Why the City of Edmonton should pay to light up our bridges and landmarks

Who knew that Dave Mowat’s presentation at Pecha Kucha Night 14 back in October would become such a big deal? Maybe he did, but I sure didn’t. It was a great presentation, but we’ve had lots of people come forward with ideas on how to beautify the city, and none of those took off. Furthermore, Dave wasn’t the first one to suggest lighting up the High Level Bridge, something he readily admits. So what made his presentation different?

Pecha Kucha Night

Well for one thing, Dave Mowat is no ordinary citizen (despite how down-to-earth and approachable his bio sounds). He’s the President and CEO of ATB Financial, an organization with assets of about $27.4 billion, making it the largest Alberta-based financial institution. If we brought together a group of the city’s “power brokers” , Dave would probably have a seat at the table. When he picks up the phone to call EPCOR and asks for a couple hundred thousand dollars for his project, he gets it. I couldn’t do that, could you?

That’s one reason why I’m not a big fan of the proposed fundraising campaign. With an estimated cost of anywhere from $400,000 to nearly $2 million, Dave is going to need more than just the $225,000 committed by EPCOR. Gordon Kent reports:

He would like a few corporate sponsors to pay the bulk of the expenses, with 100 to 200 businesses making smaller contributions and 10,000 to 30,000 people donating about $10 each to “buy a diode.”

When he spoke to Executive Committee on January 14, Dave said, “I think a project like this lends itself toward grassroots funding.” We can disguise this as a “community project” by launching such a fundraising campaign, but that feels a bit disingenuous to me. Dave recognizes that selling diodes for $10 isn’t going to pay for the project, but will build awareness. Still, I’m concerned it’ll do more harm than good.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is fantastic that Dave and ATB have taken such an active role in driving this forward. I love that he decided to take action with his idea, rather than just talk about it, and I hope he has inspired other businesses and leaders in Edmonton to do the same.

And I think that lighting up our bridges is a great idea. It aligns nicely with our Winter City Strategy, I think it’ll make Edmontonians feel safer and happier crossing the bridge, and it could become our “signature shot” which would be a great thing for tourism, not to mention civic pride.

light it up

There are always going to be naysayers, but it seems to me that most people like the idea of lighting up the High Level Bridge, especially for its 100th anniversary this June. So why would we rely on the private sector to make it happen? If it’s such a good idea, why do we need to raise funds for it?

I think the City of Edmonton should pay for it. Maybe not all of it, but a majority of it. The High Level Bridge is an important piece of municipal infrastructure, it’s an important part of Edmonton’s history, and this project will benefit all Edmontonians.

There’s precedent for this too, as the report that went to Executive Committee noted:

The Langevin Bridge in Calgary was equipped with decorative LED lighting in 2009 at a cost of $370,000. Funding for this project was provided by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation as part of a revitalization initiative in the East Village. The project included the installation of over 5600 LEDs with roughly the same power consumption of just three Alberta households.

City Manager Simon Farbrother made it clear that Edmonton would not be unique in providing funding to the project. “The reality is that large cities today illuminate themselves at night, and they do it in many ways, and the city has some work to do to catch up in this area.”

We’re spending $2 million this year on Edmonton’s image and brand, and millions more over the next few years. Why not take some of that budget and apply it to a concrete project like this, one that will actually help our brand? Or how about the 1% for Art program? Do you know what 1% of the estimated cost of the Southeast to West LRT expansion is? About $34 million. Considering we spent just 0.08% of the approved 2009-2011 Capital Budget on art, I’d be shocked if we spent anywhere close to that amount along the LRT line. Why not take some of that funding and apply it to the lighting project? It would certainly qualify as a “highly visible” project (and a quick read of policy C458C suggests this is possible).

I recognize that lighting up the High Level Bridge has never been considered in any of the City’s budgets. And I recognize that especially in an election year, this is going to be a tough sell. But I think this is a conversation that needs to take place.

