Live-streaming behind the scenes at the Eugene-a-Thon
  Live-streaming behind the scenes at the Eugene-a-Thon | Photo: Courtesy of Wordfest


By Meng Wei

Since its launch in 1996, Wordfest has grown from an annual celebration to an organization that connects the minds of great authors with 26,000 Calgarians all year round.

In 2020, all in-person events were cancelled after March 13, but Wordfest doubled their reach through online programs to reach 37,000 audience members with 57 online and 16 live stream shows—all packed with the insights of those incredible thinkers and conversations that go beyond the words on the pages.


“The only way to succeed was to just over-deliver, so we made a decision right away that we would not treat this as a stop gap,” says Shelley Youngblut, Wordfest’s CEO and Creative Ringleader.


The online programs diversified their already dynamic programming even more.


In June, Wordfest put on the first uniquely-theirs Jerry Lewis type telethon—the Eugene-a-Thon, featuring Calgary’s own Eugene Stickland—with artists and performances across disciplines for six hours live online. The event raised $5,000 for their Youth Program, matched up to 50% through Shaw Birdies for Kids.

Live-streaming behind the scenes at the Eugene-a-Thon with Eugene Strickland
  Photo: Wordfest

In addition, as a virtual celebration of the organization’s 25th anniversary called 25@25, Wordfest conected 25 of Canada’s leading fiction writers with audiences across the globe with an intimacy that would have been impossible to achieve at an in-person large-scale event.


“We believe that we can put on a good show online that doesn’t replace the live experience but complements it,” Youngblut says. “Knowing we can get access to writers we could never bring to Calgary, we now have a format that we can replicate.” 


After experimenting with platforms like Zoom, OBS, and finally landing on vMix, Wordfest’s technical expertise is a leader in the publishing industry and enabled the organization to launch an on demand channel called Imagine On Air in June 2021. Youngblut confirms that Wordfest will be moving into 2022 with a hybrid programming model.

“Whatever we can do better live, we will do live. Whatever we can do better online, we’ll do online,” she says.


Whether it be the global reach or the consistent delivery of amazing shows, Youngblut believes that the investments Wordfest is making in technology and creativity are putting Calgary on the map.


“We are creating an organization that could attract and retain really interesting Calgarians,” she says. “If we want to present ourselves as being innovative, if we want to present ourselves to the world as a place to move a family to—and to be citizens that are engaged in global conversations—we want organizations like Wordfest to play a part in creating a dynamic city.”

A screenshot of a Wordfest 25@25 live-stream
  Photo: Wordfest