Get ready, get set, and don’t forget to bring a lunch! Arts in the Park is about to head into another spectacular season of performing arts over lunch hour at Whitehorse’s LePage Park.
Most locals are well acquainted with this beloved weekday tradition, where long time residents and spellbound wanderlusts gather together to enjoy music, art and community over brown bag lunches.
This year marks the 21st year for the annual summer festival and will feature shows from noon to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday, as well as youth oriented shows on Wednesday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m. Arts in the Park also hosts one visual artist per week, who collaborates, interacts with and showcases their creative endeavours to show attendees.
There’s a lot to love about this long running concert series. It’s free, all ages are welcome and it’s centrally located in the downtown area. The best part? You’re sure to get your fix of both established and emerging artists. This year’s lineup features 60 performing artists over 11 weeks from kickoff on Tuesday, May 23rd to close on Friday, August 4th.
“The goal is to have a variety of genres, and to think about a balance between emerging versus established artists,” Producer and programmer, Geneviève Doyon says, adding that the selection process is no walk in the park. This year, over 90 performing artists applied to be part of the festival.
“It’s Arts in the Park’s mandate to make room for emerging artists and bands that people don’t know about,” says Doyon. “We want a balance of gender, age and cultural backgrounds, so there’s a lot to take into consideration.”
This unique blend of raw talent and experience is what makes the festival so special. As Doyon explains, Arts in the Park features seasoned veterans with decades of songwriting experience and shows behind them, and contrastingly, musicians or bands who have never set foot on stage before.
“The process has taught me, even if you think you know all the bands in town, you don’t,” says Doyon, who has been producing the summer series for three years. She had her first foray into this festival during her cheechako summer in the Yukon, where she worked as an associate producer alongside Yukon musician, Steve Slade. Slade started Arts in the Park with Dereen Hildebrand in 1996 through the Yukon Art Society. He produced the summer festival for 18 years until 2015, when Doyon took over the prestigious position.
While Doyon is the face of Arts in the Park, she is quick to point out that many people are involved in making the event possible, including the Music Yukon staff and board, and the many contributing sponsors. Doyon will also be flanked by two summer interns, an associate producer and a sound technician.
Though it’s her third year at the helm, the selection process doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, with the interest and quality of performers on the rise. Doyon says the process is humbling, and she learns about many “closet bands” who have jammed together for years, but perhaps never ventured out of house.
This year, Doyon is amped up and ready to produce another season of amazing music, with a personal twist. As a first time mom to a four-month-year-old, she laughs that she’s both “mortified and excited” to have her son with her at Arts in the Park.
While other moms might think she’s crazy to produce a festival with baby in tow, Doyon says she’s fortunate to work with Arts in the Park and Music Yukon, and to be able to bring her son to work.
“Until I was a mom I didn’t realize how easy it is to push new mothers aside,” Doyon says. “It’s about time as a community we make space for kids to be there and allow that flexibility.”
She notes that Arts in the Park welcomes new parents, families and daycares. Kids day is on Wednesday in the park, where daycares roll in and take over the park with exuberant enthusiasm.
Along with musicians, the lunchtime shows will also feature other art forms like dance, poetry and spoken word.
While most performers are local acts, this year’s festival will showcase Chrys Salt, a poet from the United Kingdom, who will be collaborating with Whitehorse classical guitarist Nicholas Mah.
Arts in the Park will also host Canadian prairie troubadour Matt Epp, who will be passing through Whitehorse on his motorbike tour (he’ll be playing at this year’s Atlin Arts and Music Festival as well).
While there’s always room for new, the festival also celebrates longtime balladeers and fan favourites like The Canucks, who have been playing music together for over 50 years, and frequenting LePage Park since the festival’s inception. Doyon fondly remembers her first summer in the park, when she was charmed to watch the Canucks play.
Every weekday presents a different act and a new flavour for you to try.
“The point of Arts in the Park is there is a built in audience of people who come to the park and eat their lunch no matter what,” Doyon says. “So it’s a cool opportunity to expose people to music or arts that they wouldn’t go out and see otherwise.”
She comments that many audience members have said that unconventional shows exposed them to something new, and this expansion of horizon (and comfort) is what it’s all about.
As in past summers, there will also be musical panels, a tradition started by Slade, where seven to eight songwriters are given themes and asked to create and share songs to Arts in the Park audiences.
This is a unique opportunity for spectators to see songs that have never been performed before. The panel also provides a platform for seasoned and emerging performers to share the stage and their stories in songs.
“There’s something to be said about performers putting themselves out there and playing songs for the first time. It’s exciting for artists and for the audience.”
The Wednesday evening shows are funded by the Youth Investment Fund and promote an all ages, substance free environment to enjoy performing arts. The programming is catered to youth and also features youth bands, and as Doyon says, is growing in popularity.
“The evening show is for the louder stuff as well, the kind of stuff you wouldn’t want to eat a sandwich on your lunch break to,” Doyon says with a laugh.
This year, the punk rock band Hoarfrost will be playing and taking loudness to a whole new level. As there aren’t many venues for heavy music, Doyon says she’s excited to see the turnout.
Not only does Arts in the Park provide a daily social outing for many individuals, but a welcome flux of hungry clientele for local businesses in the area. Doyon emphasizes just how fortunate Yukoners are to be able to enjoy a summer packed full with talented performing and visual artists.
“We are so lucky as a community to have free music every day rain or shine for 11 weeks,” Doyon says. “Sometimes I wonder why there’s not 300 people in the park everyday.”
Arts in the Park takes place everyday this summer at Lepage Page in downtown Whitehorse, located at 3128 3rd Avenue. For a schedule of performing artists and visual artists, visit www.ArtsintheParkYukon.com or check out their Facebook page.