When news first spread that Executive Committee had decided to take a look at contributing to the project, a number of people expressed their displeasure. It was unfortunate that it happened around the same time as YESS announced it could not meet its funding requirements, causing some people to incorrectly link the two. We should help YESS instead of beautifying our city, they said. I think Ryan Jespersen responded to that criticism well:

Along those lines, I wish that Dave had gone to Council and said something like, “this is an important project for Edmonton, and I want to help you make it happen.” Instead, he essentially said “this is a great idea and since we’re both resigned to the fact that spending public money on this can’t ever be a priority, I’m just going to go and fundraise it myself.” Good on him for taking action, but it doesn’t help to shift the conversation in the direction it needs to go. We need to be willing as a city to spend money on projects like this.

So what’s next? Executive Committee directed Administration to come back on March 11 with “a plan, including a budget proposal and a schedule” for the project. It also asked for a report on an integrated program for illuminating other key landmarks, including City Hall and other bridges, and that report should be finished by April 15. In the meantime, I’ve heard that Dave’s fundraising campaign is starting to take shape.

While we’re definitely running out of time to make something happen for June, I’m hopeful that we don’t rush the project. I think the magic happens when we can light up more than just the High Level Bridge. A phased approach is sensible, but it would be nice to have a vision for something larger.

As Councillor Henderson said, “If we’re going to do it, we should do it right.”

Walk or run for a cause in Edmonton in September

There are dozens of fundraising walks and runs in Edmonton throughout the year, but perhaps the busiest month of all is September. Every weekend this month, Edmontonians will be walking or running to raise funds for a variety of worthy causes.

Powered by ShareEdmonton, here is a list of more than 20 fundraising walks taking place in September:

Edmonton Gorilla Run September 8 Victoria Park
Walk Now for Autism Speaks September 9 Rundle Park
Run FASD Edmonton September 9 Emily Murphy Park
Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope September 9 Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes September 11 Churchill Square
Climb of Hope Run September 15 Victoria Park
Freedom Relay Edmonton September 15 Emily Murphy Park
Butterflies & Bowties: Thyroid Cancer Run/Walk September 16 Hermitage Park
Life Without Limits Challenge September 16 Rundle Park
ASSIST Walk & Run September 16 Louise McKinney Riverfront Park
A Walk/Run for Child Survival September 16 Victoria Park
Take Back the Night September 21 Alex Taylor School
Open Minds Walk & Run September 22 Rundle Park
Shinerama Fun Run September 22 TBA
Edmonton Heartbeat Run September 23 Louise McKinney Riverfront Park
Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life September 23 Churchill Square
Ride for Diabetes Research September 28 Churchill Square
Light the Night Walk September 28 Victoria Park
Kenya Run for Water September 29 Emily Murphy Park
Walk for Children with Apraxia of Speech September 29 Rundle Park
Sight Night Edmonton September 29 Kinsmen
CIBC Run for the Cure September 30 Churchill Square

You can always see the latest charitable events at ShareEdmonton in the Causes category. You can download an iCal feed here.

I unfortunately won’t make it to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes this year, but it was lots of fun when I participated last year! It’s always entertaining to see the guys walking in high heels, so head down to support them on September 11.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

I have participated in the AIDS Walk a few times, and I am always amazed at how many people take part. If all the events listed above have strong turnouts, there could be a significant amount of money raised this month!

AIDS Walk For Life 2009

Do you know of another fundraising walk or run taking place this month? Let me know!

Edmonton needs more venues for art exhibitions like Capricious!

Does Edmonton need more venues for showcasing and enjoying local contemporary art? Miranda Sayer thinks so. She’s an independent curator and is the organizer of Capricious!, a month-long pop-up art exhibition that would feature the work of a number of local artists, if only it had a venue.

Miranda got in touch with me a few weeks ago to talk about the project, and highlighted the crowdfunding aspect. She is using RocketHub, a platform similar to Kickstarter except that it is focused on “creatives” and works in Canada. The RocketHub mission page boldly proclaims that the platform is “the foundation for the new creative economy.” While that might be a bit of a stretch, it is a smart way to fundraise. So far Capricious! has raised $595, or about 14% of the goal ($4500). All of the funds raised will go toward making the show happen and each funding level from $10 and up features a variety of rewards.

