COLUMN: Hyack Festival needs some new life

The Hyack Festival is a bit dull.

Forty years on, it needs new life, new ideas.

Like so much in the Royal City, it’s built on tradition but that’s no reason to let it get stale.

I doubt anyone is to blame. The organization does an great job of getting its annual lineup of events organized and executed. An executive director runs day-to-day operations, reporting to a volunteer board. For Hyack, this paid staff person usually lasts about a year or two before burning out or moving on. It’s a hugely demanding job, just to keep the status quo. And that’s all they are asked to do, keep things going, year after year. “Re-imagining” Hyack isn’t in the job description. The volunteer board consists of good people who generously carve time away from work and family commitments to keep the ship going straight.

But the ship’s on a collision course with Boredom Island.

Could it be better? Should it be better?

Or do residents just want a nice, predictable slate of events each year?

That might be fine, or it might be a recipe for a slow death.

I’m not saying throw everything out by any stretch.

The Parade of Lights is great, and so are elements of the official Hyack Festival week in May, such as the Anvil Battery Salute and the parade, though it’s hard to imagine why you’d want to attend them year after year. Others will have their own things they like.

Royal City residents are loyal, but we’re dynamic, too, and we expect the same from events like the ones Hyack puts on.

The challenge with festivals run by non profits with volunteer boards is that things are often scraped together at the last minute by the executive director hired last week.

Case in point is the Downtown New Westminster BIA, an organization which has been in a lot of flux over the past couple of years. It organizes the annual Royal City Show & Shine, an event that draws a massive crowd to Downtown. This year, it was just whiskers away from being cancelled. That would have been a huge blow to the city and Downtown.

In Surrey, they’ve created stability in funding and expertise by establishing their own special events department at city hall. It’s relatively rare to see this, a department in charge of staging five major festivals a year—Canada Day and Fusion Festival in the summer, Winter Fest in February and Party for the Planet and Surrey Children’s Festival in the spring.

Surrey made a conscious decision to use festivals as a selling tool for the city, and to build its reputation in the region.

Events like the Fusion Festival, for instance, bring in major international headline acts that draw people from all over Metro Vancouver. It’s putting Surrey on the map in a big way, and part of that city’s successful campaign to transform its image from Crime Capital to Cool City.

Should the Hyack festival be managed by city hall?

Perhaps that’s not the answer for New West. It would mean more expense, likely, but on the upside it could lead to more stability and improvement in the offerings.

Meantime, it’s worth asking what the purpose of Hyack is. Yes, its goal is to host events for the local community, but there is also a promotional aspect, with the relationship with the Portland Rosarians, and our ambassadors visiting festivals in Washington State, for instance.

If the goal is to boost this city’s reputation, Hyack can do better.

Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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