2018 was a stellar year in local arts, entertainment

The city's arts, entertainment and culture scenes were alive and bustling this past year. In many ways, new records and benchmarks were set.

Some were ephemeral moments like Cirque du Soleil performing their innovative acrobatic skating show Crystal, comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Russell Peters coming to town and music spectacles from country star Brett Kissel to pop/hiphop sisters Dani & Lizzy to The Vancouver Orpheus Male Choir to opera star Kathleen Morrison to southern rocker John Mellencamp to metal headliners Battlecross to Hedley on the cusp of the sexual assault allegations against their lead singer. Other moments included spoken word superstar Shane Koyczan to standup filmmaker Kevin Smith broadcasting the podcast Fatman Beyond with co-host Marc Bernardin live from Northern FanCon.

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We lived in interesting 2018 times. These are some of the highlights that made the headlines in this year of floods and droughts, fire and snow, and a never-ending stream of local and imported infotainment.

Topping the list was the enormously successful year had by The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre.

In 2018, they became the headquarters for the Symbiosis initiative that brought (and continues to bring) together a plethora of stakeholders in the STEAM universe - the various fields of study in the professions of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

The Canadian Association of Science Centres (CASC) held its national convention in Prince George, centred at The Exploration Place. Staff of the museum, plus a number of other local people and places, were spotlighted for the science presentation industry of Canada. The conference theme was Lhulh'Uts'Ut'En (pronounced "Lull uts soo tan"), a Dakelh phrase meaning "Working Together."

Staff there held a usually-sold-out Adult Speaker Series, a monthly town hall meeting for science, starring some of the area's most interesting minds talking about their most prized personal projects.

All this slingshotting came out of the last month of 2017 when The Exploration Place won a Governor General's History Award For Excellence In Community Programming for the opening of the museum's permanent gallery named Hodul'eh-a: A Place of Learning. This in-house display tells the story and archives the physical artifacts of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation and increasingly contextualizes the region's ages-old Aboriginal foundations.

The Prince George Symphony Orchestra also made headlines for a number of reasons. For one, it was the first year under the artistic directorship and conductor's baton of resident maestro Michael Hall, who unfurled a classy program of events that included teen guitar phenom Xu Kun "Alan" Liu; prodigal P.G. music sons Karl and Joel Stobbe; a Canadian folk mashup by Ken Lavigne, Tiller's Folly and Diyet working together; and many more.

The PGSO also made headlines for their financial situation. In one of the rarest of instances, in relation to Canadian not-for-profit orchestra organizations, the fiscal discussion was about how spry and vigorous the society's ledger was. The PGSO board went before city council not to ask for a loan or a loan extension, as had been done multiple times in the past, but instead to give them a cheque. The organization paid in full, several years ahead of schedule, the final $17,733.33 of the $50,000 extended them by city hall in 2005.

"In two years the Prince George Symphony Orchestra has gone from an accumulated deficit of $131,000 to being in the black," said board president Diane Rogers.

Meanwhile, Theatre Northwest broke new ground in its 25th anniversary year.

One of the professional theatre company's most notable triumphs was the all original play Hedda Noir.

This world premiere performance was a modern adaptation of the classic Henrik Ibsen script Hedda Gabler. Hedda Noir was penned by TNW's artistic director Jack Grinhaus who wrote the play for his wife, Lauren Brotman, who won critical raves for her starring portrayal of the troubled antagonist character.

TNW then proceeded to add box office success to their critical acclaim by breaking company records for ticket sales for a single play. The show Million Dollar Quartet was a smash hit.

The always busy Community Arts Council was up to its usual tricks like hosting Studio Fair, the Spring Arts Bazaar and Chili Cook-Off, the 6x6 Best Damn Little Art Auction, and other annual goings on, but they also added some significant twists in 2018.

Foremost among them was the establishment of the Northern Indigenous Artists' Collective (NIAC). This new arts roundtable was launched within the governance structure and developmental care of the Community Arts Council but NIAC is not a user group or guild, as is the typical case with CAC affiliates. This new entity is its own freestanding Indigenous arts council.

"As far as we can find, NIAC will be the first Aboriginal arts council in B.C.," said CAC executive director Sean Farrell.

NIAC was launched by the committee of Shirley Babcock, Darin Corbiere, Carla Joseph, Lynette La Fontaine, Dianne Levesque, Len Paquette, Jennifer Pighin, Ivan Paquette and Kim Stewart earlier in the process.

The Community Arts Council, the Prince George Symphony Orchestra, and Theatre Northwest also broke new ground with a first-time collaboration in 2018. They wanted to cross any perceived borders between themselves and work as one on a fundraiser to help them collectively. That earned the name support of mayor Lyn Hall who signed on for the inaugural Mayor's Black & White Ball For The Arts, which was so successful it is now expected to be an annual event.

Five multi-day events took big strides forward this year, leading the pack for locally organized events. The BC Northern Exhibition went ahead after a modified 2017 that had to be curtailed due to the Cariboo wildfires. This year, the show went on without a hitch.

