Fringe Festival confronts challenging times with reminders of flexibility, resilience, and reconciliation

· The Pulse
By Fawnda Mithrush
in the Arts Roundup
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Of all the challenges foist upon arts organizations over the past year, adaptability has been key to survival — even growth — for most.

That's remained true for the Edmonton Fringe Festival throughout its first week of shows. As reviews began to roll in, festival organizers reconsidered their plan for ticketed entry to ATB Park (usually known as McIntrye Park, or Gazebo Park), which is housing all outdoor performances, beer gardens, and food vendors this year. Based on patron feedback, the space shifted to pay-what-you-can entry as of Aug. 14.

"We are not gates and fences," explained Murray Utas, the Fringe's artistic director. "This year has been a grand experimentation as we reimagine the Fringe experience within a pandemic context," he said, noting that while tickets are still required to enter the park to ensure safe distancing, the price is up to the patron.

Another mid-run shift for the Fringe is the raising of a tipi, care of Enoch Cree Nation and the wisdom of Uncle Hopi. The tipi was installed on Aug. 18, and will remain outside the pêhonân venue (previously The Roxy on Gateway, or C103, at 8529 103 Street) until the closing day of the festival on Aug. 22.

The venue's name comes from a Cree term for "meeting place" or "waiting place", and in a year when the Fringe has substantially reduced its number of venues, the dream of an Indigenous space in the program has come to fruition after years of planning.

The tipi was installed on Aug. 18, and will remain outside the pêhonân venue until the closing day of the festival on Aug. 22. (Eric Kozaciewicz/Marc J. Chalifoux Photography)

The tipi was installed on Aug. 18, and will remain outside the pêhonân venue until the closing day of the festival on Aug. 22. (Eric Kozaciewicz/Marc J. Chalifoux Photography)

"It's been five years in the making," Megan Dart, the Fringe's interim executive director, told Taproot. The hiring of Josh Languedoc as the director of Indigenous strategy earlier this spring helped kick-off what will be an ongoing direction for the Fringe's Indigenous-advised activities in the future.

The Fringe said that the tipi will stand as "an image of presence and resilience ... highlighting the pêhonân venue as a space of change, transformation, and Indigenous strength." A future goal is to host a sacred fire as part of the festival events and the tipi is a step towards that.

The festival runs in Old Strathcona and online until Aug. 22.