The annual North West Winterfest (NWWF) took place last Friday night, December 2, as a 70’s-themed evening of music and live art. While the event drew many students as well as some Squamish locals, its planning and execution stirred unrest within the student body.
This year, there were two controversies surrounding the event: its reversion to an “apolitical space” after last year’s “Queering Art” theme, and accusations that the organizers, many of whom are musicians, chose among themselves for the paid performance slots at the event without reaching out to the larger student body. Both of these issues arose in a particularly stressful context for the NWWF planners, who planned the event on a shorter-than-expected timeline, and experienced significant hurdles while doing so.
NWWF’s difficulties began at the start of the 2016-17 school year, when nobody immediately stepped up to organize the event. SRC Minister of Arts and Culture Josie Bauman reached out on Facebook looking for organizers, and eventually found six—Marena Salerno Collins, Aren Ludlow, Elin Söber-Williams, Josh Visser, Jacob Tracy, and Nico Crudele. The organizers, who were already a few weeks behind schedule, drew up a funding proposal for the SRC, where they encountered their next hurdle.
At the SRC’s October 31 funding meeting, the NWWF team’s proposal came in over $6,000. Immediately, their proposal was turned down as the result of a new bylaw, whereby any event over $5,000 must be submitted three months in advance for consideration. The three month deadline is a new policy initiative by the SRC, and while this event proposal was, by those standards, late, the policy is new and the organizers were not made aware of it.
To circumnavigate this bureaucratic difficulty, the organizers significantly cut their proposal in order to get it under $5,000 and free of the three month rule. At the November 2nd funding meeting, the event was funded.
This year’s NWWF was a marked departure from last year’s event, in what some students saw as a reversion to a normative party atmosphere. Ellis Greenberg and Lila Stanners, two of the organizers of last year’s “Queering Art”-themed NWWF, are two such students. Last year’s organizers aimed to make NWWF a specifically queer-focused event, featuring queer artists, speakers and musicians.
“[Stanners and I] didn’t step up to [organize] it this year,” Greenberg said, “which is perfectly legitimate as we’re busy with other things. I had hoped that it would be in the same vein, and that it would be used as a fun event where we’d still have dancing and a beer garden and all that stuff, but also be utilized as a sort-of political platform again.”
This year’s organizers defended their decision to keep the event “politically neutral”.
“I feel that we’re not going towards the political anything in this year’s because we have the Power, Race, and Privilege symposium coming up—that’s pretty political,” said Sõber-Williams. Time and money were also a factor when considering the difference between NWWFs, said Visser and Sõber-Williams.
At the October 31 funding meeting, Ludlow noted that last year’s format had speakers and a conference-style feel, and said that they “just want[ed] to have some music, some beer, and give students some time to not have to think of political correctness, or academics.” Visser added that the committee was “not trying to make any messages or anything,” and Sõber-Williams called it a celebration of wintertime.
Both Stanners and Greenberg agreed that nothing can be apolitical, including this year’s NWWF format. “We were tired of these school parties always being bands coming, everybody dances—spaces that were pretty heteronormative, and spaces that a lot of the time could feel unsafe for queer folks.” said Greenberg.
Stanners added that having queer artists and speakers at NWWF last year started a dialogue. “It presents a bigger question about what spaces we promote at Quest and what voices we hear.”
“There’s nothing wrong with what happened last year…it was very cool, it’s just that it was different,” said Salerno Collins at the meeting. “[This year’s NWWF] will be politically correct to the best of our abilities, but also bring back a space where people get to come enjoy themselves in a carefree, non-academic sense.”
“I don’t think having those kinds of parties is a bad thing. I think that’s fun. I think students really like it,” said Greenberg. “It just feels sad to me that we sort of lost that opportunity to make it a political space.”
This year’s organizers cited time constraints and other organizational difficulties in response to criticism of the event’s structure. “The SRC put out the, ‘who wants to organize this event?’ [post],” said Visser, “and we put the proposal together in a week, because they were pretty much desperate to find someone to do it.”
The organizers were also criticized for not publicly calling for other student bands to play at the event and hiring their own band, FourPlay (three of the four band members are Ludlow, Salerno Collins, and Visser). “At the time,” said Sõber-Williams, “we needed to find someone to play this event that would be happening so soon.” Other organizers also cited time as a reason for choosing FourPlay. Each student musician was compensated $50, and a second student band was later added to open the show.
“Time was a huge factor,” Ludlow added, noting that contacting external groups like security and sound teams was also difficult on short notice. Even days before the event, the planning team ran into unexpected trouble. Sõber-Williams said that the security team they had hired backed out two days prior to NWWF, provoking a series of rushed phone calls to other security companies in the area.
However, it is worth noting that there was no callout on the student Facebook page or Musicians at Quest page for bands wanting to play. Further, Visser is also the drummer for Cosmic Brew, the three person band that was hired from Penticton to play NWWF. Cosmic Brew was funded $1,500 by the SRC, which included travel, lodging, food, and management costs.
Adrienne Dalla-Longa, Manager of Student Leadership Programs, worked with the organizers to handle what planning needed to be made by the university. She gave the organizers credit for making the most of a difficult situation, adding that the university is still trying to establish a mechanism for future event planning between the students and the administration.
“I think finding that mechanism of how to engage students while still moving forward on tight timelines is something we’re still working on,” said Dalla-Longa. “It’s no fault on one side or the other, it’s just another one of our growing challenges: finding what meets the needs of the community now.”
“I have nothing but amazing things to say about working with the coordinators [this year],” Dalla-Longa continued. “They met with me multiple times, they were innovative, they were adaptable.”
Overall, Dalla-Longa said, the event adhered to the intentions of its coordinators. “Like any paper you write or volunteering you do in the community, [an event] has to reflect what your own interests, passions and personalities are.”