Recap: Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Tonight a few hundred Edmontonians gathered at the Avenue Theatre on 118 Avenue to celebrate the launch of Make Something Edmonton. With lots of buzz about the initiative but few details on the launch event itself, attendees arrived both excited and curious. Something was happening, but what? How would the evening unfold?

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Sharon and I caught the specially chartered ETS shuttle from City Hall which dropped us off right in front of the theatre. It turns out our driver, who was just 19 years old, had only moved to Edmonton a couple of months ago. He’d always wanted to be a bus driver, he told us, and he came here to make it happen! While enjoying the ride we chatted with The Local Good’s Tad Hargrave, catching up on one another’s projects and blueskying Make Something Edmonton. That sort of set the tone for the evening.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

We found the Avenue Theatre already buzzing with activity when we got there just after 5:30pm. Volunteers scanned tickets, checked coats, and welcomed us. We entered the theatre and found it completely transformed. The seating was gone, and the space had been converted into a two-level open room, with tables around the edges and the stage at the front. There were lights, cameras, food, and the pleasant sounds of connections being made and ideas being spread.

We split up and said hi to as many people as we could. It was a veritable who’s-who of the hyper-engaged in attendance, and I felt like every direction I looked there were familiar faces to greet. People continued to pour in and after a few brief delays to ensure the shuttles could all make it through the snow, the formal program got underway.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Mayor Mandel took the stage first to welcome everyone and to say a few things about the project. I had managed to snag a few minutes with him just before the program began, and he seemed totally pumped about Make Something Edmonton. Who cares what people outside the city think, he told us. What matters is getting Edmontonians on board with the idea that Edmonton is a great place to make something. If we can do that, the rest will come. Mayor Mandel then brought Randy Boissonnault, a local entrepreneur, literacy advocate, and public speaker, to the stage. As our MC for the evening, Randy shared a few introductory thoughts and then welcomed Todd Babiak to the stage to provide some history.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

I really feel like tonight was Todd’s night. He would probably tell you that Edmontonians are the ones who came up with Make Something Edmonton, but he’s the one who listened to what we had to say and helped us put our thoughts into words. Todd spoke of Edmonton’s history of collaborating and building, and of our struggles with civic identity. He framed Make Something Edmonton as our city’s story, and noted that “a story is about choice.” Some in the room had made the choice to come to Edmonton, others had made the choice to stay.

Here’s the video he showed to help tell the Make Something Edmonton story:

Next we heard from four makers. Lewis Cardinal kicked things off by discussing the importance of our city’s history. He introduced words like Pehonan and Monto. Our pehonan (“gathering place”) is where Edmonton was born, the area we now call the Rossdale Flats. Monto, which is found in our city’s name – Edmonton – refers to our spirit. You can learn more in the Spirit of Edmonton presentation.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

The second speaker was Dave Mowat, who shared his idea for lighting up the High Level Bridge. It would take 45,360 LED bulbs to light the bridge, he told us, and the money for the project will come not from the government, but from Edmontonians themselves. His presentation was a lot like the one he delivered at Pecha Kucha 14, but with some new visuals to help illustrate the idea.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Third was Christy Morin of Arts on the Ave. She welcomed everyone to Alberta Avenue and gave some background and context to the ongoing revitalization of the area. The initiative got underway over eight years ago because she was sick of the crime and knew the community could be different. “The beauty that hides behind the crime and grime,” is what she wanted to help expose.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

The final presentation was from Rob and Kirk who are looking to launch the Edmonton Keg Roll. They got the idea from the annual Cheese Rolling event that takes place near Gloucester in England. So why a keg roll? “Edmonton isn’t known for its cheese making,” they told us, “but we do make fine beer.” The winner will get, appropriately, a keg of beer. Their presentation was my favorite, both for its whimsy and for its seductive simplicity.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Make Something Edmonton co-chair Chris LaBossiere brought the formal program to close by thanking all of the volunteers and attendees, and by introducing the rest of the makers who were in the room. In addition to the featured makers, attendees could check out the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters, Make Jen’s Day, The Found Art Project, Gillian’s Just Right, Little Warriors, Edmonton’s Next Gen, and The Startup City Project. Chris highlighted the fact that Make Something Edmonton needs to “change the culture of our whole city,” to make it easier for projects to move forward. “Welcome to Edmonton, what are you making, how can I help?” is how he described the new approach.

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

The new Make Something Edmonton website went live this afternoon, and it features the ability for you to add your own project and to discover other projects that Edmontonians are working on:

Explore how your neighbours are making the city more fun, more beautiful, more caring, more profitable, sillier and sassier and stupider and smarter. Join them, help them, launch your own project.

There are already a couple of dozen projects up on the site, and I’m sure we’ll see many more added over the next few days.

