Tag Archives: calgary

Calgary Artist in Residence collecting co-op stories

In honour of the United Nations International Year of the Co-op, and in partnership with Calgary 2012, Calgary based writer and musician Brian Brennan is the Artist in Residence (AiR) for the Southern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association.

To celebrate Calgary’s designation of being the 2012 Canadian Cultural Centre, artists from around were paired with various organizations in the city. Brennan was been paired with SACHA to capture stories about the experience of living in housing co-ops.

“I’ve been interviewing and doing Q and As with them (residents of co-op housing in Calgary). These interviews will be compiled and SACHA will be using the material and experiences — presenting the stories to the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) for the annual general meeting that will be hosted in Calgary in 2013.

Brennan notes they aim to present the stories as a way, “to indicate to the delegates just how housing may differ from the way that is done elsewhere.”

Brennan hadn’t lived in co-op housing himself, “I didn’t know the first thing about co-op housing before I was assigned to SACHA, so it has been quite an eye opener actually.”

There are 16 Housing Co-Ops in Calgary, Alberta, boasting 1294 units collectively. The Southern Alberta Co-operative Housing Association (SACHA) manages and collectively organizes the housing co-ops available in southern Alberta. Outside of Calgary there are 28 units in Rocky Mountain House, 30 units in Lethbridge, 44 in Canmore, 24 in Red Deer, 62 in High River, and 24 units in Red Deer. SACHA is a regional organization connected to the provincial Alberta Community and Co-Operative Association (ACCA).

The Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada explains, “because co‑ops charge their members only enough to cover costs, repairs, and reserves, they can offer housing that is much more affordable than average private sector rental costs.” One of the benefits of co-op housing is that, “living in housing that will stay affordable because it’s run on a non-profit basis and is never resold.”

While co-op living has a clear financial benefit, long time participants identify with the idea of community living. Residents have been open with Brennan about their experience, and their reasons for choosing this particular living environment. “I liked the idea of doing things with your neighbours, knowing who your neighbours are, sharing goals and aspirations,” explained one resident.

“Even though we live in a winter climate here in Calgary, outdoor space and the social dynamics that come out of it are really important,” described another resident. “I like to encourage co-op residents to embellish that and make it easy for people to get together in family groups by providing picnic tables and shared spaces. The spin off of that is the social glue of the place, so in the middle of winter, the warmth of those summer encounters are still there.”

Throughout this experience, Brennan sees how deeply entrenched the residents are within the model of housing co-ops. “My sense is that these are people that are so committed to co-op housing and that the only change they might make in their circumstances is they might look for different types of units geared towards seniors, or more housing that is more accessible. For the most part, they have lived in co-op housing for a big part of adult lives. They have raised their children, and they have grand children that come over to visit. They won’t be moving out into the suburbs.”

This was echoed time and time again, and one of the participants recalled moments from raising their children in this community centred, consensus based environment. “When they were children, because of our involvement in co-ops, our kids didn’t play school or store they played co-op meetings. They would write the agenda, pack up bags, go to meetings…”

The financial model of a housing co-op means that the co-op as a whole mortgages and manages the building, and each tenant pays rent toward the mortgage of the building. Most housing co-ops are not-for-profit, so the cost of rent is determined by the cost of the mortgage. Typically, this cost is much lower than the usual renter market in any given community as the goal is cost recovery and not profit. Housing co-ops are entering into a transition period.

“For many of the co-op housing groups, they are coming at the end of their mortgages period. They got very long mortgages, way back when in the 1970s. They had very long mortgage periods — some 35 to 40 years. Now they are coming to the end of that time, the end of the operating agreement. They will no longer have the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Association overseeing the activities. Once the mortgages are up, they will be on their own.”

In speaking with a resident they noted that, “we’ve been like teenagers living in the basement of our parents house — paying a little rent to mom and dad. Now they’re moving out and the whole place is ours and we get to make all the decisions and pay all the bills and are we prepared to be responsible for this multi-billion dollar enterprise?”

