Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Folk Fest strengthens community vibe with new meeting area, stages

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It takes a village to put on the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and now festival-goers actually have one of their own.

Man (or woman) cannot live by music alone, you see. They also need food, shelter, handmade treasures, something cool to drink and a shaded picnic area.

The new Festival Village is a one-stop hub for all the amenities and services folk-festers might need during those times when they're not rooted to a little patch of Mother Earth grooving to the eclectic sounds of 70 or so musical acts from across the globe.

The village was designed to build a stronger community vibe in the festival's longtime digs at Birds Hill Park and is part of the second phase of the folk festival's $6-million site-redevelopment plan -- which also saw the addition of two new forest stages, bringing the total to nine.

New pathways will link the main gate, the festival village and the two new stages, which are tucked way in the shade of the forest. Trees have been planted elsewhere to offer even more refuge from the sun, and temporary shade structures will be used until they mature.

As well, food vendors now have permanent food kiosks in which to prepare and sell their fare, along with improved access to water and electricity. A new access road will allow trucks to haul in supplies throughout the day.

And where festival diners once had to scramble for a spot on a random bench in the blaring sun, they now have a shaded eating area.

New "way-finding" posts will help visitors better navigate the festival site, but there's little chance of getting lost with the new Village Tower -- a 14-metre-tall work of art -- which will serve as a landmark and meeting place.

"We didn't want to create an urban plaza. We wanted to create a tower that looks at home in a forest clearing," says principal landscape architect Glen Manning. His firm, Hilderman Thomas Frank Cram, was hired to help with the redevelopment of the 170-hectare festival site, a project that has been eight years in the making.

The tower project was a departure from the usual process, says Manning. The firm would typically create a design and pass detailed drawings over to contractors, who would follow instructions to the letter.

But in this case, not only was the structure inspired by nature, its creation was almost a collaboration with the park itself since the goal was to have it fit in with the surroundings, Manning says.

The Village Tower was constructed from reclaimed and repurposed materials (steel pipe and cedar Hydro poles), using principles of folk art, and "that's an oppositional form of art," he explains.

"When something happens, you react to it, so if you find a piece of wood with an interesting knot in it, you might enhance that or work around it or slide something over to make it work better. You have to be flexible."

When designing the Festival Village, architects looked to the Fibonacci series, a numeric pattern found in both music and nature -- i.e. in the interlocking spirals found in pine cones and sunflower heads.

The Village Tower, which measures seven metres in diameter at the base, nearly 14 metres at its highest point and has 13 (a Fibonacci number) posts anchored 4.5 metres into the ground, is a swirling extension of this sacred geometry.

It leans east, toward the main stage, recalling the park's windswept grasses and trees. It resembles a teepee. Or a campfire. Or a sheaf of wheat, cupped hands, or flower petals -- you decide.

Manning says the original intention was to build something that would have a practical use beyond being a folk festival landmark -- say a toboggan tower -- but park officials weren't interested.

"So it became more of an art piece; something very open and evocative," he says.

"One thing we were inspired by was the idea of discovery. Every time I go to the folk festival there are a few bands I've heard of, but I always discover something new. Then the whole workshop process often blends things in surprising ways," Manning explains.

"We thought this tower could also be a source of discovery, and then people can read their own interpretations into it."

The Village Tower will also serve as a gallery for public art, capable of supporting temporary and long-term installations, Manning adds, while standing on its own as a landmark and a sonic sculpture.

Eventually, it will not only contain low-wattage lights to simulate a campfire's inner glow, it will be equipped with sounding tubes, or even strings, making it, in effect, a playable musical instrument.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 G1

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