Norman Armour, who co-founded Vancouver’s acclaimed PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, is stepping down next month from the festival he has led for 14 years. The artistic and executive director of PuSh is leaving the festival to consult with an organization that promotes Australian arts in North America.
“The festival’s in great shape,” Mr. Armour, 59, told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, shortly after the announcement was made public. “It feels like a really great time to take my skills and expertise and networks and apply them to a new situation.”
PuSh was established in 2003 by Mr. Armour, then at Rumble Productions (which he also co-founded; it is now called Rumble Theatre) and Katrina Dunn, then with Touchstone Theatre. Their vision was to mount a winter series that would feature both local and international performers presenting edgy, groundbreaking material. It has grown from a modest three-show series that aimed to push the envelope to a nearly three-week festival that has become one of the signature events of Vancouver’s cultural scene. Running from mid-January to early February, PuSh presents multidisciplinary work, including Canadian and world premieres. This year, it featured 179 artists representing 11 countries, according to festival statistics, attracting 17,500 patrons over three weeks.
“A big part of what we’ve been able to achieve is this idea of Vancouver being not only a [creative] destination but a hotbed,” Mr. Armour says.
“Norman ... has led with unwavering devotion, commitment and bold creativity,” PuSh board president Mira Oreck said in a statement, “forever changing the face of Vancouver’s arts scene.”
Celebrated Canadian works that have premiered at PuSh include the Electric Company Theatre’s Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge in 2006; and Bill Richardson and Veda Hille’s hit musical Do You What What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Cantata in 2012, (which started as a song cycle at Club PuSh in 2009). The festival also commissions work from international companies.
Among Mr. Armour’s biggest achievements in the role, he believes, is co-establishing the arts hub The Post at 750, a co-operative space shared by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival Society, the Touchstone Theatre Society, Music on Main Society and the Documentary Media Society, which produces the annual DOXA Documentary Film Festival.
“That’s a roaring success, something that PuSh was a big part of [establishing],” Mr. Armour says.
After leaving PuSh on April 27, Mr. Armour will begin consulting with the Australia Council for the Arts. Based in Vancouver, he will work on the development and implementation of the council’s international strategy in North America – essentially promoting the Australian arts scene in Canada and the United States. PuSh will be led by interim executive director Roxanne Duncan and interim artistic director Joyce Rosario while the board conducts a formal search.
“Norman is leaving the organization in the strongest place it has ever been, positioning us extremely well as we plan for the next exciting stage of PuSh,” Ms. Oreck said in her statement.
Programming is largely in place for next year’s 15th anniversary festival, which will run Jan. 14 to Feb. 3.
Asked about his health – Mr. Armour suffered a cardiac arrest at a PuSh Festival event in 2012 – he says he is just fine.
“I’m healthier than I’ve ever been,” he says. “I’m in great shape.”
A celebration is being planned to honour Mr. Armour’s tenure at the festival; details are to be announced in the coming weeks.