Festivals Kelowna – Renata Mills

“I’m an administrative goddess on steroids,” says Renata Mills—and she needs to be. Along with her job as executive director of Festivals Kelowna, which brings a wide range of cultural events to life around the city every year, she has a busy family life looking after her husband and two daughters.

Festivals Kelowna is one of those groups most people are only vaguely aware of. It falls under the aegis of the city and is loosely tied to the city for funding.

“We meet with city council once a year to discuss budgets and direction. The rest of the time we work with Sandra Kochan at the recreation and cultural services department.”

Beyond that, Renata works with a board of directors comprised of interested people with a variety of skills. “We’ve got artists, business and marketing people,” she says, “giving us a well-rounded group with a broad vision of what Festivals Kelowna should be doing.”

Being relatively autonomous has advantages, but it also means a greater work load. During the peak activity season, Renata has a core group of four staffers and the numbers fluctuate with the different events.

Celebrate Canada Day–Kelowna hosts five stages offering a range of live music from country to opera. There are multi-cultural displays and performances as well as food kiosks, art displays and a community showcase.

This year Parks Alive! will host 42 performances by amateur and professional artists throughout July and August in 18 different parks and outdoors spaces around Kelowna.

Visual artists and crafters also fall under Renata’s mandate through Arts Alive!, the arts program that runs annually from May through September in the waterfront parks. Arts Alive! gives local folks and visitors the chance to see and buy locally produced arts and crafts.

Festivals Kelowna also administers the Kelowna Buskers Program. Street musicians have to audition for permits to perform at one of the 15 Busk Stops scattered through the downtown and lakefront park areas year round and Renata sits in on most of the auditions.

She has to be über organized, but she’s used to it. Renata has been heading up Festivals Kelowna since before the current incarnation came into being in 2007. She first became a force in the local arts event scene shortly after arriving in the Valley in late 1997. She moved here from Vancouver with her husband when they decided to start a family. Vancouver didn’t seem like such a great place to bring up kids.

“My husband’s family was from Kelowna and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to find work in the event field in the Vancouver area. Now that I’m here, I love it and don’t think I’ll ever leave.”

Part of the attraction is Kelowna’s human size. “I can put in a full day at work and get to school events, then home to have a life with the family. The commutes are all short here.”

And despite coming from a city with a vibrant cultural scene Renata finds a level of events here that give her everything she needs and then some. “We’re benefiting from the growing group of experts in any number of fields who used to live in Vancouver and Toronto and are now flocking to the Okanagan to take advantage of its lifestyle. They’re bringing us world class skills—whether in music, on the stage or visual arts.”

Event management seemed to be made for Renata. While she was still in school she did volunteer work for Mary Collins, MP for Capilano-Howe Sound, who eventually held several cabinet posts in the Mulroney government. Part of her volunteering entailed working as the cabinet minister’s scheduling secretary and helping to coordinate meetings and conferences.

At the same time, Renata was working on a degree in communications from Simon Fraser University,  graduating in 1990.

Her volunteerism paid off and after graduation she landed a job with the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television?, the folks who produce the Gemini Awards along with a lot of other film-related events and education programs.

She became the Academy’s program coordinator in charge of special events and professional development. It was a good position, but when it came time to start a family a smaller town and gentler lifestyle had definite appeal.

Renata landed running and immediately began networking in the arts and recreation community. She signed on with Parks Alive! in early 1998 and stuck with the program as the various event organizations morphed, joined forces and eventually came together under the umbrella of Festivals Kelowna. ~Bruce Kemp

Photo by Bruce Kemp