Be Entertained By The Heart of the City Festival

The 16th annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is now underway. Until November 10th, the neighbourhood is filled with music, stories, theatre, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, dance, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibits, mixed media, art talks, history talks and history walks.

Heart of the City Festival 2019 participants photo: David Cooper

This year’s theme Holding the Light has emerged from the compelling need of DTES-involved artists and residents to illuminate the vitality and relevance of the Downtown Eastside community and its diverse and rich traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories. Events happen throughout the Eastside, some are ticketed events with admission by donation, and many are free giving everyone the opportunity to participate in the Festival.  

This week the Festival presents Opening Doors – Vancouver’s East End 2019, a Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre production..  Directed by Donna Spencer, Opening Doors features the dramatization of selected personal histories from Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter’s extraordinary local legend-of-a-book Opening Doors first published in 1979.

2019 Heart of the City Festival Artist-in-Residence : Khari Wendell McClelland

Spotlight on the East End is a concert music series that profiles an exciting line-up of local POC, Indigenous and marginalized emerging and professional musicians. The 2019 Festival Artist-in-Residence Khari Wendell McClelland (The Sojourners/Freedom Singer) is the Curator. Featured musicians include Tonye Aganaba, Francis Arevalo and Shannon Bauman, among many more in concerts Thursday Nov 7, 8pm, at Russian Hall, or Saturday Nov 9, 8pm, at Tight Club

Arising From the Downtown Eastside features two documentaries:  

The Story Behind Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way (25’):
In 2018, Vancouver Moving Theatre, in a collaboration led by Indigenous artists, knowledge-keepers and partners across the land, toured Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way to cities and communities across Canada. This play and cultural encounter brought to life the story of Old One and his heartbreaking and hilarious journey to reconcile with himself, his family and community. Local filmmaker Jessica Hallenbeck (Lantern Films) has created a short film that traces the national tour, cultural practices across the land, and the reflections of participating actors, youth and elders. Showing for free, Saturday Nov 9, 7pm at Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main.

Survivors Totem Pole (24’): In 2016, the Survivors Totem Pole was carved by Downtown Eastside resident and activist Skundaal Bernie Williams, and then raised at Pigeon Park in a powerful pole raising and potlatch witnessing ceremony attended by over 1,000 residents, Elders and VIPs. Filmmaker Susanne Tabata, follows the extraordinary community-led journey to create and raise a monument to survivors: a tribute to the enduring strength, resistance, persistence and inclusion of the Downtown Eastside community.  Following the film’s screening, Saturday Nov 9, 8pm at Carnegie Theatre, stay for a talk-back with Susanne Tabata, Skundaal Bernie Williams, and guests from the Sacred Circle Society.

The mandate of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The festival involves a wide range of professional, community, emerging and student artists and lovers of the arts. Over 1,000 local artists and Downtown Eastside residents participated in last year’s Festival.

Heart of the City Festival continues until November 10th. For full line-up ticketing information visit

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