StreetFest prioritizes safety for 2023 edition

· The Pulse

The Edmonton International Street Performers Festival and The Works Art & Design Festival have teamed up for a second year at Churchill Square, with safety for everyone top of mind.

"Safety has been foremost in our conversations with the city since last year, and we're taking a varied approach to things," Liz Hobbs, director of programming and communications for StreetFest, told Taproot. "We're working with a whole bunch of outreach teams, (we're providing) Naloxone training, and trying to take a person-first approach, because we're also very aware that we're in people's backyard."

Churchill Square has been home to the festival since the 1980s (with a few years away during construction and the pandemic). This year marks its second one back since the pandemic, with 2023 set to be its return to "a fully international festival," Hobbs said.

"Our goal is, of course, everybody's safety. Everybody wants to feel welcome. And that's not just the people coming into downtown, but (also) the people who are downtown," she said.

Amid ongoing conversations about safety in the core, Hobbs "absolutely" feels that an animated downtown makes for a safer-feeling downtown.

"I believe we were the first big event back at Churchill Square last year, in five years," she said. "It felt pretty desolate there when we moved in at the beginning 2022. But, of course, there's been a bunch of things happening … it feels much different than it did this time last year, in a good way."

Even with its partnership with The Works, attendance during StreetFest was nominally down last year as compared to 2019, something Hobbs said was "to be expected." She also said the two festivals are complementary in that they animate spaces in different ways.

A performer on stilts with an inflatable flamingo surrounded by a crowd with City Hall in the background

Most of the international acts StreetFest tried to curate in 2022 were not willing to risk the financial or health-related concerns still stemming from COVID-19. This year performers were resoundingly more ready to travel abroad. (Supplied)

Though there was one small hiccup last year — sounds from The Works' music stage competing with the volume of street performances — Hobbs says that's been sorted out, and there are numerous advantages that come from working together.

"A lot of the site-coordination stuff becomes easier," she said. "We share the same plumber, the same electrician, the same vendor coordinator … all of those things around festivals, which is a heck of a lot of work, is the stuff we do together."

Importantly, one thing each festival remains autonomous in is artistic programming. That means audiences can still expect to see what they love about each festival, and potentially be exposed to work outside their typical artistic milieu.

Locals to know

Though the international artists participating from nine different countries are a highlight for StreetFest this year, there are several local artists from both lineups worth checking out as well:

  • Jason Kodie, a musician roaming the site with a unique piano-bike hybrid
  • Tiffany Shaw, an architect and artist whose knitted Mylar-wave installation on a wave form will debut as part of The Works
  • Mariann Sinkovics, who will both perform stilt characters and run a fortune-telling booth
  • Andrew Thorne, a Works artist who will conduct field recordings made through audience participation
  • Jay Flair, a magician and circus artist who will be part of StreetFest's circle shows
  • Jonathan Monfries, a designer and urbanist who created five tree sculptures for The Works

Both The Works and StreetFest run July 7 to 16, predominantly at Churchill Square but with select events taking place offsite.