The annual urban arts festival scales down so organizers can focus on year-round projects.
If this year’s edition of the Manifesto festival feels oddly familiar, it’s because the festival is going back to its roots. Faced with a shrunken budget due to a fall-off in corporate sponsorship, and spurred by a desire to emphasize the other initiatives they run throughout the year, Manifesto’s organizing committee opted to make this edition of the festival a smaller affair, cutting it back to its original three-day length from last year’s high of 11 days.
Manifesto started in 2006 as a celebration of urban arts and youth culture, and especially to provide performing opportunities for musicians that fell outside the rock-oriented scope of many other local music festivals. As in previous years, the highlight of the festival is the closing concert, which will take place on Sunday at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Programming director Jesse Ohtake is quick to point out that Manifesto is about more than just music though. The festival includes visual arts; dance performances; entertainment industry seminars and panels; and Freshest Goods, a fashion marketplace featuring local streetwear designers.
“Fashion is just another outlet for young people to be creative,” says Freshest Goods coordinator Taurean Scotland. “We’re working with people like 1Love TO, as well as a bunch of smaller brands. Sometimes you just have a great idea for a T-shirt, you make it happen and then it takes off.”
Manifesto also runs a number of youth-oriented programs during the rest of the year. Ohtake says that this year’s festival is smaller in part because the minds behind Manifesto have opted to devote more resources to working on the group’s five-year strategic plan, which will see a new emphasis on Manifesto’s community work.
“I think a lot of people only know Manifesto as a festival, which makes sense, but we do a lot of other things in the community,” he says. “We do a lot of consulting, work with youth in community centres… We work with Luminato and Hot Docs and a number of other festivals in terms of engaging youth and multicultural audiences, and that’s the stuff we’d like to bring out more… I think people will see Manifesto as more than just a festival in the next five years.”
That’s not to say the festival isn’t worth catching—there are still a lot of interesting things happening.
The opening party is also the first public event being held at the brand new Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre. “That’s a pretty amazing thing,” says Ohtake. “That’s a multi-million dollar project that’s a key to the revitalization of Regent Park, and that’s going to be a really great centre for people not just in that centre, but also in Toronto as a whole. That’s going to be a real stand out.”
Also worth noting: this year’s musical line-up is heavily Canadian—more so than usual. Ohtake says that in the last couple of years the roster has been roughly 75 per cent Canadians and 25 per cent international artists, mostly Americans. This year, the roster is “95 per cent Canadian,” a move fuelled in part by the explosion in Canadian hip-hop and R&B talent.
“Shi Wisdom and her band are playing, we have The Closers, which is the collaboration between Rich Kidd and SonReal—we’re going to have the debut set of that record,” he says. “It’s great to be focusing on these Canadians who are starting to get a little bit of attention.”
Local MC Tre Mission will also be on the bill, making his Manifesto debut. Mission has had commercial success overseas in the U.K., but is only starting to become a known quantity in his hometown. He hopes playing Manifesto will help raise his profile locally.
“I’ve been going [to Manifesto] since the beginning, when I was a teenager,” he told us. “When people see me at Manifesto, they can look me up and check out my resume. The way our music scene works, if you’re not big somewhere else, it’s hard to get big here. If people see you succeed elsewhere and rep Toronto, then they’ll rate you and you’ll get that love at home. Now, someone will see me at Manifesto, look up this unknown kid and realize I’m not so unknown after all.”
The Manifesto Festival’s opening party is Friday, September 21 (9 p.m.–1:30 a.m.) at the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre. The closing concert begins at 12 p.m. on Sunday, at Yonge-Dundas Square, and runs throughout the afternoon and evening. Headliner Pharoahe Monch is expected to perform at about 9:00 p.m.