I left the launch party feeling energized (it didn’t take long for Sharon and I to start plotting a future project). I think Make Something Edmonton has really tapped into the core of what makes Edmonton the city it is, and I’m glad that so many people are supporting the initiative already. We’re going to need all the help we can get – moving beyond the hyper-engaged and connecting with the average Edmontonian is going to be a much bigger challenge than we’ve faced thus far. As the launch day blog post states:

A city is not like a new soap or a box of cookies or a chain of restaurants. How can you sum up the spirit of a million people in a few words, a pretty logo, a big sign at the corporate limits?

You can’t. But:

This city does have a story. It does have an identity. It does have a spirit. Make Something Edmonton is an evocation of that spirit.

I want to say a big congratulations to Toscha Turner, Thomas Scott, and the entire event subcommittee who worked really hard to make tonight happen. The “YEG Heads” were great, the livestreaming via the Edmonton Journal seemed to work well, and there were lots of volunteers on hand to ensure everything went smoothly. It feels great to have Make Something Edmonton out in the open, and tonight’s event was a great way to kick that off!

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Stay tuned to Make Something Edmonton on Twitter at @makeitYEG and on Facebook. You can check out more of my photos from the evening here, and you can re-watch the video here.

What are you making? How can I help?

An impressive collection of local stories: 30 Days of Edmonton

For the last month, I’ve been following along as Amanda Dunlop has profiled one local business each day on her blog. She called it 30 Days of Edmonton, and it is an impressive collection of local stories. Each entry contains a brief interview with the business owner and some wonderful photos, which is no surprise given that Amanda is the primary photographer behind Lightside Photography. I liked the series so much that I asked Amanda for an interview (over coffee at Credo, which she profiled on day 15).

Amanda Dunlop

Born and raised in Edmonton, Amanda’s story is similar to many others – it took leaving to see other parts of the world to truly appreciate what we have here in Edmonton. And as she learned more about the city, her appreciation grew. Amanda worked in the Edmonton Journal’s ad department for a time, but it wasn’t her passion. She has been a photographer for more than five years, and just last fall took the plunge and made it her full-time gig.

I asked Amanda where the idea for the blog series came from, and she said it all started with a conversation. Her friend and fellow photographer Matt Ramage was setting up his business in Saskatoon, and the two discussed ways for a new business to get noticed. The idea of photographing local businesses grew from there, and Amanda ran with it (Matt may do a Saskatoon version still). She realized that the series could be a “fun and casual” way to spread the word about local establishments, and to share why she chooses to shop local.

Though she started with a “cheat sheet” of canned questions, Amanda told me they quickly evolved as she realized that some worked and some didn’t, depending on the business. She had been to most of the places she profiled at least once before, but there were some new ones, and she always made a point of asking the business owners she talked to for their favorite places. Good thing too – Amanda started with just three businesses lined up!

Amanda had three questions that I was always eager to see the responses to. Here are a few examples.

Did you grow up in Edmonton, or are you a transplant? If so, what brought you here? What keeps you here?

I never had any intentions of staying…I don’t think most people who grow up here do. I was thinking of moving to Toronto and then this opportunity came up where I was working here and was able to purchase the business from the current owner. So I went for it and I’ve really grown to appreciate Edmonton a lot more. Traveling to other cities has also made me appreciate what Edmonton has.
– Jessica, Nokomis Clothing, Day 2

I consider Edmonton my home and we just wanted to come home. It’s got some pros and cons. It’s quiet and less pretentious than a lot of cities, yet the people are good and they tend to be a little more adventuresome and quite trendy. On the other hand it’s a little hard to get some nicer things here like fresh seafood and fresh produce, etc.
– Dennis, Chocolate Exquisite, Day 11

This street is Edmonton’s idea of what downtown revitalization should look like. The people are just so supportive as well and when people start talking you really see it in the amount of business that comes in.

– Geoff, Credo Coffee, Day 15

Why is it that people are so hesitant about shopping local? Why do you think Edmonton is so “Big Box” in general?

I think Canadians are sometimes unsure of who they are and they’re not as proud of local product as much as say someone from Italy. A lot of people just don’t know what amazing quality we have right here.
– Karen, C’est Sera, Day 12

I think it’s harder and it’s an unknown. When you walk into a mall all of the stores look pretty much the same. When you walk into a local independent you never know what it’s going to be like. I think it can be a little scary. So that can be a negative thing if you want the same thing all the time, but if you want variety small independents are what you want.
– Jessie, The Blue Pear, Day 14

The city has become a mall and big box dependent culture, partly due to the near collapse of downtown. It seems that once you’ve lost your downtown, you may have lost your city. Edmonton is also a car oriented city. Because of this people tend to not shop in their local communities. Independent shops are often an overlooked part of what makes a unique community.
– James, Stylus, Day 24

If you could see one thing change here what would it be?