Miranda Sayer
Miranda Sayer, the independent curator behind Capricious!

While I was indeed interested in Miranda’s use of RocketHub, I was much more intrigued by her thoughts on the lack of viable spaces for art in Edmonton, and especially downtown. “It’s surprising to me that the downtown core doesn’t have more in the way of venues offering local contemporary art, as we have no shortage of talent locally,” she told me. Just a few days before Miranda and I got together for coffee, I had spent an evening visiting Dirt City, Dream City, the transitory public art exhibition in The Quarters (which runs until the end of the month), so her point about the amount of local talent we have really hit home for me.

There does seem to be a shortage of venues, however. Of course the Art Gallery of Alberta and Latitude 53 come to mind, but what else? There’s the Gallery Walk in Oliver, the gallery space at ArtsHab One, the gallery at the Stanley Milner Library, and probably a few others. But the list is not exceptionally long. And how many of the venues that do exist are really available to local up-and-coming artists? Or to curators like Miranda?

This discussion has actually been going on for quite some time. The Mayor’s Arts Visioning Committee noted in its final report last November that “City Hall must plan for arising opportunities to expand and enhance Edmonton’s inventory of arts facilities.” A number of the recommendations in the report talked about the lack of space:

“The need for arts spaces of all types is mentioned numerous times in this report. The repetition is purposeful. It is a high priority need today and the demand for places to create, rehearse, perform and exhibit will only grow in coming years.”

In March there was significant discussion about what should happen to the gallery space at Enterprise Square, which served as the temporary home of the AGA while the new building was constructed. The University of Alberta proposed a $500,000 partnership with the City, which many felt was too expensive. Council should be receiving an updated report on the issue next month.

Arts spaces need not be traditional buildings, either. The Alley of Light has become a gallery space on a number of occasions, and other similar projects have happened throughout the city. In a post last year, Latitude 53’s then-Writer-in-Residence Megan Bertagnolli highlighted the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair as an artist run centre. “Edmonton needs more points of engagement between art and the public at large and alternative venues like the Royal Bison aim to fill that need,” she wrote. Latitude 53’s Executive Director Todd Janes agreed in a comment on the post: “I have often felt that Edmonton needs more artist-run or artist-initiated spaces and projects – the Royal Bison is just but one and perhaps one of the more successful and similar to the precursor of today’s ARCs (Artist-Run Centres).” Clearly artists are trying to find ways around the lack of venues.

The hope with transitory projects like the Alley of Light or Capricious! is that their success will help make the case for more permanent spaces. “Edmontonians are in fact very receptive to and supportive of contemporary art when it’s offered to them, so having more exhibitions showcasing local talent will hopefully lead to more permanent gallery spaces,” Miranda told me. She is keen to have the show take place downtown, and after no luck trying to find a suitable venue for free, decided to try the crowdfunding approach. The bulk of the money will go toward rent, though some would be used for the opening reception and some promotional materials.

Coy Fox (2011)
“Coy Fox” (2011) by Megan Stein

Here’s the description of Capricious!:

“The show is an opportunity for a number of emerging and established Edmonton artists to present their work in an exciting way (the pop-up gallery — we’re going to occupy a space that ordinarily isn’t for art) so they can encourage Edmontonians to engage and connect with contemporary local art. We have a wonderful and thriving arts community, but unfortunately less in the way of venues for viewing the work, especially in the downtown core.”

There are nine days left to contribute to the project at RocketHub. As a fan of utilizing unconventional spaces for projects that make Edmonton better, I have, and I look forward to seeing the exhibition come to life in the near future!

A fundraiser for the next generation: hot chefs, cool bEATS

Sharon and I are really looking forward to hot chefs, cool bEATS on Saturday evening! A celebration of Edmonton’s most creative restaurants, chefs, and food trucks, the event is a fundraiser to support Culinary Team Canada in their quest for gold at the Culinary Olympics in Germany this October. But it’s not the kind of fundraiser you’re thinking of. The dress code at hot chefs, cool bEATS is “street chic” rather than black tie!

