17th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival

Every year, the Downtown Eastside community looks forward to the Heart of the City Festival. This year, more than ever, the Festival is highlighting the importance of local artistry, mandating to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Due to circumstances of the pandemic, the festival has been reimaged to facilitate the mandate on a smaller scale, with most events scheduled for online and outdoors.

The 2020 Festival, which runs from October 28 to November 8, is taking form through ‘This Gives Us Strength’, a theme that resonates particularly as the DTES community copes with a worldwide pandemic, physical distancing, ongoing displacement, the fentanyl crisis, and the raw realities of bigotry and systemic racism.

With the programming of over 50 events, the Festival will involve a diverse mix of professional, community, emerging and student artists, and lovers of the arts. Over 12 days, artists and performers will present their music, stories, poetry, ceremony, films, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, art talks, history talks, and visual art exhibitions. Feature events include;


Tribute to Carnegie’s 40th Anniversary, featuring special guest Libby Davies

Join us in paying tribute to the most extraordinary community centre in Canada! The opening of the Carnegie in 1980 was a transformative event in the history of the Downtown Eastside. Libby Davies, along with Bruce Eriksen and DERA (Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association), was front and centre in the community-led initiative to establish the Carnegie Community Centre. Libby will read selections from her book Outside In, A Political Memoir, and in conversation with Am Johal, recount stories of why and how the Centre was established. As Libby says: “Opening day of Carnegie was quite the drama.” Tell us more!

Wednesday, October 28, 7:30pm

Live stream online and audience interactive, with pre-recorded segments.


Workshop with Libby Davies: How to use the Political Structure to Make Change

The Festival is thrilled to present this wonderful opportunity to learn from Libby Davies – writer, activist, community builder, organizer, and longtime Member of Parliament for Vancouver East. Libby says, “Supporting and learning from each other to bring about transformative change means getting beyond the cynical views we are often influenced by, about the world of politics. We know what we want, but how do we navigate the political institutions to get it?” In this online workshop you will explore the question “what can I do?” and come up with one idea for action.

Thursday, October 29, 11am

Live stream online and participant interactive. Maximum 15 participants.

The Art of Water Sleeves 燕鳳鳴粵劇團 / 鳳舞雲裳

Vancouver Cantonese Opera presents The Art of Water Sleeves, a virtual opera party with live performance and interactive water sleeve lesson led by performer Rosa Cheng. As a dynamic stage technique, water sleeves are used to convey emotions using hundreds of moves such as quivering, throwing, wigwagging, and whisking. Bilingual – in English and Cantonese.

這個頻道是 燕鳳鳴粵劇團 在演出前的化粧、戲服穿戴及各種幕後花絮剪影。此外、 燕鳳鳴粵劇團 藝術總監兼台柱花旦應國鳳亦親自示範粵劇基本做手及水袖運用等程式。這個免費的老少咸宜的合家歡頻道;希望能夠提高觀眾欣賞粵劇的認識和興趣。(英語和粵語)

Thursday, October 29, 2pm – 3:30pm   10月29日, 下午2時至3:30時

Live stream online and audience interactive.


An Evening with Dalannah Gail Bowen: Looking Back & The Returning Journey

Featuring longtime Downtown Eastside resident, blues matriarch, and Blues Hall of Fame Inductee Dalannah Gail Bowen. The DTES community is very proud of Dalannah, both for her exceptional artistic practice, and for her commitment to activism, social justice and community building. This evening features two sets. The first set, Looking Back, features Dalannah and her exceptional band performing songs from her recent CD Looking Back. The second set, Songs & Poems from The Returning Journey, features Dalannah and pianist Michael Creber performing songs and poetry that recount Dalannah’s journey in which she overcame child-abuse, addiction and homelessness to arrive at a place of becoming whole.

Thursday, October 29, 7pm

Pre-recorded at KW Studios and Firehall Arts Centre, presented online, followed by live Q&A with Dalannah.


Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside: Adventures in Digital Community Art Making

Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside is a virtual residency that artfully explores why and how people sometimes do good things towards others. We’ve all grown up with and inherited evidence that people, especially in groups, do harmful things to each other. But what about times that people have come together to help, protect and rescue others from harm? These stories are there if we look – hidden in history, tale and memory – showing that social goodness may be difficult, rare and fragile, yet possible. The Jumblies artistic team in Toronto (including lead artist Ruth Howard and composer Martin van de Ven) are joined by Vancouver artists Savannah Walling, Olivia C. Davies, Beverly Dobrinsky, Khari Wendell McClelland, Renae Morriseau, Rianne Svelnis, and ten Downtown Eastside-involved participants. The public is invited to take part via multiple online events. Please visit the festival website for details.

