The festival story
The Burnaby Festival of Learning is co-presented by Simon Fraser University and the City of Burnaby. Inspired by an interactive, grassroots community-based festival in Cork, Ireland, the idea emerged in 2015 that it would be good to bring SFU “down from the mountain” into the Burnaby community so that we could co-create a festival of learning, together. In 2016, the first Burnaby Festival of Learning took place, featuring over 68 home-grown learning experiences.
The first few years 2015-2020The festival grew in each successive year it took place, and more partnerships were built out with and by the Burnaby community. Not only was SFU coming down the mountain, but SFU was also working hard to invite Burnaby residents up to its summit. With a wide diversity of events in a range of sizes, the festival became known for ensuring that all events were free and that everyone was welcome.
The pandemic shuts down the festival 2020When the pandemic came in 2020, we had a hard choice to make. Knowing the right choice to make wasn’t hard, but it was so hard to feel like we wouldn’t be able to offer the same accessibility to inspiration and deep thought that the festival provided. It was starting to become clear to us that the festival provided something else, something that we had perhaps taken for granted: connection. We hadn’t yet developed the expertise necessary to pivot the festival fully online because the festival wasn’t any one organization’s event: it was made by community for community. And as a community, we were now facing a pandemic. And so the festival was put on hold for 2020 as we reeled with the challenge that the pandemic brought.
The fully online festival emerges 2021When 2021 rolled around, though we were still in the thick of pandemic restrictions and increasing health sensitivity and awareness, we were also a full year more experienced at online meetings. The festival pivoted to a new integrated platform as an experiment in fostering connection and dialogue together, online. There were many bumps and learnings along the way, but it was fantastic to be back together again, even virtually. The Burnaby community’s tremendous resilience and creativity was on full display.
But something else had also happened. 2020 brought with it a heightened awareness of the presence and problem of racism – both personal and structural. Sober and sorrowful revelations of past and present injustice pushed us into hard questions about complicity and the crucial need for spaces that could help us face truth and learn from and with each other. The festival was challenged to consider its role in these conversations and issues, a challenge we continually face today.
Re-emerging into the present 2023For 2023, in-person events are back on the menu in a big way. But we acknowledge that for some, online access is still preferred and necessary. The pandemic has brought us together in some ways, but it has also made us aware of the many ways we are still fragmented from each other. We believe that learning should be available to everyone, and that everyone has important knowledge to bring to the conversation. And so our theme this year is belonging. In this time of increasing conflict, food insecurity and homelessness, we hope you will join us to consider what it means to belong – to relations, to a place, a time, an idea – and explore how belonging shapes important parts of our lives: food, climate, reconciliation, and home. Come experience the strength of the community classroom!
We hope to see you, May 5–9th!