All roads lead to home for Craig Martell’s Stay in Edmonton project

Sunday 12th, February 2017 / 14:52
By Levi Manchak

Craig Martell’s on a newfound mission to retain Edmonton talent.
Photo: Levi Manchak

EDMONTON – “Leave Edmonton. It’s the most Edmontonian thing you can do,” is something that’s been said more than once around town. It’s another thing altogether that recently caught BeatRoute’s attention though. A post made by Craig Martell through his Double Lunch Productions’ Facebook page that ended with the statement: STAY IN EDMONTON. (But seriously, fuck that name.) It’s the kind of statement that can put an existential crisis into perspective. In order to de-mystify what Martell meant by STAY IN EDMONTON, BeatRoute reached out to talk about what he was proposing. It turns out that it’s more of a plan than a plea.

With the storied Wunderbar long gone, his Double Lunch label up and running, and a constellation of new venues in the city to book shows for, Martell found himself looking for a way to fly out of the comfortable flat spin he was in. Martell asked himself, “The last year has been quite frustrating but also quite inspiring in a lot of different ways. The stuff that is always stressing me out isn’t anymore. What do I do now? Do I give up or are there additional contributions that I can make?”

During a discussion with Caleb Caswell while recording an episode of The Teardown podcast, a new vision came in to focus for Martell. It wasn’t one single thing that there was a lack of in the city. The thing causing a seasonal exodus of artists out of Edmonton was that few could imagine sustaining themselves solely through their art in Northern Alberta. Musicians, artists, and the scene surrounding them are all forced to act globally because they can’t support themselves if they only think locally.

Martell highlights one of his main frustrations: “If someone wants to follow their dream and move I’ll never knock them for it. But the two prevailing attitudes that bother me a bit are people who move to Montreal and will be doing nothing and then they come back and talk to people who stay here to do something like they’re making a mistake. Like they’re blowing it, ‘Look, I know you did incredible things in Edmonton this year, but I went to a loft party in Montreal!’ That’s troublesome to me.” He continues, “It’s also troublesome when people who are really young feel like they have nothing else to achieve here in Edmonton, when you can. You have to think of new things to achieve.”

For anyone who lives in Edmonton and has tried to put two fingers on the neck of the local music community to take its pulse it’s evident that, at times, it can feel like a main artery has been severed before any kind of scene is discovered and that the talent has already spilled out to other cities. Martell’s new goal is to slow the hemorrhage of talent to other cities by giving artists and musicians a reason to remain in Edmonton. With the good will he’s built up with businesses, venues, and musicians in the city he’s transcended the role of local band aid. His STAY IN EDMONTON idea is not a suture, its full-on triage. Martell envisions the initiative as prioritizing several things, “There [are] three main steps I need to take with a few little things in between. One is to bring awareness to what’s happening here. Two is bringing people who are from different walks of life together. And three is to create an inclusive space for people to collaborate.”

It’s difficult to dive in to anything when it’s impossible to find the diving board. Part one of Martell’s plan is straightforward; it’s doing things like a curated listing of a wide variety of different kinds of events as well as helping publicize the events by doing things like showing artists how to write a press release. Supporting the all-ages community is also important to Martell as he feels that it’s a group that’s been under-assisted over the last while. “Through all my years at The Wunderbar, people would come in and ask me, is there an all-ages scene in Edmonton? My answer would be ‘I don’t know,’ I’m in my 30s. I shouldn’t know! But when the sewing machine [venue] started a small group of younger people would come to every show, even when they didn’t know who was playing,” says Martell.

Civic tribalism, as a concept, is as ridiculous as calling something STAY IN EDMONTON and Martell stresses that inclusivity is at the heart of the project, “The other idea that I want to get rid of is that there’s an us and them thing. People that seek out things have always held a little disdain for the people that don’t get it, but we’ve all not gotten it at some point,” and that, “to nurture talent is important.” Perhaps the most important part of his plan is that Martell hopes to outfit a common space with a professional CD/tape duplicator, a button maker and design/screen printing setup. “All of a sudden, all the money that we send to other cities for production stays in Edmonton,” he explains. He hopes to ensure that the space will be accessible to more than just an inside cadre of scenesters. People from all ages and backgrounds will be able learn how to use equipment and share skills within the space. Martell adds, “We need to find ways to bring people together that isn’t just going to shows.”

Convincing artists, musicians, as well as all the tangential people involved in stitching together a cohesive artistic scene to not move away and support a kind of civic tenacity isn’t something a well-meaning hash tag alone is going to accomplish. Some things require a straightforward DIY approach and someone who brings enough personal credibility to make the project palpable. Another obvious thing any project requires to take shape is money. Martell has several ideas to experiment with to address funding: grants, continuing his pay-if-you-can model for shows, or possibly a frequent gig-goer card. He’s even considering an unconventional idea similar to a Patreon-styled funding system where people donate what they can on an ongoing basis. The full scope of the project is kind of like a bootleg version of a real life band camp.

The broad approach of his project hopes to form a tangible way for Edmonton’s artistic community to be sustainable within its own city. Martell’s STAY IN EDMONTON initiative takes a wide-angle view. From his perspective, if the community can support itself, include more people, and pool its skills then people will consider leaving less. The well will only get deeper and a lot better to swim in, but seriously, fuck that name.

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