Deep Freeze looks to grow despite thawing funds

· The Pulse

The 17th annual Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival takes place Jan. 21 to 22 on Alberta Avenue despite its ongoing difficulties securing funding and attracting volunteers.

And this year's festival might even be the biggest edition yet — potentially extending into February if a grant opportunity arrives.

"When we had found out that there may be a possibility for some support, we were like, 'OK, well, our team is more than happy to continue the programming,'" festival producer and Arts on the Ave executive director Christy Morin told Taproot.

"And really, the reason we do Deep Freeze is to bring people to the neighbourhood. Also, it's about community togetherness and the spirit of community in winter. We're crossing our fingers that funding will come through, because it's sort of an experiment that we haven't ever done before."

Morin has overseen Deep Freeze since its start. She said this year has been tough for both operating dollars and onboarding volunteers, in part because of an increase in overall winter festival activity.

"Finding sponsors and finding money has been an incredible, incredible feat," Morin said in an interview on Jan. 11. "Even our regular funding that we receive through a federal granting process, we were told that there were way more people looking for funding, and so we were cut 36% or 38%."

Morin said one struggle following the pandemic has been finding a way to encourage people to volunteer again. "We still are looking for about 120 volunteers," Morin said on Jan. 11. "We need 400 total."

As the festival date approaches, Deep Freeze is still looking for volunteers.

Inflation, supply-chain issues, and other challenges have also affected the festival.

"In wintertime, keeping machinery going in this kind of cold weather is challenging for huge construction companies," Morin said. "And here we are, this little winter festival, trying to find ways to be able to keep things going. Even the price of wood has gone up."

People in winter-wear costumes congregate on a snowy lot in front of a large green wall emblazoned with the text "let's heal the divide."

Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival takes place Jan. 21 to 22 on Alberta Avenue. Pending grant funding, it may be extended until early February. (Eric Kozakiewicz)

Deep Freeze is a mélange of indoor and outdoor programming that consists of food, live music, visual art, film, activities, and more. The festival spans from 90 to 95 Street on 118 Avenue.

Like its home on Alberta Avenue, Deep Freeze is all about cultural collision. Its entire website is translated en Français, and its programming includes culture-specific programming from Ukrainian, European, French-Canadian, Franco-African, Latino, Métis, and Indigenous traditions — just to name a few.

But it's not simply a mishmash, Morin said.

"We began, a few years ago, looking at what are the themes, (and) what are the motifs that these cultures share other than winter?" Morin said. "We were talking about the Alberta bush and how the morel mushroom was like the king mushroom for going mushroom picking in the bushes."

Accordingly, this year's theme is "Under the Toadstools," a fungi-focused umbrella feting foraging traditions.

"The sculptures that you'll see out will reflect the woodland creatures," Morin said. "You'll be able to see the mushrooms out, you'll see the magic of the gnomes that live under the toadstools out, as well as the fairies and all the magic of the bush. And we're hoping to carry that into next year as well. It's learning and celebration at the same time."

New to this year are the Snow Globe Pavilion, an ice garden, an après-ski experience, additional art installations, and an all-ages and expanded beer garden.

"Our family beer garden has expanded into the whole entire area of the parking lot (at 93 Street and 118 Avenue)," Morin said. "So you can go watch the blacksmith with a hot toddy and your kids in tow, and go roast hot dogs, and also go watch a Ukrainian dance all within the same area."

Edmonton and the rest of Alberta have endured a challenging cold snap as of late. But Deep Freeze is ready to weather the storm.

"We've seen rain, snow, and sleet all within three hours of one day," Morin said. "We sort of just adapt. We never have closed the festival down."

Nearly all of Deep Freeze is free to attend and donations are gratefully accepted. An exception is an Arts on the Ave fundraiser, held at the Snow Globe Pavilion and Alberta Avenue Community Centre on both days of the fest. Ticket fees will support the ongoing work of Arts on the Ave and, by proxy, Deep Freeze.