Twillingate, NL, with a population of less than 2500, is home to Atlantic Canada’s first Digital Arts Festival, Unscripted Twillingate (www.unscriptedfestival.com). The festival kicks off with a half-day conference featuring high-powered speakers and the opening of a four-day digital art exhibit. The four days unfold with exhilarating, experiential workshops presented by accomplished digital storytellers—adventurers, photographers, filmmakers, sound editors, writers, bloggers, Facebookers, Instagrammers, and more.
The event evolved from the Twillingate tourism development plan, which identified season extension as one of its strategic focuses. Historically, the number of tourist visitors declines after Labour Day weekend, despite the fact that some of the best weather is in September and October. The idea to create a fall event—Unscripted Twillingate—was born from the magic of the fall season in Notre Dame Bay. The event is the brain-child of NLOWE members Wilma Hartmann and Deborah Bourden, owners of the Anchor Inn Hotel (www.anchorinntwillingate.com), Alphabet Fleet Inn B&B (www.alphabetfleetinn.com), and Above the Tickle Vacation Rental (www.twillingate.com).
Hartmann and Bourden originally conceptualized the festival as a way to grow the local economy, extend the tourism season sustainably, create unique tourism experiences, and encourage digital creativity that could be shared worldwide via social media. In two short years, the festival has become an important marketing opportunity for the town, positioning Twillingate as an innovative and adventure-filled destination.
“We called it the Unscripted Festival because of the many unplanned magical moments that could unfold,” says Hartmann: “an encounter with a whale, eagle, osprey, or gannet, or perhaps a friendly local offering fresh cod or even helping you make jam with the partridgeberries you picked on the trails.”
Digital arts were a natural fit. The majority of Twillingate tourists travel with all kinds of devices, from phones to tablets to even more sophisticated gear that can capture images, movement, and sound. And you couldn’t ask for more beautiful scenery.
The first festival, in 2015, sold more than 800 event tickets and engaged more than 40 volunteers. It offered four days packed with workshops that encouraged interaction with the best Twillingate has to offer.
There have been many highlights from the last two years of the festival, including the making of short films Finding Home and the thriller Checking Out, the Newfoundland premiere screening of Away from Everywhere, “Rooting for Adventure” and “Buns on a Beach” workshops led by adventurers and Everest climbers T. A. Loeffler and Marian Wissink, and the first “Amazing Root Cellar Race,” an adventure race from root cellar to root cellar.
Other festival highlights have included photographer Dennis Minty sharing his expertise in a digital photography workshop for adults and youth; Dean Stairs, founder of the art project 100 Days of Newfoundland, recording two original tracks; Tara Feener teaching a very popular class on iPad drawing; and Lori McCarthy leading a foraging experience that ended in a sunset cook-up on Back Harbour Beach.
There is entertainment every evening of the festival, from an opening reception to a big kitchen party with Twillingate’s own group, The Split Peas, to a final “best of show” with Newfoundland’s own Sherman Downey. The annual From the Bog and the Bay feast has brought renowned chefs to the festival, including Chopped Canada chef Roary MacPherson and celebrity chefs Shaun Hussey and Michelle LeBlanc.
The owners of the Anchor Inn believe that no one comes to Twillingate because they want to stay at the Anchor Inn Hotel. The same holds true for most accommodators. The way to grow business is by growing the destination. The festival operates under the motto “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and accommodators, community associations, heritage venues, and other tourism operators have all seen some financial benefit. Every tourism operator who uses the festival as a marketing opportunity can benefit financially by being part of an exciting new tourism product and brand for Twillingate.
The benefits of Unscripted Twillingate are clear. The social media buzz created as a result of the festival has served as an excellent marketing tool for the destination. Tourism numbers indicate that participation is expanding from local to regional; the goal is now to increase participation from outside the province. A minimum of four new seasonal positions have been created as a direct result of the event, and the financial impact is estimated at $200,000 to $250,000 new dollars infused into the town’s economy.
Hartmann admits that launching a new festival has been challenging. The initial support of provincial and federal funding agencies was key to launching the new concept. As well, buy-in from local community and other partners in the digital arts community have ensured the success of the festival. As a result of the success of the 2015 event, a not-for-profit organization was incorporated and a board established.
Plans for Unscripted Twillingate 2017 are underway, with dates set for September 20 to 23. A new program is available at www.unscriptedfestival.com. The board sees the event increasing in size and scope, with more participation from visitors and more local community involvement. There will be a bigger focus on music, but the schedule will still include all the enticing workshops of previous festivals.
Hartmann’s advice for others considering launching a new event: “Build it on solid ground with good processes and procedures, which will make growth easier; have an accountant or bookkeeper involved from the beginning; and foster as many partnerships as you can. Put great effort into community building and volunteer relations: these are the folks that make an event successful. Keep engaging your local community and keep them in the loop. Market. Market. Market. Be patient when it starts small. Slow and steady growth is the best growth!”