Revelstoke, British Columbia’s Luna Festival unites newcomers, old-timers, artsy-smartsies, and adreno-bingers in the name of art, wonder, and a little extra economic growth. By Matt Coté.
“If you’d told me this could happen in Revelstoke when I first moved here, I’d have never believed you,” says pro-skier Chris Rubens, as he cruises the downtown streets of his adopted home with 6,200 other vibrant humans on a brisk September night. Not long ago, this interior British Columbia community celebrated a less ornate and more blue-collar culture. But tonight, nearly the equivalent of the entire population basks in the Luna Nocturnal Art & Wonder festival, a glowing and marquee event for the 6,719-person city’s new and booming artistic identity.
There’s a live drum-and-base show at one intersection. Half a block away, an alley’s been turned into an infinite birch forest by cleverly placed mirrors. A few buildings over, there’s a live performance of surrealist vaudeville. In total, there are 40 public installations, many of them interactive or immersive, and some are permanent additions to the cityscape—like the new murals being painted live. The festival culminates in a centralized outdoor concert that goes until the wee hours.
Artists curate the Luna festival, but the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce brought it to life through a bold new manifesto of embracing public art. “It’s nice for people to know we’re a multifaceted community,” says Jana Thompson, the chamber’s executive director. “People are seeking out the arts: digital nomads and urban refugees with cultural appetites relocating to smaller centres. If we complement what Nelson and Kaslo [British Columbia] are doing, we can get people to travel through our region, much like the Powder Highway.” Thompson is referring to the longstanding regional snow-sports tourism initiative that’s been hugely successful. Luna seeks to match its appeal by revealing Revelstoke’s best nooks, crannies, and artists. And it’s working: 2018 was Luna’s sophomore year and attendance doubled—a picture-perfect expression of enfranchisement and collaboration.
It’s part of a bigger arts matrix for the city that includes theatre, film, and music performances at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre; a free summer street festival with 60 consecutive nights of live music downtown; and monthly openings at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre. In Revelstoke, public art is now a half-million-dollar-a-year business funded entirely by grants.
A large part of the mandate is to help make Revelstoke’s social fabric more inclusive as greater numbers of people arrive to visit and live. For local artist Zuzana Riha, who sculpted life-sized bears and ravens out of used bicycle tires and tubes for Luna, it’s the realization of a unifying grand design. “Revelstoke’s art community is growing and becoming embraced by the locals,” she says. “There’s such a great cross-generational mash of creativity.”
Miriam Manley is equally excited to see this happen. She’s the executive director of the Revelstoke Arts Council, and a lifelong patron of the performing arts. She moved to town seven years ago after working at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity as an associate producer and at Arts Council England. Drawn to Revelstoke by her love of the Selkirk Mountains and the surrounding national parks, she’s had a big hand in transforming the city’s inner life these last few years. “When I’m just surrounded by ski touring and mountain biking, I feel my soul kind of shrinking a little bit,” she says, “With Luna, in particular, we were trying to say, ‘Revelstoke’s this adventure mecca. How do we match that in a cultural way? How do we have an opportunity for adventure culturally?’”
Manley and her team seem to have found the formula. In one night, Luna gets almost the same patronage as the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre does in an entire year. But it’s not just supporting a creative economy, it’s about building community. “That’s what culture can do,” Manley says. “It’s a bunch of disparate people coming together to watch a show in the same space and having the same experience.”