Gordon Lightfoot, left, sings Alberta Bound with the Good Brothers at the 2017 Waterdown Artsfest. – John Rennison,The Hamilton Spectator
The crowd listens to music at the Waterdown Artsfest. – John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator
Murray Mclaughlan, left, and Ian Thomas performing with Lunch At Allen’s at the Waterdown Artsfest. – John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator
The Waterdown Artsfest may be on the move.
The popular summer street festival has steadily grown during the past three years. In August, more than 40,000 people filled the streets of downtown Waterdown for two days of quality live music, food and fine art.
According to Geoff Kulawick, the festival’s founder and executive director, that number was about 5,000 more than the previous year.
Kulawick, however, is frustrated by what he sees as the lack of support from the Waterdown business community for the festival which he says attracts people from throughout southern Ontario.
“We had less local businesses sponsoring us this year than the year before, despite expanding the festival,” says Kulawick, who runs Canada’s largest independent record label — True North/Linus — from his Griffin Street offices in Waterdown.
Kulawick now says he wants the festival to move around the Hamilton suburbs — perhaps one year in Ancaster, the next in Dundas, then Stoney Creek and, perhaps, back to Waterdown. It would be the Greater Hamilton Artsfest, instead of the Waterdown Artsfest.
Kulawick says he’s already initiated talks with both the Ancaster and the Dundas BIAs to see if they’re interested. He says local representatives from each host community would be brought onto the festival’s board to ensure local input.
This year’s Artsfest budget ran to almost $300,000 with Kulawick’s businesses accounting for about 15 per cent, compared to about three per cent from the Waterdown BIA. The city of Hamilton contributed $25,000.
Kulawick says he drew inspiration for the idea of a travelling festival from the annual Juno Awards which is held in a different city every year.
“When the Juno Awards were in Toronto every year, nobody cared,” Kulawick says. “Then they decided to move it around and now there’s a bidding war (between cities) every year for it.”
The festival is tailored toward a 50-plus age group with family entertainment. Many of the musical acts at the festival have been associated with Kulawick’s True North/Linus label, including Matt Andersen, Colin James, Gordon Lightfoot, Lighthouse, Lunch at Allens, Barney Bentall, Canadian Brass and Fred Penner.
“The festival has created a brand for itself and the brand is working really well,” Kulawick says. “People are coming from Oshawa, Niagara Falls and Guelph. It doesn’t have to be a Waterdown thing or fixed to a certain date.”
Jennifer Mattern, executive director of the Ancaster BIA, said the festival would fit in well with plans to transform the historic village into a destination arts centre.
Construction of the $16.5-million Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre is expected to begin next year. As well, Ancaster is home to the Old Firehall Arts Centre and a large outdoor venue at the Fieldcote Museum.
“We’re exploring it as an opportunity,” Mattern said. “It’s a great festival, but obviously no decision has been made.”
Coun. Judi Partridge, who represents Waterdown, was instrumental in raising the city’s cash involvement in the festival from $3,000 in its first year to $25,000.
“It’s such a great, great festival,” Partridge says. “It’s fabulous. People love it. I’d like to see it stay in Waterdown.”
Of course, nothing is set in stone yet. Kulawick admits the festival could remain in Waterdown — “depending on whether Waterdown comes to the table.”