The disharmony of global events meant there could be no Harmony Arts Festival in 2020.
It should have been a milestone year for West Vancouver’s beloved summer celebration of the visual, performing and literary arts – its 30th annual edition.
But the COVID-19 pandemic, then still in its early months, made the staging of a 10-day event that typically draws more than 140,000 people an impossibility. In response to its cancellation, Mayor Mary-Ann Booth spoke for many when she said, “It’s difficult to imagine a summer in West Vancouver without Harmony Arts.”
Plenty of other events in the past year have elected to move their programming online. But the organizers of Harmony Arts recognized that the physical gathering of friends and family, amidst the matchless natural beauty of the North Shore, is too important a feature of their festival.
“We chose not to go the virtual route,” explains Christie Rosta, Cultural Services Manager for the District of West Vancouver, who has played a part in Harmony Arts for the past 12 years. “We wanted to keep the spirit of the in-person alive. When COVID came, it was an overwhelming time for everyone. So, we opted to wait for a time when we could bring the community back together again.”
Happily, that time is now. Harmony Arts Festival 2021, presented by Odlum Brown Limited, takes place Friday, July 30, to Sunday, August 8, at its long-time home on Argyle Avenue between 14th and 16th Streets.
The District of West Vancouver is following COVID-19 protocols as set by the Provincial Health Officer, including staying home if you’re not feeling well, strongly recommending wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands throughout your visit, and being respectful and keeping your distance. More information is available at harmonyarts.ca/covid-protocols.
“The Harmony Arts Festival has always been a celebration of the arts and of community,” says Booth. “After pausing in 2020, this year’s festival has special significance. We can celebrate as a community once more and, through this celebration, take a step on the path to recovery, reunion, and renewal. As I share the news of the festival’s return with residents, they are over the moon!”
While organizers began planning for the return of Harmony Arts late last year, they had no idea what form the festival might take – or if it would be possible for it to return in 2021 at all.
“We’ve actually been in the planning process since November, working with all of our fabulous community partners and sponsors, and developing programming within the COVID-19 protocols and provincial health orders,” says Rosta.
“There were a variety of different programming options we explored, including smaller-scale programming in different satellite facilities, which would have been very different, but we still would have been able to provide an opportunity for artists to showcase their work.
“But then, with the announcement on June 30 [of Step 3 of the province’s Restart Plan], we were able to bring all of our programming back together within the festival site.”
While Rosta acknowledges that this year offers “a modified festival,” meaning some events will take up a smaller portion of the festival site’s footprint, Harmony Arts 2021 actually represents a continuing evolution – something that’s been a festival hallmark since its beginning in 1990.
When it launched, Harmony Arts was primarily a celebration of visual arts. A focal point was Art Beat, a program in which “artists worked with local businesses to display their work in the storefronts,” says Rosta.
Throughout the decades since then, Harmony Arts has expanded to incorporate music, film, literature, food and drink, and more.
This year’s festival highlights include the RE/MAX Garden Stage, boasting daily concerts and a nighttime feature performance; the Fresh Street Art Market and local food trucks; the Park Royal Beachside Patio, a licensed venue “where everyone comes together to share meals or drinks with one another”; Creative Insights, an exhibition showcasing art from the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre (presented by Inglewood Care Centre, a Baptist Housing Community); an “amazing” art installation from James Harry and Lauren Brevner (supported by the West Vancouver Foundation); and First Nation artists-in-residence Xwalacktun & Friends (sponsored by Grosvenor Americas), who will be carving onsite each day of the 10-day festival.
Plus, for the first time in Harmony Arts’ history, this year offers a special ticketed event, sponsored by British Pacific Properties, featuring live improv from Vancouver’s Blind Tiger Comedy and a barbecue dinner. It takes place at the Cypress Pop-up Village (3757 Cypress Bowl Rd.), a new venue for the festival. Tickets are now on sale for $60 each.
All in all, after the seemingly endless uncertainty of the past 16 months, Rosta and her colleagues couldn’t be more thrilled that Harmony Arts is returning, ready to bring new, fun-filled summertime memories to a public that couldn’t need it more right now.
“All of our corporate partners, our production company, the artists we work with, the food trucks and restaurants, and our bar staff – everyone is so excited to come back and is working tremendously hard to bring this forward for everyone. It’s a wonderful thing to see everyone coming back together.”
For more information about Harmony Arts Festival and to view this year’s full schedule, visit harmonyarts.ca.