CLEAR LAKE -- The underwater birthday party was going very well, swimmingly even, until the jack fish showed up.
Filmmaker Mike Maryniuk set up an underwater birthday party -- for reasons he can't even explain -- using a time-lapse camera focused on a fake cake, birthday candle, table and chair and party balloons.
Minnows showed up and were very well behaved, as you'd expect from minnows, flitting around the party scene as if in a fishbowl.
Then a jackfish arrived. It filled the frame like some party-crashing Gila monster. It seemed fine with the birthday cake, just looking at it with reptilian eyes. Then it suddenly flew into a rage and bashed the balloons with a neck snap.
Who knew? Jackfish are fine with birthday cakes, but don't bother tying party balloons to your fishing lure.
This, and even more substantiative projects -- but really, is there a higher calling than making videos of underwater birthday parties for fish? -- are part of what makes the Clear Lake artist residence unique.
The Deep Bay Residency is a lakefront log cabin dedicated for use by artists only. More than 70 artists have been able to practise their art free of charge at the designated heritage building since the program began nine years ago. Alumni range from lesser-known artists to names such as Wanda Koop and Diana Thorneycroft.
Koop was one of the first artists-in-residence. She spent six weeks at the cottage and produced 16 paintings of Clear Lake that year that can be viewed at wandakoop.com (under Deep Bay, the cottage's location on Clear Lake).
The paintings earned her tens of thousands of dollars and a showing at the National Gallery in Ottawa. She loved her stay so much, she parlayed her sales into a down payment on a cottage here.
The artist's cottage was initially built for float-plane pilots on forestfire patrol, but fell out of use and into disrepair by the 1980s. Don Huisman, former townsite manager of Wasagaming in Riding Mountain National Park, had it restored as part of the park's mission to maintain historic buildings.
Huisman needed an occupant and literally started flipping through the phone book. He came upon the Manitoba Arts Council, and a light bulb went on. "Huisman's idea was there should be artists in the park," said Martine Friesen, program consultant with the Manitoba Arts Council. They signed a 10-year lease agreement. The arts council lease is modest, but the council is required to pay hydro and all repairs, major or minor, as well as furnish the cottage.
Not just any struggling artist can stay. One has to be recognized by peers within the arts community as a professional. A writer would have to have something published, and not self-published, for example. The artist must have received compensation at industry standards. A jury of peers decides who gets to go. Stays were initially up to six weeks but now are typical two weeks as more people apply. Each artist is also required to give a public presentation before their stint is over. In one case, a contemporary dancer gave a performance on the lawn bowling greens.
You also have to have a project. Maryniuk has several works in progress.
Maryniuk makes short, rural-based films infused with playful animation. He and John Scoles, owner of Times Change(d), made a 10-minute film about Stu Clayton, a.k.a. Yodelin' Stu from Manitou, called The Yodeling Farmer, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival. Another film, Cattle Call, made with Matthew Rankin, played for three years as an occasional vignette on German television.
He describes Clear Lake as "Banff meets Gimli." "Filmmakers have this phobia about leaving the Perimeter Highway. For an artist to leave the city and explore this treasure of Manitoba is an unbelievable experience."
All artists rave about their output away from the city and cellphones and email. There's another element. "The bugs keep you on task," Maryniuk adds.
The Deep Bay Residency lease comes up for renewal in 2015 and there are concerns with all the budget cuts at Parks Canada. However, it has a major supporter in new superintendent, Michaela Kent, who has a master's degree in English literature. "I see a lot of value in artistic interpretation of landscape. In addition, when an artist is finished here, their work goes beyond the borders of the park," said Kent. That promotes the park.