Jane Blanchard is in the midst of getting everything together for this year’s FLOURISH Festival in Fredericton along with her co-director Stefan Westner. But this year is a bit different from the previous three, because Blanchard is organizing this year’s festival from Scotland.
FLOURISH started when Blanchard was attending Renaissance College at the University of New Brunswick.
“We had to pick a project to create that showed leadership, so I decided to create a mini festival,” Blanchard said in an email.
Back in 2014 at a meeting organized by a group of artists called the Shifty Bits Cult, the idea was tossed around for the need of a spring festival. Blanchard wanted to create an event that would bring together all sorts of different art forms by all different sorts of artists.
“I think I have faced more challenges as a female artist than a female organizer,” she said. “When I’m playing a show, I’m more likely to face direct challenges due to people thinking I have a lack of experience, or sometimes thinking that I am not even an artist.”
Blanchard, as a female musician, knows that applying to festivals can be scary to some. That’s why at FLOURISH, they try their hardest to make space for local artists and put minorities first.
“Basically, we don’t generally book bands that are all white dudes playing rock music, and if we do, they’re probably local or doing something really amazing in their own communities.”
Gender parity in the New Brunswick festival scene has been on the forefront of everyone’s minds. A study conducted by the group Canadian Women in Music showed out of all of the New Brunswick festivals combined, 30 per cent of the total artists were female. At Fredericton’s own Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, only 18 per cent of the artists were female. Other Fredericton festivals like Shivering Songs and FLOURISH, are already close to meeting the gender parity mark at 48 and 43 per cent respectively.
“Gender diversity has always been a really big issue at FLOURISH Festival. As a female artist, I have ranted and complained SO many times about festival lineups being exclusive, lineups being all male, etc,” Blanchard said. “It is troubling as a non-male identifying artist, especially a white male, to see so many huge festivals and big shows without any, or very little, representation.”
Blanchard looks at the gender parity issue from more of a positive perspective. She believes the public has to show their support for female acts in order for festivals like hers to survive.
“Yes, bring it up,” Blanchard said. “But I don’t think it should be done in such a negative way. We should all be having safe and productive conversations about this topic and we should not be held to standards that for some may be unattainable within the time frame given.”
New Brunswick is a small province. There’s only so many musicians here and sometimes that can present challenging situations when trying to create a gender diverse festival lineup.
“Along with being big on gender diversity, we also try and make a lot of space for local artists – which in the current musical landscape, unfortunately does not include as many women as we would like to see.”
However, the future for female, non-binary and trans musicians in Fredericton does look promising. One initiative that’s currently taking place is the Girls+ Rock Camp. Eva George, the ArtReach program manager at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, started the camp last summer. After last year’s success they decided to start doing a weekly jam session that began mid-March. A group of three girls ages 12 to 14 have been practicing since then. They’ll be playing this year at FLOURISH Festival.
George was inspired to bring a rock camp to Fredericton after she heard about the Girls Rock camp in Newfoundland.
“I guess the goal was to ensure that when we look around the music scene in [five to 15] years that folks who identify as girls would have just as much representation as their male counterparts,” George said.
The Girls+ Rock Camp will happen again this summer.
Blanchard believes there’s still a way to go in the Fredericton community when it comes to gender diversity, but things are coming along pretty well.
“We are already seeing, and I think we are going to continue to see amazing things come out of initiatives like Fredericton Girls+ Rock Camp in the coming years,” said Blanchard.
As for organizing a festival entirely from Scotland, Blanchard said it’s had its challenges. She moved to Edinburgh with her partner in October and is now there working at a hotel. They needed a change in their life and Blanchard’s family is from there, so it made sense to pick Edinburgh as a place to spend some time.
“I think it’s important to jump out of your comfort zone and know that you can make a new start in a totally new place,” she said.
Her co-director Westner has been doing more hands-on festival stuff while she’s been doing more organizational work. She arrived back in Fredericton on Saturday. Now she and Westner will be kicking things into full gear.
FLOURISH Festival takes place from April 19 to 22 in various venues around Fredericton.