Friends and fans of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival are rallying to try and save the event – or at least the society that organizes it.
The board of directors announced on Tuesday that it is canceling the 2023 festival and has laid off the organization’s two staff members, including its artistic and executive director, Debbi Salmonsen.
It is also putting a resolution before the membership at its Feb. 1 annual general meeting to dissolve the society.
“It just feels very quick to just say, ‘Nope, there’s no more hope. We’re dissolving it. The end.’” – Jordana Corenblum
“It just feels very quick to just say, ‘Nope, there’s no more hope. We’re dissolving it. The end,’” said Jordana Corenblum, the founder of a Facebook group called Save the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.
“Literally this weekend feeds my soul for the entire year.”
The goal of the group – which has already amassed more than 400 members – is to ask board members to vote against the resolution and buy some time to come up with solutions, said Jordana, a long-time festival volunteer and fan.
If supporters can’t find a workable solution, she’s comfortable seeing it go to a vote at next year’s AGM, she added.
Jordana openly admits that she let her own membership in the festival lapse and won’t be able to vote on the resolution herself.
‘Obscenely rapid’ decision
“I think many of us who love the festival kind of don’t interact with the festival that much,” she said.
“So I am myself guilty of being one of the people that does not support the festival in the way they needed to be supported.”
The folk fest’s founding coordinator, Gary Cristall, agrees with Jordana that the decision to dissolve was “obscenely rapid,” but he said he opposes dissolving the society even if the festival can’t be saved.
He too is mobilizing people to defeat the resolution.
“I think it’s crazy to dissolve a society after 45 years without consulting with a whole bunch of people about what the problem is,” he said.
“The society was established to promote and present folk music. I could conceive of it being impossible to do the same festival that has been done in the park in the way that it has been done… Why destroy a society that …can go on to do all kinds of things?”
“The society was established to promote and present folk music. I could conceive of it being impossible to do the same festival that has been done in the park in the way that it has been done… Why destroy a society that …can go on to do all kinds of things?” – Gary Cristall
It could still present concerts and other events, he added.
Dissolving it means that any group of organizers that wanted to stage a future event would lose access to the festival’s endowment fund at the Vancouver Community Foundation, he said.
Like Jordana, Gary is not presently a member of the folk fest society, and I asked him what he’d say to people who might say it’s easy for him to criticize the board’s decision when he’s not in a position to serve as a director himself.
“I would say they’re right,” he replied bluntly.
The executive and artistic director of the Mission Folk Music Festival warned the board’s critics to “be gentle with the people that are doing this work.”
“…absolutely, rally. Absolutely put some energy out there. But make sure you’re including the people that have been doing this work. Make sure you don’t think you know better.” – Michelle Demers Shaevitz
“I’ve seen all of these [criticisms] like, ‘Well, why didn’t they tell us?’ and ‘I’ll play for free’ and ‘They should have’ or ‘we just.’” said Michelle Demers Shaevitz.
“There is no ‘just.’ One ‘just’ is days of labor and navigation. … I know how hard that board has been working. So I would say absolutely, rally. Absolutely put some energy out there. But make sure you’re including the people that have been doing this work. Make sure you don’t think you know better.”
Speaking with Roots Music Canada on Tuesday, board vice president Fil Hemming said he wasn’t sure whether the board would face a fight over the resolution to dissolve, but he said, “Our membership, but particularly our core membership, is a very passionate group. So I’m expecting and actually hoping for some real good discussion at the AGM.”
Clarification: I previously called Gary the founding artistic director of the folk fest, but he didn’t actually become AD until later.