(This story is sponsored by the Powell Street Festival Society.)
To keep the community safe during the pandemic, the Powell Street Festival transformed its large public celebration into online and smaller in-person events for the last two years. While the pivot was deeply appreciated by many, it’s finally time to reunite in Oppenheimer Park and the surrounding Paueru Gai (Powell Street) area.
On July 30 and 31, Vancouver’s historic Japanese Canadian neighbourhood will be filled with contemporary and traditional music, dance and theatre, food booths, martial arts demonstrations, and more. Festivalgoers can also explore the marketplace and community booths after watching the martial arts demonstration and sumo tournament.
“Nothing can replace the positive energy of gathering in-person for any type of celebration,” shares Emiko Morita, executive director of the Powell Street Festival. “This is especially true for our festival because it takes place at such a geographically significant location.”
Creating a stronger community
Since 1977, the Powell Street Festival Society (PSFS) has been fostering connection between those living in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) through arts and culture. Its annual event is one of the largest and longest-running community festivals in all of Canada.
“Because of our forced removal from the neighbourhood during the Second World War, very few Japanese Canadians live there today. However, we do have good relations with people living in the DTES and I would argue that the help is mutual,” says Morita. “The community has suffered tremendous hardship and loss because of the multiple crises of insufficient housing, toxic drugs, as well as the pandemic. The PSFS makes every effort to mobilize art and culture to advance equity for everyone.”
Those living in the DTES understand the complicated history of Japanese Canadians’ displacement from the area and support the festival and its highly anticipated return. The Powell Street Festival’s positive impact can be felt by everyone who attends the annual event.
“It’s important that we provide the Vancouver community-at-large with a fully accessible and diverse lineup of programs that challenge Japanese Canadian voice while encouraging a deeper sense of interconnectedness,” she says.
An event for everyone
From contemporary and traditional arts to Japanese cooking, crafts, and family-friendly activities, folks of all ages can participate in the festival.
Festivalgoers can enjoy performances by violinist-extremist Kytami & Phonik Ops, Vancouver band Jo Passed, and dancer-choreographer-actor Hiromoto Ida. Opera singer Teiya Kasahara will also grace the Powell Street Festival’s stage with Onibana Taiko, three veterans from Vancouver's taiko drumming community.
While most of the events are scheduled to take place at Oppenheimer Park, a handful of offerings can be found off-site.
The ProgramSounds’ Kūsou 空相 Exhibition, drawing on Japanese calligraphy and western flute, can be found at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster. The immersive and dynamic audiovisual experience was created through the collaboration of four talented artists.
The team comprises Japanese calligrapher Aiko Hatanaka (Tokyo), flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor (Vancouver), video artist Ryo Kanda (Tokyo), and soundscape artist and interactive system developer Yota Kobayashi (Vancouver).
Originally created to engage virtual attendees during the pandemic, the Paueru Mashup community dance is here to stay. In July, folks can attend free, drop-in lessons at Oppenheimer Park, which are led by skilled instructors.
The 2022 Paueru Mashup combines the harmonious music of Onibana Taiko with the choreography of Company 605 and will be performed as a group on the festival weekend. The choreography is accessible and no previous dance experience is required.
And since the warm summer weather has finally arrived, the festival has enlisted the help of students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to help guests keep cool. Students from UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture have designed and built bespoke water fountains and misters. The PSFS team encourages folks to stay hydrated by bringing a refillable water bottle or by participating in its cup-sharing program.
The two-day event will also feature the annual lottery where ticketholders can win one of 20 prizes donated by independent businesses in the community. All of the proceeds go toward Powell Street Festival Society, ensuring its resilience and sustainability.
“By attending the festival, expect to have your assumptions of Japanese Canadian identity to be challenged through our broad presentation of contemporary and traditional performances, demonstrations, and activities,” reveals Morita.
For more information and the full festival lineup, visit www.powellstreetfestival.com/.