No Festival is an Island | Arboretum Fest Finds New Meaning

By Christine Séguin — Wed, 19/08/2015 - 21:26

“Sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home.” - Ryan Holiday

Not everything can work out exactly as we plan.  With all our best intentions, planning and hard work, we are bound to run into obstacles, criticism and delays. In these situations, our best course of action is to shift our perspective on these issues and see them for what they could be: potential opportunities. We can complain, recoil or we could learn from challenges and act accordingly with a strong will to succeed and create something which we had not originally planned. I’ve been pondering this concept a lot lately and I had it in the back of my mind while speaking with creative director of the Arboretum Festival, Rolf Klausener on the phone on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

This year’s Arboretum Festival will not only be presenting its usual impressive curation of Canadian music, art and food. This year the festival carries with it a weighted meaning that planners were not originally expecting. Arboretum will be held on Albert Island from August 16th to 22nd, a move that has raised much discussion in the Outaouais Community. The island is a rich symbol to the region’s First Nation’s community and is part of unceded Algonquin territory. Rolf and I talked about the challenges he and the festival faced this year in light of the area’s history as well as some of the things he is looking forward to. For those of you who require some background, the festival’s organizers have provided a detailed account of their experience leading up to the festival here.

The festival’s planners embraced the discussion with grace, openness and adaptability by mingling the spirit of the region’s independent arts scene with that of its history and communities. When they could have cancelled or moved the event, the festival organizers decided to shift their perspective and viewed the challenge as an opportunity to broaden the scope of the festival and open up a dialogue on the responsibility event coordinators have in acknowledging and preserving the space they inhabit. “We have an opportunity to change festival paradigms across Canada, especially within our city and we are excited about that. We are making some notable contributions to the festival culture in the city beyond just music. We are bringing the community together; we have an opportunity to raise awareness about issues not previously address in festival culture.”

The festival will open with a ceremony led by Chief Kirby Whiteduck of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn. It will also be hosting four talks on Saturday August 22, some of which will address the unceded land issue as well as mindful communication and responsibility in modern development. Details on these can be found on the festival’s website.  

I also spoke with Rolf about some of the performers participating in this year’s festival. He is very proud of the addition of the Queer Songbook Orchestra. “I love the idea of this expansive and very artful queer event.” Another of the many events to look forward to is the reunion of local punk powerhouse Weights and Measures. “I am really excited for a younger generation to see them play.” Braids will be gracing the stage on Friday night along with The Sadies and New Swears and Saturday will feature Hayden, Austra and US Girls. The full lineup and schedule can be found here.  

The festival is really a departure from the larger multi-day events which take place in Ottawa. The food is local and even the stands on which the crowd will be sitting are locally designed and made. The new logo was even designed by Rolf himself, which resulted in a strange instance of destiny. “I painted these three abstract triangles and my friend told me it looked more like three islands instead of trees and that I should redo. I didn’t have time to so I just decided to go with it. It’s just so ironic that our location is on three islands so I really love the serendipity of how the design of the festival of this year ended up mirroring the significance of the site.”

I think this weekend will be one that is moving and significant. We not only have the opportunity to take part in this great festival which celebrates our city and its artists but we will be experiencing it on a location that has not seen a public event for two hundred years and is rich with symbolism and history. Put your ear to the ground and see if you can feel something.

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