Northern FanCon brought such celebrity names as Sean Astin, Kevin Smith, Nichelle Nichols, Michael Biehn, Tricia Helfer and many others. It was a cosplay playground, it was a film industry classroom, it was a retail bonanza and it was stadium-sized fun.

Cariboo Rocks The North was a first-time event that will have many happy returns if 2018 was any indication. Pacific Western Brewing moved their parking lot barbecue to Exhibition Park in front of CN Centre, made it a three-day blast, and brought to town the likes of Randy Bachman, Kim Mitchell, Honeymoon Suite, Platinum Blonde, Toronto, Headpins, 54-40, Nick Gilder & Sweeny Todd, Little River Band, Prism and Harlequin.

While the classic rockers were braving the forest fire smoke at Cariboo Rocks The North, the metalheads were doing the same thing down the road at Brookside Resort where Battlecross headlined the two-day Metallion Festival which always showcases a mix of local and import talent pounding out the loudest of the popular music genres and adding another layer of ka-ching to the local economy.

The winter also got some heat when the nationally celebrated Coldsnap Music Festival brought some of Canada's top folk-music talent to Prince George. This event runs more than a week at various locations around the city in the heart of winter, with local musicians also getting ample spotlight and the import talent conducting workshops as well as concerts.

Also in 2018:

The most prolific writer of local history books, Jack Boudreau, passed away. Born in 1933 and raised in Penny and Prince George he wrote 10 books, all of them on the people, places and professions of this region and all of them among the bestsellers published by Caitlin Press.

Jennifer (Rioux) Jenkins captured the hearts of the nation as one of the competitors on MasterChef Canada seen weekly on CTV. Her punky purple hair fashion and her spunky kitchen skills made her a popular local draw to a nationwide TV show.

Kim Purcell's novel This Is Not A Love Letter was published by Hyperion Books. It was a fictional story aimed at adolescent audiences based on some real life events from her upbringing in Prince George, most notably the disappearance of local teen Al Rivas in 1989 that has not been solved. The book has done so well that it made National Public Radio's list of best reads of the year.

The Central B.C. Railway and Forestry Museum chose a familiar name to take over the helm of the sprawling industrial attraction. Katherine Carlson has been the curator there for years and her time in the museum's employ dates back 10 years, covering almost every department in the organization. Now Carlson has been named the executive director.

Paint sparks flew when Michael Kast first met Lynette La Fontaine. The two painters were the first tandem selection ever made by the Community Arts Council to be artists-in-residence. The CAC felt they could host two artists at the same time and so gave these two a try, despite them never having known each other before, much less worked on art together. The CAC gave them no mandate to collaborate, but offered the suggestion. They each did large bodies of individual and co-produced art in their year at the free CAC studio space.

Isabelle Houghton handed over the Limelight Quest crown to new champion Grace Hoksbergen. Hoksbergen won the annual singing competition (runner up Mesa Passey, third place finisher Arilynne Barks, fourth place Katie Hogan) at the finals held on the BC Northern Exhibition entertainment stage. She will now get chances to perform on several regional stages as part of the prize. The first one is the soon upcoming Coldsnap Music Festival.

Hall Of Fame arm wrestler Vern Martel was a centrepiece real-life character of the documentary series Arm Nation that got aired on APTN. The weekly half-hour show follows a number of arm wrestling stars from Canada, with special attention given to athletes like Prince George's Martel who come from Aboriginal backgrounds.

Carla Joseph, the winner of Art Battle 2016, is now the local event's first repeat champion. She topped the 12 competitors to win her second title in three years.

Painters competing at Art Battle are given a canvas, an assortment of colours, a 20-minute time limit, and a live audience at Hubspace. Three rounds of four painters each are held. The audience votes to decide the finalists for another pressurized 20-minute paint-off. Whomever earns the most votes in the finals goes on to the provincials in Vancouver in summer.

For the first time in city history, a television series was filmed entirely on local locations. After years of development, filmmakers Jon Chuby and Jeremy Abbott finally earned an airing for their comedy spoof Geoff and The Ninja. The production team gave Prince George viewers a big-screen first look by playing some of their series at the P. G. Playhouse in advance of the debut on Telus Optik TV. For those who missed any of the show, it is also available on their YouTube channel.

The reason for renaming Fort Georege Park to Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park was clearly demonstrated when the renovation of the park's picnic pavilion revealed copious human remains from bygone eras. Twelve full bodies plus the bone of a 13th person were uncovered in the excavation phase. Construction was halted pending careful examination of the earth in that area.

After consulting with Lheidli T'enneh First Nations elders, the bodies were interred with honours at the Lheidli T'enneh cemetery only a few dozen metres to the east of the discovery. Construction then continued and a new pavilion now stands at the site, with markings to indicate that this is Lheidli territory.

The park sits on what was once a busy part of the Lheidli civilization that has resided in this area for thousands of years.

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