On February 10, Hedley’s Senior Centre was crowded with community leaders and advocates from Princeton to Penticton, Osoyoos and Kamloops. They had come to hear Julie Fowler, executive director of the highly successful ArtsWells Festival.
It was the first in a series of “Community Conversations” organized by Angelique Wood, RDOS Director of Area G, and Kim English, a director of the Hedley Heritage Museum Association and Assistant Manager of the Grist Mill.
Purpose of the workshop, according to Wood was to “improve existing festivals and also to encourage networking among participants ” She said “this type of meeting will enable us to form lasting bonds and grow our communities.” English said she hoped people would hear something of value they could take back to their own community and apply there.
Fowler, who has been in Wells 10 years, told the group her passion is to support artists of all kinds. “I want to bring them together,” she said, “and I want to bring their art to the world.”
The Wells festival began small. “In the beginning we gave away a lot of tickets so people would come. And if an artist showed an interest we begged them to come. There was little money to pay them, but we did feed them.”
She advised her audience to use existing facilities and look for funding through corporate sponsorships and government grant programs, in addition to selling tickets. “Publicity is important,” asserted Fowler. ArtsWells has found the CBC to be helpful.
Fowler said last year the festival sold out and had about 2000 guests. They require approximately 220 volunteers, most of whom come from outside Wells. Many of the artists and guests stay in tents during the 4 day festival. It is still “quite grass roots.”
Currently the Wells festival features over 100 musical performances on 12 stages. It offers more than 20 different workshops teaching everything from Ukrainian dance to lyric writing, clowning and more. Activities for children include a crafting station, a children’s stage and workshops geared towards children.
There are also screenings of independent films and local theatre productions. A one minute play festival is always popular. Added to this is a host of inter-genre literary performances and workshops, including story telling/writing, poetry and the unexpected.
Following Julie Fowler’s presentation, Bob Nicholson of the Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Alliance participated in a panel discussion. He spoke about the Meadowlark Nature Festival which takes place in Penticton. It features hikes, history, wild life and much more. Each year they have an artist paint a picture, usually of a Meadow Lark, and put it on t-shirts which are sold to raise funds. “We could use more help,” he said, “including a few additional people on our board, and we need money.” He expressed a desire to work with other groups. “A lot of the power is already in this room,” he suggested. “Often we don’t know who has the experience, knowledge and skills.”
At the end of the workshop there was palpable excitement and enthusiasm as attendees exchanged ideas and contact information. Angelique Wood described the presentations as “inspiring”. Another Community Conversation will take place in April at a date to be announced.