I’m sitting on the third floor of the Mercer warehouse that is now the home to Start Up Edmonton. I’m at my second meeting of the Theatre Edmonton Project.
Todd Babiak of Story Engine is asking the question, ‘Why Edmonton?’ What is it about Edmonton that we love? Why do we stay? Why do others come? You can watch the videos of his presentation below.
And it strikes me that, if Edmonton were a friend, it would be that quiet, odd, eclectic but super cool friend of yours who isn’t trying to be cool. Once you get to know them, you keep being discovering impressive things about them.
Edmonton is like your friend who ‘does music from time to time’ and then sits down at the piano one day and blows your mind with their talent. Edmonton doesn’t brag but it’s secretly bad ass.
Edmonton has hustle but rarely feels like it’s trying to out hustle each other or other cities.
There’s the old joke that somedays I feel like should be our city slogan, ‘Edmonton. Eventually you meet everyone.’ We’re a big-little town. Our scenes are big but not so big that you can’t get to know people.
Those of us who love this town and work to make it better do it out of an immense love for it. It’s a city, as my friend Shannon said, ‘worth freezing for.’
But, in some ways, this feels like a new (but growing) sentiment.
For years, it’s seemed cool to diss Edmonton. Edmonton was a place to be from but not cool enough (if you were really hip) to stay in.
Both those living here and those living in other cities seemed to slag it. And yet, somehow, like popcorn reaching the right temperature, Edmonton seems to be popping with good projects. And it can actually feel a bit overwhelming (read our lastest newsletter and you’ll have a sense). And so, over the past few years, it’s felt like Edmonton has become more and more proud of itself.
There’s a lot to be proud of.
In the arts alone, which we have gathered to talk about, we have the Fringe festival and one of North America’s richest theatre scenes, some of the best and most respected improv comedy in the world, world champion spoken word poets. etc. We might not have the world’s biggest and brightest spotlight focused on our stages, but the talent on those stages is just a strong as anything you’d find on Broadway.
We produce so much good stuff here. And we’re proud of it. We’re proud of our friends who make things. And when those things leave Edmonton and impress other cities we’re just as proud as all get out.
Perhaps it’s because we’re not the corporate town Calgary is but Edmonton is a bit more of the odd, quirky government and arts town. We seem to care less about how we’re seen in the eyes of the world. We’re less excited when a big, bright, shiny global company wants to move into town and give us their ‘seal of approval’ that we’ve hit the big time. Especially after the Dell fiasco. We seem to be less obsessed with attracting big things in and more focused on growing our own things here.
If Alberta is Texas, then Calgary is Houston or Dallas. Edmonton, Todd Babiak suggests, is Austin (whose city moniker is ‘Keep Austin Weird’).
Edmonton does things like ‘purple city‘. Edmonton is a bit. Odd. We’re a little gritty. There’s a realness here. I think Edmonton is a hidden gem in Canada that has not gone out of it’s way to impress the rest of the country. We’ve built so much from the ground up: we have some of the most resilient & talented artists in the world who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and who’ve done so much not just for no money but, as Clinton Carew pointed out in the discussion, for negative money. Many artists actually lose money doing what they do. We do things because we love them.
For many of us, there is a feeling of being beautifully (not begrudgingly) indebted to Edmonton. There are many of us who feel deeply devoted to Edmonton because it has given us so much. Perhaps because we’re not trying to draw the world’s attention our focus goes to each other and taking risks on investing into each other. Investments into our own community – like some social stock market that is starting to pay huge dividends. There’s an incredible spirit of supporting each other – a sort of ‘urban barn building’ spirit that Todd speaks to where we all come together to build good things. And who knows if it’s even about ‘civic pride’ maybe it’s just because we love each other and love our community and want to express ourselves and to support our friends in doing the same.
But the end result is that we’ve created some incredible things here in Edmonton and a growing number of us want to share those with the rest of Edmonton and beyond. Not to brag. We don’t want to be in the spotlight but we do want to shine the spotlight on good things to show people what is possible and what we can create here. And if there’s any bragging to be done, it’s that we want to brag about our friends.
We want to lift them up for others to see.
And I think we’re realizing that this will take a different approach than we’ve taken before.
Those of us who are up to good things often have our heads down so much. We’re seeing that facebook events, tweets and newspapers can only go so far. We need to find new ways to keep sharing our successes. We need to be having more conversations with each other and those we don’t know with updates about what’s going on. We need to keep connecting and sharing ideas.
In early October, TheLocalGood.ca co-hosted The Good Hundred Experiment which brought together sixty of Edmonton’s most bad ass do gooders from as many different sectors as we could get: arts, activism, government, business, non-profit etc. And we got them together precisely for that reason – just to talk to each other, to learn about each others projects. It was amazing. One of the most inspiring days in my life as an Edmontonian. We hosted a party that night which has one hundred people. And on December 5th, we’re hosting our 5th Anniversary party – again with the hopes of introducing the best of Edmonton to itself.
Sitting at the Start Up Edmonton offices with all of these friends and colleagues, I am struck by how little I know about all of the amazing things they are up to.
It’s clear that an easy path forward is for all of us to find more ways to collaborate with each other. Each good project reaches a different community. As we work together it’s not about getting a bigger slice of the pie but about making more pie for everybody.
And we can’t collaborate until we know what each other are doing.
Which is why projects like the Theatre Edmonton Project are so vital.
Let’s tell our stories not to impress others but to impress on them what can be done; not to brag but to inspire; not to shove it in their faces but to share the good things our friends have done.
In Edmonton, we do so much because of our love for those things whether it’s opening a local food restaurant, a start up business, putting together a theatre production . . . and we couldn’t do these things without each other.
In Edmonton, we love each other (and we’re all better when we’re loved). Now we just need to learn how to talk about each other.