On February 10, Hedley’s Senior Centre was crowded with community leaders and advocates from Princeton to 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.
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 two members of the Princeton community participated in a 4 person panel discussion. They were Rika Ruebsaat of the Princeton Traditional Music Festival and Robin Lowe-Irwin representing the Upper Similkameen Spirit Festival. They each discussed their events and successes and challenges they had experienced.
At the end of the workshop there was palpable excitement and enthusiasm as attendees exchanged