Celebrating four years of collective commerce

A classical cellist a queer bike mechanic and a photographer wander into the same building. The musician plays a set retrieves his bike and uses the technician’s tools to repair his transport behind the stage before towing the cello home. Meanwhile the hip photog sells her prints at a table alongside some 60 other vendors retailing unique artisan crafts. Welcome to the revised version of Market Collective.

Of course the fundamentals of such a situation (which actually took place in April) is more-or-less consistent with what’s been happening in the old Ant Hill building for almost four years: basically the eclectic market has been offering to Calgary a much-needed re-imagination of Vancouver’s Granville Island and Toronto’s Kensington Market through local music local art and local crafts (got the local part?).

But a whole heck of a lot has happened over the past year resulting in the “collective” aspect of the name evolving rapidly drastically and positively: the Good Life Community Bike Shop has moved into the same space; the reins for organizing the market’s music have been passed on to one-time volunteer curators; and collaborations between Market Collective and other organizations are nearly constant — MEC one month Sled Island the following.

“I’ve noticed this year that it seems a lot more people are taking ownership of the market and really embracing it as something that’s important in their life” notes market co-founder Angel Guerra. “It’s seemed like a lot more people have really treated it as a community.”

It wasn’t a completely amiable process to get to this point though. The jarring announcement that the inclusive non-profit Good Life — which lost its space in Eau Claire Market in February — was becoming bunk mates with the market “was scary for them and scary for us” says Guerra. It seems like a fair reaction: both groups had worked in their own spaces for some three years so being thrown into the same small area — with hundreds of bikes tools and work benches in tow — obviously hiked the tension.

But after having a “few very honest conversations” the two parties came to an agreement about the division of space: since April when Good Life opened for business in the Ant Hill the bikes and equipment take up the whole space but are pushed to the back corner during the monthly markets. Angela Dione the other co-founder of the market says that the entire process has taken “the idea of open communication to a new level.”

Even this established setup is temporary: both groups have signed leases only until December leaving it difficult for anyone to forecast where exactly they’ll end up beyond then. But for the next half-dozen markets the setup will be about as collective as you can get with two similarly themed organizations operating within the same building under different lease agreements.

Adding to that sense of collaboration has been the introduction of guest curators which has placed the responsibility of selecting and scheduling 14 musicians over two days into the hands of volunteers from the community. The market’s organizing crew admittedly have similar musical tastes so the new pluralism means that more genres and groups are brought in (like the cellist from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra). Over the last three markets there hasn’t been a single overlap of musicians — meaning that 42 different artists and groups ranging in genre from electronic to bluegrass to soul have played.

“It becomes more of a collective in that sense” says Guerra. “It gives people a chance to be like ‘This is my stage for the weekend.’ We give them full rein so we don’t ask them to curate and then tell them what bands to choose. Every weekend has taken on a bit of a different feel.”

The community only continues to grow with time including more people — ranging from Russ (the window-washer) to Josh Sison (the volunteer co-ordinator) to Lech Wojakowski (the owner of the Roasterie who has donated all the coffee to the market since the first day) — and giving more back to the community: Dione and Guerra recently received an email from the Calgary Food Bank stating that the market has raised over $17000 through at-the-door donations since it began four years ago. Regardless of where exactly it ends up it seems almost guaranteed that Market Collective — which is celebrating its fourth anniversary this month — will keep representing the best of Calgary.