The board of Folk on the Rocks is asking the City of Yellowknife to make the music festival’s Friday afternoon a civic holiday so more locals can volunteer and enjoy family-friendly events. Not all councillors agree.
Board president Ashley Makohoniuk and Carly McFadden, the festival’s executive and artistic director, made the request in a March 9 letter to Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty.
They noted Folk on the Rocks has been a summer staple in the city for more than 40 years, marking “the start of a short, intense summer for northerners.” The festival’s Friday afternoon events are geared toward families, including free events at the downtown Somba K’e Civic Plaza, they added.
“Making these events even more accessible will encourage more residents to participate in healthy, safe, community-led activities,” the letter reads.
McFadden said if the holiday is granted, the festival plans to expand its events to include more activity-based programming.
Makohoniuk and McFadden’s letter argues the half-day holiday could stimulate the local economy by providing opportunities for local businesses like food trucks, restaurants and artisans. It would also allow more people to volunteer at the festival, granting them a free festival pass.
“We’ve had a tough year, all of us as a community, both in Yellowknife and globally. We know how many people are looking forward to the festival,” McFadden said at a meeting with councillors on Monday.
“We think that this year especially, making it a holiday could be an additional boost for our community, make people feel good, and especially be a boost to the arts and culture community, which is really hurting and could use a little extra love right now.”
City manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said the music festival is a beloved, “absolutely iconic Yellowknife event,” but noted the territorial government has committed to supporting only one half-day civic holiday per community, per year. In Yellowknife, that holiday has historically been granted to celebrate the Long John Jamboree.
“Winter carnivals are a great thing to be able to do. It’s a typical northern thing that’s certainly been where our history and culture comes from, the return of the sun,” Bassi-Kellett said.
The city manager cautioned that granting Folk on the Rocks another civic holiday could set a precedent.
“There are a lot of really important events that happen. I could certainly see council being asked to consider civic holidays for those other events as well,” she said.
As there won’t be a Long John Jamboree this year, Councillor Julian Morse suggested that city council support the civic holiday for Folk on the Rocks for 2021 only, then review the decision next year.
Councillors Robin Williams and Shauna Morgan expressed support for that proposal.
“I think it would be an appropriate thing to do this year because the circumstances are so different with Covid,” Morgan said.
Councillor Niels Konge, however, said he wasn’t in support of granting the holiday. He doesn’t believe it will increase volunteer support for the festival.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said she isn’t in favour of civic holidays in general as some people get to take time off while others still have to work.
“It’s a bit unequal, or it’s viewed as another bonus, I guess, of working for government,” she said.
Councillors will formally vote on whether to grant the civic holiday at their next council meeting on April 12.