PuSh Blog

PuSh In the Community, or How Does an Arts Festival Seed a Revolution?

February 29, 2024

PuSh’s approach to community engagement—those activities that go beyond presenting performances and give you opportunities to engage differently with us and the artists we present—is driven by curiosity about the role arts institutions can play in building social movements. Institutions by definition are bigger than any one person, while artistic practice and creation are rooted in an artist’s singular humanity. How can we can serve as a bridge between these considerations of micro and macro; between an artist and the public; between an event and a movement? 

The 2024 PuSh Festival featured 261 performances of 18 works that crossed disciplines, borders, languages and cultures. The artists who created that work congregated in Vancouver not only to perform but to share their discoveries, inspirations, ideas and skills through workshops, panels, artist talks and more. These interactions stimulated creativity through local-national-international encounters and fostered dialogue and knowledge exchange unique to the ephemeral community of an international festival. 

BLOT talkback, Photo: Chris Randle

Community engagement activities at this year’s Festival fall into three broad categories: opportunities for audiences to deepen their understanding of an artist’s practice and work, encounters with Festival artists in new contexts and professional development or training opportunities. These three streams work together to deepen the relationships between PuSh, our artists and our community of patrons, local artists and the public. 

Audience Development

PuSh broadened our approach to audience development for 2024, not only hosting artist talkbacks for each show in the Festival, but also providing an opportunity for audiences to connect to the work before the Festival with the PuSh Play Podcast. Each of the eighteen episodes featured a conversation with an artist or artists whose work was in the Festival and provided a deep dive into their creative practice, processes and inspirations. If you wanted to take an even deeper dive, the artists from Ramanenjana presented a lecture about the research and history that inspired their work. 

Artist Encounters

PuSh worked in the community with new and returning partners to create opportunities for visiting artists to encounter the public and patrons in new spaces and contexts. Sound of the Beast’s Donna Michelle St. Bernard participated in the Vancouver Poetry Slam hosted by co-presenting partner Vancouver Poetry House, the team from assess.masses hosted a game-a-thon at the Vancouver Public Library and Dianna Lopez Soto, creator of Nomada and Inbal Ben Haim, creator of Pli, hosted individual aerial workshops. These were chances for the public – patrons and non-patrons – to get to know Festival artists in new and dynamic ways and to share space and experiences together. 

Aerial Circus Workshop with Inbal Ben Haim of Les Subs (France)  
Photo: Sarah Race Photography

Workshops and Training Opportunities

Partners are key to our efforts to engage more deeply with community, and this is perhaps most true for initiatives that see artists work hands on with the public, youth and local artists to develop skills and practices. We partnered with the Training Society of Vancouver, Underground Circus and SFU’s School for Contemporary Arts to connect Festival artists with emerging and established local artists for seven workshops in circus, dance and performance over three weeks. These training opportunities not only supported skills development but offered disruption in the form of new ideas and the subsequent creative generation it can inspire. 

Dramaturg Joanna Garfinkel and Playwright Anais West during Dramaturgy Dialogues

PuSh, in partnership with Playwrights Theatre Centre, ran free Dramaturgy Clinics for local artists of any performing arts or interdisciplinary practice. These Clinics connected local artists in conversation with visiting national and international dramaturgs who represented diverse artistic points of view and cultural contexts. This new initiative takes inspiration from Festival TransAmériques and centres process over presentation to highlight creative work that is often behind-the-scenes to nourish individual practices and enrich our collective definitions and applications of dramaturgy.

Youth Dance Workshop with Rakesh Sukesh (India/Belgium) 
Photo: Chris Randle 

PuSh is also working to grow and develop new relationships with organizations and collectives who occupy and advocate for marginalized positions in the community. Our ongoing work with Solid State Community Industries helps support festival access, artist engagement and professional development for racialized youth interested in live arts creation and production. As a part of this program, youth saw shows and engaged with artists in talks, workshops and open rehearsals, developing and deepening their relationship to live art.

Community Outreach is a practice rooted in activist movements, one that has frequently been co-opted by arts industries to maintain an illusion of radical, progressive values. We are interested in reversing that relationship, in using Community Outreach to activate the potential of cultural events to be sites of Community Liberation. We want to imagine the Festival as a place where progressive social change can be seeded and supported. Where artists, critics, activists and the public can come together to wrestle with challenging questions and empower each other to imagine and demand more from the systems we all occupy. This is a long road, but we hope that those of you who participated in our programming this year felt that we had taken the first steps together.