There’s a funny thing about words. Take, for example, pulchritude. It means beauty, but it sounds more like an adolescent attitude disorder brought on by eating too many Twinkies. “Don’t give me any of that pulchritude, young lady!” So when I heard about PechaKucha, an arts event put on by the City of Kelowna, it was hard not to imagine strange meanings for the name. Pronounced “p-cha! k-cha!” you might think it’s a night of snappy dance moves or a celebration of sneezes. But in reality, it’s something much more interesting.
I arrive at the inaugural show and pass by three fellows of a curious frequency on the way in. Dressed in retro-punk street gear, they speak in hushed tones and seem to move to a beat. One resembles a hip Egon Spengler with an afro. They nod as I slip past and I wonder if their sunglasses are a form of coolness or spittle protection from people saying PechaKucha three times fast in their faces.
The venue, downtown’s Habitat, is a known nesting ground where innovative and creative projects take flight. The capacity crowd includes an earthy girl tuning her guitar, a young art student cracking his knuckles, a goateed storyteller known to give ghost tours, a beautiful woman crossing the room with the gait of a disciplined dancer. One by one, they take the stage and deliver creative presentations in the PechaKucha format, performed the world over: 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds, while the presenters talk.
Now hold on you say, a slide show? This is starting to sound like an art history class. But to my surprise, no one uses it as an opportunity to examine ancient potters of the Peloponnesian War. Even if they did, with a time limit of six minutes and forty seconds, and a sampling of sweet potato fries and local wine in front of you, it might be kind of fun.
Over candlelight I watch brave souls offer stories through pictures. The topics are random and wonderful. I learn about a run for Africa, the art of urban planning, how a local motel was turned into an art show, the genius behind swim ponds (I want one!), how to host a “social potluck,” the beauty of ballet, and enjoy images of nature put to song.
Then the dudes who flanked my entry start to lay out a kind of modern poetry so fascinating and twisted, not only is it over my head, but I’m pretty sure most of it is still hanging in the stratosphere, waiting to descend on an unsuspecting busker in City Park. I see mayor Sharon Shepherd hanging on the words of the main speaker like he’s her own baby boy.
Wait a second, he is.
Suddenly, my mind breaks into song as a feeling of local pride overcomes me. An imaginary movie camera captures the moment; the smiling crowd, a laughing bartender, the mayor, her son, people clapping in slow motion, me giving someone a high five on the flip side as we share the nod of strangers bonding.
We have struggled in the past to develop our artistic identity, to create a sense of connectedness, to put on enough art and music related events to be able to call the Okanagan culturally fulfilling. Success can be measured by viewing our community. Not how we try and sell ourselves, but who we really are.
I look around me.
We are a captive audience. We are innovators. We are out to have a great time. We are tireless fundraisers with a passion for how we grow as a city. We care for our environment. We are artists and patrons of the arts. We are storytellers and poets. We like the Ghostbusters. We are leaders who love and support our children and all the generational differences they offer the community. We are a PechaKucha, offered by a thousand voices, worth every second of the show. —Gillianne Richards