Having been involved from the inside with the Dawson Daily News Print & Publishing Festival since its conception and inception seven years ago, it is easy to lose one’s perspective. But taking in this year’s activities I was suddenly struck with how the Festival has grown and matured in both size and scope. For starters, having its own standalone date, and now running from Wednesday through Sunday, the Festival is no longer just a subdued weekend event bundled in as part of another happening, but carries its own presence and authority.
But there are more dimensions to the evolution than simply length. The Writing side of the festival, which has been my greatest area of interest, has blossomed, thanks in no small part to the support of the Writer’s Trust of Canada and Yukon Public Libraries. This year’s visiting writers included Ivan Coyote, Carleigh Baker, Laurel Perry, David A. Robertson, John K. Samson and Christine Fellows. From a spectacular Friday night ensemble performance at the newly re-opened Palace Grand Theatre (which was broadcast live on CFYT 106.9 FM, “The Spirit of Dawson”), to well-attended, individual writing workshops held throughout the weekend in the classrooms of the Yukon School of the Visual Arts, these authors and storytellers covered a variety of topics, from memoir writing to reconciliation and indigenous issues. Local media guru Chris Healey also gave a presentation on the potential impact of block chain technology on writing in the future.
Saturday night’s keynote address was by Winnipeg writer David Alexander Robertson. Robertson, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation, discussed the role storytelling has played, and can continue to play, when it comes to reconciliation in Canada, and about how Indigenous history can be taught through literature.
Presentations/workshops are just one way that the PrintFest has striven to foster the local literary arts. Thursday night also saw an Open Mic night at local watering hole The Pit, hosted by Dawson poet Tara Borin. It was a lively and well-attended event (on both sides of the stage), but what was most impressive (beyond the enthusiasm of the presenters) was the variety and quality of the pieces delivered during the evening, lending testimony to the artistry that runs rampant in Dawson City.
In a similar vein, I had the privilege to co-host “End Quote,” the Festival’s concluding Sunday night event, also broadcast on local radio. In addition to headliner writers (comprising the past, present, and future of the Berton House writing residency), the evening’s focus was local talent. The audience was treated to prodigious samples of poetry and prose (both fiction and non-fiction), as well as song-writing, from Dawson literary artists.
Even the familiar visual arts aspects of PrintFest seem to have matured and matriculated. The printmakers come (some, Like Peter Braune and John Steins have been there from the beginning) and still demonstrate, teach, and evangelise about their craft, but during their occupancy of the heritage Dawson Daily News building each year the variety and quality of prints produced has blossomed. So has the participation from local artists and tourists wanting to learn about printmaking, and these students of the craft also dazzled with some of the prints they created with help from the visiting masters, such as Joyce Majiski, Cassie Normandy O’Malley and Ryan O’Malley, and Ken Anderson.
If nothing, the physical size of both the prints and the ambition of the printmakers conceiving them has certainly increased. In addition to the printing of two impressive large works that occupied a full sheet of plywood, the printmakers went outside on Saturday afternoon to try printing with some less-than-conventional means. First, a road packer (I personally still think of them as steamrollers, even though steam hasn’t powered them in a century) was trucked in to press a series of multicolured abstract prints. Then local musher Brian Wilmhurst brought in a team of his sled dogs to tug a roller across a series of block prints. (This particular demonstration did not go completely according to plan. The dogs, now that they were artists, decided they were going to shatter convention (as well as the roller’s bolt) and escape the confines of pedestrian expectation.)
Plans are already underway for the 7th Edition of the Festival, and if the previous six years are any indication, the event will only continue to gain in popularity and impact.
The Dawson City Print & Publishing Festival is Presented in partnership by the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, Dawson City Community Library, Writers’ Trust of Canada, and Parks Canada Klondike National Historic Sites with generous support from the Yukon Tourism & Culture Arts Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts.