The inaugural Southwest Art Fest offers a new opportunity to explore the region and enjoy the work of participating artists.
The festival is a month-long event during September to showcase artists from different genres at venues in several communities.
The Cypress Hills – Grasslands Destination Area Inc. (CGDA) coordinated the arrangements for the new event in association with artist Blaine Filthaut, who is the owner of the Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery in Maple Creek.
The CGDA’s goal as a tourism and destination marketing organization is to develop and support activities that will benefit members. It was therefore interested when Filthaut came up with this idea for a new event.
Christine Broderick, the CGDA social media manager, said the festival will be a benefit to CGDA members as well as the broader community.
“Anything that can help get people into the communities and into the venues was our goal, and also to show off all the artists in the area,” she mentioned. “So we agreed to make it not just to focus on our members, but the whole southwest.”
According to Filthaut the challenge of organizing events during a pandemic was part of the consideration in the creation of this festival.
“So this is actually quite a safe way for people to tour and meet artists, but in a non-official event format,” he said.
Southwest Saskatchewan is a large area with a variety of good artists. The festival applies the concept of a city art walk, which can be easily organized through cooperation between venues and artists. He therefore felt there is potential to have a month-long art festival in the region, and CGDA liked his idea.
“Many of these communities are part of the Cypress Hills Grasslands Destination area, of which I'm a member also, and this was an opportunity to maybe open up a new market or a new attraction to bring people to our area in that month,” he said. “And it's actually a very simple format. … . So we got that set up and we were literally figuring things out as we go along, but for a start we're feeling pretty comfortable on where we're headed.”
He noted that September is a beautiful month in southwest Saskatchewan for such an event. The festival not only offers a new attraction in the region, but there are also still many travellers visiting the area. They might be retired with the freedom to travel at a different time than the usual tourist season and there is also the attraction of the beautiful prairie colours during the fall.
Broderick also felt there are benefits to hosting this new event in September. She worked at the Maple Creek Trans-Canada Visitor Reception Centre in September 2019, when the noticed that there were still many travellers.
“The problem is that many of our tourist attractions close in September,” she said. “So they're still coming through and looking for something to do. It's definitely about the September crew and to keep them going, to prolong summer, and also even to get our locals out and enjoying things in September.”
A key attraction of the Southwest Art Fest is the variety offered through the participation of artists from different genres, including painting, sculpture, pottery, quilting, photography, and music. The venues are located in different communities, which will present interesting possibilities for festival travellers to plan different road trips to experience the artistic variety on offer.
There are several participating venues in Maple Creek and other festival activities during the month take place in Eastend, Hazlet, Lafleche, Leader, Shaunavon, Swift Current, and Val Marie.
Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery in Maple Creek will feature the largest number of artists during the festival. The works of 10 gallery artists will be on display during the entire month, and the gallery will also host four different artist receptions.
Broderick felt the number of participating artists and venues is a really good start and it bodes well for the future of the Southwest Art Fest.
“This is our first year and we envision it just getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “So we're excited about where it could go.”
The format makes it easy for artists and venues to join in the future. Any organization with space to host an artist can participate in the event.
“We want even local hotels to display somebody's artwork or host an artist for a night,” she said.
The current pandemic can make it more challenging to host large events, but there is future potential to create large events as part of this festival.
“I think we envision more community-wide events, like street festivals and that eventually, but we understand that's not really the year for this yet,” she said.
Filthaut expects even more artists will join the festival next year, because they did not have enough time this year to have artwork ready for the event.
“It takes time to create art, and not every artist has that much material that they could just go,” he said. “There's different levels of how they want to be involved. … Next year this could be huge, because people can actually organize around a date in September, if they so wish. And we really want to get all the arts involved, as much as possible, to show southwest Saskatchewan art.”
Information about the Southwest Art Fest and a detailed list of participating venues and artists are available on the CGDA website (www.visitcypresshills.ca). There is also an events page for the festival on Facebook (@SouthwestArtFest).