DIY Spring is a grassroots festival focused on inclusion of people of colour, LGBTQ folks, and women. The goal of the festival is to get people to interact with and empower one another while promoting change within the community. When it was first hosted in 2016, it was a collaboration between Babely Shades and Debaser.
Now Elsa Mirzaei (of Lake Urmia) is taking over the project with Seiiizkikk, a local multidisciplinary artist, producer, and educator. Ev Osmanovic caught up with Elsa about the festival, taking place over the course of the weekend of May 4 and May 5 at General Assembly.
Ev: The festival was a project between Babely Shades and Debaser. From my understanding, now it’s on you. So how does that change your responsibilities in terms of it?
Elsa: Before when it was just us between Debaser it just came together on its own. So we had this one really cool show we were planning for the Friday night, and another really cool show on Saturday and then we were like “let’s make it a thing” so that’s how it came together. This time around it came together because I spent months in the fall just grant writing. So it was intentional and it’s something I’ve been thinking about since September.
In the past, it was as kind of like a split responsibility. Babely Shades did more of the promo, Debaser did more of the back end organising. Now, I have done all of the grant writing, booking artists, curation, literally all of the things. I’m doing it and I have the help of another local producer named Seiiizmikk.
Ev: So how did DIY Spring initially come to be? I guess, what did it stem from?
Elsa: It stemmed from I guess just a lack of—and I hate the buzzword diversity—but it came from a lack of diversity in the local music scene. A lot of the artists that get booked in general in Ottawa are white, our music scene is very white so and it kind of came from this frustration of not seeing our stories being represented.
We knew a lot of really cool people of colour who were doing some of the most amazing artwork ever and it was just like “oh my god, why are these people just not getting booked”? I’ve kind of just expanded it to be an Avant-Garde grassroots festival. It’s not only for people of colour, it’s not only for women, and it’s not only for that one kind of people. It’s for everyone and it’s just an opportunity to showcase some talent that’s been really overlooked.
Ev: That’s good! So back in 2016, DIY Spring was hosted for the first time and so how is this one going to be different from the one in 2016?
Elsa: Last time I think we ran it a lot lower budget. So budget is a big thing, attention is a big thing. Kind of going further and creating our own environment for the festival is one of the biggest things. We’re going to be flying in Shaya Ishak who’s this fantastic ceramics – textiles artist from Halifax.
Ev: Yeah I saw a little thing about it!
Elsa: The festival’s gonna take place within her vision so I think that kind of sets it apart from what it was in the past which was us using existing venues. Now we’re using a venue that’s a really special part of Ottawa, General Assembly, and taking the next step which would be, you know, redesigning it and creating a very unique space for the weekend.
Ev: Is there anything other than, as you said, diversity in the scene that you want to address with the festival being so inclusive and intersectional?
Elsa: Honestly, I want to make a space where people with new visions for the future can come together and have fun. Where young people can come together and have fun. I just want to support a larger movement. We’re more into people who are change makers, who are making a platform for some of these artists who are very forward thinkers, or some of them who haven’t had the chance to share their stories. Making a platform for them, and making a space where all of us can come together and celebrate some of the cool stuff out of Ottawa.
Ev: If there’s anything at all you want people to take away from DIY Spring, what would it be?
Elsa: I guess I want people to see each other. To see each other’s faces. To see people in the community, to talk to people they maybe haven’t talked to before or to just have this experience with new people and to just kind of acknowledging that it’s not just the artists, not just the venue. It’s all of us that are making this forward music scene. That are pushing for change in the world.
Ev: So, the space itself, it’s kind of an unusual space to have a festival in.
Elsa: Yeah absolutely.
Ev: So how did you see the space affecting the event?
Elsa: I wanted to go into a place that is literally like the labour of love of Sothea Khan, and Bruno Souliere. They worked so hard to create not only the physical space but the mental space and the emotional space that is general assembly and I think I really wanted to find a way to honour something that’s really important and really vital to arts in Ottawa.
Ev: And in terms of the line-up, everyone has their own different thing going on and everyone has a very diverse sound to them. Their one common factor is their background in the arts, was that intentional?
Elsa: I think I’ve become obsessed with a lot of women doing hip hop and R&B in Ottawa because they’re just so badass.
Ev: So true.
Elsa: Yeah, it’s so true! As I was booking it I also was like darn I actually want to make sure that this festival creates space for indigenous artists as well, and I ran into a bit of a “oh but I don’t know any of them that fit the genre” and then I reminded myself that having genre specific events actually does create walls in terms of the types of people that can come to the event.
I realized that the vision isn’t genre specific, it’s more specific to people’s visions and futuristic thoughts. Not sticking to any genre and more so sticking to artist’s visions is kind of what helped. And that’s why it’s diverse and it’s also why when you think about the kinds of music people are creating it’s kind of directly related to their own environments and atmospheres so to find an Aanishnaabe artist doing folk music is not that hard.
A lot of them grew up around folk music and are making folk music. So why not just respect people’s roots, you know? It’s why it’s not genre specific, it’s just to pay respect to everyone’s own roots and backgrounds, to make space for everyone.
Ev: If you pull yourself away from the finer details—because you planned everything—you obviously put the line-ups together and obviously everything’s super well thought out, you spent months on it, literal months. What are your hopes for DIY Spring?
Elsa: I hope that it inspires everyone. So people who are attending, I hope when you go to see a really good act or really good show, you leave being inspired and for some people that inspires them to home and write music themselves.
Ev: For sure.
Elsa: And for other people it inspires them to book different line-ups when they’re planning their own events so no matter how it does it, I just hope it inspires people. It inspires me every day.
– Check more from DIY SPRING FEST here: www.diyspring.net
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