The Festival theme in 2020, This Gives Us Strength, takes on special meaning during these challenging times. Photo by David Cooper.
The Festival theme in 2020, This Gives Us Strength, takes on special meaning during these challenging times. Photo by David Cooper.

Like so many other arts events, the annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is adapting to the pandemic. Smaller in scale this year, programming will go online and in outdoor venues.

In its 17th year, the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival’s mission is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and stories of the neighbourhood. Presented by Vancouver Moving Theatre, this year’s Festival theme takes on special meaning.

“The 2020 Festival theme, This Gives Us Strength, resonates today as our community copes with a worldwide pandemic, physical distancing, ongoing displacement, the fentanyl crisis, and the raw realities of bigotry and systemic racism,” say organizers in a media release.

The 2020 Festival will feature over 100 online and pop-up in-person events covering multiple genres, including music, visual arts exhibitions, workshops, art talks, film and more.

Among the events on offer is In the Beginning: A Cultural Sharing, a series of five cultural sharing events presented in conjunction with the Firehall Arts Centre.

Taking place November 4-7 at the Downtown Eastside cultural hub, storyteller, filmmaker and performer Rosemary Georgeson and the Firehall’s artistic producer Donna Spencer delve into the stories and history of the Indigenous peoples in the area.

Over the four days, Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, and artists from the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations join Georgeson, Spencer and moderator Kim Haxton to tell stories of the land through images and historical and personal photos.

The second stage of exploring the cultural heritages that have made Vancouver’s East Side what it is today, In the Beginning: A Cultural Sharing, hopes to reveal and unwrap the stories of those who lived in the area before contact, colonization, and settlement.

A photo of First Nations residents camped at Alexander Beach ca. 1898. One of the images as part of In the Beginning: A Cultural Sharing at the Firehall Arts Centre.
A photo of First Nations residents camped at Alexander Beach ca. 1898. One of the images as part of In the Beginning: A Cultural Sharing at the Firehall Arts Centre.

Other events at this year’s Festival will include numerous virtual shows and activities, plus in-person pop-ups at locations throughout the neighbourhood.

“We take strength from the compelling creativity of Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents who illuminate the vitality, relevance and resilience of the Downtown Eastside community and its diverse and rich traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories,” say organizers. “In the words of late DTES poet Sandy Cameron: ‘When we tell our stories, we draw our own maps and question the maps of the powerful. Each of us has something to tell, something to teach.'”

The Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival takes place from October 28 through November 8. Visit heartofthecityfestival.com for more information.