Running July 19–28, the Victoria International Buskers Festival is back. The free festival in its third year will fill the downtown core with free local and international busker acts.

Festival organizer John Vickers originally came up with the idea for the buskers festival while walking his dog along the Inner Harbour and noticing that, while there were many people in the harbour, there was not much happening. “I researched busker festivals and visited the Halifax International Buskers Festival in 2010, out in Nova Scotia. It was one of the largest tourism destination events in that province, as well as a huge economic impact to that region,” says Vickers. After his research and with the help of community partners, the first Victoria International Buskers Festival was held in July 2011.

The success of the tourism and economic impact Vickers witnessed at the Halifax festival has now been translated to Victoria. An economic impact study preformed during the previous festival indicated there were approximately 146,000 spectators over the 10-day festival. “We’re expecting up to 200,000 spectators this year. I think it’s one of the largest festivals on Vancouver Island,” says Vickers. But he also notes that the festival has had a positive $3.1 million impact on the region.

While the local tourism industry benefits from the success of the festival, it also contributes to it. Many local hotels act as accommodation for the numerous performers who travel to Victoria for the festival. “They’ve been with us from the beginning, and this year the hoteliers are providing hotel rooms at 19 downtown locations, with over 200 room nights provided,” Vickers says. The festival also received municipal, federal, and regional support, however, it didn’t receive support from the B.C. government. Vickers hopes that changes for the 2014 festival, of which he says, “I’m thinking of having an all-star festival, where maybe we’ll bring back some of the top [acts] from each of the first three years.”

In order to select acts, Vickers and other organizers had to sift through over 400 YouTube applications from over 30 countries. But the festival is only able to accommodate a limited number of performers. Vickers says, “We thought this year we would bring in an entirely new international line-up and national. So it’s a brand new slate.” Not only did Vickers have a large variety of acts to pick from, he says, “In picking the acts, we try to create as much diversity as we can, where you don’t want to have too many of the same type of things. “

Some of the acts that will appear this year are “Funny Bones” from Tokyo, Japan, who won the World Buskers Festival, “USA Breakdancers,” who won the Street Performers World Championship, and acts that work with Cirque du Soleil. “There’s over a 1,000 hours of programming, 10 hours a day, for 10 days. It really is an incredible amount of theatrical art that is available to everyone in the community regardless of economic background. And you know some families tell us now they actually schedule their summer vacations around the festival, so it really is a part of the community,” says Vickers. While the event is free, people are encouraged to tip the performers.

The performances can be viewed at seven different stages throughout the downtown core, with the main stage set up on the Fairmont Empress’s front lawn as well as Ship’s Point hosting an international food village. The span of stages throughout the downtown core reflects Vickers’ desire to bring the beauty of the city and the high level of art together.  He says, “We have the audiences — we just have people walking around looking for something to do all the time. So why not give them some world-class entertainment and give them a reason to come back.”

Victoria International Buskers Festival 2013
Programme available for download here:

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