Summerland’s premier arts festival is a vibrant addition to the Okanagan cultural scene.
Located in the heart of the beautiful Okanagan Valley, Summerland is the perfect setting for celebrating the legacy of internationally acclaimed author George Ryga while also enjoying the sunshine, local wine and small-town hospitality. Started in 2016, the five-day festival held annually in August is rapidly becoming a major attraction for music, performing arts and writing enthusiasts from throughout Western Canada.
George Ryga created a multitude of plays, screenplays, novels and poetry while living in Summerland from 1963 to his death in 1987. All told the story of marginalized people, such as poor farmers, immigrants and struggling artists. “Ryga always wrote with a purpose, and fought to establish a distinctly Canadian culture,” said Ryga Festival Society president Peter Hay. Ryga who grew up on a subsistence farm in Alberta, often worked alongside Cree labourers, witnessed their demoralization and later became a dedicated voice for Indigenous people.
Widely considered the best Canadian play in English, Ryga’s ground-breaking play, ‘The Ecstasy of Rita Joe’, addressed the plight of the country’s Indigenous people. The play tells the story of Rita Joe, a young Shuswap woman who left the reserve for the city in search of work and experienced in Ryga’s own words, “an odyssey through hell” culminating in her rape and murder. Since its 1967 debut in Vancouver, Rita Joe has been performed in countries around the world. Ann Mortifee, who wrote the music and performed in Rita Joe in Vancouver, brought the spirit of Ryga to the 2017 festival with her sold-out concert.
A highlight of the 2018 festival was a compact version of award-winning Canadian composer Victor Davies’ opera adaption of Rita Joe. Performances in Toronto earlier in the year were well received. “I am very excited by the potential of the Ryga Festival to focus the creative energies of the Okanagan and throw light on current social and cultural issues in the spirit of George Ryga,” said festival artistic director Heather Davies.
Invited artists, who come from across Canada, may work in any medium. This approach is unique in Canada and has struck a chord with artists. Juno award winning musician Stephen Fearing, and the 2014 George Ryga Book Award for Social Awareness winner Bev Sellers participated in last year’s festival. “The unique intersection of both professional and local creativity is one of the great joys of the festival,” Davies said. In 2018, storyteller Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, artistic director of New Harlem Productions in Toronto, worked with local poets, comics and storytellers in ‘Outspoken!, a feast of surprising performances’.
“We will be making announcements early in 2019 about all the programming for the 2019 festival. At the moment, what I can reveal, is that we have be an extraordinary range of events emerging,” Davies said.
The Ryga Arts Festival holds great promise of becoming a world-class cultural event in the heart of the Okanagan.
For information visit www.rygafest.ccom.
Financial assistance from the District of Summerland, the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, BC Gaming, Canadian Heritage, Canada Summer Jobs Program and the support of local businesses and community members are gratefully acknowledged.