We all love a festival, right? We do–except when it feels as though the same event gets trotted out year after year, with the same displays and activities, just reinvented for a different theme. My shorthand for this type of festival has become the grocery store tent festival- where the same small group of corporate sponsors has their flimsy set of tents and single staff person on hand to buoy up the proceedings. And because the rest of the event is so thin, the grocery store tents seem all the more prominent (hence my label).
Of course, even when a festival is slicker, and has more going on, it doesn’t always make the event any more authentic. I was reminded of this dilemma last weekend when we had a chance to experience two festival events: The Victoria Busker’s Festival and the Moss Street Paint-In, sponsored by the Art Gallery of Victoria. Both events had been held in prior years, and both acted as a magnet for large crowds. We left the car at home, and cycled to both. While neither felt “perfectly” authentic, I felt that the Moss-Street Paint-In had far more of the right ingredients than the Busker’s Festival. Why was that? Especially since there were ways for people with little or no income to participate in both (buskers and the gallery asked for, but did not require, donations).
In sum, the paint-in felt more real because it was:
- in a residential area, further aware from the city’s more overtly touristy district, and thus felt more like an event attended by, and catering to, locals (even though there still may have been a number of tourists there too);
- quite varied, and yet far more laid-back, allowing people to drift in and out of displays, without being on a schedule, and without being urged to clap and cheer every five minutes to buoy up the buskers’ spirits;
- trying hard to be participatory (full of happy volunteers, and complete with events for kids and dogs);
- a place where people with a range of art budgets could find something to take home (lots of art cards from $2-$5 were on sale at most of the booths- a nice way to take home a memento of the larger art work if you couldn’t afford it);
- directly linked to raising awareness of the gallery as a civic resource; and
- physically linked to a weekly farmer’s market, that brought some of the same people, but also a few others who might not have otherwise attended the art event.
Where I was disappointed with the paint-in related mainly to the mainstream nature of the art displayed (and the fact that fewer than 10% of the artists seemed to be under age 50). While I felt that all of the art was beautiful and took talent to produce, I didn’t feel particularly challenged by most of the art, even though the gallery itself is not shy about pushing the envelope. Still, this event has been a staple of Victoria’s art calendar for several decades, and I hope it continues. I have gone in past years, and this year’s felt like the most fun and diverse yet. Click here for more detail.
Interestingly, the Buskers festival was also anchored by another event – the market at Ship’s Point which sells arts and crafts, but of the variety one sees in a tourist attraction gift shop. This market overtly caters to Cruise Ship passengers who typically get to spend no more than 24 or 32 hours in the city, tops.
While I’m glad that Victoria hosts both events, I would love to see more emphasis on the types of event that interest locals and more discerning tourists. In fact, had cruise ship visitors been aware of the paint-in, they might have enjoyed it as much as the rest of us.