It is one of my very first memories of life in Fort McMurray. We had arrived only days before, and we were living in a company condo while we searched for a home for our family. We were brand new to the community, and the Intrepid Junior Blogger was only two years old. We had come from a very remote place in northwestern Ontario where the IJB was born, but we had grown up urban and we were ready to get back into some degree of that urban life, and Fort McMurray promised not only employment opportunities but that urban possibility, too, a community that was on the verge of tremendous growth. I don't even remember how we heard about it, but when we did we immediately planned to attend - which is how interPLAY became one of the very first things I ever did in this community.
I had attended Fringe festivals before in prairie cities and interPLAY was like a small Fringe festival. I still have photos from that first year, the IJB with her face painted like Spiderman (looking back I guess the kid always did go her own way, even back then - no butterflies on her face or stereotypical "girl stuff", she was Spiderman!). And ever since that very first time interPLAY was part of our lives here.
I think it was where the IJB first developed a desire to participate in the performing arts, and as a result over the years she has been on the stage several times. I know it is where she first met the Aerial Angels, women she now considers strong mentors for the concepts of creativity, passion and dedication to one's goals. It is definitely where we met dozens of people in this community. and it is where I found so many of the things that have formed my life here. Three years ago in the interPLAY beer tent I met some of the individuals who have become some of my best friends in this community, ones who have been with me through tremendous change in my life. Two years ago I ran the hospitality tent at interPLAY, meeting performing artists from across the country and sharing my narrative of life in Fort McMurray. InterPLAY has been the ribbon that ran through every summer, the event I planned my summer vacations around to ensure we would not miss it...except this year, when the demise of Events Wood Buffalo meant the end of interPLAY 2014.
To say I was saddened by this is an understatement, as even though my involvement with interPLAY was often peripheral I felt the loss keenly. But things change, and time rolls on, and we find ways to keep going, even when something that has become a community pillar event like interPLAY has come to an end, perhaps temporarily and perhaps permanently.
In his blog post today fellow blogger and arts advocate Russell Thomas writes of an informal "festival of arts" that will take place on the traditional interPLAY weekend this year, a collection of various arts happenings that will continue to keep the arts scene alive this summer in Fort McMurray. The Fort McMurray International Film Festival will happen during that weekend, an initiative undertaken by my friends at the Fort McMurray Film Makers Association, a group that has done astonishing things in their brief existence. Several other events will occur during that informal "arts festival", an event not designed to replace interPLAY but to ensure that the weekend, the one where people like me would have normally found ourselves on the street enjoying a decades-old tradition, would continue to have some opportunities to enjoy the arts.
I am tremendously supportive of this initiative and all those involved in it, because I believe we are at a crucial crossroads in our community when it comes to arts and culture. The demise of Events Wood Buffalo has left a void of sorts, and we are uncertain about the future of so many events and arts festivals as a result. There are questions about funding for such events, who has the organizational capability to carry them out and who has the initiative to do so. I have seen some groups, though, like the YMMFMA do so much with so little in such a short time that I know that one of the key components is simple commitment to making things happen, building on small successes and slowly growing your organization or event.
The informal "arts festival" weekend on August 8-10 at the Keyano Arts Centre will not be interPLAY, and it isn't meant to be. It is a new starting point, perhaps, a way to keep the arts alive on that weekend and to provide a place from which to build for future years. It will not be the arts festival we have come to expect on that weekend in August, but maybe that is a good thing too as we now have the opportunity to create something entirely new.
I won't lie. I will miss interPLAY this year, and this is the first year in twelve years that the interPLAY weekend was not a consideration in planning my summer vacation. I have a great deal of faith, though, in the individuals in the arts and culture scene in this community. I know they will continue to work to create arts opportunities for everyone to enjoy, and I know they will find a way to some day create a new festival on this weekend in August. I also know they cannot do so without the support of the public, and so I ask the community to put aside their sadness over the loss of interPLAY and instead enjoy the weekend of arts events on August 8-10, a weekend that doesn't have a name or a sponsor or a big tent but instead is the very essence of grassroots arts initiatives and new beginnings. I can't help but think that at one of those events will be someone like me as I was twelve years ago, brand new to the community and just taking my first steps in the place that would become my home.
Let's show that new resident that in Fort McMurray we don't need a named festival to celebrate the arts, our community and our home. Sometimes all we need is community members, an assortment of arts events and the desire to keep alive in our hearts the memory of an arts festival while working on developing new opportunities and new adventures. I suppose sometimes all we need are the very things that are for me the very soul of Fort McMurray - people with drive, vision and passion for the things they do, including the arts. You see, those are the very things I saw in Fort McMurray twelve years ago, and it was not only my first event in this community but the very moment when I began to fall in love with it, a love affair that has now lasted twelve years and burns brightly despite all the changes along the way, even the loss of the very event where it all began so many years ago.