Festival acces asie

Festival Accès Asie showcases culture and addresses anti-Asian racism

The annual Montreal festival marks Asian Heritage Month with a wide array of cultural events.

The 26th annual Festival Accès Asie began last night with a virtual cocktail — not the way the 2021 edition was originally envisioned way back in the early pandemic days of April 2020. “We were thinking everything was going to be back to normal a year later, but it wasn’t,” says the festival’s artistic director Khosro Berahmandi.

Accès Asie, a broad cultural showcase that marks Asian Heritage Month, was one of the first Montreal festivals to quickly pivot to an all-digital program in May 2020. As Berahmandi explains, the inspiration to move forward with the festival at all — an event that should have been a blowout celebration of the festival’s 25th edition — came from negative as well as positive forces.

“When the pandemic arrived, many Asian communities had to face the ugly reality of pronounced anti-Asian racism. The raison d’etre of the festival is to celebrate Asian heritage in North America and to celebrate the contribution of Asian communities, so the timing of this with a wave of anti-Asian racism was part of why we decided, despite the difficulties, that we had to continue doing our festival as a way to counteract this.”

The decision to hold a second online-only edition was made as early as February, to give organizers and participating artists time to properly adapt what was meant to be in-person content.

“Most of the original programs for the festival this year are pre-recorded, and some of them we’re actually doing this weekend so they will be ready to be presented throughout the month of May,” Berahmandi explains. “Doing the online programming has its disadvantages and it has advantages as well. One advantage was that we had a larger audience online, with people outside of Montreal. (In 2020), people from the rest of Canada, the United States, Europe, even Asia were following us and watching our programs, so that was encouraging.”

An important off-festival Accès Asie event took place in the fall, one that further solidified the national network of Asian artists and art organizations. The symposium also inspired the creation of On the move: National Asian Heritage Celebration, a showcase of Asian artists across Canada, which will be Accès Asie’s closing event on May 29.

“The national symposium on Asian Heritage Month in September brought, from across Canada, organizations, individual artists and cultural activists to discuss the problems we’ve had across the country in Asian communities. That was very helpful to encourage our sense of solidarity and launch some collective actions, like the national showcases. We’re also creating a national digital platform on which different communities can get together and share their stories, share the resources and help each other to promote their art.”

To view the program for Festival Accès Asie 2021 (May 6–29), please visit the festival’s website.

For more, please visit the Arts & Life section.