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Cultural Café brews up ideas

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 02, 2013 06:00 am

COMING TOGETHER – St. Albert actor Maureen Rooney talks with members of her group during the innaugural Cultural Cafe at Progress Hall on Wednesday.
COMING TOGETHER – St. Albert actor Maureen Rooney talks with members of her group during the innaugural Cultural Cafe at Progress Hall on Wednesday.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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One-by-one, artists and arts-minded individuals streamed into St. Albert Place early Wednesday evening to see what St. Albert’s first Cultural Café was all about.

As they walked down Progress Hall’s raked floor, excitement shone on some faces, trepidation on others. No one knew what to expect.

But the 44 people who dropped into the intimate setting configured with sofas and tables stayed for nearly two hours sipping wine and sharing ideas on the city’s artistic and cultural future.

“It’s a neat event,” said Pastor Michael McElroy of Grace Family Church.

He attended as a representative of the St. Albert Community Performing Arts Society, a group of arts promoters that hopes to build a multi-functional 250-seat theatre on land donated by the church.

“I’m glad it (café) will happen in the future. There’s so much going on in the city and we need to connect,” McElroy said. “The café gives us an idea of how we can expand arts and culture in St. Albert. In just a few minutes of sitting here, it’s given us ideas of things we didn’t think of before.”

The City of St. Albert’s cultural services director Kelly Jerrott and community cultural co-ordinator Tamsin Brooks hosted the event. The café model is similar to a business incubator that offers networking opportunities to artists, cultural organizations, and arts-friendly businesses and individuals.

More than 80 per cent of the individuals that attended were already attached to a local guild, organization or event and dedicated to moving this event forward.

To break the ice, Brooks presented groups sitting at each table or sofa with a challenge. She asked everyone to look to 2099 and plot recommendations for the future.

Most suggestions built on what the community already has – festivals, sculptural gardens and the farmers’ market. Other ideas ranged from a Northern Exposure Photo Festival and Segways riding down the Sturgeon River trail to a coffee house down by Big Lake and opera festivities.

One suggestion that drew the biggest laugh was “receiving a tax credit with every theatre ticket sold.”

But the one recommendation that attracted numerous nods of approval and ripples of excitement was Carla Beerens’ idea of an obelisk. As a long-time visual artist with Visual Arts Studio Association of St. Albert (VASA), she imagined a tall obelisk that would be divided into years up to 2099. Each year artists could carve or paint the city’s different cultural events in its allotted space.

“It would be like a time capsule, only it’s not hidden. Everything would come to mean something that’s happened in St. Albert,” Beerens explained.

Ideas flew thick and fast and by the end of the evening, an electric enthusiasm filled the hall. Jerrott also introduced a teaser. She mentioned cultural services would announce a new technology oriented initiative at the mayor’s gala on Tuesday, March 19.

After the café Jerrott said, “I was thrilled with the engagement, excitement and the energy to go forward.”

She acknowledged that the café needs to work at drawing in the lone wolves, artists who work in a private environments such as playwrights and sculptors.

“A lot of artists do solitary work and we want to help them form the social connections that will build partnerships and nurture them.”

Jerrott added that workshops are planned for future cafés and may attract a broader range of artists. Popular topics such as how to get grants, how to market themselves and put together a business plan are usually well-attended.

The cultural café will be hosted quarterly. The next one is slated for Wednesday, June 19. Organizers hope to invite various speakers to the event.

If you are interested in speaking at future cafés, call Brooks at 780-459-1713.


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