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Taking art to the streets

Whitehorse is gearing up for a celebration of First Nations arts and culture. The Adaka Cultural Festival starts on Friday. For the next nine days, 55 visual artists and 125 performing artists will take over the city's waterfront.

Whitehorse is gearing up for a celebration of First Nations arts and culture.

The Adaka Cultural Festival starts on Friday.

For the next nine days, 55 visual artists and 125 performing artists, along with a number of presenters, will take over the city’s waterfront.

Organizers hope to draw more than 10,000 people to the event.

While it’s a huge undertaking for the city, it will also be a boon for Whitehorse, said Charlene Alexander the festival’s co-executive producer.

And she speaks from experience.

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Alexander helped cofound the Great Northern Festival in Inuvik more than 20 years ago.

“I have a history with festivals and I know the benefits that they bring to the community, and to artists,” she said. “There is a growing demand for authentic experiences, especially aboriginal experiences, and this festival will help fill that very special niche market.”

The idea for the Adaka Festival has been in the works for a while, but it was after the tremendous success they had showcasing Yukon artists at the Vancouver Olympics that things really got off the ground, said Alexander.

“The Olympic project acted as a springboard for this event,” she said. “We’ve received tremendous support from government, sponsors, the community and all First Nations because everybody realizes - especially since the Olympics - the benefits of this type of event.”

Monday, Whitehorse will close a street to accommodate the event.

First Avenue between Main and Elliott streets will be barricaded for 11 days starting June 30.

To get approval to close the street, organizers had to get downtown businesses on side.

“An 11-day road closure is a big deal,” said Alexander.

While a few businesses expressed some concerns about the closure, most are supportive, she said.

“I would say 99 per cent of the businesses are in favour of it,” she said.

MJ Warshawski, president of the Downtown Business Association, appeared before council to throw her organization’s weight behind both the festival and the road closure.

“I think that, overall, merchants are delighted to have culture on Main Street,” said Warshawski. “When we used to close Main Street for Rendezvous, yes that Saturday or Friday might dip a little, but you always saw an increase the next week.

“That’s just the trick of traffic. The more traffic the better.”

She is very confidant in the festival organizers, and hopeful it will be a boon for the city, both culturally and economically.

“A First Nations festival is so needed,” said Warshawski. “There is a desire for people to understand the First Nations and, hopefully, the desire on their part to express themselves to us and to strengthen their culture.

“It’s so important, on both sides, for understanding and, in the future, for commerce.”

First Nation culture will benefit from this showcase, said Ruth Massie, grand chief for the Council of Yukon First Nations.

“The festival is a wonderful opportunity for First Nations - and there are several visiting from all over - to display our traditional culture and arts with the world,” said Massie.

While it will help promote established artists, Massie hopes it will also encourage talented locals to participate in the artistic community.

“I know a lot of talented artists that don’t publicly display their talent, so I think that this festival will encourage them to start participating,” she said.

The festival will kick off every day at 10 a.m. with a gallery opening at the Old Fire Hall.

And there will be music, performances and film screenings, and workshops throughout the day.

It all culminates in a free community feast and drumming circle on the last day of the festival.

Everyone, regardless of their cultural heritage, is invited to bring a drum and join the circle.

To register for workshops and get more information on the event visit www.

Contact Josh Kerr at