“This is the ‘Bestival,’” said Lionel Conant, with a smile on his face.
Conant was at Arts Wells, the festival of all things art, with live music, visual art and workshops all filling up nine live music venues and three days with more art than you could even dream of.
Arts Wells is an inspiration to Conant, co-founder of the Music on the Mountain (MoM) festival here in Fort St. James, and every year he said it helps him find artists he’d like for the following year of MoM.
But he does not think of MoM and Arts Wells as being the same, even if there is some overlap and artistic similarities in the concepts.
“I would never dare to compare ourselves to Arts Wells,” he said.
But he would one day like to bring the same kind of variety of art to MoM, by including more of the visual arts, creative workshops, dance and yoga and other performance art the Wells event can boast.
Arts Wells is a good networking opportunity for Conant, and he uses the event to help spread the word about MoM as well, through posters and word of mouth.
The Wells festival sold over 1,100 tickets this year, and with around 350 artists, 120 volunteers and 80 guests, the event is pretty huge for a town as small as Wells, B.C., with an official population of around 300 people, and brings a huge economic boost to the town.
But it did not start out that way.
Julie Fowler, one of the festival founders and the current executive director, said the first year was mostly locals with artists donating works and their performances.
She said the idea for the festival came about fairly naturally, out of the people who were in the community and the location itself.
Fowler had helped to organize a festival in Montreal at Concordia University and others involved had organized art events in Vancouver, so the idea of organizing another festival was not a leap.
With the already long-standing and well-established Island Mountain Arts (IMA), which was a functional non-profit and had charitable status, it was possible to run the festival under the IMA banner.
While much larger than its humble beginnings, the nine long years it has taken for the festival to get where it is today has been an advantage from Fowler’s standpoint.
Each year the festival has added venues to accommodate a growing audience, and the event has become somewhat of a cross between a music festival and a fun networking opportunity for artists.
The fact Wells is on a dead-end highway has also been both an advantage and a disadvantage, according to Fowler.
It is an advantage because the location is a beautiful setting with a number of great venues for shows, and being able to cross-promote with the already established attraction of Barkerville.
The disadvantage is it takes longer to grow the festival in such a small, out of the way location.
Funding, while always a struggle, has just finally gotten to the point where ticket sales are a factor in helping to pay for the event, and each year the festival has managed to break even, thanks to the background of the staff and board members of the IMA.
“We’ve never gone the route of bringing in a big headliner,” said Fowler.
They budget very conservatively, according to Fowler, and when grants fell through at times, like they did this year, the group had to step up other fundraising efforts and raised money by holding raffles, art auctions, coffeehouse events and producing a calendar.
Fowler said she thinks they have succeeded by starting small, and by having consistent vision. She thinks the long-term key volunteers have helped to keep things on track because each year you learn so much.
Fowler also said she hopes to make it to Music on the Mountain this year to take in a festival instead of working it.
“It’d be nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the music,” said Fowler.
Earlier this year, at the first music festival of the northern summer season in Rolla, B.C., a few terms were coined for some of central B.C.’s music festivals.
The Sweetwater 905 festival in Rolla, B.C. had become the first fest of the year, after it was moved from early September to now take place in mid-June, and thus is now the “Firstival.”
This meant the local festival Music on the Mountain would then be the last one of the season, earning it the moniker “Lastival.”
But Arts Wells, the Festival of all things art, in Wells, B.C., became known as the “Bestival.”