What my husband and I have been trying to do is to go to a butcher and get our meat, and then go to a baker and get our bread, and so on. I’d just like to see a section of the city created where you can do that with a little more ease. I guess I would like to see it become a little more European and walkable.
– Rychelle, Red Ribbon, Day 9

I guess I am seeing the change with what has been happening downtown. We’re becoming more community oriented and less big box and you don’t have to drive as much. I guess I’d just like to see us move a little further towards what we see in Europe. I think people want to feel involved in their community and that’s what we need.
– Chad, deVine Wine and Spirits, Day 13

I’d like to see people complain less…it’s one thing that drives me crazy here. I would consider Edmonton in general to have one of the best standards of living in the country. It’s just unfortunate that many of the people who live here seem to be so unhappy with it. There’s just a disproportionate amount of people that just seem to be looking for something to complain about even when this is a really great city.
– Jay, Happy Harbor Comics, Day 20

Not every business answered every question, but I still think it’s fascinating that so many different small business owners in Edmonton had such similar answers to those three important questions. Most felt that Edmonton doesn’t get the credit it deserves, that shopping local is often overlooked even though it really makes communities unique, and quite a few cited transportation and becoming “more European” as key things they’d like to see change. I also really loved Jake’s answer on Day 6 about what he’d like to see change:

The drab colours…imagine if no one here was allowed to paint their house white or brown. Things would be so much more colourful here in the winter.

That’s an idea I could get behind! The “smartie pack” houses (as we called them) in Inuvik were unique and anything but boring.

I asked Amanda if there were any businesses she would have liked to have profiled but didn’t, and she said “definitely”. She quickly realized there were far more businesses than one could cover in just 30 days! Amanda said she wished she had been able to do a few more “boy stores” like pubs or a maybe even a paintball place.

Amanda Dunlop

Amanda told me she has “a newfound respect for reporters and writers” – she discovered the series was much more time consuming to produce than she had originally anticipated! She estimates she spent two to three hours on every post, and that was on top of her regular obligations, of course. It was rewarding however, and she’d like to continue it – but less intensively, perhaps one or two profiles per month.

I had a great conversation with Amanda, and was happy that the passion for local she shared on the blog came through in person too. She was wearing a top designed by Edmonton’s own Fridget Apparel, and admitted she was “devastated” by the news that Nokomis was closing. “If I was having a bad week I’d go to Nokomis and buy a dress,” she told me. Amanda’s other local favorites include Blue Plate Diner (which she profiled on day 27), and Red Ribbon (which she profiled on day 9). “We need the dynamic that local business brings to the community.”

The final entry in the series will be posted tomorrow. I encourage you to read through all of the profiles.

Well done Amanda, and thanks for the chat!

Local Action, Global Recognition at PKN7

I was one of the presenters at yesterday’s Pecha Kucha Night 7 here in Edmonton. I’ve been thinking about pitching a topic for a while, but for whatever reason never submitted anything. This time around, however, I felt compelled to at least apply to speak. As Jeff said in his post, I sort of became the face of the disappointment over Pecha Kucha 6. I’ve been to every Pecha Kucha Night we’ve had in Edmonton, and I’ve blogged about each one. I have been both critical and positive about past events and speakers, but I’ve tried to be fair. In any case, I figured if I was going to dish it out I had to be willing to take it as well.

Pecha Kucha Night 7

I approached my talk at PKN7 the way I think it should be done. The topic had to be something I was passionate about (it’s almost always immediately obvious when a speaker is not passionate about their topic) and had already given some thought to. I worked hard to find images that represented my ideas, and I consciously stuck to Creative Commons licensed photos (see below). I created an outline for my talk, and then researched each idea to ensure I could back up what I was saying. Then I practiced – a few times on my own to get the timing right, and then a few times for Sharon, and once for my parents over Skype. I wanted to practice enough that I could pull it off, but not so many times that I’d be thrown off track when something inevitably changed during the actual talk.

Here’s the video of me presenting last night. I guess I went a few seconds longer than I should have. During my presentation I ended up saying slightly different things than I had practiced. Notably, I threw in the “feel free to cheer for your favorite” line which worked great for audience participation, but also meant my timing wasn’t quite as tight as I had practiced.

Here are my slides with the audio overlaid on top:

I received some great feedback on my talk, which was great to hear! I’m definitely harder on myself than others are, and if I could do it again I’d try to improve a few things. I think I looked down too much, and my excuse for that is that all I could see was the first row or two of people. I guess six minutes and forty seconds wasn’t enough time to adjust. I also would have tried to slow the pace down a little. Overall though, I am happy with it!

Here are the images I used (minus the two slides that just contained logos). You can click on each one to get the original.

Edmonton SkylineBendy RoadEpcor Tower
Edmonton Skyline
TEDxEdmontonEdmonton Skyline

Local Action, Global Recognition

The premise of my talk was that Edmonton can be recognized on the world stage if we focus on making Edmonton a better place for Edmontonians. I think there’s three key things we need in order to achieve the recognition that we seek:

  1. Density
  2. Storytelling
  3. Creative Economy

If we can succeed at all three, I think there’s no question that we’ll become recognized around the world. Other cities will strive to be more like Edmonton.

With more time, I’d have expanded on the “how” in all of this, but last night I simply encouraged the audience to find something they’re passionate about and to do it here in Edmonton.

I would welcome any thoughts or comments on this – thanks!