After decades of bringing the arts to Harrison Hot Springs, through their tireless work with the Harrison Festival Society, Phyllis and Ed Stenson have decided to hang up their hats.
They officially announced their retirement in January, Ed as the general manager and Phyllis as the executive director.
With this summer’s Harrison Festival, Phyllis will have been involved with 31 of the 35 festivals, starting as a Festival Committee volunteer in 1983. By 1985 she was the Festival’s head coordinator. Under her direction the Festival grew over the years to become a nationally recognized event. In 1988 she became the organization’s first Executive and Artistic Director.
After this summer’s Festival, Ed will have been involved with 26 festivals, first arriving as a volunteer in 1988 and quickly becoming General Manager of the Society.With a background in education, he was involved in starting the school program at the Sts’ailes First Nation, and has since earned a Masters Degree in managing nonprofit societies. He served on the Board of the Vancouver Folk Festival and as Board Chair with the Mission Folk Music Festival. Ed was a Village firefighter for 15 years, is currently on the Board of Tourism Harrison and the Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce and is Vice-president of the Kent Harrison Arts Council.
So who could possibly replace the powerhouse couple at the helm of what is arguably the most widely recognized event organizer in the area?
Andy Hillhouse and Mel Dunster, of course.
Hillhouse will be the society’s new artistic/executive director and Dunster as their new general manager. Both appointments are effective September 1 of this year.
“The Board of the Harrison Festival Society is extremely pleased and excited about bringing Andy and Mel on board”, said board chair Mike Evans.
“They both share the beliefs upon which our organization is built and we really feel we have found a great team who will ensure the Festival Society continues to grow into the future.”
Hillhouse, although originally from Vancouver, is currently living in Toronto where he is completing a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto.
In addition to his academic work at both the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, Andy has spent many years as a professional, touring musician.
He worked in both folk and classical sectors of the music industry, successfully managing his own band Mad Pudding for over 10 years, winning a Juno Award with The McDades and contributing to the growth of one of Canada’s most respected vocal ensembles, Musica Intima.
His combination of experience and skills together with his strong personal philosophy regarding festivals make him a perfect fit for the Harrison Festival.
“I believe that, at their best, music festivals like Harrison can both contribute to the health of local communities and foster meaningful connections across distances and cultural boundaries,” Hillhouse said.
Hillhouse is married and has a two year old son. He plans on moving to the area in June and will be at the 2013 Festival of the Arts.
Dunster spent many years in Chilliwack where she was very involved in the theatre community including the University of the Fraser Valley Theatre Department, the Chilliwack Players Guild and her own theatre company Mel-o-Drama Productions. She has a diploma in Performing Arts from Douglas College.
She is currently living with her family in Budapest, Hungary where her husband Dave is completing a two-year teaching position.
Prior to going to Hungary, she spent a year working for the Festival Society as office administrator, experience which will be invaluable in her new position with the organization. As well as her year working with the Festival, Dunster and her family have been regular volunteers at the Festival of the Arts.
Dunster is another person with a passionate belief in the value of the arts.
“I believe the arts have purpose beyond mere entertainment, that the act of creative expression is transformative,” she said.
“The Festival not only shares this belief, but nurtures it and that’s something I want to be a part of.”
In addition to this passion for the arts she brings boundless enthusiasm and energy to her new position. The Festival is excited about the administrative and marketing skills Dunster brings to the organization.
She and her husband Dave have two girls and will be back in Canada in late June. They will be moving to this area in late July.