Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
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True Celtic Colours

Celtic Colours International FestivalEvery autumn, the Cape Breton hills not only blaze into harmonious colour ― they come alive in music and song. And visitors have one more reason to come down home to take in the local sounds, unique beauty and the global celebration of roots and community that is the Celtic Colours International Festival.

What began in 1997 as an ambitious vision to create local economic opportunities and share Cape Breton’s uniqueness with the world has become one of the Atlantic region’s most visible success stories.

At the heart of the nine day festival that includes nearly 300 activities in over 50 Cape Breton communities: over 300 uniquely Celtic performers and their draw of music fans from around the world.

And the audience spending because of the big event?

Over $8 million across the island last year.

How do they do it?

For starters, they niche market.

“We don’t turn visitors into Celtic music fans, we turn Celtic music fans into visitors,” says Celtic Colours business director, Mary Pat Mombourquette.

But more importantly, they look to keep community at the heart of the festival. 

“Our job is really community economic development through culture,” explains Joella Foulds, Artistic Director of the Festival.

As such, communities have a big role to play in the festival, with benefits on the side.

For example, while Festival organizers handle all the marketing, coordination of main concerts and artists, community organizations deliver smaller events and collect the associated revenues.

The greater sense of community and cultural pride the festival fosters is also a boon, not to mention the opportunity to upgrade rural facilities to festival standards and in doing so, gain venues for year-round community concerts, dances and fundraisers. 

“The festival activities help create healthy communities because they bring economic benefit to business and engage the locals,” continues Joella.

And this includes the local Acadian, Aboriginal and rural communities who are now also working to achieve a common purpose through the Celtic-focused festival.

“Involving all of the island’s diverse communities in the event is a chance for people to learn about each other’s culture, develop ways of working together to create opportunities for communities, and to help put Cape Breton’s best foot forward.”

According to Mary Pat, ACOA support, delivered through the local offices of Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, has been critical in developing the festival and marketing the event around the world.

And certainly, a celebration of Cape Breton’s colourful culture is something to sing about whether you’re from home or away.

Published October 5, 2012