This weekend, Kaleido Festival is once again bringing an international collection of musicians, actors, magicians, dancers, writers, painters, acrobats, film makers, and installation artists to the alleys, porches, rooftops, and parking lots of Alberta Avenue. It will transform a neighbourhood that was once considered Edmonton’s “bad part of town” into a nexus of creative and communal activity.
Twelve years after she and a small group of like-minded neighbours organized the first Kaleido Festival, founder and artistic director Christy Morin says the event has evolved in ways she never anticipated.
“Every year, I’m surprised,” she says. “When we started it was just group of artists in the neighbourhood who knew there was a needed change in perspective. We thought, the best way to do this is to invite Edmonton to our front porches.”
Kaleido is produced by Arts on the Ave, the organization (co-founded by Morin in 2005) also behind the Deep Freeze Festival and The Carrot Coffee House. The festival is run by volunteers, and sponsored by a long list of charities, arts and government institutions, corporations, and local businesses—including many of the independent businesses with storefronts on 118th Ave, the same businesses with signs in their windows announcing “We Believe in 118.”
Those signs started popping up when a coalition consisting of Arts on the Ave, the Alberta Avenue Business Association, the Edmonton Police Service, and others formed with the goal of making Alberta Avenue (118th Ave) a weapons- and drug paraphernalia-free zone.
It may seem strange for an arts initiative to concern itself with whether or not local convenience stores are carrying knives and rolling papers.
In fact, We Believe in 118th is a perfect example of the kind of wholistic, broad-based strategy that has begun to transform the neighbourhood—making it a place where art and community can flourish because the dangers of crime, poverty, and addiction are being addressed, rather than white-washed.
It would be hard to overestimate the effect Kaleido Festival, Arts on the Ave’s flagship event, has had on the area. Over the years, as the festival has grown, Morin has also noticed a powerful shift within Alberta Avenue neighbourhoods.
“I use weird indicators,” she says. “How many people put up Christmas lights, how many parents with strollers, how many kids, how many joggers.” While all these symptoms of a safe and healthy neighbourhood are now evident up and down the Avenue, twenty years ago, Morin says, “there were no dog walkers, no kids.”
While Kaleido is only one effort of many made by residents, Arts on the Ave volunteers, the Alberta Avenue Community League, city councillors, and Alberta Avenue businesses, there’s no question that the festival has a huge impact on both community culture and economics in the area. According to Morin, one of the most important things the festival does—aside from bringing in artists like Tropic Harbour, the Xiao Hai Ou Dance Group, the River Cree Singers and Dancers, and Cirque Kalabanté—is to introduce Edmontonians from other areas of the city to a neighbourhood that is still, naively, labeled “scary.”
“It’s funny that there’s this stigma,” Morin says. “When people come from Toronto, they love it—the grocery stores, the galleries—there’s three dance studios, and a samosa is a $1.25.” Still, she notes that local business owners recognize the positive impact Kaleido has had on their expanding customer bases, and that Edmontonians from other neighbourhoods are beginning to seek out the restaurants, shops—and festivals—that make Alberta Avenue so rich and unique.
This year’s lineup is perhaps the most enticing in Kaleido’s history.
More than 100 artists will perform on 16 different stages, kicking off with a concert by blues legend Eric Bibb with Michael Jerome Brown at the Avenue Central Main Stage on Friday night, and continuing on up and down 118th Avenue throughout Saturday and Sunday.
Bibb’s performances, which will also include a Blues Jam on Saturday, have been a long time coming.
“It’s been a dream of mine for twelve years to bring in Eric Bibb,” Morin says, explaining that she first spoke with Bibb about Kaleido when she met him at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival two years ago. When Bibb learned about Morin’s vision for Kaleido, he made a commitment to come and perform.
Alberta Avenue residents and emigrants are also represented among Kaleido’s featured artists. Composer Vivian Fung grew up in Sprucewood; her parents, Alfred and Maria, owned a business called Quick Bite Catering on the Ave. Fung went on to study composition at Julliard and now lives in California, but she will be returning to Edmonton for the Canadian premiere of her new work “Humanoid,” an electronic cello composition which will be performed by ESO principal cellist Rafael Hoekman on the rooftop of her parents’ storefront.
The Front Porch Music Series, a tour of concerts on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, realizes the early Kaleido dream of inviting the public to experience art on the private residential properties of artists who’ve made Alberta Avenue their home.