Powell Street Festival pushes the boundaries of what ‘Japanese-Canadian’ means

The area surrounding Powell Street used to host a thriving Japanese-Canadian community, but the Japanese-Canadians in the vicinity were taken from their homes and interned in camps during WWII. Now, every year, the Powell Street Festival Society runs an event to cultivate Japanese-Canadian art and culture in the area.

“The Powell Street Festival almost acts as a way of reclaiming that space ... and we celebrate it with people who live in the area now,” said Leanne Dunic, the society’s artistic director and a candidate in UBC’s MFA program.

“[The people living here now] are also traditionally displaced … [there are] a lot of First Nations people in the area. We welcome everyone to partake in the Powell Street Festival.”

As artistic director, Dunic maintains “the artistic vision of the festival” and organizes the society’s other programs that occur throughout the year. Dunic’s position also entails working with the local Japanese-Canadian artistic community.

“The [community] is small, so it’s a limited pool of artists ... That is kind of exciting for us, because we can get behind our artists and support them by giving them opportunities like the festival.”

The festival offers a variety of entertainment options such as live music, theatre, dance, film and participatory installations. It also hosts a slew of Japanese-Canadian food vendors, offering authentic cuisine.

Dunic believes the festival is important to Vancouver for its promotion of diversity, connectedness and understanding. Prior to becoming their artistic director, Dunic was a recurring attendant of the festival for over a decade.

“Powell Street Festival has been known to take risks … artistically and to also be very inclusive of the type of artists they have. I found that the programming was always pushing the boundaries of what the idea of Japanese-Canadian meant.”