The streets and alleys of downtown Courtenay look considerably different in the first week of June. It could be the aerialists suspended from a crane, the green shrubs, benches and patches of grass where before there was asphalt or the children making giant cardboard spaceships down the centre of the street.

It could be the literary peep shows, the mad murals, and the underground art event with live tattooing, skeleton dolls and upcycled jewellery… It might be the street dancers, the DJ or the thrift store fashion show. Or perhaps it’s the live fire dancing, shadow puppets, black light art and apocalyptic talk opera.

A consortium of community amateurs, teachers, musicians, artists, organizers, web consultants and engineers organize this cultural experiment known as the Elevate Arts Festival. We share a collective belief that our downtown is about more than commerce. It’s a gathering place of culture and community. It is a place where we can elevate our community through the arts.

A year before we began closing alleys and booking venues all over the Valley’s cultural district (Courtenay’s downtown) my partner and I were on an epic road trip through California. We stumbled upon a colourful, high energy, high engagement arts event in downtown Chico. We were delighted by the town’s energy. It was a sharp contrast to other downtowns we had seen. Lifeless grids laid to waste and big box stores sprawled out along their perimeters.

CVC Vol2 11 Elevate Gallery

Later, back home, as we walked down Simms Alley with our friends and collaborators we realized that we don’t need a box office or fences or big stages. This is our festival site. The venues are all here, including the alleys, nooks, vacant storefronts, staircases and rooftops. We’re surrounded by creative people who love to do art projects, perform and play. That was four years ago. We haven’t looked back.

So how do we get the keys to the back alleys and side streets of the city? To play with some of the most clever, talented, energetic people in the area? How do we help revitalize and invigorate the urban heart of the valley? We facilitate the creation of something where the community is encouraged to participate, be entertained, challenged, elevated and captivated. We remove all the barriers. In fact, we make it free of charge and we work for free, because we’re all playing.

I can reveal a bit of what’s in store for Elevate 2015. There will be choirs and more literary adventures, an underground exposition of art and sensuality, mass gatherings of percussionists, violins and hip hop, Art in the Raw, murals, femme powered poetry slams, craftopia on the plaza and all kinds of other stupendously cool things.

The other ingredients in our 2015 event are really up to you—our community. This event is all about breaking down barriers between culture producers and culture consumers. Which are you? Will you come play? How will you elevate the arts? Get in touch.