Susan Kokas, president of the Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival Society, decided to organize the Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival after seeing a chasm between the age groups within the city. Photo by Stu Salkeld

First annual Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival set for By-the-Lake Park

City of Wetaskiwin teems with eager artists of all genres

Having seen a spark missing in the community, a Wetaskiwin resident and world traveler is hoping to unleash an explosion of art and a sense of unity with the first ever Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival.

Susan Kokas, president of the Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival Society, decided to organize the festival after seeing a chasm between the age groups within the city.

In attending open mic nights Kokas noticed the older generations would come early and leave and roll their eyes when younger artists took the stage. “You know, I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think it’s right.”

“I started this because I was witnessing a lot of negativity in Wetaskiwin on social media,” said Kokas.

Not only does Kokas want the arts and music festival to strengthen awareness of the art community in Wetaskiwin but also serve as a way to begin bridging that gap between generations.

The Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival will take place June 24 at By-the-Lake Park; with approximately 100 local artists of all genres partaking.

Taking into account Wetaskiwin sits on Treaty 6 land — with many of the artists coming from the Maskwacis community — the festival opens with smudging ceremony 9:30 a.m.

In the four months leading up to the festival Kokas says the event’s Facebook page gained more than 400 members. “It’s snowballed. We get up to three new artists a day, and they are from all age groups and genres.”

“They needed a sense of spirit, unity, pride and inclusion. I have to be the change. I’m in the centre of that age group that connects the young and the old. We have to show the world that we (Wetaskiwin) can be metropolitan; we are a destination,” she added.

Kokas says a large part of the festival will be giving the younger generation an opportunity to see what Wetaskiwin can offer them.

In planning the festival Kokas spoke with multiple art groups around the city and discovered many of their struggles stem from a lack of participation from young artists. Without change many of the groups could continue to see declining numbers.

“Show the old folks what the young folks can do by bringing them together,” said Kokas.

With all the artists, writers, musicians, dancers and other participants congregating at the park, Kokas says her vision for the event is more of a open concept, free-form entity and less like a structured outdoor market.

“We have excellent food vendors, all local,” said Kokas.

“Plus the demonstrations. There’s martial arts, the dance, those are the arts,” she added.

When Kokas took her idea to city council, not for funding but for support, she was offered the use of the city’s transportation system, as parking at By-the-Lake can be tight.

Kokas says she noticed some events take place in the city with no annual followup, and she is hoping to change that pattern.

The city has the venues to make it happen, says Kokas, citing the new stage at Jubilee Park. “I want to see that stage used by everyone.”

Many other businesses and arts supporters have also made donations in any way they can to the inaugural festival. Kokas says with the economy many cannot afford to make cash donations, but lawn chairs, coffee, sunscreen and bug spray supplies are just a few items coming in from the community.

The official closing time of the festival is 9 p.m. but Kokas says the park’s hall will remain open for open mic and jams for those who wish to stay longer.

“I give my confidence that this is going to be epic. Wetaskiwin needs this badly,” said Kokas.

The free event will commence rain or shine.