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StART Festival

The StART Festival takes place this week from Thursday to Sunday in Halifax. The festival will showcase an eclectic array of creations and performances from art students enrolled in postsecondary studies. The aim is to have these emerging artists present their talent to a broader community and build relationships to help forge sustainable careers. Arts East recently caught up with Karen Gross and Alanna Griffin who founded the festival. These passionate theatre students share what’s in store from March 20 to the 23rd at the Bus Stop Theatre.
How did you get your start in the "artistic world" and what types of art media are you most passionate about?
KG & AG: We are both theatre types. We have a lot of experience behind the scenes (Alanna largely as a director, Karen as a stage manager and producer) and are fourth year theatre studies students at Dal/King's. We've both been heavily involved with the King's Theatrical Society (Karen was on the executive last year, Alanna is the president this year) and that has been our main connection to the student arts community in Halifax. We've noticed that KTS shows tend to draw mainly King’s audiences. We started to wonder how we could get artists working in other disciplines at other schools to connect with each other and to expose their work to the broader community.

What inspired you to create the StART Festival?
KG & AG: Alanna came up with the concept of a student arts festival while working at Dal’s Career Center. While assisting other students in their professional pursuits she began wondering, and frantically researching, how she could get her own career going. But the festival truly came into being when she brought the idea up to Karen over beers at the Wardroom, the beloved campus bar at King’s. We were both excited to take matters into our own hands, and launch our own careers as producers while helping other arts students showcase their work.

How did the preview event go in January where established artists shared How they got their Start?
KG & AG: It was amazing. Shout outs to established artists Ben Stone, Sue Leblanc, Sue Goyette, Anthony Black, Dustin Harvey, Mary Vingoe, Lisa Phinney, Gay Hauser, Bethany Butterworth, Ilan Sandler, John Demont, Gianna Lauren, Veronica Simmonds, and Rich Aucoin who spoke about their experiences as emerging artists. We heard so many different perspectives- some had worked years at crappy minimum wage jobs, some balanced their art with other passions, and all of them came across challenges as they made their way towards careers in the arts of their own making. We all left feeling inspired. One audience member approached us at the end of the night saying he was feeling so pumped up that he was going to go home and write a grant application. We hope that the energy from that night will carry through to the festival and beyond as the student artists who sat in the audience take to the stage.

What are some highlights that will take place during the festival (March 20-23)?
KG & AG: There are no low lights in this festival. We have a range of performances from dancing with swords, to sketch comedy, to new music compositions, to projection art and all of it is very exciting. People coming to our festival will be able to enjoy the artistic medium they love alongside genres of performance they have never experienced before. You can find the full line ups for Friday and Saturday on facebook here and here.

We’re also doing a career fair called Fair Starts in the Arts on Thursday night. We’ll have a bunch of local arts resource organizations on hand to answer questions as well as Donna from Lucid Dreaming Photography taking headshots (by donation). To round out the evening we will have snacks and drinks for sale as well as prints from the NSCAD Print Club.

Will this become an annual event?
KG & AG: We hope so! We would love to keep this up and will do so as long as we can and if we have enough funding (shout out to the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage for their support this year). We are always looking for talented team members and funding partners to help expand this festival in future years. If you’d like to lend a hand, feel free to email us at

How does it feel as you are launching your own art careers? Is it exciting, scary, natural...?
KG & AG: All of the above. Organizing this festival has been a crash course in working in the arts in Halifax. We’ve been so fortunate to work with and be mentored by so many amazing members of this community. Clare Waque has been especially helpful in showing us the ropes and making us feel like we can make anything. While there is definitely a lot of uncertainty as we jump into this world, we also feel like the community has our backs.

How can the community, policy makers, business, etc be more supportive of sustainable arts careers?
KG & AG: This festival is happening at a really interesting and challenging time for the arts in Halifax. Recently with the eviction of the Khyber staff and the move of the Roberts Street Collective from their home, space has become a central issue. One of the aims of this festival is to provide emerging artists with the infrastructure necessary in order to showcase their work. The Bus Stop Theatre Co-op has been a generous partner and their theatre a welcome home for this festival. Without their support and space this festival would not exist. Yet the Bus Stop feels the pressure of prices and recently became a Co-op in order to secure additional funding for this hub of indie creation.
"But we need to keep reminding our city, its private business and public officials that we care about art."
We have to protect the houses of art if we are going to support the people that create it. We don’t want to detract from the exciting projects in the works (Platform Halifax, Arts Boat, Fountain Arts…) or the programs that continue to provide essential resources to artists. But we need to keep reminding our city, its private business and public officials that we care about art. We would encourage local business owners to think about how they can help artists get their work out there (Do they have walls that can display visual art? Spaces that can host performances?) We also love when different artistic disciplines support each other. The arts community as a whole is strongest when it is united. Right now there is $300,000 worth of arts and culture funding being discussed for HRM and will be voted on soon. So contact your councilor and let them know you care (

What would life be like without art?
KG & AG:  We would spend less time reflecting on our circumstances, listening to others, letting ourselves think, feel, and love, and there would be few occasions for the joy and awe that come when we create and witness creation. In short, it would be pretty dismal.

Is there anything you would like to add?
KG & AG:  Thank you for giving us the chance to spread the word about our festival. We hope to see you all at the theatre!

StART Festival
March 20-23, 2014
Bus Stop Theatre, Halifax

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