Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival
Wednesday October 28 to Sunday November 8, 2020

Over 50 events throughout the Downtown Eastside and online

Every year, the Downtown Eastside community looks forward to the Heart of the City Festival. This year, more than ever, Downtown Eastside residents and artists seek opportunities for cultural exchange and to get together. The Festival is here to ensure that our community and artists are supported during these challenging times. Due to circumstances of the pandemic, we have reimagined this year’s festival to be smaller in scale with programming mostly online and outdoors.

The 2020 Festival theme, This Gives Us Strength, resonates today as our community copes with a worldwide pandemic, physical distancing, ongoing displacement, the fentanyl crisis, and the raw realities of bigotry and systemic racism.

We take strength from the compelling creativity of Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents who illuminate the vitality, relevance and resilience of the Downtown Eastside community and its diverse and rich traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories. In the words of late DTES poet Sandy Cameron, “When we tell our stories we draw our own maps, and question the maps of the powerful. Each of us has something to tell, something to teach.”

The 2020 Festival features twelve days of online and pop-up outdoor events, including music, stories, poetry, ceremony, films, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, art talks, history talks and visual art exhibitions. Feature events include Dalannah Gail Bowen (Blues Hall of Fame), Downtown Eastside resident and blues queen; Jenifer Reads (Imagi’NATION Collective), an episode from an online series of readings of heroic coming-of-age stories for youth hosted by Jenifer Brousseau; the Sandy Cameron Memorial Writing Contest, an annual event that celebrates the creative writing of Downtown Eastside-involved residents; and In the Beginning, co-presented by Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre. Storyteller, filmmaker, and performer Rosemary Georgeson (Coast Salish/Dene) joins director Donna Spencer to delve into the history of the Indigenous peoples here—specifically those from the different cultural heritages in Strathcona, Chinatown, Gastown, and the historic Japanese Canadian neighbourhood of Powell Street (Paueru Gai)..

The Festival is also delighted to announce the return of Khari McClelland (The Sojourners/Freedom Singer) as Artist-in-Residence. Among his activities, Khari is curating Spotlight on the East End, a special online presentation that profiles a diverse and exciting line-up of local musicians.

The mandate of the Festival is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The festival involves professional, community, emerging and student artists, and lovers of the arts.


The Heart of the City Festival gratefully acknowledges the financial and in-kind support of our Festival partners and sponsors.

The Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival acknowledges and honours that we live and work on Traditional Coast Salish Lands including the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw), Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ) and Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm) Nations.