A scene from the 2019 ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art in Wells. Executive and artistic director Julie Fowler helped establish a new B.C. Music Festivals Collective to help connect music festival directors and producers from across the province during this uncertain time. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer file photo)

Julie Fowler of Wells helps build new provincial music festival collective

The group is sharing information and working together to address COVID-19 challenges

Live music is one of the industries that has been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has prompted the creation of a new British Columbia Music Festival Collective to bring festival directors together.

On April 1, more than 50 independent music festival producers in B.C. came together via video conference to address the challenges the industry is facing in light of the global pandemic, and the collective has continued to grow since then.

The initial meeting was convened by Julie Fowler of Wells, who is the artistic and executive director of Island Mountain Arts and ArtsWells.

“The number of festivals in B.C. has grown substantially in the last 20 years, and this crisis has highlighted the value of coming together to share ideas and resources so that we can all continue to strengthen our communities and create a vibrant arts and culture sector in B.C.,” Fowler said in a news release.

This group is composed of small and large music festivals representing every geographical region of B.C. These festival producers and directors have banded together in solidarity to create transparency, dialogue, and share their passion for live music to ensure that festivals continue to thrive in B.C. after this pandemic is no longer a threat to our well-being and safety.

“I am thrilled that a united voice has been created, and we look forward to acting as a vehicle for communicating with music industry individuals and organizations, the provincial government and granting agencies,” Deb Beaton-Smith of Beat Music Management and a spokesperson for the collective, said in the release. “At the same time, these festivals will work together and individually to ensure that independent music festivals in B.C. continue to nurture the artistic and cultural impact they are known for, while still remaining a dynamic economic driver for our communities and our province. Our thoughts and hearts are with the artists and festival workers that rely on these events as a staple of their livelihood and economic survival throughout the year.”

Participating festivals included ArtsWells, Arts on the Fly, Bella Coola Music Festival, Robson Valley Music Festival, Peace Valley Folk Fest and many more from across the province.

Fowler says the original impetus for the collective came from another group of festivals she is part of and the value she saw in that group meeting virtually during the pandemic. She decided she wanted to do something similar with all the smaller festivals with which she is in contact.

“I’m part of a group of western Canadian festivals, and they started meeting weekly through the crisis, and I got so much out of that opportunity to just chat and share information,” she said.

Fowler set up a Zoom meeting for April 1, and she said it started getting more widespread, and they ended up with close to 80 people representing nearly 50 festivals on the call.

“It was like ‘woah, OK, people are really needing this opportunity to connect,” said Fowler. “It happened really kind of organically, really to just share information with each other and check in with one another. I didn’t really have much of an agenda for that first meeting beyond just being able to connect, and I hadn’t anticipated so many people being on the call.”

Fowler feels the work she has been doing the last five years with Northern Exposure Conference in Wells and Barkerville gave her the tools to be able to convene something like this because she has been cultivating those relationships with different festivals through that program.

READ MORE: Northern Exposure Conference in Wells and Barkerville ‘was very valuable for people who attended’

The collective is looking at how to keep this communication line going from here and what is work they can do together that is really effective, explains Fowler.

“We figured advocacy is something, the information sharing, and also looking at best practices,” she said. “It’s hard to know if it will actually become sort of a formalized organization or group, but it’s definitely been great to just be able to connect. Last week’s meeting, we had Creative B.C. and B.C Arts Council attend and share information with us, what’s happening at a provincial level for funding because that’s been a big question for a lot of us who get provincial funding.

“We had Dan Mangan, who’s a well-known B.C. musician, he’s part of a company called Side Door, which started a few years ago with the idea of helping artists connect with venues and house concerts … now that actual live events are off the table, he’s put all his effort into creating a really good online ticketed platform, which he’s had great success with in the last few weeks. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking at now, what are the alternative ways we can deliver some of our content.”

Fowler likes that this initiative came out of rural B.C.

“I think that’s a pretty cool thing too because a lot of the festival experience in British Columbia is about going to these smaller communities,” she said. “You think of Shambhala, it’s a massive electronic festival, but it’s in a pretty remote part of the province, and I think that’s a huge part of the festival culture in B.C. is going to rural parts and seeing the beauty of our province. It’s neat that it just happened organically and out of little Wells.”

Fowler says the collective is currently doing weekly meetings, and an organizing committee meets once a week before the larger group meeting.

“People are really motivated to keep the momentum going and thinking of things, very similar to things we have done with Northern Exposure or thought about like how do we share resources, like portable toilets, we all need them, fencing — could this collective invest in fencing for example that we all put money into and then it can be used by all these different festivals, and could this organization be what organizes all of that,” she said. “Right now, basically it’s crisis management is where we’re at and especially last week, all of us were in the midst of cancellation plans and dealing with ticket buyers and all our stakeholders, but as we go forward, there’s definitely momentum to see how to continue working together and what would be valuable for us all. It definitely seems like people are motivated and see a real value in it.”

If there are any other music festivals out there that would be interested in joining the B.C. Music Festivals Collective, Fowler says the group is very open to anyone interested in joining their meetings.

There’s a national organization called the Canadian Live Music Association, and Fowler says they’ve also been very active in sharing information and have also invited all of the festivals in the collective to their meetings as well. They are usually member-based, but they have opened up all their meetings, she explained, and they’ve started a weekly festivals-only call.

“I feel like that’s been the silver lining for this pandemic is it’s really activated these connections and meeting together in a way that’s never happened before,” said Fowler. “We’ve been able to say to these 64 festivals in B.C. here are these weekly meetings that are happening on a national level. I feel like I’m way more connected. I feel like I’ve been lucky to connect on a national level just because I’ve been doing this for so long now and gotten to know people from other festivals from across the country, but it’s pretty cool to be able to extend that to lots of smaller festivals and bigger festivals too.”

READ MORE: ArtsWells cancels 2020 festival due to COVID-19


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