Wellington Water Week

A chorus of community spirit comes together to explore our connection to water and music in a festival format

WELLINGTON WATER WEEK CONJURES UP IMAGES OF KIDS building sandcastles on the beach and sailboat races on the horizon. But what if the turquoise water was contaminated with toxic blue-green algae blooms and its sandy shoreline was closed to the public because of high levels of industrial contaminants? Sadly, this has happened and it could happen again.

A group in Prince Edward County wants to bring community awareness to our vital connection to water and our natural environment – how it links our communities, shapes our health, economies and even affects our weather. For a full week in August, Wellington Water Week will engage the public in the idea of water stewardship with a lively, interactive, water-themed festival of music, performance, exhibits, films, and ‘foodie’ events.

The idea to host this water festival came to Canadian musician and Wellington resident Maria Gacesa while she was listening to a piece of music by Ann Southam called “Rivers Set 3: No. 5”.

“The music made me think about how I could inspire our community to reconnect with our waterfront. Being a musician, I thought of a live music experience using water. I started researching water-influenced events and I discovered Stockholm’s Water Week,” recalls Gacesa.

The Stockholm International Water Institute’s (SIWI) annual symposium gathers academics, business, and government leaders from around the world to discuss water-related challenges.

“What I took from SIWI was the idea of hosting events in, near, or using water in order to create an immersive experience. To organize that type of event, I needed strong community support and an artistic powerhouse,” says Gacesa.

She reached out to friends Johannes Debus (Music Director and conductor for the Canadian Opera Company) and Elissa Lee (violinist with Ensemble Made in Canada, Mozaïque) to help program the event.

“The current talk around environmental conservation is so politicized and technical that people are discouraged into inaction, but art has a way of getting the message across in a more palatable way,” comments Lee.

Johannes Debus nods in agreement adding, “Art tackles the tough questions that shape our human condition in a way that inspires and connects people.” The three friends hatched a plan. They invited international artists to collaborate with local talent in a creative exchange. Wellington’s first Water Week Festival came to life.

The outpouring of community support was beyond anything they had envisioned. Organizations like The Festival Players of Prince Edward County, community businesses – The Midtown Brewing Company, the Drake Devonshire Hotel – institutions like Wellington’s United Church, the local library, and Heritage Museum and dozens of local artists joined forces with internationally renowned musicians like Jennifer Gasoi, Elissa Lee, Architek Percussion, Opus 8 and Danika Lorèn to attract hundreds of visitors to the village.

“Last year we took over the walls of Midtown Brewing Company with a large-scale art exhibit and sale. This year we hope to present an even bigger cheque to Rotary’s shoreline stewardship and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper,” enthuses artist Stew Jones.

And again this year, the Festival Players are throwing their support behind the Water Week by becoming a presenting partner.

You can sense the excitement in Artistic Director Graham Abbey’s voice when he notes that, “Our partnership with Johannes, Elissa and Maria – with the talent they have invited – allows us to expand the traditional theatre offering and should prove a truly special experience for our audiences.”

Lee smiles and says, “I have to believe that every small effort made to preserve our water can effect big changes, because without the muse of water, art dies.”

WELLINGTON WATER WEEK runs from August 17 to August 25 and this year’s line-up includes performances by multiple Juno Award nominee Sarah Slean, who also joins Debus in leading, ‘SING!’, a mass community choir event on the shore of Lake Ontario; a live music performance set to the screening of the classic silent movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; food and music pairings with Chef Chris Byrne, and a slew of music performances by internationally renowned musicians.

For a complete listing of all concerts and activities visit: www.wellingtonwaterweek.org.

Story by:
Micol Marotti

Illustration by:
Tim Zeltner

[Summer 2019 features]