Bringing Street Performances Indoors and Online

A $20,000 Rapid Response Grant allows an iconic Edmonton summer performance festival to continue to entertain and bring joy to the community with an online format.

Poised to produce the 36th Edmonton International Street Performers, and 21st under her tenure as festival artistic producer, Shelley Switzer watched as concerns over a new globetrotting virus were emerging in January and February. By April she knew she had to call off this wildly popular summer festival.

“When you think about the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, when you think about how close the audience is, how important the audience’s energy is…” Switzer’s voice trails off.

The festival attracts on average 220,000 to 250,000 visitors to the 10-day event. It brings 45 to 50 artists to Edmonton, and close to 250 volunteers are involved in the massive undertaking. “We’re dealing with massive numbers of people who want to be close together,” Switzer said.

“We watched a lot of our revenue opportunities — ability for our sponsors to sponsor us, our ability to produce a festival — disappear as everything, including the borders, closed and we had to cancel. We are an international festival.”

Switzer’s and team’s hearts went out to the artists, almost all of whom work in the gig economy and whose livelihoods are threatened. Furthermore, their incomes will be some of the last to recover, given the nature of their jobs as live performers for large audiences.

Luckily, improvising and working around seeming impossible barriers are at the core of what a live festival producer in Edmonton does. “You’ve heard about the weather in Edmonton, in July?” Switzer jokes.

With her practiced team, and a massive legacy of experience of, “We’re changing, everything, right now,” they just started dealing with what could be done, adapted, and executed. The decision to carry on in 2020, but to move the entire festival experience online, was swift.

As was the essential help of an infusion of $20,000 from Edmonton Community Foundation’s Rapid Response Fund. The grant allowed Switzer to pay every artist a set fee, as the standard “pass the hat” artist remuneration was not going to be possible. The grant also helped pay for the massive and urgent technical work to rebuild the website and put the festival performances and other elements online.

Essentially, the idea is to bring the massive amount of “good” and the “Street Performers Festival spirit” — love, laughter, kindness, silliness — to the community at exactly the time when we need it.

“I made an application and submitted it at 3 pm. The next morning, when I opened my email, I received our brilliant answer,” Switzer said, smiling.

“This offering is for our artists and our audiences to be together again.”

The Edmonton International Street Performers Festival starts online at July 3, 2020. It will continue to provide programming on-line beyond its usual festival dates, finding new ways to laugh, smile, make fun new StreetFest memories.