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‘Magical’: Penticton comes together, makes Ignite the Arts Festival a success yet again

‘People are coming together and realizing the most valuable asset we own is community’: Paul Crawford
Ignite the Arts’ “Parade For No Reason” came to downtown Penticton on Friday, March 31 and featured fire-spinners. (Brennan Phillips- Western News)

Paul Crawford thinks Penticton is on the cusp of doing something “really special” and the recent Ignite the Arts Festival has a lot to do with it.

There was music, dance, theatre, fire-spinners and even some unexpected controversy at city hall.

The Penticton Art Gallery’s curator says it all played a role in helping the Ignite the Arts Festival become a success for the second time in as many years.

“It was magical,” Crawford said. “I get the sense we’re going to be part of something really amazing, based around art and culture, to actually rebuild and heal our community…people are coming together and realizing the most valuable asset we own is community.”

Events at the second annual Ignite the Arts Festivals kicked off Friday, March 24, as hundreds of artists from across B.C. touched down in the Peach City for 10 days of performances, theatrical plays, mural unveilings and much more.

VIDEO: Fire-spinners, brass musicians star at ‘Parade For No Reason’ in Penticton

From the art walk that featured dozens of local venues to family-based sculpture competitions, the first-of-its-kind Penticton celebration debuted in 2022 after Crawford and his wife, Julie Fowler, led efforts on a similar event in Wells for 17 years.

The gallery’s curator says more than $60,000 was put back into Penticton’s economy last spring, as a result of the inaugural Ignite the Arts Festival.

Fast forward one year later and the 2023 edition of the event, although not cheap to organize, will breeze past last year’s figures, Crawford said.

“Ticket sales doubled and we can feel capacity for the event is growing in a big way,” he stated. “We’re still collecting all the numbers but based on the investment alone, the local impact will be there.”

Crawford and Fowler both estimate the gallery’s investment in the festival this year to exceed the $300,000 mark.

They say festival highlights include kids’ songwriting at the Dream Cafe, and dancing at the Elk’s Hall. The latter was a new Ignite the Arts venue in 2023.

In total, the festival hosted 65 acts and hundreds of both local and travelling artists.

PHOTOS: ‘No shortage of vibrancy’ at Ignite the Arts Festival’s Walk in Penticton

Less than 48 hours before the event started, Crawford told the Western News he was in “absolute shock” after learning city council had approved a more than 50 per cent operational funding cut to the art gallery.

Public outcry towards the city followed but in turn, the community’s vocal support for the arts only grew, Crawford said.

A packed city hall on April 3 watched the curator make an impassioned plea to local politicians about restoring the gallery’s funding of $125,000 for 2023.

He was successful in doing so.

Moving forward, the gallery will also be listed as a line item for multi-year funding.

READ ALSO: City council restores Penticton Art Gallery funding

“The money is something and it’s great, but it could also be a curse,” Crawford said in the days following his public plea. “They could come back and say you’re only worth $55,000 a year, so there’s a lot of waits and see.”

Still, Crawford remains encouraged over council’s eventual decision.

“I think that conversation is so vital, and I’m grateful that it’s happening and I’m happy to stand up and fight for this until the end.”

With potential funding cuts top of mind, he says attendees brought a special kind of energy to the festival, all in the name of “supporting vibrancy.”

“For a large group of people, it was a motivating factor to realize ‘yes, this is important to me and I’m willing to fight for it’ and seeing that happened was so great,” Crawford said.

“We are empowered, we can make a change and we have a voice.”