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The stage is set for Santee Smith’s performance, combining imagery from Aotearoa and Six Nations of the Grand River culture. Photo: Joshua Soucie

Prismatic Arts Festival graces the capital—until 09.22.19

By Joshua Soucie on September 21, 2019

The Prismatic Arts Festival is a multidisciplinary roundup of culturally diverse Canadian artists, which was launched in 2008 by its artistic director Shahin Sayadi and managing director Maggie Stewart in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I spoke with the festival’s associate artistic director, Raeesa Lalani, who says, “We don’t want something that fits the mold. We don’t want something that brings diversity and checks off boxes. We want to provide a standard.”

The stage is set for Santee Smith’s performance, combining imagery from Aotearoa and Six Nations of the Grand River culture. Photo: Joshua Soucie

“We showcase Indigenous and artists of colour,” says Lalani. “That is our mandate. […] That’s kind of how the whole festival started–to provide a professional mainstage to artists who have never had the chance or never had a place to showcase their work.”

The purpose? Lalani boils it down to bridging gaps and opening cultural dialogues: “The biggest part is the educational component for our audience. That’s why a lot of the programming that we do involves an artist bringing some kind of tradition or cultural practice into their work.”

The intention is art for everyone. We don’t want spaces where people don’t feel welcome.—Raeesa Lalani, associate artistic director

Lalani says the festival’s goal is to bring people together to bear witness to great Canadian talent. When asked what that means for her, she says, “We are programming people that are incredible in their field. They are professional, talented artists that deserve to be paid for their art. They deserve to have the best venues. They deserve to have the best tech. They deserve to be on these proper stages.”

Though Prismatic has presented international artists in the past, Lalani says they are currently looking to focus on Canadian artists because they “see a need for that.” This year, they have expanded their organization by launching an international arts assembly. By inviting a wide array of artists to showcase their work and international talent scouts to take notice, Prismatic has created an international arts market, where art aficionados from all over the world have come to explore Indigenous and culturally diverse, Canadian artists.

Regarding the festival’s management, Lalani says the organization’s priority is to empower their staff by having people of colour running the festival, while also striving to provide wide representation, whether that be across the festival’s board of directors or the artists it chooses to showcase. “The intention is art for everyone,” says Lalani. “We don’t want spaces where people don’t feel welcome.”

On Monday, I had the pleasure of attending the Kaha:wi Dance Theatre performance Blood Water Earth, performed by the dance theatre’s artistic director Santee Smith, accompanied by vocalist Semiah Smith. Spoken word poet Zoey Roy was their opening act, and I had an opportunity to chat with her afterward, as I fought back tears from what proved to be a truly moving performance. This was Roy’s second time performing at the Prismatic Arts Festival.

“As you might be able to tell, I use poetry as a source of healing and recovering the parts of myself that are real, authentic and who I’m supposed to be as a human and not necessarily who I’m socially constructed to be,” says the young poet. “I also really believe in the humanity of other people, and so I try to tap into that and try to uncover the pieces of humanity that we can salvage so that we can build connections.”

Upon being asked what sets this festival apart from others, Roy responds, “I think it’s really easy to take in the discourses that the media presents to us of artists, new immigrants or Indigenous people, but this festival creates an opportunity to understand the nuances of humanity. And if people see these shows, they might also witness the connections, the simple moments where our humanity can meet others. I think that this is what this kind of art can do.”

The festival will run until Sunday, so there’s still time to check out some of their amazing acts, such as The Tashme Project, Rah-Eleh or their infamous “Broken English Karaoke.” Visit their website to find out more!


Prismatic Arts Festival continues until Sunday September 22 at venues throughout town.