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WIMC Squamish Constellation Festival

Published: 2 août 2022


 Q: What challenges have you faced in the creation and execution of SCF that you feel were more so based on gender? How did you overcome these?

A: Tamara: I have worked in many male dominated industries throughout my career, and had very few issues related to being a woman in the workforce.

The festival industry is such a different beast. I found that many of the male and even some female vendors we dealt with were condescending with some even resorting to bullying and gaslighting. I had honestly never experienced that kind of treatment professionally, and we as a team took note of those folks and are choosing to not work with them again.

Patty: This is a very tough question because you don’t want to believe that you have more challenges just because we are a group of women, but I concur with Tamara, there was some condescending behavior that had we’d been men I think it would have been quite different. Having been in positions of leadership, particularly in the political realm, it was surprising to me to witness this certain type of chauvinism, dismissiveness verging on bullying. Sometimes it’s hard to actually pinpoint it as different treatment until you retrospectively look back at a situation and think that you would have gotten a different response had you been a man. This double standard can be so insidious you don’t even realize it’s happening. It even happened with some of our staff who, had we been men, would never be so dismissive of our vision, or our asks, or our direction. I sometimes got the sense that because we are women people assume we’d be more forgiving of bad behaviour or underperformance or lack of delivery and people take advantage of that. And perhaps we are too forgiving…perhaps we contribute to this lack of responsiveness or respect. But we approach this project with so much of our heart on our sleeve. And I don’t think we want to do it any other way because kindness and joy are our commerce, but it does open the door to people taking advantage of us and so we have to figure out how to build a team that respects this approach. We also played into the gender dynamic sometimes, allowing some of the men on site to take over when someone, for example had to be fired or disciplined. Because we didn’t want the conflict and some of the men fed off the littlest bit of conflict and thrived on it and jumped at the opportunity to take over in those situations…like we had to be saved. 

Not to say that Constellation wasn’t a wonderful experience for the most part, but when asked to reflect on issues related to gender challenges or differences, unfortunately we are not yet at a place where our instinctive answer is: there were no challenges, it’s easy being a women in this industry. One of our biggest challenges is not to get sucked into how a man would do things even if that’s how the established dynamic is pushing us to react. If women want to find our own path in male dominated structures then we’ve got to stay true to ourselves and not let anyone, men or women, deter you from redefining the new norm.

Q:  Your core team (founders, site ops, marketing, ticket) are all female or gender minorities - what unique benefits and perhaps learnings have you found with this dynamic?

A: Tamara - Our core festival team are badass! Coming back after covid presented so many unforeseen challenges in almost every area of the festival. Our female lead team carefully and thoughtfully worked to find solutions. We always lead from the heart, which is what was palpable throughout the festival. Even when things were going haywire behind the scenes, our core team did whatever it took to make sure the Constellation experience was beautiful.

Patty: The three of us who lead this project have been very purposeful in trying to be collaborative and mindful in how we do things. We often take time at the beginning of meetings to ground ourselves together and meditate. We try to infuse positivity where we can, almost too much sometimes. In many ways there is as much generational challenges as a gender challenge in this venue…but that’s a different question. We want to redefine how festivals are delivered and this is an evolution. 

Kirsten: I feel that our team make-up has given us a real heart-centred approach to the design of our festival. Every decision we make comes through a very female-based lens of consideration. That can be seen, for example, in the way we connect with our guests (our festival is very family friendly) and talent (you’ll find body treatment services like massage, physio and much more backstage). 

Q:  Did you consciously choose to find women or gender minorities for major production/promotional roles, and if so was it challenging to find these folks? How did you find them (ie, word of mouth, database, past working experience together)?

A: Tamara- All of our team members were people we had worked with in the past or were highly recommended by people who know us and understand our foundational values. We truly gravitated to each other.

Patty: the team came together quite organically as tamara has said. But we did go into this with diversity and inclusion and equity as an underlying philosophy and goal so although it was a gravitational pull that brought this team together, it was a self fulfilling prophecy as well.

Kirsten: We’ve naturally attracted an incredible array of talented women to our team. We’ve been very lucky to be recommended women who are at the top of their game when it comes to production, box office, marketing and social media. Most of this has been through word of mouth and just having been in the industry for so many years… and in the instance with our incredible social media manager, in an airport heading to Breakout West!

