The 18thAnnual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is bring over 100 events to the neighbourhood from October 27 to November 7, 2021.
As the Downtown Eastside community starts to emerge from the pandemic, the Festival is excited to reconnect with its many dozens of community partners, including UBC Learning Exchange, Firehall Arts Centre, City Opera, KW Studios, and many more.
This year’s festival theme, Stories We Need to Hear, resonates as the community grapples with the dramatic impact of the pandemic, ongoing displacement, the fentanyl crisis, and the reality of bigotry and systemic racism.
In the words of late DTES poet Sandy Cameron, “When we tell our stories we draw our own maps, and question the maps of the powerful. Each of us has something to tell, something to teach.” We take strength from the compelling lived wisdom and creativity of Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents who continue to illuminate the community’s diverse and rich traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories.
The 2021 Heart of the City Festival features twelve days of live and online events, including music, stories, poetry, theatre, ceremony, films, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, art talks, history talks, and visual art exhibitions; including the Art in the Streetsprogram with surprise pop-up music and spoken word activities on sidewalks and small plazas throughout the historic district.
Highlights of the 2021 Festival include:
We Live Here, a large-scale outdoor project projecting hyper-speed videos of Downtown Eastside artists’ artwork, produced by Radix Theatre. Free
Wednesday October 27 to Friday October 29, 8pm @ Jack Chow Insurance parking lot, 500 blk Carrall at E. Pender
50 Years of Creative Collaboration: Terry Hunter & Savannah Walling highlights the creative journey and artistic history of Vancouver Moving Theatre and Festival co-founding directors Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling. Free
Wednesday October 27 to Sunday November 7, exhibit in the Carnegie 3rd floor Gallery
Sunday October 31, 1pm, online conversation with special guests.
Hearts Beat 2021, a collaboration with Carnegie Indigenous Programs and UBC Learning Exchange, celebrates the shared traditions of drums, song and dance between Indigenous and Irish cultures. Free
Tuesday November 2, 12pm (7pm GST). Live stream, registration info on Festival website early October
DTES Front & Centre: In Memory of Joyce Morgan, a community musical showcase honouring beloved Carnegie Community Centre volunteer and pianist Joyce Morgan. Free
Tuesday November 2, 7pm. Pre-recorded at Firehall Arts Centre, presented online, followed by live Q&A with participating musicians
Indigenous Journeys: Solos by Three Woman profiles local artists: Chemukh’s Dream by Priscillia Mays Tait (Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en), Tell Us When They Came by Kat Zu’comulwat Norris (Lyackson First Nation), and The dance within the dance is the dance by Gunargie O’Sullivan aka ga’axstasalas (Kwakuilth Nation). Free
Wednesday November 3, 7pm. Pre-recorded at the Firehall Arts Centre, presented online, followed by live Q&A with the artists
Grace Eiko Thomson : Chiru Sakura (Falling Cherry Blossoms), esteemed elder and activist reads from and talks about her book which chronicles her and her mother’s journey through racism, and Grace’s life-long advocacy for the rights of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. Free
Thursday November 4, 7pm @ Massy Arts Gallery, 23 East Pender
Limited capacity, registration info on Festival website early October
Incarcerated: Truth in Shadows, presented by Illicit Project is three shadow plays dedicated to people who have faced unjust treatment in Canada’s incarceration system. Free
Saturday November 6, 8pm. Pre-recorded, presented online, followed by live Q&A with participating storytellers and other guests
Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey Launch with three days of ceremony, teachings and storytelling honouring grandmothers who travelled to the Downtown Eastside (with Further We Rise Collective and Wild Salmon Caravan). Free
Friday November 5, 10am–4pm @ Oppenheimer Park (1pm; Opening Ceremony)
Saturday November 6, 9am-4pm @ Strathcona Park (Wild Salmon Caravan)
Saturday November 6, 10am-4pm @ Oppenheimer Park (1pm; Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey, History and Vision Presentation)
Sunday November 7, 10am-12pm Sending Off Ceremony @ Oppenheimer Park
The mandate of the Festival is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, diverse cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside District’s historic neighbourhoods on Coast Salish homelands, including Chinatown, Gastown, Hastings Street corridor, Strathcona and Powell Street. The festival involves professional, community, emerging and student artists, and lovers of the arts. To find out more about the Downtown Eastside’s Heart of the City Festival, register for tickets and view the entire Festival line-up and artists’ bios visit