Co-ops are primarily governed through the board, elected by the membership as whole. Individual co-ops are run by adopted bylaws and policies that are then implemented and regulated through the co-op members. In Canada, co-ops are regulated through three means: The co-op act for their province or territory, the human rights legislation for their province or territory, and the principles of natural justice. As well, all co-ops must be first incorporated and are subject to those regulations as well. They are clearly defined housing entities and are subject to various obligations.

For Brennan, this experience “has been an interesting journey for me. Mostly because I entered into it not knowing much about co-op housing or community living. It was good to get a sense of why people choose that kind of living as opposed to the more conventional where they buy a single family residence in the suburbs. It has been an interesting voyage of discovery for me.”

Each province has a different system of co-operative housing, and the Artist in Residence project will provide first hand experiences to showcase the various aspects of co-op housing in our region.

Article originally published in Rabble.ca, November 2 2012. 

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The Sounds of Unification

Sled Island has developed into a full fledged cultural hot spot, drawing people from the farthest reaches of Alberta, across Canada and around the world. Acts such as Calgary/Toronto’s Feist and Japan’s the Boredoms on the same bill as Lethbridge’s Fist City, Vancouver’s Korean Gut and Edmonton’s Travis Bretzer shows the diversity of the program. This year, Sled Island is also featuring a full film lineup in the week leading up to the music festival and several visual art exhibitions that will run for the entirety of the festival.

Drew Marshall, the Marketing and Communications Director of the Sled Island administration, is also rather excited about the “green island” initiative that will see multiple bike racks placed at venue sites and a bike rental program.

Marshall initially become involved in 2007, Sled Island’s inaugural year. “Part of the reason I was attracted to it, it definitely was something that didn’t exist prior to Sled Island, ” he recalls. “There has always been a lot of great music out of Calgary and Alberta and overall in the region, but there wasn’t any big event that was bringing that whole community together.”

While Sled Island was initially the brain child of Zak Pashak who was inspired by the Pop Montreal festival and is still involved as the Creative Director; the festival now is organized with the help of over 400 volunteers and, in Marshall’s experience, “has always been a real collaborative effort to make this whole thing happen.”

“There is a community that exists in Calgary and surrounding the festival,” he explains. “It might be something where not everyone is connected, or not always represented. During Sled Island you have this flourish of activity with all these great bands, performing at all these venues—small, intimate unconventional venues, large outdoor ones—and it really becomes obvious that there is this incredibly vibrant music scene going on in Calgary, in Canada, in North America.”

In Marshall’s view, Sled Island changed things. “For the first time there were these big international acts that for the most part would never come to Calgary,” he says. “The first year we had the Boredoms from Japan play, and it was one of the most mind blowing shows for anyone that was in attendance. We had Cat Power in the first show she had played at in a church in Calgary—that was just a beautiful show. Sled Island represented all these things coming together.”

For people like Paul Lawton, a central member of the Lethbridge garage-rock scene and co-owner and founder of Mammoth Cave Records, Sled Island offers something different than SXSW or NXNE, which are “very industry centred.” Lawton believes Sled Island has created a new kind of multi-venue festival, that is very artist focused. The industry presence has been very small for the most part. It has engendered a very DIY spirit and community.”

For Lawton, Sled Island not only provides the opportunity to expose hundreds of people to the bands hosted on Mammoth Cave, the label he co-owns, but, as with many regional musicians, the impact of getting to meet promoters and booking agents and to play a showcase every night—especially being from a smaller city in Alberta—is worth a great deal.

“There was a long time where it was hard for Alberta bands to book outside of Alberta,” he explains. “It took a lot of time and work to get people from the bigger centres to care about music happening in other parts of the country. Sled Island I think is the key player in that.”

Aaron Levin, founder of Weird/Wyrd Canada and a former music director for Edmonton’s campus-community radio station CJSR, believes Sled Island’s success has everything to do with the way the festival was initially set up.

