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Festival of the Written Arts names its new new artistic and executive director

Jane Davidson is stepping back from the role she's held for more than 15 years and Marisa Alps, a 30-year veteran of the publishing industry and a former board member of the festival society, will step up.  
A.Marisa Alps b
Marisa Alps will assume the role of artistic and executive director of the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts as of August.

The Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts has selected a new artistic and executive director to lead the annual gathering of Canadian writers and readers into its fifth decade.

Marisa Alps, a 30-year veteran of the publishing industry and a former board member of the festival society, will assume the role in August. She succeeds Jane Davidson, who has served in the position for 15 years. The two will collaborate during this year’s festival, which runs August 11 to 14 at Rockwood Park in Sechelt, before Davidson retires at the end of October.

“As much as publishing was my career, I almost feel like it was just readying me to step into this role,” said Alps, “with heart and soul into a cause that I feel so strongly about.”

Alps’s experience in the publishing industry began in the early 1990s with a position in the sales and marketing department of Harbour Publishing, headquartered in Madeira Park. Her responsibilities expanded when Harbour’s owners acquired Douglas & McIntyre in 2013. She served previously on the board of directors of Gibsons-based publishing house Nightwood Editions. 

Alps has been one of the over 150 regular volunteers at the festival itself—as well as an attendee for more than 20 years.

“Marisa’s vast experience, knowledge and connections within the publishing industry, as well as her love for and knowledge of the Sunshine Coast makes her a perfect fit moving forward,” said John Lussier, president of the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. “It will be exciting to see what Marisa brings to the position.”

Alps is a resident of Halfmoon Bay, where she has lived for almost 20 years. Her three children are graduates of School District 46. Their experience provided her first-hand insight into the festival’s student outreach programs.

“Seeing the programming that Jane [Davidson] was able to bring to a huge number of students every year — that’s a cause I believe very deeply in,” Alps said. “I feel very strongly about literacy. What the vision and mandate of the festival are doing for the Sunshine Coast really resonate with me.”

Alps’s appointment was the result of a wide-ranging search that began when the festival’s board of directors formed a succession committee in December.

“[Davidson] led with such integrity and vision, helping to make the SCFWA one of Canada’s premier literary festivals,” said Lussier. “She will be deeply missed—but we know the festival is in good hands.” 

Since being founded in 1983 by Betty Keller and members of the SunCoast Writers Forge, the festival has become an nationally-recognized event that attracts audiences in excess of 8,500 over three days of readings, receptions and workshops. Nearly 1,000 students participate each year in its Celebration of Authors, Books and Community initiative.

“I am interested in looking at ways of partnering with other community groups, looking at audience development and finding new ways of inspiring our community through the Writer’s Festival,” said Alps, who will work with the festival’s board to develop its strategic plan.

The 2022 festival — which marks the event’s 40th anniversary — will feature two dozen featured guests, including broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, author and filmmaker Ivan Coyote, and journalist André Picard. Tickets will go on sale in mid-June.

Editor's note: This story was initially published with the wrong byline. Michael Gurney is the writer of this piece.