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Richmond community unites to reinvent Children’s Arts Festival

This year’s annual Richmond Children’s Arts Festival is being re-imagined for COVID-19, pivoting online with two elements
All instructors for the Children’s Arts Festival are experienced educators as well as practising artists themselves. (Image via City of Richmond)

This year’s annual Richmond Children’s Arts Festival is being re-imagined for COVID-19, pivoting online with two components: an outreach program for schools the week of February 8 and a series of free, online activities for the general public that will be available on Family Day, Monday, February 15.

Traditionally, the festival attracts over 8,000 children and their families who enjoy hands-on activities guided by local artists. But with restrictions on in-person gatherings, the community has come together to create an interactive online event for its 13th year.

“So many partners stepped forward, and it really gave us the energy to make this year’s festival happen,” says Camyar Chaichian, program manager.

“This festival wouldn’t have been possible without all the partners involved. It is a true community effort with so many people saying yes and helping plan with the energy needed to do this for children and families, especially during a pandemic.”

In partnership with Richmond School District 38, this year’s outreach program will see pre-recorded videos of professional artists leading students through art sessions during class time. Gateway Theatre, Richmond Art Gallery and Richmond Public Library are sponsoring the festival, with support from the BC Recreation and Parks Association.

The pre-registered classes range from kindergarten through to grade 7; schools will receive special kits with art supplies and materials so the students can follow along with one of six instructional videos.

“Because we know that schools have a lot to manage right now, they’re not just getting the videos, they are also getting the kits!” Chaichian says.

For those children who are not participating through the school district program, the series of artist-led videos can be watched by the general public, at no charge, on BC Family Day, Monday, February 15. Each class’s supply lists will be made available on the festival’s website starting February 8 to provide enough time to gather the requisite materials in advance. 

“These are easy-to-find items that families can find in the craft or dollar store,” Chaichian says.

“I know families are frequently trying to think of activities that don’t require the use of a device. Yes, you’re watching the instructor online, but you’ll also be creating things in real-time with your child, and it’s a very tactile and immersive experience.”

All of the festival’s instructors are experienced educators as well as practising artists themselves. The instructors will help children gain a deeper understanding of arts practices in a child- and family-friendly way. 

The instructional videos were filmed in the Richmond Cultural Centre and to increase accessibility, the videos all feature closed captioning for the hearing impaired. 

“We wanted to ensure the videos are accessible for everyone,” Chaichian says. 

“We’ve been hearing stories about people struggling with videos, and we wanted to do what we could to honour all abilities and diversity.”

As an added educational component, the Arts Festival has incorporated elements of the Lunar New Year, happening at the same time as the festival. Each video will have an introduction from a Richmond Public Library staff member who shares some of the traditional meanings of Lunar New Year across the Asian diaspora.

“We wanted to be sure that we were featuring some artists that have a direct and authentic connection to Lunar New Year,” Chaichian says. 

“For the other returning artists, not of Asian heritage, we asked them to incorporate Lunar New Year within their existing arts practice. What’s developed is something really beautiful.”

One of this year’s classes includes an introduction to Chinese shadow puppetry with Annie Katsura Rollins, who holds a Ph.D. on the topic.

This year, a connection to art is more important than ever.

“The arts help us become better people because all arts creation is rooted in empathy for and trying to communicate with others. And when better than now to exercise all that,” Chaichian says.