Have You Ever Been to an Arts Festival *On* a Lake?

The Ice Follies returns to a frozen Lake Nipissing in 2023—here's why you need to go.

North Bay’s Ice Follies is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2023, so we’ve got 10 reasons why you should definitely be making plans to take a closer look. Located on the shores of frozen Lake Nipissing (yes, really!), the festival offers 13 massive art installations for visitors to check out—and is just a 3.5-hour drive from the GTA.

Daytime views of Aanmitaagzi, Mkomiwii: (Turns to Ice) Installations and Performance, 2020 // photo credit: 
Liz Lott

1. It’s even bigger and better

Ice Follies in North Bay, Ontario is a biennial contemporary and community art festival that runs from February 10-24, 2023. This year it’s welcoming a variety of arts presenters from Toronto, North Bay and New Liskeard, and there are 13 innovative art projects in total, making this the biggest festival so far. 

2. You can’t beat the price and the hours

Ice Follies is free, and it’s open 24/7! Just head to Shabogesic Beach (formerly known as Marathon Beach) to see the art set up right on the ice. Return as often as you like to see the exhibits in various weather conditions or at different times of day. Discover your favourite conditions for viewing the installations…is it sparkling bright daylight, swirling snow, or moody twilight?

Evening views of Aanmitaagzi, Mkomiwii: (Turns to Ice) Installations and Performance, 2020 // photo credit: Liz Lott

3. There’s a thought-provoking theme

“Thin Ice” is the 2023 theme of the festival. According to organizers, it “looks at our shifting landscapes and communities, including our changing relationship with our environment and each other.”

4. Dr. T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss is a guest artist

An Indigenous Matriarch of the Skwxwu7mesh, Sto:lo and Hawaiian people, T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss shares Indigenous customs and teachings. She seeks to connect Indigenous peoples, drawing on her work as an artist, activist, ethnobotanist and community-based educator. Her installation is called “A visit to the Underwater World of Gichi-nibiinsing-zaag’igan” and it’s a short video loop that includes both live action video of water and animated versions of underwater life. Ice Follies organizers say that “The effect is meant to give viewers a fantastical vision of what is going on under the water at any given time, and how the environment underwater is its own world of wonder that humans are not necessarily a part of.”

5. Innumerable Ones by Public Visualization Studios has another installation

Public Visualization Studio (PVS) is a Toronto-based media art collective that includes researchers, designers, artists and creative technologists. The Ice Follies work showcases creatures inspired by The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, and the creatures take the form of 3D digital masks displayed on 83” QLED screens in a free-standing ice hut as well as at the  DGTL Creator North space at the Capitol Centre. Even cooler: the masks are interactive and “look” at the viewers in real time through AI-generated animations and motion-sensing cameras. The project collaborators are people connected to North Bay’s ArtFix (a collective of artists with lived experience with mental health or substance use challenges) and Near North Mobile Media Lab (N2M2L).

6. The other artists are amazing too

For example: Anishinaabe artist Quinn Hopkins presents physical art with a QR code that lets you access a virtual world beneath the ice; Nipissing University Fine Arts students construct sculptural fragments that appear to be emerging from the ice, illuminated by glowing lights; and Irish ex-pat Dermot Wilson outfits an authentic ice hut with images and interviews of past Ice Follies experiences. There are other intriguing installations to be discovered too.

7. There are guided tours

Take a free self-guided walking tour of storefront windows in North Bay’s 100 Block West that chronologically highlight images, by North Bay photographer Liz Lott, of work created by Ice Follies artists in past years. A map with storefront locations will be available online and at each location. As well, on select dates you can opt into a guided tour out on the ice, for $10 per ticket.

8. You can take part in creative community events

Ice Follies has partnered with creatives like Vox Choir, Creative Industries, Styly, Big Medicine Studios, and others to offer community arts projects and workshops. Check the festival website for details on other events like the opening night reception, Queer Ice Fishing on the Family Day weekend, and artist talks.

9. It’s collaborative

Presenters include Aanmitaagzi, an artist-run company serving artists and community members of Nipissing First Nation and the surrounding area; Near North Mobile Media Lab, a media arts access centre for Northern Ontario; White Water Gallery, an artist-run centre that encourages outreach programming; WKP Kennedy Gallery, North Bay’s public art gallery; Nipissing Regional Curatorial Collective, which produces, promotes and documents cultural events; Nipissing University; and Trinity Square Video, Canada’s oldest media arts centre.

10. The location is unreal!

Reece Terris, Darkhouse, 2018 // photo credit: Liz Lott

Outdoor art festivals are usually pretty cool and memorable, and Ice Follies certainly delivers. Bundle up for an unforgettable outing right on the North Bay waterfront and the shores of Nipissing First Nation. In the (arguably) snowiest, coldest, iciest month of winter, you get to experience something that’s uniquely northern and a feast for the senses.

Plan your visit to the ice follies in north bay, Ontario now

Visit these sites to learn more about the Ice Follies and how to visit North Bay.

About Bonnie Schiedel

Bonnie Schiedel is the founder of www.tbaywithkids.ca, which covers fun family-friendly attractions, events and restaurants in Thunder Bay. She enjoys canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing and travel, and you can read more of her award-winning work at www.northstarwriting.ca.

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