“Sled Island is a very interesting case of a festival with a very large mandate and goal,” says Levin. “It has both embraced the fringe DIY while managing to attract a huge massive audience. This is what separates from some of the festivals, say, I do, and some of the festivals where this doesn’t happen—like the Edmonton Folk Festival, for example.”

For Levin, what is truly special about Sled Island is how it embraced the DIY culture of the local music scenes in Alberta right away. “SXSW (a festival Sled Island is oft compared to), for example, has definitely embraced that, but they didn’t start embracing that. When all the showcases started there was actually a negative reaction from the leadership of SXSW. Being bold, and embracing the indie local music scene was very important for their success.”

Levin, like Lawton, recognizes the avenues Sled Island has created to connect bands to promoters to booking agents to bands. “The opportunity for having a large part of the west coast music community under one roof and talking to each other is something that doesn’t happen,” Levin points out. “Sled Island has really provided for that by embracing all this fringe DIY music.”

Levin’s own music site, Weird Canada—named by CBC Radio 3 as the “Best Indie Music Website in Canada” and his travelling Wyrd festival benefited from Sled Island simply because “they were so open armed when it came to working together. (They were) incredibly encouraging for any sort of creative idea I had. That helped Weird Canada get a larger voice out of the city I was working in.”

Lawton and Levin, as festival attendees and programmers, clearly see Sled Island’s biggest strength in its commitment to the local and regional acts. One thing they do very right in Lawton’s eyes is that “every year after they do Sled Island, they send out a questionnaire to all the bands and it is very clear they have listened to the local and regional musicians who have given input. Every year gets a little better.”

For Marshall, that community building is what Sled Island is all about: “Bring together all these people for these four days and really create all this momentum and placing spotlights on the incredible music community that exists here. Really, in Calgary and Edmonton we are removed from so many parts of the world or even North America that sometimes we are off the radar when it comes to live music and touring bands and that kind of thing.

“The resource of talent in Alberta is so vast and there is so much potential that Sled Island is essentially a small group of people that work in this office doing our best to connect these communities that already exist.”

Originally published in VUE Weekly, June 14th 2012, issue #869.

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Don Hertfeldt: “I am so proud of you”


Last week in Calgary’s infamous Kensington theater The Plaza, Don Hertzfeldt premiered his new film “I am so proud of you”. Seriously amazing. If you get the chance, please go to this event (information found at the bitterfilms website) or check it out at his self made production company’s website to see how to order that baby. It is well worth the wait and the money.

If – like myself only a few weeks ago – you are not well versed in Don Hertzfeld please do your life a favor and check out the shorts below.

Hertzfeldt joined the audience for a post film Q&A and though normally these things arn’t my dig I found him to be very down to earth and actually quite entertaining. Witty, well spoken and transparent in his intentions, Hertzfeldt had clearly done this before.

A few good questions asked, a few art major esq (read: pretentious and sycophantic) questions asked and many simply wondering how the hell he is so good at what he does. Each answer came clearly and without pretension.

One thing that struck this lady particularly was his adamant adherence to, what some would call, archaic film making techniques. “It always feels like a cage match. We have a hundred years of cool film technology, why don’t we use it all?”

Discussions on arts funding, film technology, sociological impacts and the tenuous balance artists face with how far do they support disseminating their work for free on the Internet versus actually making money from it dominated the evening.

For more information on the man himself and his work check out http://www.bitterfilms.com.

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but I’m a vegetarian!

When I lived in Calgary I would read the weekly FFWD every, well,week… In this pretty awesome weekly they always printed Red Meat comics.

Red Meat

I miss Calgary, FFWD and Red Meat comics in FFWD…luckily the Internet has my back.

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comics and learning, let the slaughter commence

I kinda already posted this article….but it is really interesting and I would really like to have everyone pay attention to it.

I once heard of a teacher in Calgary AB who taught his Junior High Social Studies class using Simpsons episodes. Never underestimate the intelligence of show who empoly Harvard grads as thier writers and worship obscure pop culture references.

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