Integrate Arts Festival showcases emerging talent

EXHIBITION

What: Integrate Arts Festival
Where: Various venues, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Fifty Fifty Arts Collective, Market Square and Madrona Gallery
When: Friday through Sunday
Admission: Free

The size and scope of the Integrate Arts Festival has rapidly expanded over its 12 years, seemingly at a pace commensurate with Victoria’s community of emerging artists.

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The free-admission festival, which launched in 2006 as the Off the Grid Arts Festival, was somewhat off the radar at first. But a timely rebrand by the volunteer-run Integrate Art Society in 2012 — when some longstanding galleries were changing hands and new venues for art were popping up all over the city — brought the showcase for local emerging artists fully into view.

Now a fixture of the community, the three-day festival drew 2,000 people last year.

Festival director Rance Mok is expecting further growth this year, in part due to the festival’s unpredictable nature. Performance art and dance were popular last year, but Mok noticed an increase in video and photography for this edition.

“Because we don’t theme it around anything, usually the festival is quite unique year to year. It totally depends on what artists want to do.”

Programming gets underway Friday with an array of artistic offerings, from Blue Crush (a swimming-themed exhibition at the Fifty Fifty on Douglas Street) to Kin, a group exhibition of works by contemporary Canadian female artists at Madrona Gallery on View Street. The festival continues through Sunday, with everything from programming for kids at Market Square to the launch of the new Flux Media Gallery at Medianet on Fort Street.

“We’ve continued our focus on making sure that our selections are diverse, including Indigenous, female, queer and artists of colour,” Mok said. “Every year, we try and showcase something that is different. We want the public to know about the great artists out there, some of whom may not be so obvious at first. But when they come out of the woodwork, they really do some amazing things.”

Fifteen local artists are being showcased, many of whom have adopted audience-friendly approaches. Estraven Lupino-Smith is hosting a two-part sound art workshop that will take registrants through the process of building a bat detector before putting the equipment to use with a field recording foray in Beacon Hill Park. Not everyone’s version of art falls under the same umbrella, Mok said, which is what makes the Integrate Arts Festival such a unique entity. “[Lupino-Smith] will be looking at ecology and art and the politics of our climate when we live in a city.”

The festival has become a source of radical reinvention with regards to venues. Mok said the mandate is not only to bring cutting-edge local art, activities, workshops and tours to places such as the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Market Square and the Greater Victoria Public Library on Broughton Street, but to also use sites not often associated with arts and cultural programming.

A courtyard at 833 Fort St. will be the site of several events during the festival, including Fuse: Decay, Renewal, Reconciliation on Friday, an interactive multi-media event featuring electronic music and art.

“It’s an interesting chance to see a space that people don’t have access to regularly,” Mok said of the space, which, for the purpose of the festival, has been renamed Venue 833. “It’s a very empty space, but they have themed their performance around this idea of decay and renewal, and the city consistently evolving.”

The Integrate Arts Festival has become synonymous with its all- day art crawl, the foundation of the event during its early incarnation. Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, the 12-hour crawl encourages large groups of festivalgoers to explore nearly two dozen galleries and studios, with a variety of daytime and night-time programming offered.

The crawl, which includes 23 locations, will push the idea of art in Victoria into new realms, Mok said. “Most venues are within a 20-minute walk, and while some venues are a little bit further, they are not that far. That is one of the things that we would like people to know. Studios are popping up in Rock Bay, which is a little bit outside of what we would consider to be downtown, but they are very walkable. The city is growing, and so is the amount of art we produce.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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