Oshawa Music Awards Expands to Celebrate All Durham Musicians

Will McGuirk

Although the Oshawa Music Awards began in Oshawa, the OMAs now look to celebrate all musicians and those associated with the Region.

It’s a community we have turned to more and more in 2020, and it’s a community we will celebrate loudly and proudly in 2021. The diverse and varied music community of Durham Region will be centre stage at the Oshawa Music Awards (OMAs), taking place in September 2021. Whether the stage will be physical or virtual is not yet known, but what we do know is that the value music has to our collective economic, spiritual, and mental well-being will be acknowledged, recognized and honoured. This has been a time when so many have turned to music for personal solace, but also to send a message of hope and support to frontline workers—and it’s a message heard around the globe. Music, in some ways, was our first line of defence to stave off this Coronavirus.

In 2020, the OMAs (Celebrating Durham Region) were to take place at the Music Hall in Downtown Oshawa. Of course, due to quarantine measures set in place to combat COVID-19,  the award show pivoted and went online. Having the Downtown Oshawa innovation incubator, Spark Centre, as the presenting sponsor inspired this digital approach. It ensured the show did go on, and on, and on. The OMAs were live-streamed once a week over eight weeks—increasing the audience from a possible one night gala of 500 in-person to almost 36,000 views in 15 countries across two months.

For 2021, innovation will again be at the heart of the awards show. One lesson learned from 2020 was the necessity of being nimble in all aspects. The planned 2021 version is to be a hybrid of the traditional and the digital. The thinking is in part to prepare for any unforeseen fallout from a continuance of the pandemic, in part because the benefits of streaming can not be discounted, and in part because being there with other people is just so darn electric!

The most important lesson learned in 2020, as we saw millions of people march for Black Lives Matter, and we see the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities, was the necessity for an awards show to be inclusive and diverse at all levels. This means not just on the stage and screen, but also in the boardroom, voting and nomination processes. To that end, the OMAs have put out a call for new members for the committees, which will judge the different award categories. The steering committee, too, has been expanded to better represent the broader community. The OMAs have revisited their Mission Statement for 2021 to reflect this new approach to inclusivity.

Although the history of the awards began in Oshawa at Durham College, the OMAs now look to celebrate all musicians and those associated with Durham Region. The Awards’ intention is to travel through the coming years to the many downtowns across Durham, to better reflect the importance of diversity in place, and geography to music scenes and sounds from across the region.

Ten different towns and cities across the region were represented in 2020. From Oshawa, OMA Hall of Fame inductees included Wilson & Lee, in business for almost a century. From Greenbank, the awards saluted Moens Galberg, who ran the Greenbank Folk Club for over a quarter of a century.  Other notables included superstar Shawn Mendes of Pickering, Whitby’s Skye Wallace, and Indigenous act Crown Lands.

So many great winners of the OMAs—and so many winners to come—but it is really the people of Durham Region who win. We get to celebrate our artists, their music, and our downtowns all in one great get-together; seen and heard worldwide.

NOTE: At the time of publishing, Durham Region is in a province-wide shutdown with extensive measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to stay at home with exception to essential trips, wash hands frequently, wear a mask and physically distance from others.

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