Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Another Era Ends*

Edmonton is a transient city. From its history as a fort city, the landlocked equivalent of a port city, Edmonton always has been a place of comings and goings. The migratory syndrome of this place dates farther back to the First Nations, whose traces show that tribes mostly summered in this area now known as Edmonton.

Anyone who's stayed beyond a year has no doubt noticed the fluctuation of people coming and going from this place, be they coworkers, neighbors, friends or family. Its transience is somewhere between a gold-rush mentality of "get rich and get out" and the stubbornness of prairie homesteaders.

So as a recession levels out, the flight from Edmonton is once again on the rise. Certain downtown developments are on hold as tear-down buildings have extended their lease on life for a few more years, and while a time of recession is often the best time for the arts, that simply doesn't appear to be the case this time around.

Empty spaces and somewhat affordable housing are once again available, but who is left to fill them?

2010 saw a lot of people depart the city. This year felt far more draining than usual as a mass exodus seemingly affected my direct community of peers. While many emerging artists not-so-surprisingly leave, there is a deep mourning for the mid-level artists who have no other choice but to leave.

There is a school of thought that doesn't think it really matters who leaves and who stays, just as long as there's somebody to fill the post. And while I believe that to be true in one sense, there are moments in any history that are perhaps more special.

Even within these pages of this paper, this past week alone saw two significant endings: Ted Kerr's last Queermonton column ran with no note bidding farewell, but one that was written from his current home in New York City. Ted had helped found the much-needed column and gave a mature and localized perspective on living queer. In short, he filled a void, and the double edged sword of filling a void is that you will have no peers.

Also gone from this city is former Arts Editor and staff writer, David Berry, who left to work for a national paper in Toronto. David was actually the proactive agent behind getting Prairie Artsters to appear as a regular column in Vue Weekly, and his support and knowledge of the city made the paper a far more interesting contemplation.

As great as syndicates may be, local voices provide an immediate feedback system that any city or community needs in order to grow. And while theoretically this all makes sense for readers to support and demand local content, I am wondering what keeps a local voice going?

Nostalgia and sentiment are one thing, but critical mass is wholly another matter.

There are certainly people who remain and who are talented and capable, and the apocalypse is yet to be upon us, but there is something profoundly deflating about seeing a community's momentum continually rise and fall, and being awash in its amnesiac tide.

*First published in Vue Weekly


Heather Zwicker said...

Ted and Dave are huge losses to this city, no question. And I share your commitment to the local - as you well know. But I'm wondering whether "critical mass" will get you where you want to go? Yes, it's the opposite of "nostalgia and sentiment," but I'm not sure it's the opposite of "any voice will do," a position you want to distinguish yourself from early on.

No answers here, just questions.

Kirsten McCrea said...

Read this on the day I found out Nokomis will soon be no more. Makes me sad.