Celtic Colours Too

In the second installment of a two-part feature story, Celtic Life International sits down with the organizers of Cape Breton’s much-loved Celtic Colours International Festival to discuss the world-renowned gathering.

The festival has been a vital part of promoting and preserving the region’s Celtic culture and community. And while Beaton acknowledges that much has been accomplished in partnership with the Office of Gaelic Affairs, the established Fiddlers’ Association and community groups like Féis Mhàbu and Féis an Eilein, she admits that more can always be done to promote and preserve Celtic culture.

“The mix is what is changing,” she continues. “Funding support varies every year, there are other projects that take funding away from roots-based approaches and festivals, there is mainstream music and other events that get more attention than Celtic events both big and small, and possibly result in a smaller percentage of funding available and awareness when it needs even more attention.

“I’d love to see the East Coast and its music have a greater presence on TV and radio. We have to ensure we are teaching our youth about their own ancestors and history so they understand their identity, the past struggles and efforts made by those people to secure the placement of this culture where it deserves to be, and the mantle the next generation have to keep the tradition alive.”

Foulds agrees that efforts must be maintained.

“It is always a challenge to explain the wide range of cultural activities we offer. We have made real progress this year in our goal to connect our audience to the events that interest them. We have developed a new website that makes it much easier to find areas of interest and geography and it even allows customers to create their own Celtic Colours itinerary with the click of a mouse.”

She says organizers strive for unique and creative presentations.

“We need to keep exploring the music and culture of more areas of the world and bringing it to our communities. We could do a better job of honouring our own local culture bearers.

“Every year we present at least two ‘tribute’shows, but we’re always striving to dig deeper and do that better. We are very anxious to do more with youth and play a stronger role in preserving and promoting our traditional culture locally. However, we are limited by very few funding resources to do this work and very little revenue to pay the costs. This is a major concern not only for the future of the culture, but also for the sustainability of the festival.”

Another feature requiring ongoing development is volunteer training, as the festival depends on volunteers carrying out important professional roles such as stage and site management at the venues.

“We offer annual professional development to our volunteers, but need to keep improving on how we do this and how we reward and motivate them to improve their skills,” Foulds says.

She hopes for bigger and better things for the festival in the years to come.

“We expect to continue developing the festival in response to the needs of the artists and the communities. Our focus will continue to be on what is authentic. While the festival is a celebration and reflection of a traditional culture, it is very much a living culture that evolves in a natural way, so we intend to reflect that evolution as best we can. We will continue to support and encourage the creation of new music and art though our creative projects. Quality goes hand in hand with authenticity and we are always striving to do a better job of what we present and what those experiences mean for our audience.”

Growth is not a high priority, she adds, but if it happens naturally and comfortably it will be embraced.

“We have the capacity for larger numbers in the offerings we have currently and we hope to expand on our international visitors while never losing sight of the needs of the local audience. If the festival does not remain valued and authentic locally, it will lose its uniqueness. That would spell its demise. So it is in everyone’s interest to serve our own audience.”