The enthusiasm for the first-ever Ignite the Arts Festival from co-organizers Paul Crawford and Julie Fowler is contagious.
The 10-day event kicks off Friday and runs through until April 3 at various venues across the city.
“We want people to know there’s all these incredible artists coming, but as well, we have a lot of free stuff to offer,” Fowler said in an interview. “We have the more-traditional ticketed festival on the final weekend, but a lot of what we offer is free, especially in the first week.”
Fowler coordinated the Arts Wells Festival in Wells, B.C. for 17 years. She retired on good terms in 2019 and then COVID — combined with a shortage of accommodations — basically sealed the fate of the event.
Much of what was done in Wells will be mirrored in Penticton.
“A lot of this will be an experiment for the first year,” Fowler admits. “We will learn a lot and we are hoping to lay down a foundation for years to come.”
Ticket buyers might be confused by the fact a lot is going on — all at the same time.
Organizers encourage visitors to go online to research the artists and then plan their week accordingly.
Part of the festival’s concept was to involve all of the partner groups from the community and many are hosting their own events during the 10-day period.
“There’s always been a notion that arts are fractured in our community,” Crawford said. “We want to gather everyone under one umbrella. This is not the Penticton Art Gallery’s festival, even though we’re the ones organizing it. It’s Penticton’s festival.”
Fowler, a board member with the Penticton Arts Council for four years, said she’s never witnessed so much positive collaboration in all her years in Penticton.
On the first weekend, a free concert, “Awakening: First Blossoms/Spring Equinox” will be held at the Cleland Theatre. Victoria Jaenig and Ullus Collective, Devyn Destinee, Mariel Belanger, Rich n Beka, The Melawmen Collective and Curtis Clearsky and the Constellationz will all perform sets on Sunday, March 27 from 7-11 p.m.
Other week-one highlights include the unveiling of the square mini-murals on opening night and then a parade to nowhere, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. outside the gallery. The parade’s walking route will be determined spontaneously based on the number of people who show up.
On the weekend of April 1-3, the festival will have simultaneous performances at venues including the Penticton Art Gallery, Slackwater Brewing, Cannery Brewing, The Dream Café, Tempest Theatre and Okanagan Lake Park.
Vaccine passports will be required at most indoor venues as provincial health orders are not being adjusted until April 8.
The format for the final weekend is similar to the Pentastic Jazz Festival where visitors can travel from venue to venue or remain at one venue for the entire day.
Among the recognizable names scheduled to perform are Juno nominee Al Simmons, a longtime collaborator with children’s performer Fred Penner; internationally-renowned Aboriginal musician Kym Gouchie; and Juno nominees Oot n’ Oots.
“Ours is offering a much more diverse lineup of artists than other festivals,” Crawford said. “If you listen to CBC or go to folk festivals, you will have heard a lot of the artists we have coming here. Just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy them. With the exception of the Cleland (Theatre), our largest venue seats 100 and everything is going to be an intimate performance.”
While the final week of March seems like a strange time to host a major festival, Ignite the Arts team believes it’s perfect.
“By having this over spring break, there’s a lot of people who traditionally leave (for holidays) and we’re looking to have people stay here,” Crawford said.
“Why do something over the summer when you’re competing against 100 other special events?”
Fowler echoes, “With climate events such as forest fires, summer is now becoming a challenging time to organize anything. In the spring, the worst thing we’re looking at is maybe a major snowstorm that will make it hard for people to get up here from the mountain pass.”
While most of the attendees are expected to be from the Okanagan, tickets have been purchased from as far away as Vancouver Island.
Tickets for the final weekend are available until Thursday at the reduced rate of $100 which includes a $15 voucher for select businesses, gallery and artist merchandise.
Tickets for students ages 13-17 are $25 for the weekend and children 12 and under are free. Adult tickets are $125 as of Friday at midnight.
To view the entire schedule, purchase tickets, sign up to volunteer or view artist biographies visit: pentictonartgallery.com/ ignite-the-arts-festival