Who Needs Another Festival?

Why Spur?

To paraphrase the famous saying: You live in interesting times.

Who, me? you ask.

Yes. You. And so do I. We live in this time, together, whether we like it or not.

It may not always seem that way, though. We live in a hyper-connected world where we frequently use the word community, and yet it seems as though the political and economic divide is widening. The gaps between social strata are opening into haves and have-nots, latte-sippers and double double drinkers, downtowners and suburbanites, powerful and powerless, Torontonians and everyone else.

For a long time, I’ve thought about a festival that could bring people together to talk in a serious but accessible way, in a way that brings together Canadians of all kinds with leaders of every stripe. What better time than 2013?

And so, Spur was born.

Spur is Canada’s first national festival of politics, art, and ideas. The country has not had this kind of forum for a national conversation before—a forum that is critical, especially now.

Why? Three reasons.

One. No other Canadian festival has our inclusive focus. Spur aims to bring people from all walks of life together, both on the stage and in the audience. With “strange bedfellows” as a guiding principle, we’re mixing residents with Canadian and international thinkers, novelists, bloggers, activists, performers, journalists, playwrights and policy makers. We’re inviting residents from all communities to join the conversation and working to ensure accessibility and engagement through the RBC Emerging Scholars program and Spur’s Public Fellowships. We have no favoured political leaning: we are resolutely multi-partisan. We believe strongly that only when we hear from differing viewpoints can truly robust dialogue take place. And we want to make it fun! So in addition to the “serious” conversations, we also offer curated music nights, lively walking tours, theatrical pieces and film screenings.

This is not just another Toronto festival. It’s part of a larger initiative called The Ideas Institute, to be launched this fall, that will operate year-round with residency programs for creative and nonfiction writers, fellowships, events, discussions and internships. Spur will inform the Institute’s ongoing activities and vice versa.

Two. Spur has truly national aspirations. Spur festivals will take place across Canada in Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg—and we’ll be taking it to Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax in coming years. Why these three cities first? As the home base of its presenting partners (Diaspora Dialogues and the Literary Review of Canada) Spur was born in Toronto—but it’s also the financial and publishing capital of the country, so a festival here is a natural fit. Winnipeg’s large Aboriginal, francophone and newcomer populations, its intriguing history of reinvention and its vibrant cultural scene made the city a logical choice. We’ve been delighted by the enthusiasm and support of our partners there. The theme of “global power play” seemed perfect for Vancouver, Canada’s gateway to the Pacific Rim and one of its largest and most diverse cities.

Spur’s ambition is to become the national forum for ideas, culture and conversation. Much has been made of how Canada’s diversity in culture, economy and geography divides rather than unites us. That may or may not be true, but one thing is: Canada critically needs an open forum for national dialogue and we have the tools and technology to create it. Spur can be that national forum.

Three. Canadians are ready for this. Our neighbour to the south has launched similar festivals, including the New Yorker Festival and the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the response to them has been tremendous. Canadians want and need their own festival of that magnitude, one that puts them on the global stage in a way that matters. I don’t believe the average Canadian doesn’t seriously care about the issues that affect them and the wider world. They want ways to engage and contribute. But their institutions are failing them.

That’s where Spur comes in.

Don’t let them tell you that you don’t care, that you aren’t smart enough to have an opinion, that you don’t have anything worthy to say, or that you can’t possibly know what’s good for Canada.

You do have something of value to say.

And we want to hear it.

Check out the five must-attend Spur events according to BlogTO here.


Helen Walsh is a publisher, producer and writer. Walsh took over the Literary Review of Canada in 1998 and, along with a small group of passionate literati, re-launched the magazine later that year. She has since grown the readership, reach and influence of the magazine by producing a highly popular series of public readings and talks. In 2005, Walsh founded Diaspora Dialogues Charitable Society, an arts organization that supports the creation of new fiction, poetry and drama by culturally diverse writers. Walsh is the director and founder of Spur.

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