Unsinkable N.B. event planners and volunteers roll with the punches

·4 min read
The vision of a new winter festival on Fredericton's exhibition grounds will remain unrealized for another year, due to the COVID-19 situation. (Submitted by Mike Vokey - image credit)
The vision of a new winter festival on Fredericton's exhibition grounds will remain unrealized for another year, due to the COVID-19 situation. (Submitted by Mike Vokey - image credit)

Mike Vokey remembers walking around the exhibition grounds in Fredericton in September with his fellow co-chair of WinterFrolic, planning where everything would go — the mountain of snow for tube sliding, the maze, the Ferris wheel.

At the time, they thought the pandemic was coming to an end and that by mid-winter, it would all be history.

"Clearly we're not quite there yet," said Vokey on Tuesday morning, the night after breaking the news to volunteers that the event planned for the last two weekends of January would be put off until next year based on Public Health advice.

They were hoping to give families a chance to get outdoors for some fresh air, exercise and winter fun. But given the surge in COVID-19 cases, they decided if they couldn't do it safely it wasn't worth doing.

WinterFrolic isn't the only Fredericton event to suffer a similar fate this week.

The organizers of Shivering Songs, a music festival featuring live performances at several city venues planned for Jan. 18-23, announced on their website Monday that they, too, are postponing to an undetermined date.

"As we wait to see the full effects of Omicron on our community, we have to take a step back and see what the next few weeks will bring," said a statement from the festival.

Shivering Songs
Shivering Songs

These are trying times for anyone planning events where people gather together.

Vokey said he allows himself to feel discouraged, "but only for a very short period and very privately."

He doesn't think it does any good and doesn't want it to rub off on others.

And he insists every challenge is also an opportunity.

"They really are. It's an opportunity to do something better and something different."

"We're sincerely excited about what we can do for next year."

There are already plans to raise money for snow making equipment, said Vokey, so new features can be added and the weather will be less of a variable.

All of the volunteers and sponsors have committed to stay on, he said.

Submitted by Mike Vokey
Submitted by Mike Vokey

Vokey credits co-chair Reegan McDougall, whose energy, he said, is contagious.

"The volunteers pick up on that," he said.

They are also fuelled by each other's enthusiasm, said Vokey.

"When you get volunteers that are passionate about something you have to try to keep it up."

"Whether it's Harvest Jazz or whatever, everybody's so passionate about where they're volunteering. The opportunity is there if you don't lose it."

Submitted by Mike Vokey
Submitted by Mike Vokey

Julie Maston is one of the people working to put on the 75th edition of the Fredericton Music Festival in April.

"There's quite a dedicated music community in Fredericton," said Maston.

"People look forward to it every spring."

The festival committee would love to do something bigger to mark this year's milestone, said Maston, but instead they are settling for a toned-down edition, with no choirs.

They are "crossing their fingers" they can have live performances, but will be prepared to go completely online again, if necessary, like they did last year.

People could go online and watch any entry they wanted.

It was better than having to cancel completely, like in 2020, said Maston.

"But there's nothing quite like a live audience," she said.

Fredericton Music Festival
Fredericton Music Festival

So organizers felt it was "worthwhile enough" to try to plan for that in 2022, despite the uncertainty.

The province launched a new program last month to help live performance venues and arts and culture festivals adversely affected by the pandemic.

"These groups have been resilient and creative and all kinds of things that we must applaud," said Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister Tammy Scott-Wallace.

"But at the end of the day this pandemic has been very challenging for this sector."

The Ticket Incentive Program offers funding, based on tickets sold between April 1, 2021, and March 1, 2022.

Producers that put on shows featuring professional New Brunswick artists can apply for a grant and $5 per ticket will be returned to them, she said.

Those eligible would include places like the Capitol or Imperial Theatres, cultural centres, Symphony New Brunswick, Pays de la Sagouine and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Maximum grants range from $750 for smaller venues to $6,000 for large festivals. A total of $300,000 is earmarked for the initiative.

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