Ground for Goodness is a national project produced by Jumblies Theatre + Arts. Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside is co-produced with Vancouver Moving Theatre.

Friday, October 30 to Thursday, November 12

Live stream with participant and audience interactive (story-sharing, art-making, workshops, evolving gallery), as well as Downtown Eastside window displays.

Survivors Totem Pole

In 2016, the Survivors Totem Pole was carved by Downtown Eastside resident and activist Skundaal Bernie Williams, then raised at Pigeon Park in a powerful pole raising and potlatch witnessing ceremony attended by Elders, VIPs and over 1,000 residents. This moving film by local filmmaker Susanne Tabata, follows the extraordinary community-led journey to create and raise a monument to survivors: a tribute to the enduring inclusivity, strength, resistance and persistence of the Downtown Eastside community.

Friday, October 30, 7pm

Existing film, presented online, followed by live Q&A with Susanne and Skundaal.


DTES Front & Centre Showcase: All Together Now!

It’s All Hallows’ Eve! And it’s also time for a big celebration of the talented community performers of the Downtown Eastside in our annual DTES Front & Centre Showcase. It’s a tradition! In this time of uncertainty and self-isolation, the Festival has invited a wide variety of local performers to come together to share their stories and songs with the community and the wider world. This gives us strength; we’re all together! Enjoy performances from some of our favourite musicians, storytellers, dancers, poets, writers, singers, actors, and spoken word artists who live and create in the Downtown Eastside.

Saturday, October 31, 7pm

Pre-recorded at the Firehall Arts Centre, presented online.


Spotlight on the East End

Spotlight profiles the compelling creativity and strength of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents who illuminate the vitality, relevance and resilience of our neighbourhood and its rich traditions, cultural roots and music. Curated by Festival Artist-in-Residence Khari Wendell McClelland (Sojourners/Freedom Singer), Spotlight on the East End features five culturally diverse and exceptionally talented artists and groups: soul and gospel musician Khari Wendell McClelland and his band, interdisciplinary musician Rup Sidhu, art-folk musician Hannah Walker with friends, Shon Wong with friends, and klezmer-punk accordionist Geoff Berner.

Friday, October 30, 8:30pm

Pre-recorded at the Afterlife Studio, presented online.


we the same

A reading of scenes from a new play by Sangeeta Wylie, with Vietnamese danh tranh music, and guest speakers between scenes. Produced by Ruby Slippers, we the same is inspired by the true story of a mother with six young children separated from their father. Fleeing Vietnam in 1979, the mother and her children endured pirate attacks, typhoons, shipwreck, starvation and more.  After over forty years of secrets, is reconciliation possible between a mother and her daughter? For ages 18 and up.

Monday, November 2, 8pm

Pre-recorded at the Firehall Arts Centre, presented online, followed by live Q&A with the artistic team.


My Art is Activism, Part II

Long time DTES documentarian and organizer Sid Chow Tan shares selections from his extensive archive of self-produced video journalism. Sid’s choices of videos will highlight Asian Canadian social movements and direct action in Chinatown and in particular redress for the Chinese head tax.

Tuesday, November 3, 3pm

Existing videos, presented online, followed by live Q&A with Sid.


In the Beginning: A Cultural Sharing

Join storyteller, filmmaker and performer Rosemary Georgeson (Coast Salish/Dene) and Firehall Artistic Producer Donna Spencer as they delve into the stories and history of local Indigenous peoples prior to and during colonization. Over the evolving five events, Georgeson and Spencer are joined by Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers from Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh homelands; and from up the rivers, across the waters and from the other side of the mountains. Stories of the land, told by the people of the land. A Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre co-production.

Wednesday, Nov. 4 & Thursday Nov. 5, 7:30pm; Friday, Nov. 6, 8pm; Saturday, Nov. 7, 3pm & 8pm

Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova.  $20 (incl. s/c & GST).

Tickets at door or advance sales: 604-689-9926; boxoffice@firehallartscentre.ca, or www.firehallartcentre.ca

This year the Festival takes strength from the compelling creativity of Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents who illuminate the vitality, relevance and resilience of the community and its diverse and rich traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories. In the words of late DTES poet Sandy Cameron, “When we tell our stories we draw our own maps, and question the maps of the powerful. Each of us has something to tell, something to teach.”

Tickets and Info: www.heartofthecityfestival.com


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