by Thamar Spitzer
The Atlin Arts and Music Festival is as much about giving back to the community as it is about listening to Canadian tunes and showing off local talent.
Atlin, B.C, a remote community of about 400 people near the Yukon border, swallows over 3,000 visitors during the annual festival. The festival’s earnings go straight back into the community – funding infrastructure, local organizations and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.
Manu Keggenhoff, president of the festival’s board of directors, says what started as a conversation over a cup of coffee has become the economic life of Atlin.
“Some of the local businesses survive because of this weekend,” she says.
The boost in tourism means local companies like the RV park, the gas station, the restaurants, the bars, and the bed-and-breakfasts are busting with festival goers.
Local business owner Corinne Johnson of Vi and Cor’s Food Basket says they are selling out of their baked goods before they even reach the oven.
“We’ve made over a thousand sticky buns over the past two days,” Johnson says. She’s had to enlist her grandchildren and friends for the weekend.
While mining was Atlin’s main industry during the Gold Rush era, the economy has shifted towards being tourism-based, according to Keggenhoff.
“Mining is always bust and boom but Atlin will always be British Columbia’s forgotten town at the end of the road.”
Keggenhoff says the festival’s success is the community’s success. She and a team of 10 managers rely on over 300 volunteers—who trade in their time for a free ticket—to run the festival smoothly.
“Since we don’t have the infrastructure to hire people, we need volunteers to make this happen,” she says.
The staff that do get paid, about 25 people, are compensated with a $2,000 honorarium for a year’s worth of planning – an amount that hasn’t increased in the past 10 years.
It’s not about the money, Keggenhoff says, but breaking even is what determines the continuation of the festival.
“We were nervous,” she says. “We weren’t sure if we were going to make it but we finally sold out two days ago.”
The real money, according to Earl Clark, treasurer of the board of directors, is the money the event brings into Atlin. He estimates that while the festival costs around a quarter of a million dollars to set up, it brings back at least four times that amount in just three days.
“Through the festival, we’ve also seen an increase of realty sales,” Clark says. “Our small town is growing.”
The not-for-profit structure of the Atlin Arts and Music Festival ensures that once the performers and artists have been paid, the remainder of the profits are used for next year’s budget as well as building up Atlin.
“In previous years, we’ve put $30,000 back into local infrastructure,” Clark says. “We upgrade the kids play area, build outhouses or whatever else we need.”
Since Atlin doesn’t have a municipal government, it’s initiatives like the Atlin Arts and Music Festival that develop the town.
Local organizations like the historical society and the conservation society get a cut of the profits as well.
“This is what makes Atlin all come together,” Keggenhoff says. “Everything we do is for the community. It’s for the town and that’s why we do it.”