Three Questions with Jessica Johns

We are thrilled to be in a city that is home to so many incredible arts festivals. Coming up this March 11-15 is Room magazine’s annual literary and arts festival, Growing Room. We chatted with Jessica Johns, managing editor of Room magazine and Festival Director of Growing Room, about the upcoming programming.

This is your first year in the role of Festival Director at Growing Room. What has your vision been for the shape of the festival?

My vision has been two-fold. Firstly, it’s been very important for me to uphold and continue Chelene Knight and Arielle Spence’s legacy of organizing this festival with a mind to community care. Arielle Spence put together the first ever Growing Room festival, and Chelene Knight has been the festival director for the past two years. So ensuring clear intentions towards author care, attendee care, and the wellness of our staff and volunteers was extremely important to my overall vision. To this end, continuing to have anti-oppression training through Cicely Blain Consulting for our staff and volunteers, offering a pre-festival webinar through Breathing Space Creative for emerging authors that walks them through what to expect at a festival, and offering a meditation event for festival goers are all things that felt necessary for different and important aspects of care.

Secondly, I wanted this festival to represent storytelling in various other forms, in addition to the written word. We all know storytelling exists in so many mediums, and I think it’s important to honour these forms and the artists behind them. That’s why we’re showcasing musicians, comedians, visual artists, film makers, slam poets, among others. It’s also a great way to respond to folks who have varied interests.

What have some of the challenges and rewards been of putting Growing Room together?

Challenges have definitely been finding venues. There are so many venues in Vancouver that are inaccessible in so many ways, whether that’s not being wheelchair accessible, not being close to transit, not having parking available around the venue (or they do have parking, but the cost to park there is so high). We’re very happy to have partnered with the venues that we did: Emily Carr University, The Beaumont Studios, Massy Books, the Native Education College, and The Fox Cabaret. And while we did accessibility audits of all of these spaces in order to give folks as much accessibility information for the festival as possible, and we continuously seek to address access concerns as they are brought to us, it’s wonderful to partner with organizations that work with us towards the goal of inclusion rather than against us. And our venue partners have really been working with us in a positive way.

Rewards have definitely been the relationship-building with my staff and the invited artists. Getting feedback from folks when they get their itinerary that they’re excited for their events is the best feeling! We work so hard behind the scenes, so it’s nice to hear when someone just can’t wait for their event. It’s also been wonderful to do this kind of work with my staff because it’s really something that brings folks together, and I feel we’re learning so much as a collective.

What are some of the events you’re looking forward to?

I think every festival should start with some laughs, so I’m so excited for the event “Something Funny” which will feature comedic writers and comedians Madeline Terbasket, Kayla Czaga, Alicia Tobin, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Soo Jeong, and Tin Lorica on Thursday, March 12th. I’m really looking forward to Indigenous Brilliance, as always: we’re offering three events this year on Saturday, March 14th featuring a reading in the morning with Gwen Benaway, Cassandra Blanchard, Helen Knott, and Francine Cunningham, a film screening of Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn’s The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open in the afternoon, and an evening of performance with Jody Okabe, Edzi’u, Beany John, and Liz Howard to close off the festival. And I’m SO excited to hear Kai Cheng Thom deliver the keynote address on Sunday, March 15th. We also have an online event this year, for folks who may not be able to make the festival in person!

Check out all of our events on the festival website:

Accessibility information:

And all the authors and artists attending:

Registration opens on February 4th!


Leslie Hurtig