There is a little park in the centre of downtown Whitehorse where magic happens during the summer.
Every weekday lunch hour, for 11 glorious weeks, the park fills with kids, office workers, seniors, moms, dads, twenty-somethings – all types of people – who come together to listen to music, check out some art and eat their lunch.
It’s a free event called Arts in the Park and it’s a relaxed and entertaining 60-minute oasis in the middle of our lives.
It was 20 years ago, now, that Steve Slade and Dereen Hildebrand launched the Arts in the Park festival through the Yukon Art Society. So this spring the season will kick off with music, art and a free barbecue on Tuesday, May 24 at LePage Park to celebrate two decades of enjoying art in the park.
Slade ran the Arts in the Park for 18 years, then began a transition to step away from the project and Geneviève Doyon is now the producer and programmer.
For many years the free festival was administered by Arts Underground, then about five years ago Music Yukon took over.
“The 20th anniversary, it’s a good time for us to think about, as a community, we’ve been having this festival all summer long – it’s pretty unique,” Doyon says. “Arts in the park is completely reliant on funding because we have no income. So we only operate on government funding, business sponsorship, and individuals giving us money.
“And that has been happening for 20 years. That’s pretty special. I don’t think that every town in Canada can say that they can pull that off.”
Music acts over the years have included happy, bouncy music for toddlers; teen rock bands; sultry jazz; seasoned blues; alternative country-folk; classical guitar; and more.
“Our audience varies from tiny babies to people in their 90’s; there is really stuff for everybody,” Doyon says.”I often like to say that it’s the only place in Whitehorse that both a homeless person and a lawyer can be sitting side by side and they’re both as welcome and belong just the same.”
Doyon is excited that this year the festival has received funding to pay the travel costs to bring in artists from around the Yukon.
“There have been artists from the communities before, but this year we can actually give them money to put towards their gas and a hotel room,” Doyon says. “That’s the very first time in 20 years that that’s happened, that we actually put the money into bringing people from the communities.”
Some of the acts who are coming are Kaska artist and musician Dennis Shorty from Ross River, Northern Tutchone musician Jerry Alfred from Pelly Crossing and folk singer-songwriter Joey O’Neil from Dawson City.
The lineup up will also include Francophone performers, a Chilean-Canadian musician and some acts from outside the territory.
“There are some acts that are coming up for the Atlin Music Festival that are going to come and join us at the park while they are in town,” Doyon says. “There’s an electronic duo that’s coming all the way from Toronto and that is playing around Whitehorse and we were lucky enough to scoop them up. They’re called LAL and they’re really, really fun and it like electro-groovy, so it’s kind of different, stepping away from the folk stuff that is great but that we often hear at Arts in the Park.”
Like every other year, the Arts In the Park festival will have a songwriter panel.
“We select some songwriters from the community and we give them a theme and then they write songs that’s specifically for that Arts In The Park performance,” Doyon says. “It’s kind of exciting to see something that has never been shared before – like the very first time the song is performed. “
And, as in years past, every week while the performance is happening on the stage, a guest visual artist will be doing art demonstrations.
The idea of the visual arts component is that it’s interactive; the artists usually invite the audience members to try out the art form.
“It’s a way to get the visual art out of the studio,” Doyon says.
Arts in the Park runs from May 24 to August 5, Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m., with an extra show on Wednesdays at 7 p.m..
“The idea of those evening shows is they’re youth oriented. So it’s more the bands that are maybe a bit louder and not necessarily appropriate for the lunch crowd,” Doyon says.
But also there to give the community a substance-free event to go to. Doyon said that there are not a lot of place where people under 19 can enjoy live music at night.
“And for all ages to go somewhere but that is not necessarily about drinking”
The noon show on Wednesday is going to be more of a family show.
“It’s not always children performers but it’s always a family friendly performance,” Doyon says.
The Arts in the Park festival runs for 11 weeks from May 24 to Aug. 5 at LePage Park, which is located on the corner of Wood St. and 3rd Ave. The free music shows and art exhibition takes place every Monday to Friday from noon until 1 p.m. with an additional show on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.
The festival kickoff and barbecue take place on Tuesday, May 24 at noon.
For a schedule and information about all of the guest performers and artists go to www.ArtsintheParkYukon.com.