Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Alice In Wonderland Festival

a renaissance of neighbourhood celebration
The trail leading into Vancouver’s Trout Lake Park was rich with streamers and banners floating past me as I walked towards a band of musicians standing together, tuning up, dressed in brightly coloured medieval frippery. Listening to their banter I sensed their easy excitement. It was all part of the 15th Annual Alice In Wonderland Festival as conceived by the Community Arts Workshop Society (CAWS), a non-profit founded to serve community by providing enlightened entertainment for families. Over fifty performers and an equal number of volunteers came together last Sunday (July 12th) to make a few thousand kids and their parents feel very, very happy.

Amazing Entertainments (plus great food!)
Alice is about adults serving children and having a great time while doing so. A mid-Summer celebration, the Alice in Wonderland Festival offers the audience Alice-themed inter-activities like rabbit holes to climb into, caucus races to dispute, croquet games with beautifully costumed pink flamingos, and a host of other activities including face painting, music from four unique bands, and tables of fabulous donated foods all at no cost. The food line up went on for hours serving hundreds of sandwiches, muffins, cakes, cookies, juice, water, and of course, pots and pots of tea. Feeding the east end, both culturally and spiritually, using banners, parades, amazing costumes, interesting music, in a lovely, natural setting and then serving a fine luncheon as well, is totally worthy and Dan Vie and his Community Arts Workshop Society have our respect.

Many “teachable moments”

Although everyone was delighted with the variety of entertainment it was those kids at an age where it is still easy to enter into a state of enchantment that appreciated the days activities the most. And on this day, every child in attendance shared an intense and fantastic experience. From the cool ten-year old boy with the ultimate Mohawk haircut who, thanks to Mom, learned the value of donating his two bucks and paying it forward. Or the pixelated little five-year old red-haired girl wandering, her Mom nearby, asking grown-ups if they wanted her autograph. Politely, many were compliant and said yes delighting her further. The Alice Festival has been designed to aim straight at our softest spots and re-awaken that bliss center found in everyone.

Interactive, Immersive, and Inclusive
In the week previous, in a promotional event at English Bay, CAWS tried to set a new Guinness Book World Record by gathering 52 Alice’s in one place, but a week later at the event easily more than 100 girls arrived dressed in the required blue pinafore dress. There were Alices of every variety - the usual little, girls as Alice, but older women and infants as Alice, punk Alices, teen Alices, Japanese Alices (at least six), and too many Cheshire Cats, Mad Hatters, and perhaps a hundred different playing cards were represented in every suit. This is homegrown entertainment at its most interactive, immersive, and inclusive. The children had obviously laboured on their costume creations for hours and the the gleam of pride in their eyes verified the effort.

Neighbours Seeding Neighbours
Feeding between 2500-3000 people, on a very limited budget, is supplemented by asking the community to contribute. So people brought along food to share with their neighbours. Like the Mom with two girls who brought pan squares made at home, or the young woman who dropped off a Safeway apple pie or the man who, having stumbled upon the event, was so pleased he ran to his truck and brought back a watermelon. Neighbours sharing with neighbours amidst celebration in a lovely park is a splendid idea indeed.

How Canadian...
This was also a truly multicultural event with everyone in attendance feeling every welcome. Two Moslem moms, with limited funds, asked if they could eat without donating. It was explained that everything was free and not based on whether they could contribute. They were pleased and grateful and later their kids came back and gorged on the melon. Understaffed by half, with limited facilities that stressed Trout Lake Park’s resources the Festival has, for the past 15 years, faithfully served this east side neighbourhood. Where else, at no cost, is your belly filled, your eyes and mind delighted, and your imagination inspired?

The Alice In Wonderland Festival is an annual celebration held at the same location for fifteen years. Images and video are available from the Community Arts Workshop Society's web site at:


© 2009 Leigh R. Wolf

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