Make Something Edmonton Throws a Better Party – An Interview with Amy Shostak

Make Something Edmonton

What is ‘Make Something Edmonton‘?

Their launch party, happening tomorrow night, sold out all 500 tickets in 48 hours.

Clearly, there’s a lot of excitement about this.

But, if you’re like me, you might have heard of it but not really known much about it. But, the other week, I got together with my friend Amy Shostak (Artistic Director of Rapid Fire Theatre) and she gave me the low down so I asked her if she’d be up for doing an interview with me about it.

At the heart of it, Make Something Edmonton seems to be a very natural expression of something many of us in Edmonton have been, increasingly, bursting with over the past few years: pride.

A decade ago, it seemed cool to diss Edmonton, but over the past few years it feels like Edmonton has been literally bursting at the seams with amazing new businesses and local projects. So many good things are happening and Make Something Edmonton seems to be giving voice to this feeling of celebration, pride and love for our city.

It’s part hashtag, party, rallying cry, hub, story telling and mirror.

It’s a hashtag people can use to tag cool YEG projects they love or are running to share them with a community.

It’s a party in that they’re actually having gatherings to celebrate the good things in Edmonton and that it’s got the feeling of celebration to it. Not criticizing what’s not wrong but celebrating everything that is right with Edmonton. It’s supporting the idea that it’s cool to be involved and engaged (and not cool to be an internet troll who just criticizes everything).

It’s a rallying cry in that it’s a recognition that we are a city of makers and that it’s something we should take pride in and build on actively. It’s a rally cry to get other people involved who might be just on the edge of making something but who’ve felt nervous.

It’s a hub in that soon there will be a website, twitter and facebook with lots of ways to find out what’s happening and get involved.

It’s hopeful storytelling in that the heart of this campaign is sharing the stories of Edmonton (amongst ourselves and to the wider world) of what makes Edmonton so special and why we’re so proud of it. And shared with the hope that stories will beget stories. That perhaps you will hear a story of someone who did something amazing and that this will inspire you to do something too which will create another story that could inspire dozens of people who might in turn make something that creates even more stories.

And it’s a mirror, reflecting back to us what an amazing city we already are. We are a city dripping with stories but most of us have only heard a fraction of them.

Make Something Edmonton seems to be about honouring and lifting up the people who’ve taken risks, spent time and invested their heart and soul into doing things that are making Edmonton a bit better.

It’s as if thousands of Edmontonians have been thinking the same thing and someone’s finally getting them all into a room together where they can finally, unabashedly, express how much they love their home town and appreciate all the good things happening. I am, increasingly, seeing this project as the amplification of a culture of appreciation and celebration of good things in Edmonton, giving shout outs and props to the people who are really doing something.

By Fish Griwkowsky - follow him on twitter at @fisheyefoto

And that feels important – if we give status to the trolls who criticize everything being done then we will get more trolls (props to Fish Griwkowsky for the cartoon). But if we give status to the people who are actually doing something we’ll get more of that. It’s easy to criticize but there’s a more effective way forward – throw a better party where the guests of honour are all the people who’ve done so much (often losing money as they do it) to bring more beauty, justice and sheer creativity to our community.

It’s a simple idea: you get more of what you reinforce. 

If we want more makers in Edmonton – then maybe we should celebrate and support them and make a space where they can gather to have their work hilited and appreciated. 

If we want more members to this club, then maybe we need a club we can join. And how do you join? It’s easy. Make something or celebrate those who do.

If we want more good stories to tell, maybe we should start by telling the stories we have.



Amy ShostakWhat’s the story of how this came about? What was the need you saw in the community that it emerged from?

There is a gap between how Edmontonians feel about our city, and how Edmonton is viewed from beyond. Rather than going with a traditional branding exercise, Mayor Stephen Mandel struck a task force of citizens to address Edmonton’s image and reputation problem.

The task force (made up of volunteers from many of the city’s key institutions) wanted to start a process that would result in something authentically Edmonton. Local writer, Todd Babiak had been writing about the story of Edmonton, why exactly we all live on this bend in the river, and he inspired the task force to launch the Make Something Edmonton initiative.

Can you share a few examples of how your project works?

When you ask an Edmontonian how they would like to make their city better, their eyes always light up, and something very specific comes to mind. Whether it’s starting a community garden in their neighbourhood, partnering with a business to get a mural put up on a drab wall, or throwing a winter patio party, Edmontonians are a wealth of great ideas. The role of the task force is to try and activate these ideas, and put makers in touch with other potential collaborators.

Make Something Edmonton projects can range from big to small, and they can be in any discipline (arts, business, social enterprise, etc.). We already have a rich history of project-making in this city, we just want to amplify and celebrate that.

What’s the response been so far?

We’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive response to this initiative from many people we’ve talked to. We think the story of Edmonton is one of makers, builders and doers. We want to put focus on people who come to our city because it’s the best place to start an arts collective, raise a family, or launch a new business.

In the media, overall, the idea seems to resonate. Everyone generally agrees that traditional city branding exercises do not work. Citizens resist the idea of an agency is telling them what their city is. We are encouraging people to go out and do something – it is an action based process, not something you can discover in a board room.

The #MakeSomethingYEG hashtag is being used frequently to reference locally made goods, as well as presentations, art shows, and new project ideas. You can follow Make Something Edmonton on Facebook, on Twitter at @MakeItYeg, or sign up more info on the website.

What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

I can only speak for myself, but I’ve learned a few things co-chairing this initiative.

1. Edmontonians are generally self-deprecating. We make jokes about the weather, or call the city “Deadmonton,” but once you get past that, you see a lot of citizens who are actively improving their communities and showing, through their actions, how much they love our city. There is a quiet love, a subtle pride, but it’s there.

2. It’s tough to explain theory. I’m really excited for when the website launches and we can see projects starting to get off the ground. It’s easy to say, we love to make things, and there’s lots of proof, but this summer will take that spirit from a six to a 10 I think.

3. I love Edmonton even more now. For our resistance to the term world-class, for the ugly drive to the airport, for the house parties in -40. I’ve lived here my whole life, but this investigation of why has been a great exercise for me. I now value my ability to give back to my community more, and I am really honoured to be part of it.

What’s the next level for your project? What are you most excited about that’s coming up?

Make Something Edmonton launches March 21 with a Launch Event (which sold out in 48 hours), a live webscast from the Edmonton Journal, and our fully functional website. If you didn’t get tickets to the launch party, we’re encouraging you to throw your own — check out the webcast and celebrate with local music, food and drink!

Over the summer, we will see a ton of projects (hundreds? thousands?) created, and in the fall, we will hold a “harvest” event to celebrate all of the project makers of the last six months. We’re hoping that the momentum of Make Something Edmonton is infectious, and that this initiative never ends, even when the volunteer task force does.

If people want to find out more about your project, support it or get involved – what should they do?

To learn more, visit Following March 21, citizens will be able to make a profile, upload their project ideas, volunteer for other projects, call for funding, and find collaborators on the website. It will be a hub of project-making in the city.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Make Something Edmonton is a call to action. We are encouraging Edmontonians to go out and do something positive that they want to see in their city. You do not need to ask for our permission. Go! Make Something Edmonton!

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