As part of the media coverage for FLOURISH (April 25-28), not your boys club will be having conversations with some of the folks that will be organizing, creating, and performing at the festival.
For the first interview in the series, I’m speaking with Jane Blanchard (she/her), the co-founder and co-director of FLOURISH. Currently splitting her time between Edinburgh and Fredericton, she also plays music under her own name and keyboards in David in the Dark.
Photo by L. P. Chaisson
Before speaking to all the things that the fifth year of FLOURISH festival has to offer, could you bring me back to when FLOURISH was founded? I would really like to hear about the dreaming that went into the origins of FLOURISH.
FLOURISH Festival started as a term project when I was in my second year at Renaissance College at The University of New Brunswick. The course was in Project Management, and after attending a community arts gathering, I decided that throwing a mini-festival that incorporated visual art, music and other disciplines would be fun. My best friend and bandmate Stefan Westner ran (and still runs) an art collective called Shiftwork that were famous (and still are) for doing these sweet DIY 24 hour pop-up shows, so together we started brainstorming on how to run a festival.
FLOURISH Festival was inspired by many events, people and groups that were encouraging the scene at the time (and in most cases, still are in some capacity). The Shifty Bits Circus was run by The Shifty Bits Cult (Motherhood, Penelope Stevens) and were throwing an out of this world DIY festival every summer that really showed us that something like this was possible – and who also connected us to so many amazing people. Tate LeJeune founded a great event called ‘Blossom, Don’t Burst’ (maybe a more obvious name influence there, haha) at Connexion ARC – which was a one day event open to all artists under 20 years old to showcase their work.
I like to think that FLOURISH grew from a mix of these influences plus our own experiences of playing in bands, throwing art shows, and hanging at The Capital Complex five nights a week. We thought FLOURISH was just going to be a one-off event, but we quickly became obsessed and it has been a passion project ever since. It’s thrilling to see how it has grown and morphed along with the community. In the first year, it was thrown together in less than 2 months with everyone volunteering their time, playing for free, and trusting two people who really didn’t know what they were doing. We are thrilled that the bigger we get, the more we can feed back into the arts community and continue connecting artists across the country.
What gaps do you feel FLOURISH filled in the arts & music community in Fredericton? Atlantic Canada?
I think that every year we learn and recognize different gaps in the community and by looking at our festival retrospectively, we work towards bridging them. When FLOURISH started, we wanted to contribute to a larger all ages scene, show a better use of alternative venue spaces, and promote more cross-collaboration between local artists. These are all still very important factors, but now in our fifth year we have a broadened focus.
With Shifty Bits Circus no longer running, FLOURISH Festival is really the only festival in the city that is artist run with a focus on emerging acts. Shivering Songs is a fantastic artist-run community festival like us and so such a superb job of showcasing phenomenal talent. We like to think of FLOURISH Festival as the event that showcases the bands and artists that maybe you have never heard of before but maybe you’ll see playing these larger festivals in a year or two.
Our big focus this year has been community involvement – reaching out to new volunteers, engaging new businesses, and being more vocal with our ideas to government and community partners (who are all super supportive) to give artists a platform to showcase their wild and wonderful ideas in a supportive environment. I like to think that we also help local artists grow their networks by bringing in acts from away and fostering communication and community. We’re just trying our best to make something valuable to artists and attendees alike – a unique experience in an inclusive and fun environment. We know we haven’t even come close to filling all the gaps in the arts & music community in Fredericton and beyond, but we are trying to set an example and work together with other like minded festivals and groups in the Maritimes to always do better.
As one of two co-founders, how do you feel the festival has grown since its first iteration?
The festival has grown at a steady pace – which has been super. Every year we are growing and able to offer more programming, but we are not becoming too big to manage. Everything we know about planning a festival has been 100% self taught and navigated thanks to our community, so we grow as curators and facilitators every year.
I think in many ways, FLOURISH Festival is a direct reflection on the personal growth of both myself and Stefan as we learn more, become more engaged, and feel more confident with our abilities. For example, we have definitely grown in regards to inclusivity. Like, I just had a look at our lineup for our second edition, which was a great time, but only 4 bands out of 41 were femme fronted where now it’s more like 32 out of 46. As a femme curator and artist, I am now so much more aware of the responsibility I hold in regards to programming. That’s a direct reflection of my experience touring and seeing the gender-gap at festivals and events. Every year we release our lineup and although we are proud of it – there are always ways that we can do better. Festivals like DIY Spring, MEGAPHONO, Lawnya Vawnya and Kazoo! Fest are a few that we look up to in regards to great programming and mandates.
What can folks attending the festival expect this year that will be different than previous years?
We are really excited about our all ages shows this year! We always have great all ages shows, but this year we will be using the Charlotte Street Arts Centre as a more central venue in our programming. We have a few high school bands who will be performing which has been a community that we have been trying to involve more. We are hoping this will start building a stronger relationship with the all ages music and art scene in the city, and will hopefully encourage young bands and artists to want to showcase their work in coming years!
We are doing a music crawl, which is a new thing for us – inspired by the music crawl at Lawnya Vawnya that I was lucky to be a part of for their 2018 edition! This is going to allow us to showcase some sweet areas in the city that a lot of people (especially people from outside of the city) may not know as well – like the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design LibraryNew Brunswick College of Craft and Design Library.
We are still the FLOURISH Festival people know and love – but this year you can expect some more magic, some more community involvement, and as always, fantastic events.
Can you speak to the intention of the festival, and what kind of culture you dream of cultivating through it?
The intention is to continue showcasing Fredericton as a cultural centre – as a hub for amazing visual artists, bands, electronic projects, theatre groups and more. There is such an amazing support system in this community – from The Capital Complex, people like Zach Atkinson, Matt Carter at Grid City, Laurel at Bellwether, all of The Charlotte Street Arts Centre… there really are too many to name! Events like FLOURISH Festival remind us all that we are a strong, dedicated, and creative community. We want FLOURISH Festival to be a place that can act as a jump starter to form new connections and new ideas. We want people to be inspired to start new bands, make new art, and create new projects.
Can you share any ideas for growth and development you have for future iterations of FLOURISH fest?
We are really keen to continue developing our artist in residence program. It’s a really special program that has cultivated so many life-long friends and has secured Fredericton as a second home to many. We want to work on increased diversity for next year and will be focusing on bringing a wider range of acts from all backgrounds to the festival. We would like to work together with new community groups such as the Fredericton Multicultural Association and The Mi’kmaq-Wolastoque Centre, and to have a heavier involvement in the all-ages community and the francophone community. In coming years we also envision taking over more public spaces and including some site specific installations as well as more free programming and access to things such as childcare and kid-friendly events for festival goers and artists. We have so much that we want to do, and we always make a huge list following the festival on notes and goals to work on, so we are really excited for 2019, and also to get to work on 2020!
Contribution by Nikki A Basset