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Building strong communities with Dustyn Baulkham, Founder of Rebellious Unicorns

Rebellious Unicorns Production Company is a Kelowna-based event company focused on creating unique experiences to build stronger communities. No stranger to Kelowna’s community-building events, Rebellious Unicorns hosts an abundance of events in Kelowna including Peak Pride at Sun Peaks Resort & Big White Ski Resort, FruitCake, the Okanagan’s only monthly drag show and inclusive club night, the MX, Kelowna’s monthly LGBT2Q+ community networking event, www.Kelowna.lgbt, and is also a partner in the Earth to Table Vegan Market, Dirty Mutter & the Black Mountain Cub Crawl.

This summer, Rebellious Unicorns launched QUSIC, Kelowna’s first LGBTQ2+ programming featuring emerging musicians coming out and onto the B.C.’s music scene. The livestream series highlights emerging LGBT2Q+ artists in concert, along with an intimate conversation with the artist. Dustyn Baulkham is leading the way with the LGBTQ2+ community in Kelowna, creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ2+ artists. We spoke with Dustyn about QUSIC and the importance of online communities during the pandemic.


Dustyn Baulkham at FruitCake

 

Tell us about Rebellious Unicorns

Rebellious Unicorns Production Company Inc. is a Kelowna-based events, broadcasting and media production company, dedicated to leading positive change in the Okanagan and curating inclusive events, experiences, and programming that bring people together.

It all began with Peak Pride and FruitCake, two of our most well-known event series, which were created through a business partnership in January 2017 as a passion project. When my business partner decided to relocate to Toronto, the events evolved into the creation of Rebellious Unicorns Production Company Inc. in Fall 2017. Since then we have grown substantially adding new events and initiatives.

The majority of our events operate on the unceded, traditional territory of the syilx (Okanagan) people.

Rebellious Unicorns is nothing short of a multi-service production company, can you tell us about the various umbrellas and brands under Rebellious Unicorns?

Rebellious Unicorns produces Unicorns.LIVE, QUSIC, Peak Pride, FruitCake, the MX., Dirty Mutter & Cub Crawl, and Earth to Table Vegan Market.

Peak Pride is a multi mountain winter pride series, founded in 2017 at Big White Ski Resort. In the 2018/2019 Season, we added Sun Peaks Resort (March) to series, and thanks to a Canadian Experiences Fund grant through Western Diversification we expanded for the 2019/2020 ski season to include SilverStar Mountain Resort (December), and Red Mountain Resort (January). April 2020 would have marked the 4th Anniversary at Big White; however, this last Peak Pride in the 2019/2020 Season was cancelled due to COVID.

FruitCake was the first event that we ever hosted as an organization. It started in January 2017, partially as a way to help raise capital for Peak Pride. Up until January 2020, there were no LGBT2Q+ focused venues in the Okanagan, and so FruitCake was created as a monthly club night to offer the LGBT2Q+ a safe space to party and dance the night away.

Unicorns.LIVE was 100% born out of necessity during the early stages of the COVID lockdown. As we were trying to sort out how to keep QUSIC going, we noticed a high volume of online content being created. QUSIC was reimagined as a live-streamed performance series. In doing this, we realized that we could support more than just LGBT2Q+ musicians. 35% of all subscription revenue is paid out to creatives based on minutes viewed of their content. One thing that makes Unicorns.LIVE unique is that every single show is shot live and unedited. I believe that today’s society has become too filtered, edited, and “perfect”…it’s #authentic, but not truly authentic. Unicorns.LIVE introduces the reality of live performance, and that sometimes…not everything goes according to plan. The content is professionally shot and produced, but taking away the safety net of post-production to “polish” everything keeps it exciting, real, and truly present.

The MX. was created over 2 years ago to offer the LGBT2Q+ business community an opportunity to meet and network in a relaxed atmosphere. Pre-COVID we were operating monthly and 100% of the funds raised from participants is donated to Etcetera Youth Group which provides a safe weekly hangout for LGBT2Q+ Youth.

Earth to Table Vegan Market is a three times per year vegan focused market that welcomes 30-50 local artisan vendors to showcase their vegan-friendly products. This is run as a partnership with Rebellious Unicorns, Allison Staten, and House of Rose Winery.

Dirty Mutter & Cub Crawl are outdoor obstacle course challenges done in partnership with Results 4 Life Fitness. For Dirty Mutter think Tough Mudder except you get to bring your dog with you and for Cub Crawl think the same except it is for youth and kids aged 8-14. In the last two years, we have raised over $18,000 for charities through these events.


Rebellious Unicorns Production Company

What drives your work with Rebellious Unicorns?

Since a very young age I have always volunteered and given back to my community. Having previously worked in banking for over 10 years, it was my escape from all the corporate challenges. When I left banking in 2014 and returned to Kelowna, I had no idea what I was going to do–I just knew that my strongest networks, closest friends and family were here and it was the best place to re-discover who I was. Since returning to Kelowna, I have worked with the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission as their Workforce Development Officer (yes, that’s quite the mouthful), the Executive Director of the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan, and I am going into my third year as the General Manager of the Kelowna Pride Society.