Filistix, Drift, Transcend, Wild Tangerine, Elm Café, Bistecca, and Duchess are among the food trucks and restaurants that will be serving up delicious food throughout the evening. For drinks you can look forward to Alley Kat, Granville Island, and a bunch of wine. Interestingly there’s only one sit-down part of the event – a plated dessert created by Culinary Team Canada’s pastry chef to finish things off. Check out Sharon’s post for more information on what to expect at the event.

It wasn’t until we sat down with event co-chair Gurvinder Bhatia that I really took note of the event. And it wasn’t until he explained the philosophy behind it that I was sold:

“Too many events in the city are still geared towards the 50+ crowd. There are many young professional in the 25-45 age group that make good money, love food and wine, but don’t want to attend the same events that their parents attended. It is not only important to create events for this demographic, but to facilitate, encourage and foster philanthropy and community involvement for members of this group.”

That speaks to me. My experience with fundraisers thus far has been pretty typical – black tie, ten-seat table, five-course meal, silent auction, etc. Why not do something different? Why not encourage some creativity? More importantly, we really do need to foster philanthropy and community involvement in my demographic. Ever since Marty Forbes shared his concern that our city’s future leaders are not stepping up, I have been thinking and talking about “succession” and about how we can get nextgeners involved in building a better Edmonton. The answer is not always to create something new, but there’s certainly got to be room for that approach as well. In this case, I think a fresh take on the fundraiser is long overdue!

Tickets are not cheap at $150, but it is a fundraiser after all (and that includes all food and drink). In addition to supporting Culinary Team Canada, proceeds will support the High School Culinary Challenge which helps students wishing to pursue careers in the culinary industry. The deadline for tickets is noon on Friday – there will not be any tickets available at the door! You can buy yours online here.

The hashtag for the event is #hotchefs12. Hope to see you there!

CKUA Radio Network’s Fall 2010 Campaign

I spent a couple hours with the folks at CKUA Radio Network this summer talking about social media. They’ve been quite successful with it already, amassing more than 7500 fans on Facebook and more than 1500 followers on Twitter (and more importantly they have fairly high levels of engagement). While I was there, they invited me to check out the fall fundraising campaign, an offer I finally took them up on this morning!

CKUA Fall 2010 Campaign

CKUA started in 1927 at the University of Alberta, and has undergone a number of changes since that time. It has existed in its current form since 1994 when Access sold the network to the non-profit CKUA Radio Foundation. Though it went silent for a month in 1997, the network has been going strong ever since. The history is evident throughout their downtown studios, with lots of black and white photos on the walls.

CKUA Fall 2010 Campaign

Though many of the callers were from Alberta (CKUA has 17 transmitters in the province) there are a significant number of donors from around the world. CKUA started streaming its broadcast online on February 29, 1996, the first radio station in Canada to do so. There’s an updated list of cities from which donors have made pledges here in PDF.

CKUA Fall 2010 Campaign

While I was there, Allison Brock and David Ward were on-air. They’re one of the popular announcer teams of the campaign, an Allison in particular is known for her ability to really drive donations (as much as $25,000 in a single hour). Just before I left, Allison announced Double Your Dollars (DYD), a really popular hour during which any new donations are matched by an existing pool of DYD funds. As soon as she said it on the radio, every phone lit up!

CKUA Fall 2010 Campaign

Most of the volunteers answering the phones have been volunteering for years. They’re dedicated and efficient! Every time a new donor calls, everyone around the table rings a bell to celebrate. It certainly adds to the energy in the pledge room!

CKUA Fall 2010 Campaign

The current campaign started on October 14 and finishes tomorrow at midnight. The goal is $625,000, and so far CKUA has raised just over $410,000 (you can see the updated amount on their website). You can donate online, or you can call 1-800-494-2582.

Thanks to CKUA for letting me go behind-the-scenes this morning! You can see the rest of my photos here.