Posted on 7/16/2007 by Jason Kodie
I’m flying with my band to Toronto to attend and perform at NXNE – North by Northeast – which is a smorgasboard of over 400 bands in 40 venues over 4 days. Your standard schmooz fest for the music biz where too many gigs happen in too little time, so I say, bring it on!. Some bands open and close deals, others, like mine, play the gigs and attend as many open bar BBQ’s as we can . While we took many cabs, we neither opened or closed any deals.
We flew Air Canada, and shortly after takeoff, I opened a new edition of ‘En Route’, their in-flight in-house magazine. I do enjoy the ‘En Route’ mag, it makes me feel a little more worldly and a tad more mysterious when reading about the latest buzz in the bars of Budapest or how Istanbul is a hot stop for today’s jet-setters, a crowd I can hang with for the duration of my read.
The cover of this edition features Hayden Christensen, an actor people may know better as the young Darth Vader. I’m intrigued and ready to dive into the June edition of ‘ER’, check my fake Rolex, and consider ordering a fancy Hungarian cocktail.
I always read ‘ER’ from cover to cover, a practice I recommend for the full jet-set rush. What I consider to be one of the many highlights of this fine publication, is you have the option of either one of Canada’s official languages. Every smidget of the magazine is written with English in the left column, and en français in the right. C’est magnifique!
I’m having a jolly time catching up to the hip and cool when my ‘En Route’ experience hits somewhat of a de-railment. I happen upon a full page display ad for the Edmonton Cultural Capital project. I examine the picture. From what I gather, the shot was taken from Gallagher hill during the Folk Fest, circa 1993. The band on stage is indistinguishable and I can only tell you that Big Rock is a sponsor. The sky is grey. While there is a large crowd on the hill, the out of date skyline and the empty streetlife leave me sterile. My drink order becomes the usual, tomato juice.
The jet-setter in me is grounded. Surely this ad is an error, surely this is an insert – one that was inserted while the aircraft was re-fueling in Edmonton where we boarded. Wrong. Each copy of ‘ER’ is shrink wrapped, crisply packaged for the next voyageur. I was miffed. Beyond being a poor photo, it felt out of place. How is it that when stacked beside the exotic locales and other worldly destinations inherent in the pages of my beloved magazine, this ad creates a feeling in my stomach that can only be described as when your cousins’ homely friend has a crush on you. I guess my disbelief had caught the attention of the guy beside me. I meet his gaze and point out the ad.
« Look at this, Edmonton, Canada’s Cultural Capital » .
His eyebrows raise. I ask him where he’s from – Vancouver he informs me.
« What’s so great about Edmonton? » he asks
« Lots I suppose, just depends where you look and what part of town you’re looking at» I retort.
I’m caught off guard and unable (willing?) to defend my city. My entrusted magazine has shone a spotlight on the River city, yet I can’t shake the fact that it seems out of place. While one feature is extolling the virtues of Sao Paolo Brazil, the next full page ad is about...Edmonton.
He chuckles and so do I. A brief moment passes, then I turn the page.
I read about young Darth. I learn about the new BMW Boxcar. I am enthralled by a report of a father son bike journey across Germany. I finish the magazine and realise I have 2.5 more hours to kill. So I go back to the ad and try to look a little closer.
I love my city but my struggle is with displaying that fact on a national/international level. Are we really that and are we ready for that attention? As a rapporteur for this event, I’m kinda stuck in the muck.
I try a re-frame of the situation. Perhaps one of the goals of this project is to challenge the stereotype of Edmonton so that an ad like this does not seem like an error.
The Cultural Captial project is more than just a spotlight on our diversity. This is confirmation, not validation. This is celebration, not competition.
To the uninformed and uninitiated, Edmonton can be easily pigeonholed into a bit player in the cultural landscape of this country. Having lived in Montréal, believe me, it’s easy. Slightly older and possibly even less wiser, I now know this to be the secret and strength of our city. My apprehension is that now, we must to present this secret on a larger scale and prove why Edmonton holds the title, and acronym, ECC of C.
It’s the picture that has me squirming, not the concept. Beyond the surface of SUV’s and misguided architecture, Edmonton is one of the best Canadian cities with pockets of smart people, great communities, great festivals, yadablahetc – hey, I’m a convert and have been for years. The ad department may need some better pics, but the ad does belong in ‘En Route’, rightly amongst the hip and cool.
I’m ready to defend my city and yelp « Edmonton » to any passenger on this flight and fiercely hoist my magazine in the air while showing the entire passenger cabin the ad I was ashamed of. The guy beside me is, of course, sleeping. His loss I shrug.
Consider the Alberta Scene in Ottawa (2005), and Alberta at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (2006) – two massive projects which showcased the diversity and richness of our province, while featuring some of the best in Edmonton’s theatre and music scenes.
Consider the cities across the country who applied for the priviledge of being named Canada’s Cultural Capital – all with merit, but Edmonton was chosen. That in and of itself is cause for a 5 day civic holiday. When we get past the overlooked and not included, we can’t dispute that these events happened, and this one is happening. Likewise with the ECC of C, there will be unsuccessful applicants who are just as deserving to be called upon to strut their cultural stuff right alongside their fellow Edmontonians, but economics and time fall into the equation. Were it feasible, this event could easily become an annual festival that would foster the numerous cash-strapped arts and cultural groups.
This isn’t something you can buy, or comes in the mail, or can be summed up on one ad. This isn’t a shrink wrapped package labelled « Cultural Capital » that you mix with water and enjoy. This initiative is an acknowledgement of our city for its’ cultural divesity.
Here’s a fact Jack - Edmonton is the Cultural Capital of Canada for 2007.
2008 will be another year for another city, so lets enjoy it while we can.
The slick ads and glossy pages of ‘En Route’ grant me vicarious access to a world I can only fantasize about. This isn’t fantasy, this is opportunity.
Bring it on, and bring on the attention. Bring on the jet-setters, we’re ready.