My time at the Arts Council has really opened my eyes to how undervalued the arts and culture sector is in our community and province. It really has pushed me to create events and experiences that elevate our creative people and ensure they are getting fair compensation. Non-profits have an important role in our communities, and yet they continually face growth-related challenges as many people operate in a poverty mindset which limits the growth potential of these organizations. Business needs to step up and take a lead role in growing our creative community and Rebellious Unicorns is doing just that.

What’s the best piece of advice you received during your career that you would pass forward to someone starting out in the industry?

Feel free to experiment. I love my family and friends but many are very risk-averse and are often trying to talk me down some of my grand ideas. You have to take some risk to create great things. You might fail 10 times before you succeed but that’s OK. Don’t hold back!

 


Peak Pride at Sun Peaks Resort & Big White Ski Resort

 

QUSIC launched earlier this year, can you tell us about the series and its birth?

About a year ago, I started to envision an LGBT live music program that would be of benefit to all musicians who identify as LGBT2Q+. The intention was to create a space that really elevates emerging LGBT musicians. Initially, we had planned on mini-tours around the province, with a few larger productions in 800 person venues that featured a well know LGBT2Q+ identified musician and having BC-based LGBT2Q+ musicians open for them. Shortly after we got the amazing news that Creative BC was funding this program COVID hit and everything came to a screeching halt.

Creative BC has been extremely flexible in how we offer QUSIC and we are incredibly grateful. Since COVID, we have invested heavily in technology to make QUSIC a hybrid model. Currently we are hosting a small physically distant concert at Friends of Dorothy Lounge, Kelowna’s first LGBT2Q+ lounge. We can safely have about 26 people in the venue. QUSIC is also livestreamed through our new Unicorns.LIVE platform so people anywhere in the world can enjoy the music and also tip the artists. The show begins with a 15 minute interview with the musician, hosted by our team member, Kris Johnson. Following that we stream two 30-minute sets with the musician. We have a professional sound technician and videographer that ensure we are producing a high-quality livestream experience.

 

What’s next for Rebellious Unicorns?

The majority of our events are very up in the air right now because of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. We are very much hoping to at least get the event cap raised to 100 which will allow us the ability to bring back some of our events, with modifications in place and adhering to health and safety guidelines as laid out by the BC Ministry of Health and Dr. Bonnie Henry. Knowing that we are going to be in this pandemic for some time we are going full tilt with Unicorns.LIVE. It’s the best option for our business’ sustainability. We are currently in discussions with a number of theatres and theatre groups, various music groups and bands as well as others within the arts sector on monetizing their high-quality content for livestream shows. We are also creating more content that has a livestream focus with the ability for small in-person attendance as well. An example of this would be the Sunset Sessions that we piloted with the Anna Jacyzsyn Quartet in a backyard concert on July 4th.

 

Dirty Mutter

 

Learn more about Rebellious Unicorns:

Website
Facebook
Instagram 

Rob Thomson, Music Curator, Full Circle

Rob Thomson has been playing music since 2003, yet music has been a part of his life since he was born. His dad’s a musician, his sister’s a musician, and music has always been in their house. 

As a teenager, Rob didn’t talk much with his dad, and so music became a way for them to connect. “I remember seeing him up on stage, this long-haired, Native dude playing guitar, and realizing, my dad’s pretty cool! I guess it was a natural progression to form a family band.”

Music has always been a way for Rob to connect with his heritage. Music helped him find bits and pieces of his culture, and it showed him that music could help tell a story. Rob believes that the story is growing. “When I started to play music, it was about myself. Then, it was about the people around me and my life experiences. Now that I’m in my 30s, with a daughter, I see now that it’s also about making a better world.”

When Rob first stepped into Full Circle more than ten years ago, it was as a performer. When the Olympics came to town, he had the opportunity to play in the house band at the Roundhouse Community Centre, in Vancouver. He was then asked to take on the role of music curator. He immediately connected with Creative BC to get some funding to do the kind of work he envisioned. “I had all of these ideas I wanted to do, and Creative BC helped make them a reality. I started to organize showcases and workshops, cultural training and outreach, all the while working on building relationships and collaborations. All of these things came together.”

When Rob first started teaching workshops, he wasn’t sure it was for him. “When I first started facilitating, it was the hardest thing I ever did. I was afraid I was inadequate. I was mostly self-taught, and was going into situations I knew nothing about.”

Rob now runs workshops around the province and beyond, providing resources, training, and best practices to Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. For Rob, this path is one of constant learnings. He is always learning from his mentors who share with him what he did well and what he can do differently.

According to Rob, the best leaders are those who are compassionate and understanding while also holding people accountable. “When I lead a workshop, it’s a big balance of supporting people while also holding them responsible. I want to give people agency and then see what they can do.”

Rob believes the conversation around reconciliation has created a groundswell, as people are becoming more and more aware of Indigenous history and culture. “We are rich with artists and Indigenous music, people just didn’t know about us for many years. Now we have a studio space to create and to gather, and that’s been huge. We are starting to see the next wave in Indigenous music, built on the years and years of work that programmers and artists have done.”

In order to best support Indigenous artists, Rob believes we have to slow down. “We need time to develop healthy relationships, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Music connects all of us together, and can make us stronger. I didn’t realize that the work I do is community-based, that it’s grassroots, but it is. It’s the seed of development and a reflection of what’s going on in the world around us.”

Rob is a curator for Full Circle: First Nations Performance. They are hosting Talking Stick Festival from February 18-29.