July 5, 2019 7:51 pm
Updated: July 5, 2019 8:43 pm

35 years of laughs, wows and cheers at Edmonton International Street Performers Festival

WATCH ABOVE: The 2019 edition of the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival is getting underway. Margeaux Maron reports on the beloved event.


If you can’t believe it’s been 35 years of the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, the festival headquarters has plenty of evidence on their walls.

Retro photos, starting from 1987, line the hallways, each one with its own peculiar charm. Take the one of the man juggling with a dog perched on top of his head.

That one is of San Francisco-based juggler Dana Smith, who was there for Day 1. Smith said he and a group of other street performers were approached by an Edmonton-based festival producer with a unique proposition.

“For the first time in all of the world, that we were aware of, we had a producer named Dick Finkel, who really looked into what we were doing and said, ‘This is something that I can feature,'” Smith said.

View photos in the gallery below.

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READ MORE: Flurry of festivals take over Edmonton’s Old Strathcona this weekend

Until the late 1980s, no one was featuring street performers as the main act. It’s since been a formula Edmonton has helped perfect.

“We’re here, 35 years later, not just because there were some good performers,” Smith said.

Rather, it was because Finkel had looked into a unique model and built something that could last, according to the eccentric performer.

Hiring the likes of Smith for the past 31 years is the festival’s artistic director, Shelley Switzer. Don’t bother asking Switzer who her favourite act is.

“Unlike your mom, I actually get to choose everybody,” Switzer said with a laugh.

She got involved in 1992.

“I was instantly addicted,” Switzer said. “I knew that I was in the best place with the best artists, and best audiences too.”

The festival has moved around town several times, from Rice Howard Way, to Churchill Square, then to Old Strathcona, and has also featured countless performers.

But some things remain the same.

READ MORE: Construction in Old Strathcona coincides with busy festival season

“The excellence, the quality, the amazing volunteers who will work so hard to make it happen — that hasn’t changed,” Switzer said.

Smith note that there is a sense of surprise that audiences are left with time and time again.

“I think the spirit of our festival is that no one really knows what is going to happen,” said Smith, who is back performing for his seventh time this year.

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