Buskers bring life to Kelowna's cultural landscape

Enhancing this city's cultural landscape to the satisfaction of all area residents has been a challenge for the members of Festivals Kelowna, but a tack adopted last year appears to be mostly paying off.

Renata Mills, the executive director of the festival society, told city councillors Monday that after the collapse of efforts to create a signature event for the city, attention was dedicated to smaller programs that spanned the year.

Those brought in cash and numerous thumbs up from attendees, but  one has the potential for controversy along with fanfare.

By trying to legitimize the act of playing music on street corners, the society planted 10 busker stands throughout the city that are rentable on a daily, weekly or seasonal basis.

Most thought allowing musicians to set up and sing for tips in a legitimized environment added to the cultural flavour, but some found it just annoying.

"We set up the busker program like a good neighbour," said Mills, explaining how she's dealt with any ensuing controversy.

"For example, Blonde had an issue, and we took away that stop."

The specific problem had to do with boutique workers, who believed that a storefront busking station brought in an unsavoury element who leered through the window. Now they're no longer there, the issue has been laid to rest and the rest of the feedback has been largely positive.

As such the program will expand from 10 to 16 stops and be available to participants year-round.

"It's a simple way to promote performing artists in our community," said Mills, adding that participants can pay $5 to rent a busking station for the day.

Mayor Sharon Shepherd asked if Mills had looked into expanding the program to the Stuart Park ice rink in the off season, and learned that it might not be possible.

"We can't have busking at Stuart Park because of its commercial nature," said Mills, explaining that even through performers play for spare change, their existence may still contravene the terms of the covenant on the land that doesn't allow for businesses.

Just as the busker program gained positive attention, so has Celebrate Canada Day, Parks Alive and Arts Alive program.

"Nine out of 10 people surveyed said they would recommend (the Canada Day festival) to others, and as council knows a willingness to recommend is a huge indicator of success,"said Mills.

Parks Alive — the program that brings live music into area parks — also had a banner year. In order to tap into a larger audience, the society printed a schedule in the Capital News, allowing seniors to follow the events as they occurred.

Also in its purview were co-ordinating with groups like Country Music Television, which brought the Doc Walker video shoot to the city and BreakOut West co-ordinators who turned the downtown into festival grounds.

For Arts Alive, artisans were able to show their wares seven days a week from May from September, in 36 spaces, and it's anticipated that the program will expand.

All in all, a change in tack was well received by local politicians.

Coun. Robert Hobson pointed out that one of the key elements of making a community diverse and appealing to young professionals is the cultural sector.

"You are benefiting the people who are here too," he said, noting their efforts work to "attract people to live and work in our community."


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