2 min

Elaina Martin’s crowded mantel

Westfest founder shortlisted for city arts award

A Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient for her work with indigenous communities, Elaina Martin is on the shortlist for the city's Victor Tolgesy Arts Award. Martin says this year's Westfest will be a retrospective of the last 10 years. Credit: Courtesy of Elaina Martin.
Producer Elaina Martin may soon be clearing a space on her mantel.
The founder of Ottawa’s Westfest has made the shortlist for the City’s Victor Tolgesy Arts Award. The award, presented in partnership with the Council for the Arts, is given to Ottawans who have made a significant impact on arts and culture in the city.
Martin recently received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal Feb 15 in Saskatoon, for her work with Indspire, formerly known as the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.
Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who nominated Martin for the Tolgesy Award, says Martin’s passion and dedication amazes him.
“She exhibits an energetic, welcoming personality, and under her leadership, Westfest has become one of Ottawa’s top summer festivals,” Naqvi says. “With her devotion to showcasing local and Canadian talent, I believe she has made a significant and long-lasting contribution to our community’s arts and cultural scene.”

Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar and John Rapp, executive director of Dovercourt Recreation Association, also nominated Martin for the award.

When Martin founded Westfest in 2003, she envisioned an arts and music festival that all Ottawa residents could attend, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Westfest remains free, although Martin admits this feat has become increasingly difficult to manage as the economy has wilted.

This year’s celebration will blossom into a four-day event, from June 6 to 9, up from three days in previous years, and will act as a retrospective, celebrating the last 10 years of the multidisciplinary arts festival.
“I’ve gone back and reconnected with some of the real memorable and momentous happenings of the past decade,” Martin explains.
She says she appreciates the nomination for her efforts with Westfest but feels humbled by the recognition for her work with indigenous communities.
Martin, who is of Algonquin and Métis heritage, produces the Indspire Awards and the Soaring Indigenous Youth Conference, held three times a year in different cities across Canada.
The conference offers educational workshops and seminars to indigenous youth. Martin says the conferences are essential as the divide between indigenous youth and Caucasian Canadians continues to widen.
“Since Idle No More and Theresa Spence, I think your average Canadian realizes how racist Canadians still are. These indigenous kids, they’re brown, they’re indigenous and the majority of the country is racist. They’re held back and they’re not given what white kids are given. That’s just the start,” she says.
“The foundation has spearheaded and taken on the responsibility of going into these remote communities and giving these kids the tools that they need to help them survive,” Martin says. “That means how to get through Grade 12 and how to go further into post-secondary through grants, training and mentorship.”
Martin also helps produce the Indspire awards, which recognize the contributions made by indigenous teachers across Canada.
“All of those things inspire me. I always come back feeling very fulfilled,” she says. “I love working with indigenous people.”
Queer singer/songwriter Lyndell Montgomery considers Martin her mentor and says Martin’s big heart deserves recognition.

“I respect what she’s done in the community, and I respect that she’s done it all being a loud, proud queer,” Montgomery says. 

The winner of the Tolgesy Award will be announced April 18.