Vancouver arts and literary fests forge empathy and friendship in trying times

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      For many years, festivals have served as an effective counterweight to bigotry and parochialism by spurring curiosity and connections with our community and the globe.

      They are like lanterns in a world increasingly overcome with darkness.

      And nowadays, they seem more necessary than ever, given how isolated our lives are becoming in the pandemic.

      Below, you can learn about six festivals taking place in Metro Vancouver this fall.

      Kudos to the organizers for not giving up in an unprecedented time—and for ensuring that Indigenous voices haven't been overlooked.

      Author Lee Maracle is one of several well-known authors who will be part of Word Vancouver's virtual fest.
      Lee Maracle

      Word Vancouver

      September 19 to 27

      Now in its 26th year, Word Vancouver’s programming is shaped by inclusivity, connection, collaboration, creativity, and integrity. And this year, thanks to Zoom, it’s freed from the challenge of persuading writers from afar to travel to live events at Library Square.

      There’s an amazing virtual lineup of B.C. writers and poets, including Evelyn Lau, Wayde Compton, Charles Demers, Danny Ramadan, Lorna Crozier, and Eve Lazarus, among others. Plus, there’s a strong Indigenous component headlined by Lee Maracle. And there are panel discussions on everything from war stories to children’s and young-adult books to publishing in a pandemic.

      For more information and to see the schedule, check out

      The Chin Ai String Orchestra is comprised of Indigenous children in Taiwan.


      To October 3

      Normally, TAIWANfest takes over a few blocks of Granville Street every Labour Day weekend. This year, however, there are more than 40 virtual events on, culminating in a closing concert with Vancouver’s Harmonia orchestra on October 3.

      Harmonia will be joined by Taiwan’s Chin-Ai String Orchestra, which is comprised of Indigenous children.

      On September 14, TAIWANfest also unveiled the SKY installation, featuring eight giant columns on the plaza in front of Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Curated by Jessica Sung, each features enormous photos of the sky taken by artists in Canada and Taiwan. It will remain at that location until September 27.

      Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson will be at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

      Vancouver Writers Fest

      October 19 to 25

      Among the international headliners this year will be such acclaimed talents as Ayad Akhtar, Yaa Gyasi, David Mitchell, Megha Majumdar, and Marilynne Robinson. Alongside will be renowned names from across the country, like Thomas King, Margaret MacMillan, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, as well as a sparkling contingent from B.C.’s scene, including Ivan Coyote, Jillian Christmas, Sheena Kamal, Wade Davis, and Nancy Lee, to name only a few.

      Top it off with an event featuring indie-rock icons Tegan and Sara Quin, and you’ve got a literary gathering with enough of VWF’s trademark range and flair to tide you over to when the festival can return to its traditional Granville Island venues.

      Heart of the City Festival will feature Leslie Nelson, Marr Dorvault, and Sam McKay.
      David Cooper

      Heart of the City Festival

      October 28 to November 8

      This year, the annual Downtown Eastside event’s theme is “This Gives Us Strength”. That seems fitting, given the quadruple whammy of a pandemic, a never-ending overdose crisis, rampant homelessness, and poor-bashing bigotry on the rise.

      Over 12 days, Heart of the City will present music, stories, poetry, films, readings, art talks, and visual arts either online on in pop-up outdoor settings. The Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre will copresent In the Beginning, in which storyteller, filmmaker, and performer Rosemary Georgeson joins director Donna Spencer to explore the history of Indigenous people in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

      In addition, the festival will feature local blues maven Dalannah Gail Bowen and Indigenous actor Jenifer Brousseau. Another treat: multidisciplinary artist Khari Wendell McClelland (the Soujourners/Freedom Singer) will curate an online event profiling local musicians.

      Jake Bull, whose colourful work appears here, is one of the many artists who've participated in previous Eastside Culture Crawls.

      Eastside Culture Crawl

      November 2 to 9, 12 to 15, and 19 to 22

      The popular visual arts, design, and crafts festival is being extended this year over a much longer period, thanks to the pandemic. That means art lovers will be able to plan to attend even more shows and, possibly, spend more money to help local creators.

      According to the Eastside Culture Crawl website, there will be 158 artists presenting work in 26 buildings. Normally, visual arts anchors the festival, but expect an onslaught of crafts, too, thanks to people being locked up at home for prolonged periods.

      One of the charms of the Crawl is discovering artists who may not have been featured in the media but who can leave you gobsmacked by their creativity. When the festival starts, be sure to visit for a Google map to learn about all the locations.

      Less than three weeks after Jessica Mann Gutteridge became Chutzpah's artistic managing director the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.

      Chutzpah! Festival

      November 21 to 28

      When new artistic managing director Jessica Mann Gutteridge assumed her position on February 24, she likely never expected what was to come. But the pandemic hasn’t dissuaded her from carrying on with the 20th edition of Chutzpah! The Lisa Nemetz International Jewish Performing Arts Festival.

      This year, it will feature intimate shows at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre, which will be livestreamed from the stage to a wider audience online. X-RAE podcast host, producer, and director Iris Bahr will host the festival after impressing audiences last year with her solo show, DAI (enough).

      One highlight will undoubtedly be New York–based playwright Rokhi Kafrissen’s work-in-progress titled Shtumer Shabes (Silent Sabbath). According to the festival, it will focus on the discovery of a “lost” Yiddish play.

      Chutzpah’s full lineup of concerts, comedy, dance, and previews of theatrical works-in-progress will be unveiled next month.