By Izzy Poirier
Wow, what a ride this year has been! Sometimes I'm so caught up in the hustle of what's next that I forget to take a step back and appreciate our victories. So, let's take a breather and look back at the incredible year we've had at the Ottawa Design Club (ODC). And here’s something to cheer about – this was our first year of fully in-person events. Goodbye Zoom, and hello real faces! The team really knocked it out of the park, pulling off 4 fantastic in-person speaker events, publishing a zine, and hosting its launch, all showcasing just how creative and resourceful they are.
Let's dive into a quick recap, shall we? I want to share with you the behind-the-scenes magic, the unexpected moments, and all the bits in between. Consider this your all-access pass to the ODC experience!
We started the year with a bang with "Beyond the Mark," bouncing back from our somewhat hectic (but still delightful) Collaboration Zine launch – you know, the one with those last-minute speaker changes? Well, we turned that challenge into a triumph, and this time, we were aiming even higher. The lineup was stellar: Mariah Landers, Dom Laporte, and Dom Richichi, each bringing their unique creative energy that's reshaping our city’s creative scene.
Now, for a bit of fun from "Beyond the Mark." We like to mix things up during our networking hour, and for this event, we set up a temporary tattoo station inspired by Mariah’s work. I had this wild idea to get a tattoo right on stage! But, in the end, we opted for a less dramatic, yet still cool approach. I got my tattoo at Mariah's shop earlier, and we filmed it to share at the event.
I was so excited to reveal this to everyone. Picture this: I'm on stage, asking who got a temporary tattoo, and then, bam! I unveil my own real tattoo, symbolizing our shared creative journey.
But, surprise: the reaction was silence. No applause, no gasps, just a quiet room. There I was, showing off my new tattoo, and it was as though I was talking to myself. Talk about an unexpected turn!
But you know what? The event was a hit. The energy between the speakers was incredible, creating an atmosphere that felt like we were all part of an exclusive creative club.
The experience with the tattoo was a real learning moment. Maybe it was too bold, too soon. We were still building our rapport with the audience, and it made me think about how we convey our creative ideas.
Jumping ahead to our "Stories that Matter" event, we were riding high off the momentum from "Beyond the Mark." The challenge: how to top our previous success? This event was challenging as we wanted to provide a unique experience centred around a universally relatable topic. Storytelling is at the core of what we do, and this event aimed to explore that in depth.
We were thrilled to work with Gillian Reid, whom we first met during our online workshops. Her talent is simply inspiring. But the challenge was finding someone to match her experience while bringing a different viewpoint. Melanie Yugo was the perfect fit. Their contrasting talks offered a rich array of insights and sparked some fascinating discussions among our audience. This was ODC in its true form – presenting diverse perspectives and challenging the status quo.
After "Stories that Matter," we faced our next big challenge with the third event of the year, "Creative Pursuits." Timing was our nemesis, with the event set for August 31st. We were right in the middle of everyone's summer vacation plans, and getting speakers was tougher than a game of Tetris. But hey, challenge accepted! We were determined to make this one so good it would give serious FOMO to anyone who missed it.
We hit the jackpot with Ignacio Osorio and Ryan Antooa agreeing to speak. Both had been in our audience before, so working with them felt like teaming up with old friends. We were keen to ensure the content delivery was spot-on, especially after my tattoo reveal taught us a few lessons. Ignacio, a wizard with graphic motion, used the song “One More Time” in his presentation – a creative decision that ensured his message would stick with the audience. Ryan's approach was just as impressive. He started by playing the piano, a perfect illustration of his point about finding work that excites you.
Speaking of Ryan, his presentation sparked an unexpected and now infamous moment. During his talk, someone in the audience shouted, “Take your shirt off!” This humorous interjection has since become an inside joke, affectionately earning Ryan the nickname “Hot Ryan” among the ODC team.
Everything we had been working towards culminated in this event. Despite my worries about a summer date being a tough sell, we had a full house. This wasn’t just a win in terms of numbers; it was a milestone for us at ODC. It represented the evolution of our event experiences – we were hitting our stride, creating the kind of immersive, unforgettable experiences we aimed to offer our audience.
Entering the 4th quarter of the year, I was staring down a long to-do list and a calendar packed with engagements. In hindsight, I might have scaled back a bit, but then again, I’m the type who thrives on seizing opportunities, no matter how crazy the schedule gets.
One of the highlights of the "Creative Pursuits" event was hosting Caroline Sarrette, the founder of the New York Design Club (NYDC). We'd been in touch for the past year, collaborating to establish the NYDC. Communicating our methods and goals to Caroline had its challenges, especially since we hadn’t yet developed a formal brand and style guide for the Design Club – a bit ironic, I know, considering my background in brand design and brand architecture. It was crucial for Caroline to experience the unique vibe of our Design Club firsthand, to understand what we were all about and replicate that energy back in NYC.
Then came September 21st, and it was my turn to be Caroline's guest in New York. The whole experience made me feel like I'd stepped into an episode of "Friends" – I was getting a real taste of the New Yorker lifestyle, far different from my previous tourist visits. And let me tell you, Caroline absolutely nailed it! The event in New York had the same vibe as ours in Ottawa, which filled me with immense pride. It was evident that the essence of our brand and its ethos had been successfully conveyed. But what really warmed my heart was seeing the audience engage and learn from the speakers. That moment was a milestone and significant for the creative community. We can now openly say that Ottawa influenced a big metropolitan—a testament to the successful collaboration between Ottawa and NYC.
