Lesley Graham

Lesley Graham and her partner Oz Parsons arrived in Fernie for the first time nearly twenty years ago, and they held it in their minds as a place they would come to learn more about the Rocky Mountains. 11 years later that opportunity arrived when Oz was offered the administrator position with the Fernie Arts Station, and the pair packed up and headed west.

With a passion and strong background in the arts, Lesley quickly became involved with the community in this capacity. While originally working in private galleries after attending Art School, she found it wasn’t nearly as interesting as combining people of all backgrounds and ages in a setting they can create together.

“Art reflects life. It can be chaotic… you don’t know the combinations you will arrive at. It’s always interested me a lot more, the process of how people invent together. Wonderful things have happened for me and other people when grouped to create. It’s very kinetic.”

Lesley began teaching a lot of mixed-age classes through the Fernie Arts Station as well as kids classes and mixed media. She has also worked with other teachers for school off days and has gone into classes to work on book arts and story telling alongside teachers.

In 2010, the Arts Station celebrated its 20th Anniversary and they were looking for ways to celebrate the impressive accolade. The idea of a Lantern Festival was born, with the theme “Art on Fire.”

“It sounded sizzly, and people who were curious rallied together to see what we could make happen,” recalls Lesley. It has been a very popular event from the beginning, with this year marking the fourth biennial festival. Each one has been different with themes such as “River on Fire” and the “Northern Lights,” but they always include the community from the beginning with free Community Build sessions, which allow individuals to come to the Arts Station and create their own lantern to light and parade the streets of Fernie with.

“Parents with children, adults, teenagers… we’ve had people from the same place of work build something together. There are easy options to the more complex and elaborate,” she says. This year’s event is themed “Into the Woods,” and takes place November 19 and the community build sessions began in October, but continue November 9 (5-9pm), 11 (1-4pm), 13 (11-5pm) and 14 (6-9pm).

“It’s amazing that Fernie gets behind such an event. The Lantern Festival has always involved so many people, groups, funders, and volunteers. Schools are provided with ideas and materials, and the classes get behind the event and make lanterns which are key components to the installations. It is an all-ages affair, so depending on who comes forward that’s who creates the lanterns. If it’s adults, it results in larger installations, with children it’s beginner’s mind energy which is great.”

Lesley feels like these types of festivals are important as they are an incredible way for people to get together and experience a collectively created event.

“People don’t often take to the street carrying something they’ve made, chatting to whomever is next to them. The Lantern Festival helps people to step out of every day boundaries and provides the opportunity for people to try something new and build confidence… creating something beautiful and harmonious together is a good way for people to spend time.”

It is a refreshing perspective, and if you’ve attended the Fernie Lantern Festival, you know the feeling. If you haven’t, mark your calendars, attend one or two of the build sessions, and get ready to enjoy a night outdoors in the Rocky Mountains this November, as we head “Into the Woods.”

Lesley would like to thank the many people involved with organizing, volunteering, donating and supporting this event, and encourages you to visit Fernielanternfestival.com  or Theartsstation.com for more details.

1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? Nine years ago, and the wonderful community Arts Station which is so unique to Fernie brought us here. It was good timing, we were ready.

2. Where did you first live in town? In the Annex, in a tiny little house which was a lovely place to land.

3.  What was your first impression? Exquisite mountains from the grocery store parking lot. Wow.

4. What keeps you in Fernie? The natural beauty, the people, and that there is still more to learn and deepen.

5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? Doing the Yoga Challenge and lying down on a mat in the middle of the street for Feel Good Fernie. It was incredibly peaceful and invigorating at the same time.

6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? Well, I would just say right now. Yesterday morning was so exquisite with the snow and mist and golden larches.

7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? Of course I hope to see it thriving and developing very sustainable economies that enable people to make a living and stay here.

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? I always look out the window for quite awhile, and see what the natural world is bringing me, maybe read something  inspiring and create a bit of a mental list of what I would like to do that day. Slow and quiet.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I always wanted to return to the town Leh in the Himalayas. Maybe somehow Fernie is connected and this is as far as I’ll get.

10. Quote to live by: There are so many quotes, I think people should have fun making up their own.