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Festival organizer named citizen of the year
When the husband and wife team of Mary and Michael Markwick first decided they’d organize the Dundarave Festival of Lights, Mary figured the money raised at the event would help buy some socks and blankets for the Lookout Society’s North Shore Shelter.
But after four years at the helm of the festival, Mary’s watched the event reach well beyond those modest, albeit important, early forecasts. The annual gathering — held over four Saturdays each December — has evolved into many things: a celebration of the arts, a popular community building initiative and an increasingly powerful fundraiser in the quest to end homelessness.
In 2008, the festival raised $25,000 and helped get the shelter-based chef program, the North Shore Culinary School, started. The program has thrived ever since and is planning an expansion. In 2009 and 2010 respectively, another $25,000 was raised.
Last Christmas, however, proved the most successful yet. When the final tally was done, slightly more than $30,000 was collected. And this year, the money’s been used to a new end — the hiring of a tenant support worker at the shelter. The job, says the Lookout’s community liaison worker, allows shelter staff to better help residents transition from the shelter to independent living.
“It’s an important position,” Mary says.
“Amazing,” husband Michael adds.
“The community is stepping up for this transitional worker,” Mary finishes, “it’s way more than we ever thought.”
The fundraising success of the Dundarave Festival of Lights — money given to the festival in two streams: $110 to sponsor a Christmas tree on the beach plus a donation to the shelter — is indicative of the community’s understanding that homelessness is not just a symptom of the Downtown Eastside.
When they started out, says Mary, some people were surprised to learn funds from the event were being given to the shelter. Others were surprised there was a shelter on the North Shore. But over time, the reality of homelessness in the area has become more accepted, she says. And so has an understanding that the stereotypical picture of homelessness — the addict — isn’t representative of all who find themselves on the streets.
“It’s our brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts,” says Mary.
“They need to be taken care of.”
In addition to these social justice concerns, support of the arts is also a core tenet of the festival. Each year, a host of performers, from school choirs to 13th century folk dancers, descend on a stage erected on Dundarave Beach.
Through a non-profit entity called the Dundarave Festival of Lights Society, organizers have been able to apply to the federal government for various grants. In 2010, for instance, the Department of Canadian Heritage gave them $45,000. In 2011, another cheque came, this one for $41,000, every cent of which went to the performers.
“It’s great to encourage the arts with these grants,” says Mary.
“And to be able to pay them what they’re worth — let them sing for strangers, reach out to the public and out of their own gymnasiums.”
With all that work invested, and five kids at home to take care of, it’s no surprise Mary was named the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year.
It’s an honour, Mary admits. But she’s quick to mention all the support the festival is given by partners such as Arc’teryx and Pacific Arbour each year. The work is far from a solitary exercise.
“It’s wonderful. The attention goes to the citizens of the year but there are all these people that help with the festival,” she says.
“I’m not doing it myself.”
As for what the future may bring for the festival, both Mary and Michael aren’t sure. The model works. Partners are happy. And people are being helped.
“People are making the connections. They see that the money is going to something — the shelter,” says Mary.
“People are coming to us asking if they can be involved. It’s neat to see all the different angles come together. It’s not just a marketing exercise, it’s a social justice exercise.”
Next winter’s Dundarave Festival of Lights will celebrate West Vancouver’s centennial. For a full breakdown of 2012’s scheduled performers or to make a donation, visit dundaravefestival.com.