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Photo courtesy Jason Lawrence // GlobalFest

GlobalFest 2021: Part one — bursts of kaleidoscopic joy

By Rachneet Randhawa, September 15 2021—

GlobalFest once more put on a dazzling display of fireworks alongside showcasing multicultural performances and a scrumptious palette of food trucks galore. Originally launched in 2003, GlobalFest is an annual cultural celebration organized by The Calgary Fireworks Festival Society and consists of two key themes -— the OneWorld Festival and the International Fireworks Festival. The Gauntlet sat down with Chief Operating Officer Kevin Goosen to learn more about the history and programming of the popular festival.

GlobalFest is all about cultural engagement and bringing together ethnically and culturally diverse communities within Calgary and Alberta together. 

“Those uniquenesses allow people to get to know the other cultures that are around and who your neighbours are,” said Goosen. “And to appreciate that dynamic, that is to be Canadian.”

How does the fireworks showcase work? Overall there are four competing countries for this year, each with a theme of its own including China and its “Summer of Passion,” India and its “Journey through Various Popular Music Genres,” Japan and its “Escape from the Plague” and the Philippines with “A Lorica (Our Fight Song)” with the finale showcased on Aug. 28, which focused on Canada and its “Spirit of the Nation.” Each of the shows was required to have a soundtrack that was 50 per cent from its country of origin.

Counting this one, this is GlobalFest’s 18th year at Elliston Park and 19th year as a festival with the next year being their 20th anniversary. As a throwback, GlobalFest technically began in 1993 when a number of those now responsible for the festival were working in the fireworks industry, including Goosen. They noticed a disconnect and were surprised to find that there was no such thing as a multicultural festival but rather a lot of monoculture festivals that celebrated independently within their niche communities in Calgary. 

A lot of the founders were originally from Winnipeg and were influenced by an amazing event called Folkloreama, which later inspired the idea behind GlobalFest in Calgary. They spent nearly 10 years building the business case for the festival. Originally, they had collaborated with the International Avenue Arts and Cultural Centre which had a strong multicultural mandate. Ironically, the fireworks show was the seed for the later multicultural aspect to emerge. In the seventh year of planning, low and behold, a new park called Elliston Park had opened up in Southeast Calgary which was prime real estate as it harboured a lake — an ideal environment for a firework show. 

For most, when people hear anything to do with “multicultural,” they question whether it’s authentic and genuine. This is understandable given the recent movement to “Cancel Canada Day” and the promotion of reconciliation within the Indigenous community. It begs the question — how can we advocate for an inclusive celebration of diversity? 

What many don’t realize is that GlobalFest walks the walk and talks the talk. That is, they’re not only about the annual fireworks show from participants from foreign countries, but they also advocate for the community through their extra programming throughout the year, especially for youth and students. One of their programs is the Human Rights Forum, an Urban Arts Program, GlobalFest Flavours, a community kitchen program as well as GlobalFest Golf Classic, a tournament that raises proceeds for the programs just mentioned. 

The Human Rights Forum emerged as a way to deal with issues of racism and discrimination and to explore practical solutions that tackle the meat of these controversial issues. The fireworks spectacle is the celebratory side for cultural nuances. However, it’s the programming throughout the year that tackles the big issues and brings people together who are interested in having that dialogue and exploring a change. Every year they change the themes and try to dedicate one day or session to have a very specific focus on uncovering the voices of these diverse communities. 

Following this, the Urban Arts Program was a spinoff of the forum and began in 2009. This program went directly to around fifteen different schools in Calgary putting on full-day activities and working with upwards of 200 youth. Overall, the Urban Arts program allows and encourages students to find their voice whether that’s through spoken word poetry, rap, dance or graphic arts. They also get to learn about the history of Canada and how a place like Calgary came to be, including learning about the Indigenous Peoples. 

Over the next four to five years, Goosen hopes they’ll expand into the Beltline and have an art program like this in each quadrant of the city with the overall goal of creating small hubs of friendship that are happening within each community and fostering that personal level of connection. Culturally speaking, we tend to live in siloes in Calgary and youth tend to associate with other youth who have the same background. 

“We have all of these different cultures, and we’re all living together. And we’re all going to school together. And we’re all socializing together,” said Goosen. “So here’s a great opportunity to softly break down some of those fears and uncertainties and anxieties, and help to get to know other youth who are, in so many ways, the same as they are and going through the same kinds of challenges. And so hopefully, through those social interactions, they’re learning to be much more comfortable to reach out.” 

Goosen believes that every child has the potential to be a leader in their community despite all the systematic barriers they face and the challenges and hate that exists. 

GlobalFest is also going green. Sustainability is a vital aspect of GlobalFest with their so-called Green Programme which is all about returning to the community. The volunteers are a big part of this as they are much like eco-park rangers helping the attendees understand the recycling program and which disposable goes in which bin. They also have a night crew who picks up discarded waste like firework debris in non-public areas. Post-festival, some crews continue to clean the park for up to a week and make sure most of the waste has been diverted and left in pristine condition. 

What many don’t realize is how polluting such large-scale outdoors and public events like this can be. Fireworks are pollutants thanks to the smoke and chemical drivers they give off. They are also contained in plastic casings which of course don’t break down — the industry is transitioning to paper shells and paper products to be more eco-friendly. The shuttle program also reduces the number of vehicles in the area and the carbon footprint of CO2 emissions and exhaust that we generate when commuting. Moreover, each of the food trucks has its own generator and an even larger generator that distributes power throughout the park. The organizers truly look at every element of the event planning to reduce the entire eco-footprint.

GlobalFest is also amazing for newcomers, especially international students, and it’s a great opportunity for them to get more involved and see what Calgary has to offer. A good way to do this is through volunteering. Goosen mentions on average they have between 500 to 800 volunteers and are allowed to branch and reach out into the community and meet new people to get more involved. 

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