“The dark and the cold are conducive to creativity,” says Carly Woolner, one of the co-founders of Dawson’s (S)Hiver Arts Festival.
Blair Douglas, the other half of the team, chimes in with a smile: “They are also conducive to everyone staying home.”
Together these sum up the motivations behind the festival, which has a mandate to nurture and celebrate gifts of creativity in the long winter months, and to get people to leave their cozy cabins and walk the streets of their fair town – even if it is bitterly cold.
The festival, happening this year on Jan. 28 and 29, is headed for it’s third run and will be the largest yet.
“(S)Hiver is a multi-disciplinary, multi-venue, family friendly event,” Woolner says.
Some of the artforms that figure on this year’s roster are: live performance (music, theatre, shadow-puppetry, dance), video art, static installations including drawing, painting and sculpture as well as interactive pieces.
“We really want artists to work with the elements,” Woolner says, “instead of feeling challenged or limited by them. They can install art that will last outside, we’ve had ice sculptures and other materials that can only be done in subzero temperatures.” (S)Hiver venues are both inside and out – participants are advised to dress for the weather for the arctic art crawl, and of course some of the artwork is itself weather dependent.
Last year saw a ghostly galleon held fast in the river ice in front of town that became a venue itself for musicians and a focal point for gatherings well beyond the evenings of the festival itself.
So who are these artists that conjure creativity in the long northern night?
“Most of the artists are Dawson-based, but this year we have a lot from other northern communities (including Whitehorse) and down south as well,” Woolner says.
This has brought it’s own set of challenges – getting in and out of remote northern communities in the winter is not easy or cheap.
Douglas and Woolner are enthusiastically appreciative about the commitment of artists to take long, multi-stage journeys, and about the funding they have received from the Yukon Arts Fund and Yukon Lotteries.
They have also been engaged in a lot of fundraising activities this year to make the festival – which is entirely free – float.
Woolner exudes Dawson pride when she tells me how she wants the visiting artists to see “how we do things here.”
For other northerners it will be a chance for sharing of skills and inspiration, and for those from down south it may be a large stretch for those choosing to work in winter conditions.
Although this incursion from “outside” seems to be the main excitement this year, the bulk of the festival has always been local talent. Douglas recalls wondering where all that talent and activity was hiding when they moved up here from B.C. three years ago.
“Carly was going to SOVA and I was sitting at home making her lunch. I was looking around for things to get involved in and really not seeing anything,” he says.
To newcomers, Dawson seemed pretty dead in the winter. The project they embarked upon to fill this void didn’t so much generate activity as create a venue for what was already happening to be expressed and shared with the rest of the community.
“We’ve really tried to reached out to all segments of the community; the youth, the schools, TH (Trondëk Hwëch’in First Nation), to involve as many different people and to allow new and experienced artists to work together.”
Community participation is key, of course, and one of (S)Hiver’s approaches is to blur the lines between artist and appreciator through interactive works and workshops. This year a lantern-making workshop will be held the week before the festival with participants being encouraged to parade their creations through town during the festival.
When I ask about exciting prospects for this year, both Woolner and Douglas are loathe to pick out any single highlight.
“There isn’t a headliner,” Douglas explains, quipping that “The whole is definitely greater than the sum of it’s parts.”
Woolner adds in “We’re always surprised with what shows up!”
Check out the festival website, www.DawsonShiver.com as we close in on the end of the month for the full festival program and workshop schedule. If you’re heading up from Whitehorse, try the Dawson rideshare Facebook page to arrange a communal foray up the highway.