The Integrate Arts Festival has a diverse history, and numerous people have made this one of the largest art crawls in Victoria, B.C.  The festival was founded by artist Marlene Jess, who was influenced by First Thursday, an art crawl in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon.  At the time there was no similar art crawl happening in Victoria, so Jess collaborated with Alan Kollins, former Administrative Coordinator of Open Space Arts Society and a forbearer of the fifty-fifty arts collective.

The Integrate Arts Festival was first known as the Off the Grid Art Crawl, Jess and Kollins created the festival in 2006 with a budget of only twenty dollars.  The first map was even cobbled together using electrical tape for the crawl’s street guide.  Its main focus was to feature all the artist-run-centres in Victoria. Off the Grid referred to the underground organizations in Victoria, and the crawl meant to showcase these spaces to the wider public who often did not even know of their existence.  Jess remembers witnessing the turnout of hundreds of people attending the crawl’s ending party at Open Space.

In 2010, two Open Space curatorial summer interns, Anna Bald and Aubrey Burke, took over as the organizers.  Bald and Burke wanted to expand the crawl by including independent artist projects, a school bus shuttle, and fifteen of the city’s galleries.  One of the featured projects was Sechelt-based Anna Banana who used bananas to spell out “but is it art?” in Bastion Square.  The night ended with a wrap up party at Open Space featuring a performance by Listening Party.

Off the Grid continued to expand in 2011, when Aubrey Burke organized the crawl with Julie Gennai a minister of the Ministry of Casual Living.  This was the first year that commercial galleries were invited which increased the crawl to a total of twenty-six galleries.  Off-site projects included pole-painting in the Fernwood neighbourhood and a mural above Xchanges gallery.  Marlene Jess also performed “H2OMG” in Centennial Square, where she collected, labelled, and sold water from public drinking fountains as a way of subverting bottled water companies.

Off the Grid was rebranded in 2012 as The Integrate Arts Festival. The name emphasizes the plurality of spaces on the art crawl.  This alteration included the incorporation of The Integrate Arts Society, so the festival could grow through grant funding and reputation.  It became a two day event, which featured off-site projects such as Animal Productions audio and visual event at Vic Theatre and a party at David Hunwick’s Sculpture Studio.  In 2014, Integrate introduced a daytime bike tour which expanded the festival’s reach beyond the downtown core, including spaces in Fernwood and Oak Bay.

The Integrate Arts Festival may have grown from its humble beginnings, but its core has always been to expose the diversity of art spaces in Victoria. Who knows what exciting new projects and directions Integrate will take in the future!

Thanks to Aubrey Burke, Marlene Jess, Alan Kollins, and Helen Marzolf for their invaluable information and guidance.

By Regan Shrumm