There was some sadness around Vancouver last year when Indian Summer Festival’s founders announced their looming departure. The husband-and-wife team of Sirish Rao and Laura Byspalko oversaw the event for 12 years, leaving a profound imprint on the city’s cultural life.
That’s because in partnership with Simon Fraser University they created a festival that aimed high. Rao and Byspalko maintained this standard even during the pandemic years.
Under their leadership, Indian Summer presented a veritable banquet of visual arts, music, literature, theatre, and current affairs. This was often accomplished through imaginative collaborations.
Well, fans of the festival can now take comfort in the new faces at the helm. The Indian Summer Arts Society has appointed former Out on Screen artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah as lead curator.
From 2017 to 2022, Ratnarajah distinguished herself with her daring curation of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. She shattered stereotypes in a range of areas. Examples include featuring a series of transmasculine films and offering brave movies about the real lives of sex workers.
“I’m looking forward to contributing to the unexpected collaborations, challenging conversations, and magical connections the Indian Summer Festival is known for,” Ratnarajah said in a news release announcing her appointment.
Ratnarajah grew up in Ladner in the traditional territory of the Tsawwassen people. She’s the daughter of a Tamil father born in Malaysia and an English mother.
Veteran curator joins Indian Summer for 2023
She’ll be joined by guest curator Devyani Saltzman for the 2023 festival. The Oxford-educated Saltzman was previously director of public programming at the Art Gallery of Ontario and director of literary arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
Saltzman is the daughter of film directors Paul Saltzman and Deepa Mehta. In addition, Saltzman is the author Shooting Water: A Memoir of Second Chances, Family and Filmmaking.
Subsequent to the news release announcing the appointments of Ratnarajah and Saltzman, the society revealed that Indigenous media and cultural leader Jarrett Martineau will also be a guest curator for this year’s event.
Familiar face returns
Martineau is the host, producer, and creator of Reclaimed, which is CBC Radio’s first program devoted to Indigenous music. In addition, he’s the curator in residence at UBC’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
In the past, Martineau has curated culturally diverse music events at the Indian Summer Festival.
Martineau is nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) and Denesųłiné from Frog Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. He has a PhD in Indigenous governance from the University of Victoria.
Meanwhile, the society has announced that two longstanding employees will share the leadership role. Pawan Deol is executive director of cultural programming; Laura June Albert is executive managing director.
The society’s newsletter describes Deol as the “curator of curators”.
“Our beloved festival will continue to feature some of the finest artists and visionaries across Canada, South Asia, and beyond,” Deol said. “And I’m so pleased to be co-leading as we continue our vision of presenting South Asian arts and ideas.”
From Bollywood stars to a Booker Prize winner
Over the years, the Indian Summer Arts Society has featured Bollywood stars such as Tabu, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, and Sharmila Tagore. In addition, the society has introduced Vancouverites to some amazing writers, including Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, two-time Giller Prize winner M.G. Vassanji, Jnanpith Award winner Amitav Ghosh, and Life of Pi author Yann Martel.
Social activist Vandana Shiva, Grammy winning singer-songwriter Arooj Aftab, and Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz are among many others who’ve been part of an Indian Summer Festival.
“We built a home twelve years ago and called it Indian Summer,” Rao said. “Nothing makes us happier than to know the home we have loved so dearly will be cared for by those that have helped to build it. Our thanks to our dedicated board of directors, who have demonstrated an exceptional level of care in this time of transition, and to our brilliant colleagues who take on the task of building into the future.”