” says Lathem.

The City of North Bay got behind its creative sector after a big push during the last municipal election.

Lathem explains the volunteer-based organization formerly known as CBOCH (Coordinating Body of Arts Culture and Heritage) had been advocating for the municipality to include arts and culture in its strategic planning. She says, “Around 2016, Katie Bevan came on board and she saw so much potential within the organization. The board had hit a wall in terms of volunteer burnout and so it needed some new blood. Katie pushed hard to get some new board members and created an event called ‘The Creative’s’ which was a gala night that occurred during a municipal election year.”

Lathem says, “It was a celebration of the creative arts in our region. It was an awards ceremony for emerging artists for all kinds of different sectors, which was never done before. It was held outside the museum and there were awards, and live music and it was in September, so we had heating lamps during the evening and got to have it all backdropped by a beautiful sunset. It was this perfect night to showcase the creative sector that lives here, and it was sold out, we had to make more tickets available.”

Lathem says the success of that event sparked a rejuvenation for the love and care of the arts sector here in North Bay and got the local politicians thinking of supporting this industry even more.  

“I joined the board after the Creatives. With the next election we pushed hard for sustainable funding and that was right before we rebranded as Creative Industries Inc. and that was strategic because we wanted to be recognized as an industry and we wanted to align that face value with economic development,” says Lathem.

Lathem says the city and Creative Industries Inc. had a matching funds initiative in which they were able to raise $30,000 and within a year, the city matched those dollars, which allowed them to hire someone. Lathem stepped off the board and applied for the Executive Director position and got the job which was at first a part-time position.

“With the last municipal election, I was able to lobby very hard for more sustainable funding from our municipality. So, at that point, we gained a four-year funding agreement of $50,000 of unrestricted funding each year, and so that’s what we are working under now.” 

Lathem says Creative Industries Inc. is the regional arts service organization for North Bay/Nipissing. “We are here to support, advocate and promote the creative sector in our area, whether that’s individuals or organizations or collectives and groups within our area and outside of those borders as well,” says Lathem.   

Through all of these experiences, Lathem has found that the Creative Sector is an area that will get supported when people see the results.

“Arts shouldn’t be a fringe benefit,” says Lathem.  

“It’s hard to work in the creative sector. It’s hard to constantly see things shut down because of funding. A lot of us rely on provincial and federal funding and if one of those falls, you’re in a really tight spot.”

“That is what we’re trying to do as Creative Industries is changing that perspective.”

If you have a story idea for Jobs of the Future, send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com 


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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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