Q: Your line up had a large majority of female acts, what was that process? How much conscious effort was it, and how was it working with agents given this priority (if it was one)?

A: Tamara - Kir has the real answer regarding dealing with agents, but as a team that makes the artist decisions together, it was easy finding such a strong female lead lineup. They rose to the top of our wish list easily.

Patty: Yes Kir can answer this one best, particularly with regard to working with the agents. But as a group, the three of us particularly, we deliberated together on how to make sure we had a powerful female presence in the lineup. This was an important and exciting part of our creative inspiration, as well as making sure we were honouring and representing first nations artists more gender fluid talents. But the lineup also had to be balanced and diverse and interesting and talented.

Kirsten: Our festival line-up had more than 50 per cent female artists or female-fronted bands, and that was very much a conscious decision. From Day 1 we wanted to ensure that we were representing a diverse and inclusive line-up. There were definitely some challenges on this front because most, though  not all, agencies don’t have particularly diverse rosters. We are typically pitched dudes or dude bands, even when we tell agents what we are looking for. I think the challenge can be traced back to the fact that agencies aren’t representing female, IBPOC or LGBTQIA+ artists because those folks aren’t getting the same opportunities or encouragement to hone their skills. From the get go, they aren’t encouraged to play or form bands the way guys are – they don’t get the same practice time or stage time. And they don’t get promoted through the ranks the way that men do.

Q: You had Sarah McLachlan headline this year, which seems full circle as she created the iconic Lilith Fair and is a industry leader for female representation on and off stage… any advice from her that helped you in the development of the event from 2019 to now?

A: Tamara - Without Sarah we would not have had the magical Constellation experience we had. She came to us so open to help and share. Lilith Fair was a huge success on so many levels, but it also had its challenges. Sarah shared her experiences and her ideas with Kirsten and Patty and me to help us try to avoid some of the pitfalls a major event like the festival can falter on.

Patty: Tamara said it. Sarah was such an inspiration to us and a supporter of what we are trying to accomplish. I think she was also inspired a little by our desire to do things a little differently and dare to challnege the status quo even a little bit.

Q:  What was a highlight for each of you from this year’s festival?

A: Tamara - Just one?! Swaying with the crowd watching Sarah on Sunday, and being invited on stage to dance and sing with our beautiful neighbours from the Squamish Nation as the dedicated the ‘Women Goddess’ song to the three of us. Those were two of the many times I was moved to tears of pure joy throughout the festival

Patty: The two Tamara mentions are tops with me too, I cried both of those times because they were so powerful…but there were also little moments that really resonated like watching these two young kids, brother and sister, playing on my great grandmothers 100-year-old spring iron chair (because many of the areas were decorated with our own furniture), or madly looking for artists with a group of 10 year old boys who wanted as many autographs as possible scribbled on their arms, or seeing the genuine joy on people’s faces as they reconnected with friends they hadn't seen since before covid, or people rocking out to an artist they just discovered. There was a moment early in the day Saturday when the big crowds hadn’t arrived yet on site but those that were there were totally grooving to Low Down Brass Band, and it was pure joy and fun and abandonment…everyone was just in their own perfect place, dancing with huge smiles on their faces…it was magic. It’s those stolen moments that on the surface seem small and insignificant to most people but that really amount to a whole lot of love. And then, after the festival, Kirsten, Tamara and I just hugged each other, in exhaustion, elation and satisfaction. It’s like we just slumped into each other’s arms, relieved but also a bit sad that it was over. For a moment all the frustration and challenges were pushed to the back burner and we just hugged each other in appreciation of each other, in what we’d accomplished, and having shared something pretty unique and wonderfully special.

Kirsten: Definitely the moment together with Tamara and Patty, backstage, after the festival. Laughing in complete wonder and fascination and appreciation for everything we went through. Outside of that, one of the most memorable moments was walking through the festival grounds surrounded by music and aerial artists, muralists, and vendors … and having friends – strangers, even – approach to say “thank you” for the incredible experience they are having. The hugs, the handshakes, the smiles… that made all the work over the past three years worth it.