Powell River Academy of Music’s International Choral Kathaumixw festival was recently recognized for its work toward cultural inclusivity at the BC Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Awards. Academy of Music and festival founder Don James and current academy and festival artistic director Walter Martella accepted the award from premier John Horgan at a ceremony in Vancouver on Thursday, March 21.
“Congratulations to these remarkable individuals and organizations, who are working to end racism and discrimination, and make sure every person feels welcome to participate in BC's economy, culture and society,” said Horgan.
The festival organization was one of five recipients of the award and the only group to be honoured.
“There were a lot of nominees, but after looking at all the nominees throughout the province they chose us, which was pretty amazing,” said James. He spoke about the strong involvement of Tla'amin Nation with the festival, including major works of art created, music composed and stories shared.
The idea for an international singing festival in Powell River was dreamed up by friends James and Dal Matterson while they were out hiking and inspired by the beauty of their surroundings. The first event took place in 1984. It attracts 1,000 singers from around the world to Powell River every two years and was a major contributor to the community being selected as a Cultural Capital of Canada in 2004.
The award ceremony took place on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and featured special performances in recognition of the Persian New Year and Hindu and Sikh celebrations of spring. BC has the largest proportion of ethno-cultural diversity in the country with 36 per cent of people identified as a visible minority or Indigenous in the 2016 census. At the same time, the number of reported hate crimes reported nationally jumped 47 per cent in 2017.
“We're at a critical moment in history where acts of racism and hatred are increasing, across the world and here at home in BC,” said Ravi Kahlon, parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism and sport. “We must stand together against those who seek to divide us and recognize we each have the power to create a more inclusive society for everyone. The exemplary people recognized by these awards are creating the change we need for a more just and inclusive society.”
Martella noted that the panel of judges that chose the award recipients was comprised of youth.
“It was really kind of great to get this recognition from a younger group of people,” he said. “That they found [Kathaumixw] to be worthy showed me we’re doing something that’s still current and relevant.”
The international reputation the festival has achieved over the years as a place of tolerance and inclusiveness comes down to the collective vision of the countless local volunteers and participants from around the globe who create such a special experience together, he added.
“The award embodies the multicultural outlook of the festival,” said Martella. “This award is for everybody who has participated, given their time and helped with it.”