Arts in the Park kicked off its 18th year with over 100 people gathered downtown in LePage Park.  The Whitehorse summer fixture is now the longest running free summer festival anywhere in Canada, a fact of which the local organizers are understandably proud.

“We are continuously trying to grow and expand and to find different ways to connect to the community,” explains Susanne Hingley of Music Yukon, which brings the festival to the Whitehorse stage each summer.

She stresses that they aren’t just about the music.

“Of course we have musicians, but we also have featured visual artists each week, and our stage plays host to storytellers, dancers, poets, comedians, and clowns, just to name a few,” she says.  “We like to help cross-pollinate the different artistic communities in Whitehorse.”

There are a few special features the audience can look forward to this summer.

The first is the Heritage Sessions.

Now in its third year, this part of the festival features an item, activity, or place of historical relevance to the community and enlists local musicians and writers engage with it.  The participating artists then create a song or written work reflecting upon the experience, which is premiered during the Heritage Sessions show at Arts in the Park.

“The first two years of this saw artists take part in the Whitehorse historical walking tours and paying visits to the MacBride Museum,” Hingley explains, “This year we picked Jim Robb as our ‘artifact’.  Artists will tour Robb’s exhibit at the Yukon Arts Centre and then will be able to sit down with the long-time Yukon resident and artist for a coffee and an interview.”

She adds that Robb attended the previous two Heritage Sessions and got a real kick out of them, so he seemed like a perfect fit for this year’s program.

In the future, Music Yukon hopes to release an Arts in the Park Heritage Sessions collection – ideally in conjunction with their 20th anniversary, in two years time.

The crowd can also look forward to the upcoming Northern Song Sessions, which will see commissioned artists learning and performing music from other Yukon songwriters. 

Finally they can check out the Photography Sessions in which artists take inspiration from Yukon photographs to craft an original piece of music.

The twelve-week Arts in the Park program runs from May 20 until August 8, noon until 1 p.m. each week-day in LePage Park, across the street from Java Connection and the Yukon Theatre.

They run an additional youth-focussed program each Wednesday evening from 7-8 p.m.  The performers filling these time-slots are youth-oriented in both their style of music and band composition.  The carvers from Northern Cultural Expressions Society also join the Wednesday evening programming as featured visual artists.

The lunchtime programming showcases new performers each day on the stage, and a featured local visual artist each week. Wednesdays showcase family friendly programming, where performers tailor their set to all ages, and the visual artists provide an opportunity for little hands to get in on the fun.

Hingley points out a couple of upcoming acts that she is personally excited about.

“The Finch Collective, who are a folk rock band from Newfoundland, are playing on Friday, June 13, and they should put on a fantastic show.  Also the LGBT community is going to be presenting at some point this summer which I think will be amazing.”

Last summer’s programming saw 16,000 people attend Arts in the Park; this summer you’ll have plenty of opportunity to grab your lunch and a friend, and head out to join them.

Amber Church is a Whitehorse-based writer