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PHOTOS: First Winter Arts Festival put Victoria in a whole new light

‘The city came alive’: The Feb. 16-19 festival had state-of-the-art technology, lights, storytelling and more

Victoria’s first Winter Arts Festival, which brought lights, music and interactive art mixed with technology to downtown Feb. 16-19, was ‘beyond expectations’ organizers said.

“The feedback that we got was that this kind of festival was needed in Victoria, and everybody said, ‘Come back next year!’ So we’re blown away,” said Miriam Esquitin, executive director of VMF, the non-profit organization that produces the Winter Arts Festival and the Vancouver Mural Festival.

There were thirty-three installations sprinkled downtown that curious festival-goers could explore at their own leisure using one of three maps – south, central and north – handily available on Google Maps. Or, they could opt for a free guided art walk, which included a surprise Pop-Up event. Over 30 businesses across Victoria’s downtown hosted events and installations.

It was a great first run for the festival, which originated in Vancouver. It surpassed its targeted audience of 12,000 with an estimated 15,027 visits throughout the four-day total, with the Hub and Pop-Up events counting 4,782 people.

City councillor Matt Dell was there three out of the four nights and said that the festival activated the whole city.

“One of the goals was to do an event where people engage with their city in a way they might not have done before and they actually learn about their city and appreciate it in a new way. And I think they really achieved that,” Dell said.

Some of the more popular installations included the Magnificent Musical Mutant Machines by Monkey C Interactive, where people could create music with strangers using augmented machines, such as old jukeboxes or pinball machines. The installation, taking place in a neon-lit room, prompted laughter, natural engagement and cooperation between strangers.

GO FISH at the Fairmont Empress was a moving kaleidoscopic and immersive sound and video installation set inside the Pacific herring migration.

Haus of Owl was another place to be with the installation The Dreaming by MOVE37XR. Visitors traversed throughout the building’s rooms, finding live music, a polyphonic garden lounge, augmented reality, AI video, and VR sets to experience the galaxy up close.

As a whole the festival was extremely interactive and stood out for the extent to which new, state-of-the-art technology was used by local artists.

“One of the things that first inspired the festival is the technology arts sector was underrepresented and it’s been evolving so much,” Esquitin said.

After Dark, a sold-out ticketed party on the second night of the festival at Hermann’s Upstairs Lounge, featured a live painting experience where party-goers could paint canvases on the walls, while dancing to DJs throughout the venue. Kei Baritugo, head of marketing, said the venue was “ridiculously packed.”

She also had quite the weekend managing all the social media attention the festival generated.

“The amount of stories we were reposting per day was insane. We were averaging 100 DM’s per day and that’s just through Instagram,” she said.

The festival atmosphere varied widely depending on where you were. There was a party-like atmosphere at the Hub with live music and an Artisan Market curated by Make Good Party, or more quieter corners, like a relaxing installation where you could meditate in a room of plants, while electronic impulse sensors hooked up to a peace lily would influence what projections would be seen on the walls.

“There was an experience for everybody,” Esquitin said.

The City partnered with the VMF to put on the festival, drawing from the budget of the Downtown Revitalization Program which was started last year from the extended hours paid parking revenue.

“We finally got to see this weekend what that money can be used for and how helpful it is for the businesses. Downtown was thriving on a quiet weekend in February and restaurants had lineups out the door,” Dell said.

“The city came alive in the winter, and I’m just incredibly happy about the whole thing,” he said.

Both Dell and the staff at VMF are hopeful about seeing the festival return next year.

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Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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