Regina’s mightiest street fair marks a quarter century of fun
Festivals by Gregory Beatty
Cathedral Village Arts Festival
Since 2000, Prairie Dog has partnered with the Cathedral Village Arts Festival to produce the official program guide. For a good chunk of that time, I’ve been the guide coordinator so I’ve had a front row seat as the festival’s grown and evolved.
We weren’t there at the beginning, though. So with the CVAF celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016, I sat down with two early organizers — Saskatchewan author/cowboy poet Ken Mitchell and Cathedral Area Community Association staffer Deb Jones — to learn about the festival’s origins in 1992.
“I was on the board of the community association at the time,” says Mitchell. “I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I suggested we should have a program of some sort. I got hold of Donna Caruso from Fort Qu’Appelle, who I knew was active in the arts, and asked if she had anything she could do in a space we were going to set up at Odd Fellows Hall.
“We also decided to set up space on the street where artists could sell their art. So we did that, and on the day of the festival it rained like crazy so we had to move all the artists into the community centre.
“It was a very small program, just to see what we could do, and if people would come,” Mitchell adds. “But it succeeded very well. I kind of took charge as artistic director for the next two years, then turned it over to the association because I was wiped out by then.”
An Evolving Neighbourhood
I lived in Cathedral from the late 1970s to mid-’80s. During that time, I think it’s fair to say, the neighbourhood was in decline, with empty nesters entering their senior years and becoming less able to maintain their homes and yards and participate in community life.
Gradually, though, younger families began to move into the area, sprucing up the pre-WWII housing stock and breathing new life into schools, Connaught Library and other community institutions.
“We weren’t sure it would work when we started out, but we thought we’d give it a try,” says Mitchell. “If it was going to happen anywhere in Regina, it would be Cathedral, which was undergoing a change. The neighbourhood had been wearing out and we thought, ‘Let’s try to bring it back to life.’ An arts festival seemed like a good way to do that.”
For the first decade or so, says Jones, the festival showcased Cathedral artists.
“We paid them a small amount, and in the early days some said if we got good tech people they would be willing to accept less because it makes [musicians] sound good, and that would help them get more gigs. And a lot of them have gone on and done quite well,” says Jones.
Besides performing in the festival, artists also serve as program coordinators and pick the talent. Peer involvement like that has helped keep the festival on solid artistic ground as new art forms such as digital media, spoken word and sound art have emerged.
Cathedral’s resident population of artists has obviously been a huge asset to the CVAF. Another key has been buy-in from local businesses which have become some of the event’s most enthusiastic boosters.
Mitchell has an anecdote about how one business saw the light.
“The second year we decided we wanted to do a show outside the community centre and have some of the setup in the Safeway parking lot across the street,” he says. “The store was outraged at the idea as it would be on Saturday, which is a busy day for them, so we had a meeting to discuss the possibility.
“The Safeway manager joined that meeting and was all set to say, ‘No way, we can’t do this. It will interfere with our business.’ But he said later that when he looked around at everyone who was at the meeting, they were all his customers, so on the spot he said, ‘Okay, you can have the space.’
“He thought they might have to shut down for the day, but it turned out to be a good move on their part, and from then on they took an active role in promoting the festival along with other businesses.”
With events such as picnics and parades, the CVAF reaches out to families to ensure children are involved. Sometimes they’re even recruited to perform, says Deb Jones.
“We always have kids from elementary schools in the area perform on Thursday afternoon in Holy Rosary Park,” says Jones. “A couple of hundred other kids come and watch them. So it’s really nice for the younger ones to start out performing in front of their friends, and hopefully one day some of them will become well-known artists.”
With funding from public sources such as the City of Regina and Saskatchewan Arts Board, the CVAF has expanded its reach beyond Cathedral to become a much sought-after performance opportunity for Saskatchewan artists.
“The last few years we’ve had online submissions for artists to participate, and we get far more applications for performers than we can fit into our schedule and budget,” Jones says.
Jones says a two-year development plan is in the works. “We also want to look at the fees we’re paying artists to ensure they’re getting what they should be getting, rather than just what we can afford.”
To mark the CVAF’s 25th anniversary, a special 5×5 program is being presented.
“We’ll have artists from five different disciplines, and there will be five acts, so it will work almost like a play,” says Jones. “There’s a preview at the picnic on Monday, and the program itself is on Friday in Holy Rosary Park at 6 p.m. It’s in a big space, under a tent, so the weather won’t be a problem.”
Ah yes, the weather. As anyone who lives in Saskatchewan knows, the weather around “May Long”, as the rowdies call it, can be an adventure. But like the proverbial postal worker, neither rain nor snow nor broiling heat has kept the festival from happening.
“It was an idea that just blossomed as we started it up and kept going, and now it’s been 25 years,” says Mitchell. “More people come every year, and it’s been a huge success for the neighbourhood, along with the city and the arts community.”
Here’s to 25 more.