As of writing this, it’s officially been one year to the day that I first got paid for something I had written. It was before I started working at Edify, and it came after about four years of writing, rewriting and howling at empty Word documents while working for my campus magazine. The sum was barely enough to pay a light bill — looking back, the amount was almost criminally low — but, as per Stephen King, that simple fact was enough to finally catapult me from the category of overenthusiastic hobbyist to full-fledged writer.
Although they may seem small, reaching those small early-career milestones can often mean the world to new artists. And for over 25 years, the Nextfest Arts Company has been in the business of facilitating those firsts for Edmonton’s next generation of tastemakers through its 11-day celebration of the city’s emerging arts scene featuring theatre, music, spoken word and visual arts.
“The festival has evolved and taken a lot of forms, but still, the goal is the same. We’re here to support and uplift the work of emerging artists,” says Simone Medina Polo, a local artist and Nextfest’s festival producer. “We try to provide [artists] with that first stage, that first opportunity, that first paycheque — those things that are going to help artists have a sense that they can actually do these things to get by.”
Founded in 1996, Nextfest first began as a response to the noticeable lack of platforms for emerging artists in and around Edmonton’s theatre community. The annual arts festival has since expanded into an interdisciplinary arts event, but despite its growth, Nextfest’s commitment to its founding principles is as strong as ever.
“There are a lot of different barriers that [artists] face, ranging from being intimidated from grants, or just granting organizations being more focused on supporting artists that have already emerged,” Medina Polo says. “We’re trying to remind ourselves through something like Nextfest that that doesn’t need to be the case. We can value the work that we do and get paid for what we do.”
Nextfest 2021 is set to run virtually from June 3 to 13, and after working out the kinks last year, the festival has managed to flip the move online from a necessity to an opportunity.
“[We thought,] Let’s try to connect people with mentors, as well as organizations that can provide cameras [and] microphones,” Medina Polo says. “This year, we collaborated with Girls in Film and Television (GIFT) to connect artists with both mentors and also recording equipment so that they had an opportunity to test those things out. The result this year is a considerable improvement in the production value.”
The events of the past year have also brought about renewed conversation regarding accessibility in the arts, and in response, Nextfest 2021 has introduced features like open captions on performances. It has also committed to maintaining a minimum of 35 per cent BIPOC and 50 per cent women and gender minorities in paid, professional positions as part of the 35/50 Initiative.
“A lot of the things that came up in the last year [surrounded] this question of accessibility and access points, and there’s definitely a need for some of these elements to stay even after COVID,” Medina Polo adds.
Nextfest 2021 attendees also have the opportunity to go from spectators to stakeholders as part of the festival’s Adopt-an-Artist program. With the minimum tax-refundable donation set at $100, attendees get to have their names displayed alongside their selected artists on the festival’s digital adoption wall, as well as receive exclusive Nextfest t-shirts.
“[It’s] a playful way of connecting with artists, and also an opportunity to connect audiences that want to keep supporting new generations to come with financial resources.”
Schedules for Nextfest 2021 are available on the festival website. You can also find links to watch performances live or on demand.