‘We need to feed our souls’: Community rallies to save Vancouver folk festival

Click to play video: 'Fans hope to save Vancouver Folk Fest'
Fans hope to save Vancouver Folk Fest
Rising costs have made the annual Folk Fest at Jericho beach unsustainable. But a group of fans is hoping the government will treat the art and culture sector more equitably, and help with some much-needed funds – Jan 23, 2023

Fans, volunteers and former staff of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival are organizing in an effort to save the annual summer event from folding for good.

The festival’s board announced last week that it was cancelling its 2023 event and moving to permanently dissolve the society that operates it.

In a notice to the festival community, the board said its key problem was that vendors are increasingly requiring up-front payment, and that it would need $500,000 on hand annually to produce the event.

Read more: No Vancouver folk festival for 2023, event facing permanent cancellation

Society members in good standing will be able to vote on winding the organization town at the February 1 annual general meeting.

“The festival has been around for 45 years, there is an audience, there are artists, it’s a wonderful thing. It seems to me … to be a mistake to dissolve the society,” Gary Cristall, one of the festival’s co-founders, told Global News Sunday.

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“I think it’s a question of looking for new solutions to new problems, getting a new board, voting down a motion to dissolve the society at the AGM, and moving forward.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Folk Music Festival 2023 cancelled, future of event in question'
Vancouver Folk Music Festival 2023 cancelled, future of event in question

Cristall is among nearly three dozen festivalgoers, board members, staff and artists who signed an open letter over the weekend calling for society members to attend the AGM and vote to keep the event going with new leadership.

He’s also among more than 1,200 people that have joined a Facebook group aimed at saving the festival since the news broke that it could end permanently.

Read more: Skookum Festival pulls the plug on 2020 event in Vancouver

Group members have launched a GoFundMe, and have been brainstorming ideas ranging from writing MLAs and securing more government funding to getting big Vancouver names like Ryan Reynolds on board to support the event.

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“Folk fest unfortunately really shut down all communication with their patrons and the people who love this festival — 35,000 people come to this festival every year. I was devastated,” group organizer Jordanna Corenblum told Global News.

Corenblum said there is no question there are plenty of pressing issues that require funding right now, but that preserving arts and culture is a valid goal in its own right.

Arts groups are forced to compete for a limited supply of grants, she said, while sectors like the forestry industry secure multi-million-dollar government investments.

“The one thing I think we learned from the pandemic, that when we were at our worst, when we were the most unwell, we reached to the arts,” she said.

“It’s not just about housing, it is not just about food. We need to feed our souls as well. And the government really needs to start treating the arts and culture sector like other sectors they fund.”

Read more: Vancouver E-Fest refunds in limbo as organizers rebuff return of $500K deposit

In a media release on Jan. 17, festival board president Mark Zuberbuhler said the festival returned in 2022 to find the “festival environment greatly changed,” forcing the organization to make difficult decisions.

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“Many of our service providers and suppliers had completely disappeared which necessitated herculean efforts and massively increased costs just to cover the basics of production, like stage, fencing and tents,” he said.

“We had a great festival, but we did not break even.”

The Vancouver Folk Music Festival was founded in 1978, and has become a three-day summer fixture at the city’s Jericho Beach Park.

The festival typically includes contemporary folk and roots artists from Canada and around the world to perform for up to 40,000 spectators at multiple stages.


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