Interview: Sitting down with Elaina Martin the Founder of WESTFEST


For the past 12 years, Westfest has been one of Ottawa’s most memorable local festivals. The weekend celebration is not only a showcase of Canadian musicians, but also visual and spoken word artists. It’s also a rare opportunity to bring people of any age together, outside, to celebrate arts and culture in Ottawa.

Westfest Founder Elaina Martin is a producer of Canadian art content and has sat on a number of councils including the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. She has also juried the Juno Awards and East Coast Music Awards.

A few days after Westfest’s first fundraiser, “Westfest All-Star”, Elaina took some time out of her planning to chat about Westfest and her love for the Ottawa music scene.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in Westfest.

Sure. I’ve been producing Canadian talent for over 20 years. After moving to Ottawa, I felt intimidated by all the national art institutes… things one couldn’t afford to go to, even big festivals with big ticket prices. So I felt this deep need to be able to offer multi-discipline art in an accessible way- it’s the ‘free’ mandate I’m talking about. So that’s how Westfest came to be, it was about offsetting all the big ticket artistic endeavours in this city, and it was my way to bring art to the people. It started out very small, and grew over the years, but the mandate has always remained its completely accessible, inclusive. At Westfest everyone is equal.

You had a fundraiser March 6, Westfest All-Star. How did that go?

It was amazingly successful. We lost some funding last year- about $150, 000. So I’ve been working hard over the past eight months to make up for some of the financial shortfall. I sent an email out to about 20 Westfest alumni artists and within an hour they all responded with a resounding ‘Yes! We’d love to.’ It started with that- an idea, an email, a positive response. Sunday we had what was a really outstanding and intimate party. We sold out. It was five straight hours of live music.

What can people expect for Westfest 2016?

Westfest is the first weekend in June- the 3rd to the 5th. We’ve moved into the beautiful green Laroche Park. It’s a bit of an unknown space, but that’s part of the reason we partnered there. It’s Mechanicsville, which is just north of Hintonburg. It’s still got its colourful roots… it’s an amazing space for the festival. We’ve been on pavement for 12 years. I’m really happy to get away from the pavement and into this giant green space where we can now tell our attendees, ‘Bring a blanket! Bring your dog! Bring your kids! Stay all day.’

We’re also building a giant Indigenous Pavilion for part of our festival this year, which is to pay homage to our Algonquin people and the unceded territory we do everything on here. It will have Indigenous art, food and business, and just be a place for Indigenous people to gather and feel comfortable at Westfest. And as always, they’ll be Indigenous programming on the main stage.

We’ll also have a really elaborate kids area, with extended artistic programming for all ages of children. All kinds of workshops that will run all weekend long. We brought Westfest spoken word back this year, which will be on the main stage Friday night.

Our media and festival launch is March 24 at 10am at the Orange Art Gallery. That morning I’ll be releasing our official lineup which I just finished- over 150 artists for three days and nights at Westfest this year.

Sounds amazing. Why should people attend?

Westfest remains the people’s festival. It’s loved and adored by the Ottawa community. It’s always been so open and welcoming and inviting. You can bring your children and dog. It’s an intimate, inclusive, loving space. I’m biased, but I think if you ask anyone they’ll agree. Artists are treated with an element of respect and professionalism that they often tell me they don’t find anywhere else. I’ve put a lot of emphasis on treating artists properly and giving our attendees as much as we possibly can- for nothing. It’s about bridging that gap between people who can afford art in this city and people who can’t, and we seem to attract both audiences. There’s not a lot of events where you see both audiences there, and I think that’s what Westfest does- it bring people together.

Everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal at Westfest.

Westfest runs from June 3rd-5th, 2016 at Laroche Park. The festival will include over 150 artists, ranging from locals to Juno award winners. Attendance is free.