Alberta Politics

thoughts about the mayor’s think tank. our arts. our edmonton.

Art Gallery Walk Jasper Avenue Edmonton
Edmonton's Jasper Avenue and 124 Street area has become a hub for art galleries.

I had the pleasure of joining over 200 Edmontonians to share ideas about making our city more friendly to the arts at Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s Arts Think Tank today at the Sutton Place Hotel. The day was hosted by Dianne Kipnes and Brian Webb and included a though-provoking talk by author Peter Kageyama, two “pod discussions,” a mini-Pecha Kucha event hosted by the Next Gen group, and a cafe-style panel discussion with a handful of representatives from business, arts, and community groups hosted by Todd Babiak.

“Investment in the arts is investing in the very soul and identity of a city,” Brian Webb

Because the format of the day was very idea focused, participants did not have much of an opportunity to discuss content. The idea collection started today will carry on in smaller groups over the summer and into another large group Think Tank discussion in the fall, when I hope participants will have more time to discuss the content of their ideas.

The discussions and ideas shared over the course of the day were respectful, but there were also odd bursts of provocative comments made.

“Being cheaper is not the Alberta advantage” – Ken Cantor of Qualico Developments on investing in the arts.

An art installation on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton's downtown.
An art installation on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton's downtown.

When writing about the arts in Edmonton and Alberta, I try especially hard not to revert to Malcolm Gladwell-induced buzz words like “tipping points” and “outliers.” Keeping this in mind, here are a few thoughts I had about the day:

Art in community gathering places & embracing cultural literacy.
This is not about a political ideology, it is about educating people to understand how art informs us of our past, helps us understand our present, and will shape our future. It is about recognizing the forms of creativity that surround us each day. I believe there is a strong role for cultural literacy in our primary and secondary education systems, but also for the broader community. Opening more community gathering places like schools, community halls, and parks as a place for artists to be create and perform their art while connecting and engaging with the larger community could be a way to increase cultural literacy. I think cultural literacy plays a big role in improving quality of life (and it also makes life a lot more fun).

Art not just for the downtown crowd.
With arts communities, installations, galleries, and gathering places tending to be concentrated in downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods, it is important not to forget the suburban expanse on that hugs our city. If the arts are to be relevant to our city, they must be relevant to all Edmontonians in all neighbourhoods. New ways should be approached to engage and connect artists with Edmontonians living in suburban neighbourhoods, especially in those which yet to establish strong community leagues or have not yet developed their own unique identity.

Thinking out of the box
Art does not have to be static and it does not have to be government sanctioned (or funded). Mr. Kageyama referenced a few examples in his talk of creative projects that have changed how people enjoy their cities and promote it to outsiders: Broken City Lab, High Line Park in New York, and the Grand Rapids LipDub:

Who should be invited into the discussion?
The 200 participants at today’s Think Tank came from a broad range of backgrounds, but there were groups who were noticeably absent from the discussion. Aboriginal Canadians, new Canadians, kids who are currently students in Kindergarden to Grade 12 school system, teachers and educators also need to be engaged in these discussions. I also hope that Edmonton’s elected school trustees are invited to participate in this discussion as it evolves.

Where are Edmonton’s Aboriginal Artists?
One thing that I noticed while travelling across Australia earlier this year was the prominence of traditional Aboriginal art. In Sydney, Canberra, Townsville, Cairns and Darwin, there were numerous galleries that showcased and sold traditional art created by Aboriginal artists. As the city with Canada’s second largest urban Aboriginal population (52,100 people or 5% of the city’s population), Edmonton should have space where this growing community’s artists can access in order to create, showcase, and perform their traditional art.

Now that I have shared some of my ideas, what do you think?