photos: Crow's Nest with Olivia C. Davies. Photo by Chris Randle.

From the heart

Arts Profile: Vancouver’s Heart of the City Festival returns this month with more than 100 events on the go.

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There is a lot of talent and spirit in the Downtown Eastside.

That’s what the annual Heart of the City Festival showcases—it’s the flagship event promoting, presenting, and facilitating the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people, and great stories of the neighbourhood. In its 14th season, there are more than 100 events at more than 50 venues throughout the area from Oct. 25 to Nov. 5.

“We do it on an annual basis to help nurture, develop, and help promote the culture and people, stories, artists, and residents of the Downtown Eastside,” says Terry Hunter, festival artistic producer, who has been a part of it since it started in 2004.

The festival was the result of a 2003 production with the Carnegie Community Centre, which at the time was celebrating its 100th year of the building opening, according to Hunter, executive director of Vancouver Moving Theatre, which is one of the producers of the festival along with the Carnegie Community Action Project and the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians.

The Carnegie wanted to put on a community play, and approached Hunter’s company. More than 80 local residents performed on stage with a live band over two weeks. “We had a standing ovation every night, it was always jam-packed,” he says. “It had a huge impact on the community and it was a very positive community building initiative. So the question became, ‘How do we sustain this?

“So that was really a very landmark, groundbreaking production, and the ripples of that are still being felt today,” he adds.

The 2017 theme is Honouring Women of the Downtown Eastside—paying tribute to women from all walks of life in the neighbourhood. Hunter says the theme arose from one special production, Missing.

A new chamber opera, it features libretto by Marie Clements. It gives voice to the story of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and is set in the Downtown Eastside and the Highway of Tears. It will be shown at the York Theatre starting on Friday, Nov. 3.

“It’s a very emotional topic for us in this community,” he says, “because we’ve known people that have died and gone missing.

It’s a way for us to honour women who’ve been lost, but also honour the women in the community now and to pay tribute to them.”

It’s the first year the theme has been over a specific topic, rather than a metaphorical one, Hunter says.

“It’s a shift for us,” he adds. “It’s really connecting us on a deeper level with the community. That’s the intent.”

Missing will first be shown as a private screening by invitation only in the community for people who were related or close to a missing or murdered Indigenous woman.

This year’s festival features all types of artistic performances—from songs and poetry to film and spoken word.

The Crow’s Nest and Other Places She’s Gone features storyteller Rose Georgeson (Coast Salish/Dene) and dance artists Olivia C. Davies (Welsh/ Metis Anishnawbe) and Emily Long.

It’s the story of Blue and Rose, friends who have always been in each other’s corner. Weaving contemporary choreography and storytelling through an Indigenous lens, Crow’s Nest looks at how it’s time for Blue to move to the other side. Her lifetime friend, Rose, tells the story of her friend’s life at the edge of society.

Summoning—an interactive sound installation—began as an artistic response to the unsolved murder of Indigenous and other women on the Highway of Tears. When 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey was gang-raped and murdered on a bus in India, the artists behind the collaborative project wanted to address violence against women “across all continents.”

Running concurrently with The Crow’s Nest and Other Places She’s Gone, the piece will include women singing from different traditions, and be activated by motion sensors by the bodies of the audience members.

The festival also includes three events at the InterUrban Gallery across from Pigeon Park: The Feminine Touch; In Visible Colours; and Women in the Round.

The Feminine Touch is an exhibit of visual art by women from the Downtown Eastside. In Visible Colours is a performing arts showcase featuring local women representing the colours of the medicine wheel. Women in the Round is an evening featuring Vancouver’s Blues queen Dalannah Gail Bowen and special guests singing traditional contemporary songs.

“There are a number of different productions and initiatives we’re developing that will be paying tribute to the women in our community,” Hunter says.

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