During all this excitement, we were deep in the process of creating our 6th zine. Following Zine 0005 Collaboration, we had decided to take a break from our usual publishing schedule. Juggling two zines a year and our events was quite a stretch, and we wanted to refocus our energies. However, the community's enthusiasm was undeniable – they kept asking about our next zine and how they could contribute. With a growing core team now in place, we decided to put it to a vote: should we bring back the zine but limit it to just one issue a year? The team's answer was a resounding yes. I double-checked, "Are you sure?" emphasizing the workload it would entail, but their commitment didn't waver.
Choosing "Renaissance" as the theme for our comeback issue felt like a no-brainer. It was the perfect metaphor for our revival – rich in possibilities and inviting diverse artwork submissions. The openness and vulnerability in the applications we received were both surprising and heartwarming. It was a sign that our audience finally trusted us, offering us stories and artworks that were amazing and incredibly varied (a massive shift since the tattoo anecdote), creating a visual feast (you can read more about that here). Redefining the zine's layout and experience was crucial to complement our theme of rebirth.
Ariane and I reached out for external design assistance for the first time. We brought on Jared Lebel and Émilie Brunet, encouraging them to take a bold, exploratory approach. We weren't initially seeking cohesive ideas; we were after fresh perspectives. We set some basic guidelines but also gave them the freedom to break these rules if it enhanced their spread. The goal was to elevate each artwork, presenting each piece in a slightly different light. They certainly delivered, bringing new ideas that initially seemed to lack coherence. I faced a challenge when I began assembling Jared’s, Emilie's, and my spreads. It took two intense 12-hour days, with Ariane's invaluable assistance, to find design solutions that would unify everything. It was teamwork at its finest. As demanding as it was, this process proved essential for the final outcome of the zine (everyone is mentioning to us how much they love this new issue). And let's not even get started on the printing special effects – that's a whole other story in itself!
As we finished the zine design, our attention quickly shifted to organizing our next two events, starting with the zine launch. This was our first attempt at separating the zine launch from our regular speaker events, with the goal of spotlighting our featured artists. Venturing into new event formats, we embraced both the excitement and the learning curves they brought. One such challenge was coordinating live performances, a new endeavour for us. However, the poetry reading by Salem Paige and the music performance by Oddeline truly enhanced the experience, showcasing incredible talent and collaboration.
The night, while mostly a success, also came with its lessons, particularly in working with various organizations. It was a reminder that aligning with partners who share our values and dedication to detail is crucial. Despite some bumps in the road, the highlight was undoubtedly our partnership with Wall Space Gallery – their support and synergy with our vision made the event a remarkable experience. We are eagerly looking forward to future collaborations with them.
Juggling both our zine launch and the final speaker event of the year, "State of Mind," which were just a week apart, really put our team (and me) to the test. After exploring deep, vulnerable topics in "Creative Pursuits" – like immigration, family struggles, failure, and even death – we were still under the influence of our "Renaissance" theme. Continuing this conversation felt natural as we prepared for "State of Mind." Perhaps influenced by a touch of burnout, we decided to bravely tackle the subject of mental health, a topic deeply important to us.
We had been confident about our speaker lineup since September. However, life's unpredictability struck again. Just two weeks before the event, amidst the zine launch hustle, one of our speakers had to step down due to their own mental health issues. This brought back memories of the challenges we faced during the "Collaboration" zine launch. Staying true to the resilient ODC spirit, we quickly regrouped. I reached out to our network of trusted creatives for speaker suggestions. Interestingly, they pointed out individuals we'd already had on our radar for different reasons. A huge shoutout to Corinne Blouin and Ava Margueritte for joining us last minute! And, of course, immense gratitude to Jared Lebel as well. Their contributions were key in making "State of Mind" a transformative event, marking a new chapter in our event series.
As I look back on the year, this blog post is just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more I could delve into – the intricacies, the backstage hustle, the moments of doubt and triumph, and yes, even that spontaneous tattoo decision. It’s a reminder that sometimes you've got to take a bold step (or a permanent ink mark – oops!) to make a lasting impression.
At the heart of everything we do is our audience. Every decision, every little touchpoint, is crafted with them in mind. Their energy and engagement are what drive us to push the boundaries of creativity and community.
This coming year, we’re looking to take even bigger creative leaps. The lessons learned from our events and the zine have shown us the power of pushing boundaries and embracing taking risks. We plan to dive deeper into themes that challenge and inspire, fostering an environment where we can all thrive.
Moreover, our "Renaissance" zine's enthusiastic reception excites us about our next creative endeavour. While we’re still exploring ideas for our next zine theme, one thing is certain: we're embracing the creative journey ahead of us. Figuring out how to top this year's design and experience is a challenge we’re eager to take on. I can't sign off without expressing my deepest gratitude to our core team: Ariane, Kyla, Ken, Wes, Princess, Anastasiia, Niall, Kat, our day-of-event volunteers, and our partners. Your dedication, talent, and hard work are the lifeblood of ODC. You turn visions into realities and challenges into opportunities.
As we turn toward 2024, let me remind you of a phrase that has become synonymous with the spirit of ODC: "If you like creativity, you're in the club." This mantra, embodying our ethos of inclusivity and passion for creativity, will continue to guide us as we innovate, inspire, and build deeper connections in the coming year.
A huge thank you to every single person who has been a part of this incredible journey. Your support, engagement, and enthusiasm are what make all of this possible. So, here’s to 2024!
— Izzy Poirier