Meet our Organizers: Jenna Kuzemski of the Surrey Fusion Festival
April 1, 2022
The annual Culture Days celebration would not be possible without the creativity, hard work, and passion of our organizers. Through this series, we want to highlight some exceptional organizers and arts and culture champions who help make the Culture Days celebration what it is across Canada. We invited Jenna Kuzemski from the Surrey Fusion Festival in B.C to tell us more about her experience working behind-the-scenes at this legacy event and, the local communities that so vibrantly participate, year after year. Get to know Jenna and learn more about the arts and culture scene in Surrey below.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the Surrey Fusion Festival and how it came to be?
The City of Surrey was recognized as the Cultural Capital of Canada in 2008 by the Federal Government which resulted in the creation of Surrey Fusion Festival, held for three days in Hollard Park. It hosted 22 pavilions, 75 musical and cultural performances and 60,000 attendees. As the City’s ethnocultural and immigrant populations continued to grow, so did the participation of these groups in Surrey Fusion Festival. Now in its 14th year in 2022, the festival has become a legacy event for the City and has garnered international recognition including winning the award for Best Festival at the International Special Event Awards in the USA in 2019. It has seen immense success with the local Surrey community and from neighbouring cities as it garners more awareness and participation from both visible and non-visible minorities within Metro Vancouver year over year.
Helping put on the Fusion Festival seems like such a cool job. Can you share more about who you are, what you do, and how you got involved?
Producing and planning Surrey Fusion Festival is a dream job. I have been working for the City of Surrey for the past five years and have had the opportunity to oversee marketing, project management, the rebrand of the festival in 2018, and production of the virtual Livestream and campaigns in 2020 and 2021. My work experience is focused on the music and event industry, as I have always been passionate about championing artists and working to increase awareness and engagement with cultural events within Surrey and the Lower Mainland. I believe cultural services should be inclusive and accessible to all.
The arts and culture scene in Surrey is thriving. What excites me the most is the commitment from Surrey residents to participate in events and festivals where they can showcase their culture through a variety of art forms – visual arts, music, dance, cooking, and more.
The festival is the ultimate celebration of food, music, and culture. Why are these three pillars so important to the local community?
Showcasing food, music and culture is at the heart of Surrey Fusion Festival and the local community.
The festival is dependent on the community and their desire to share their culture, food, and music with attendees. In 2021 (as part of our Culture Days campaign), Surrey Fusion Festival created videos highlighting how the festival has raised awareness of various cultures through food and music. The selected pavilions all shared a very similar response. Although cultures may be different, they share similarities that are rooted in being human–including prioritizing acceptance, curiosity, humour, joy, creativity, and community. Whether it’s pavilions working side by side and encouraging each other during the festival or dance groups performing as a cohesive team, the festival is dependent on participants working together, learning from each other, and supporting one another.
How did you first encounter Culture Days and why do you feel compelled to participate year after year?
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in 2020, we were made aware that Surrey Fusion Festival would not be able to be hosted in-person, as it historically had been. We pivoted to an online program including a livestream and Cultural Video Series that was held during Culture Days. The Culture Days program is well-recognized within the City as a wonderfully-programmed and inspiring annual event and we thought it would be fantastic for Surrey Fusion Festival to participate.
In 2021, the Surrey Fusion Festival offered a stellar roster of online programming including the digital concert series and cultural cooking challenges. Can you tell us more about how you pivoted and/or adapted your events to maintain community engagement, accessibility, and participation?
Building off of the momentum of 2020, we were excited to produce another virtual campaign for Surrey Fusion Festival in 2021 as part of Culture Days. We wanted the 2021 event to maintain authenticity and commitment to being the ultimate celebration of food, music, and culture. We worked with local influencers to host the Cultural Cooking Challenge, where our audience was asked to try making a new dish each week under a different theme. To honour the festival’s musical roots, we produced the Digital Concert Series that showcased many different local performers Including Babylung, Desiree Dawson & Francis Arevalo, Madelaine McCallum, Yvonne Kushe and more.
To honour culture, we interviewed longstanding cultural pavilion organizers and asked them to share memories from the festival, and how the festival has acted as a champion of showcasing and celebrating the different cultures that make up Surrey and the Lower Mainland. Additionally, we asked past cultural pavilion organizers to paint individual tiles that were then combined as a billboard and installed in Holland Park for the duration of the campaign. We ensured accessibility through closed captioning and the distribution of the content through a wide-spread, strategic marketing campaign that saw high attendee engagement and participation.
What goals do you hope to see the Surrey Fusion Festival accomplish in the future?
I hope that the festival will continue to grow and receive recognition as a world-class event across British Columbia and Canada. I also hope for increased participation from cultural groups, with a goal of hosting over 60 cultural pavilions in the next five years. The festival will also champion participation of youth, as they are the change-makers of the future. We believe that youth immersion in cultural activities can lead to a greater sense of community and progressive festival programming. We look forward to continuing to produce in-person festivals and online campaigns that are inclusive, fun, and engaging for years to come.
This article is part of the Meet our Organizers blog series. Find more profiles here.
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