City council hears what a success Salmon Arm’s first Pride Project Arts & Awareness Festival on Oct. 14 to 18, 2020 was. (Caytlin Mary Photography photo)

City council hears what a success Salmon Arm’s first Pride Project Arts & Awareness Festival on Oct. 14 to 18, 2020 was. (Caytlin Mary Photography photo)

First Salmon Arm Pride Festival evokes gratitude, emotion from city council

Presenters describe how festival celebrating LGBTQ2S+ community changed lives

Presentations to city council come in many forms, but few move councillors and presenters to tears.

An update on the Pride Project presented to council on Oct. 26 by Tracey Kutschker was one of those rare ones.

Kutschker, director/curator of the Shuswap District Arts Council, told council of the successes of the first Salmon Arm Pride Project Arts & Awareness Festival held Oct. 14 to 18. A three-year commitment has been made to the project.

She spoke about its beginnings more than a year ago when a committee was formed with the goal of presenting an inaugural festival to celebrate the LGBTQ2S+ community in Salmon Arm, and to bring awareness to the issues within the community.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the committee decided to not cancel plans but instead to focus on education, training and awareness on a digital platform, with a couple of in-person events.

“I think it was the best decision and the best opportunity to really… build a foundation of education first,” Kutschker said.

The arts centre’s Kate Fagervik worked with the digital transitions team at the Innovation Centre to help make that happen.

A Pride window display contest for local businesses was also held, and Fagervik said organizers were “thrilled by the positive reaction of local businesses and really surprised” to have 27 businesses participate.

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A four-day Pride exhibition was created at the arts centre that attracted more than 300 people, which Kutschker described as “stunningly beautiful, an exceptional four days full of love and amazing stories that came out of it.”

She said it was not only successful in providing visual ways for people to enter into difficult conversations, but also helped build knowledge and understanding.

“I think we opened a lot of doors through the exhibition.”

Fagervik spoke about the ‘pop-up shop’ in the former Blue Canoe location, which was stocked through a call to local people to provide merchandise. Not only was it a successful fundraiser, it helped the sellers who have been hard-hit financially by the pandemic.

She said it’s been heartening to see people in town with new earrings or a mask or a bumper sticker, visual reminders that this festival was not just a “flash in the pan,” but something Salmon Arm is committed to. The pop-up shop also featured events such as a speaker and a book-signing. Fagervik said youth were returning to the area five, six or seven times a day.

The Salmar Community Association also got on board, helping to bring in four movies focused on signifant issues.

The festival closed on Sunday with a special Pride service at First United Church, where Reverend Jenny Carter brought in a gay reverend from a First United Church on the Coast. The digital product can be viewed on YouTube.

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren brought some of her students to the arts centre exhibition, some of whom are transgender. She said amazing conversations were sparked.

“One of our students came out to us for the first time at that event…” she said, her voice faltering with emotion. “There was some pretty signficant stuff happening for sure… Salmon Arm has been living in the dark ages for a long time on this issue and I’m glad to see that it’s coming forward.”

Coun. Kevin Flynn also expressed gratitude, his voice, too, constricting with emotion.

“Thanks to everybody who worked on this, because I’ve been in this community 25 years and, to me, this is a special time. So thank you.”

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Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond spoke about how much she learned from being council’s rep on the committee.

“Mostly we learned that this community is so capable of joy and pride in ourselves and in each other. That festival changed people’s lives… It was a very special thing for me to witness as a member of the community and for this council to be able to say, this is the first council that this has ever happened. I think it’s going to be a highlight of my term…”

Mayor Alan Harrison said he thought the festival needed to come from the grassroots when the time was right, not council, and that’s why it had such an impact.

Before moving on, Kutschker told Coun. Lindgren, her own voice full of emotion, that it was OK to cry.

“Do you know how many times I cried during that four-day exhibition?” Kutschker asked. “I heard families having those conversations, I heard kids coming out to their parents. I heard little kids explaining things to their grandparents… I know that young people came from Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops and Vancouver who grew up here and didn’t feel safe here, had traumatic things happen in high school, and found out we were doing a Pride anything – and had to come and see it. They had to come and see what Salmon Arm was doing because they didn’t think it was possible here.

Lindgren added: “There was a lot of conversation amongst our students about how unsafe Salmon Arm is, in particular school, and so it tells us we have a lot of work to do yet.”

The digital offerings can be seen by going to @salmonarmartscentre on YouTube to see what was done in collaboration with Roots & Blues, Shuswap Immigration, Canadian Mental Health, Okanagan College and several other organizations.
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