Make Something Edmonton: Is The Writing On The Wall?

OK. A few things before I get into it. It’s been 7 months since I left Edmonton. In an attempt to try to settle into my new home of Kitchener, I’ve increasingly tried not to get too involved in #yeg happenings. I also recognize that as someone that doesn’t live there anymore, that I should be cognizant of wading into issues that don’t directly affect me. But, there is a possibility I may end up back in Edmonton one day AND my sister and my best friend recently moved there, so I feel inclined to share some of my opinions (you can tell me to shut up at any time). I should really be working on the endless list of tasks involved with my graduate studies, but whatever. This is my leisure for today.

I’ve been seeing a number of commentaries on the divisive Melcor “take a risk” mural. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t universally welcomed by Edmontonians, and I think that’s a good thing. Criticism opens avenues for important conversations that can create necessary change.

One of my favourite pieces about the Wall was from Dani Paradis. She called out the dissonance between the risk taking encouraged by the mural and a risk averse city council with a proclivity to hum and haw on seemingly common sense items (cough* bike lanes). She also highlights the challenges that artists and organizers have in dealing with the City when it comes to permits and red tape. Seeing a mural pop up telling people to take risks when the municipal bureaucracy places numerous barriers on said risk taking can be understandably maddening.

I also caught wind of the thread started on Fish Griwkowsky’s Facebook page. Wow. I almost popped a bowl of popcorn to accompany the read. There were some pretty juicy exchanges that provoked some deep thinking on my part.

In my opinion, the concerns about the corporate feeling of the initiative are warranted. During my time on the board, I tried to advocate for Make Something Edmonton to become an arms length organization much like REACH is today (I also sat on the board of REACH and quite admired their organizational structure and relative autonomy). I think Make Something Edmonton is in an interesting situation in that it is involved with EEDC which is charged with marketing and selling Edmonton, but is also deeply connected to grassroots organizations and initiatives that are anything but corporate. I had felt that being an arms length organization would have perhaps minimized some of those conflicts. That said, we can thank the amazing staff at Make Something Edmonton for impressively balancing those tensions.

The board of Make Something Edmonton has since been dissolved, so I’m unsure of the chances that it could move towards being an arms length organization. But who knows. It is Edmonton, after all.

Another sentiment in Fish’s thread that resonated with me was that the messaging of Make Something Edmonton was exclusive of marginalized peoples – those who live in poverty, new Canadians, people of colour. As a person of colour and the son of immigrants, I recognized that Make Something Edmonton and its messaging would not resonate with all Edmonontians, and I was particularly interested in understanding how it was perceived by IBPOC (Indigenous people, Black people, and people of colour). During my time on the board, I and a few other members of the board submitted an application to a call for submissions for an event run by an organization that focused on IBPOC in Edmonton. I thought that approaching the issue as citizen board members would allow for a more open and candid conversation on the flaws and areas that needed improvement. Our intention was to have a dialogue on Make Something Edmonton and if/how it resonated with that community. We didn’t end up being chosen for the event, but this was all to say that this issue was something that was at the top of my mind and an issue I thought needed attention.

Most recently I read Todd Babiak’s letter in response to David Staples’ article. To be perfectly honest, I still don’t know exactly what Staples was attempting to articulate. I would especially appreciate some clarity on his comment on risk taking and installing suicide barriers on the high level bridge.

In his letter, Todd highlights the stories of risk taking that define Edmonton. Some people might consider the citing of these stories as “entrepreneurial propaganda”, but I thought I’d share my own experience on the Edmontonness Todd talks about.

I showed up to Edmonton in 2012 knowing very few people. I spent one year bemoaning my choice to live there. I spent the next two getting involved in a few community projects that were grassroots at best. I didn’t have the network associated with growing up in a city, but I still managed to get the help I needed to get my projects off the ground. Not only did I get the help, but I also got incredible amounts of encouragement. I was a nobody ex-Torontonian occupational therapist with a few ideas. That’s it. In the process of implementing some of these collaborative projects, I saw what Edmonton was all about. I saw its enthusiasm for change. I saw its boundless generosity. I saw a city that was open to ideas. And that’s why I’m so diehard about the message Make Something Edmonton promotes. It really captures what I love about that city. You can criticize the layer of corporate interests on top, but at its core, Make Something Edmonton is attempting to communicate a quality that I haven’t encountered in any other city I’ve lived in.

Part of taking risks also involves making mistakes. I think great risk takers are good mistake makers too (sorry, I know that sounds kind of lame). Erring allows for evolution. Was this choice of mural a mistake? Maybe.

The pushback on this mural should tell Make Something Edmonton, the EEDC and the City, that the messaging and the method isn’t resonating with everyone and I think can open the door to some fruitful conversations that can help the initiative evolve and perhaps solidify its grassroots connections. So, in response to my clickbait title, I think the writing is on the wall, but not in a “this is the end” kind of way. I think the recent criticism is an invitation for iteration and reflection. I’m looking forward to watching the conversation on Make Something Edmonton as well as the ways in which the initiative evolves.


(image credit: Mack Male, photo link:




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