I spent the last couple of months working for one of my favourite events here in Edmonton. The Kaleido Family Arts Festival is an exuberant celebration of the arts that happens over a weekend in September every year. It started as a way to help make the neighbourhood safer and friendlier to artists and families. After 10 years it continues to grow, with music, dance, circus, theatre, art installations, and more. When they asked me to coordinate their installation competitions, I jumped at the chance to be part of something that I believe so strongly in.
In a city where we have multiple festivals every weekend in the summer, and plenty more throughout the year, this one is my favourite. It's multi-disciplinary, multi-generational, community-based extravaganza, and has something for everyone. I love that you can walk down the streets (in what is normally seen as a 'bad' neighborhood) and see everything from a big name band, to stilt-walking clowns, to gymnasts dancing on the sides of buildings, to a giant squid, to Ukranian dancers, to a man riding an oversized chicken. Year after year you never quite know what to expect and I always feel a sense of wonder and awe. Having gone behind the scenes this year, I could see what a true community effort this is. There are a few hard-working staff and then hundreds of volunteers who make it all happen.
Two aspects to the festival that have always intrigued me are the lamppost and 12x12 installation competitions. Both give artists a certain amount of space at the festival - a lamppost or a 12x12 spot of street - and ask them to create something amazing. They always deliver. You can expect to see innovative, magical creations that catch your breath and make you wonder, "How did they come up with that?" Looking to do a lamppost myself, I ended up coordinating the competition as well, so I got to see the creations emerge from start to finish.
Of the artists who participated, some are professionals, some are hobbyists, and some are community members who just want to get involved in the festival. I asked some of them what drives them to be creative:
"For me, creativity is a restless energy swirling around inside my mind and my body...it is constantly bouncing around and building up pressure and absolutely needs to be released - usually by the act of physically producing an object." William Johnson
"It's the nicest thing in the world to share your creativity with everybody! Without creativity life is empty. I believe we all have this creativity but some of us are still looking for a way that it comes out." Wilfred Stijger
"When I'm in creative space time seems to stand still. I feel an aliveness that is like being in love with someone." John Larsen
Here's what they hoped to achieve with their installations:
"Years ago I was a part-time hippy carny. I learned that you don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. I'm trying to entertain the people who show up at the festival. I have a bit of the P. T. Barnum in me. My inspiration is driven by the" Burning Man" crazy installations." John Larsen
"As a project which was done with my 11 year old daughter, we achieved EXACTLY what I had hoped for....a shared creative, learning/teaching experience together, which we will both be able to cherish forever. Secondly, we had hoped to create an installation/piece which made the viewer stand back and appreciate the concept, the creativity and the craftsmanship which went into the piece(s)." William Johnson
I participated because I was excited to combine two of my passions: creativity and community. I love watching friends come from other parts of the city and see an area they have written off as not worth visiting changed into something delightful and fun. This kind of creativity is transformative. It gives people an opportunity to express themselves, when they might not have another venue to do so. It shows the city that this neighborhood has value, and worth, and helps to keep it thriving rather than dying.
I decided on a simple installation, because I wanted to be there for the other artists who were competing for the prizes. I used the same string balls I made for my window display and played with the Under the Sea theme by incorporating a net-like fabric. My friend Anna helped, and it was her idea to wrap it and drop balls into it, like fish caught in a net.
I would say that we all accomplished something amazing that weekend: we transformed a space, we inspired people, we made people smile and laugh. I really couldn't ask for more.
It was an intense weekend, but a lot of fun. It reminded me about why I do this: creativity changes lives and changes communities. I hope I can continue contributing to this amazing work!