Arts on the Ave continues to bring Arts Alive in its 17th Year

When Christy Morin moved into the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, she never realized just how many artists reside in the often-overlooked area. In fact, it was almost natural for the musicians, performers and creators in the area to find each other.

“We started thinking about how cool it is that we all live here, and then we started meeting up in each other’s homes, hanging out and sharing about how much we love the district,” says Morin. “We were frustrated with how crime really took the front seat of all conversations when talking about 118 Avenue.”

So, they posed the question: “What can we do as artists to help build our community, to celebrate and bring Edmonton to our front steps?”

The solution was Arts on the Ave, a non-profit organization focused on creating a vibrant arts district in the Alberta Avenue area, formed by a group of about 15 artists including Morin, who serves as the executive director. At its core, Arts on the Ave believes in cultivating a vibrant community and inviting people to the community through arts celebrations, festivals and traditions. Through the organization, the group wanted to offer the city something it didn’t have, a festival unlike other festivals.

“My thought was if we’re doing a festival, I don’t want it to be a singular discipline,” says Morin. “I wanted to mash all the festivals, mash all the arts together, and see what plays out of it. And how do we use old buildings and the fabric of 118 Avenue to showcase the arts?”

The first annual Kaleido Family Arts Festival, then called Arts Alive, was Arts on the Ave’s first festival, and has grown to span multiple locations across the Alberta Avenue community every September. But Morin and the group didn’t stop there. Planning a festival year after year requires time, energy and an office space. Meeting in each other’s homes wasn’t viable anymore, and the group had many discussions with residents about not having a community gathering space. So, Arts on the Ave took over a run- down former bakery on the corner of 118 Avenue and 94 Street and put some life into it.

“We started gathering there with lawn chairs, dreaming and scheming about what we would love to see in that space,” says Morin. “It needed a lot of love and attention. It had been neglected for a few years. And so that’s how The Carrot came to be.”

The Carrot Coffeehouse is more than a coffee shop — it’s also a gallery, a store with local goods, a workspace and a performance space. Artists can showcase their work on the walls for people to see and purchase, musicians are welcome to participate in live music and open-mic nights, and the entire place is powered by volunteers. It’s also the place where the Arts on the Ave team dreamed up its second festival.

“We were sitting around a table, a whole bunch of us artists complaining about winter. We were being quite grumpy and it was very cold,” says Morin. “We were talking about how brutal it is and wondering why we live in Edmonton, and then we had this epiphany of, well, ‘why don’t we do a winter festival?’”

Enter Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Fête. The winter festival encapsulates French-Canadian, Indigenous and Ukrainian cultures while promoting winter fun with ice sculptures, art installations and deep-freezer races. Like Kaleido, Deep Freeze had humble beginnings taking up space on just a few plots of land. The festival has since grown to a 10-day affair spanning multiple city blocks and locations.

“It’s the same with Kaleido — we didn’t realize what we were doing. We were just reflecting,” says Morin. “The festivals are sort of a mirror of our neighbourhood.”

Arts on the Ave proudly has 200 multidisciplinary artists and invested community members involved in the organization. In April 2008, Arts on the Ave was the proud recipient of the 21st Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. As the organization continues to grow, the next step is carving out a leadership role that brings in a new voice to help amplify the neighbourhood. Arts on the Ave received funding from Edmonton Community Foundation to support the hiring of a general manager.

“My hope for Arts on the Ave is that years down the road, it will continue being a vibrant, joyful organization that continues to thrive and bring beauty to our core communities and neighbourhoods,” says Morin. “My hope for Arts on the Ave is that it will continue to inspire, to build and it will continue doing what it does best, and that’s bringing beautiful things to beautiful people.”

This story comes from the Summer 2022 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full magazine.