Support for inclusive all-ages music scenes are growing across North America, but the struggle to establish one of these venues in Calgary has been challenging for the better part of a decade.
Since the closing of The New Black Centre For Music & Art in 2013, the Calgary all-ages circuit has not had enough financial support to have a fully dedicated music venue for fans between 13 and 17 years of age.
Unfortunately for all-ages promoters, making money to sustain a venue is a lot easier said than done. The lack of a liquor license and the reality that young adolescents can generally go out only two to three days a week leaves promoters and owners fronting events with their own cash in an effort to keep the venues afloat.
But not everyone has given up.
Graham Mackenzie is the founder and promoter of the Major Minor Music Project, a non-profit organization promoting music events for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
“The ultimate goal [of Major Minor] would be to have a dedicated, permanent venue where everyone has the ability to perform and promote their art,” says Mackenzie.
“I want it to be a one-stop-shop where people can play, record and create their own merchandise.”
Mackenzie’s crusade for an inclusive music venue started about two years ago while working for the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society, where he surveyed over a thousand people asking them what makes Calgary a beautiful place.
“What started becoming apparent was that Calgary did not have adequate space for youth and minorities to perform and see music,” says Mackenzie.
Mackenzie is putting a heavy emphasis on multiculturalism in his work at Major Minor. “In a lot of cases,” he says, “these groups are stuck in their jobs working in warehouses, as janitorial staff, with no way of connecting with other people.”
Integrating newcomers to the Calgary community is a vital goal for Mackenzie and Major Minor. Mackenzie says youth and minority-artists have hard times finding an audience, and when there is no way of expressing their art, these struggling artists often let their hobbies and passions fall to the sidelines or give them up altogether.
Major Minor works through the help of many people and volunteers who worked at the former all-ages venue, The New Black.
“[We] fought pretty hard to keep that place open,” says former New Black sound-technician Glen Murdock, “but it got to the point where we had to throw in the towel.”
Murdock worked as the sound engineer for The New Black all the way until its closure and now currently volunteers his talents to Major Minor.
“What I have noticed is that there are kids that still want to rock out, but unfortunately for them, and unfortunately for everyone in the music scene, the city is pretty antagonistic towards all-ages rock venues,” says Murdock.
Murdock saw first-hand the troubles of keeping an all-ages venue afloat and understands the task of creating a venue that people will go to and care about.
“What [Mackenzie] is doing is a real service, and I don’t know a single person that wishes anything against him,” says Murdock, “we all want this to succeed.”
Mackenzie is aware of the challenges it takes to open a venue in the city. “We aren’t going to open a venue until we can get a large grant from a municipal, provincial or federal level,” he says. “We won’t try to open something without at least a guarantee on being as permanent as possible.”
A lot of Mackenzie’s work in Major Minor is based on the success of other similar organizations from the United States, particularly The Vera Project based in Seattle.
The Vera Project started in 2001 in response to the Teen Dance Ordinance, a controversial law that put strict regulations on all-ages music clubs and dance halls in the state of Washington.
While no law is keeping youth from experiencing or seeing all-ages shows in Calgary, The Vera Project represents the ideals and goals that Mackenzie hopes to achieve with Major Minor.
“People are starting to see the positive shift [the all-ages scene] is taking, and I’m happy to be a part of that,” says Mackenzie.
Mackenzie works daily to make sure that the organization has a presence in the city.
The Major Minor Music Project hosts dozens of events a year with past shows held at the BATLGrounds axe throwing centre, the McHugh House and Paradise Lanes bowling alley.
“We hit up just about every show we can just so we can see if we can set up a booth there and let people know about these shows, and so many people have been so accommodating for us,” says Mackenzie. “Everyone wants to have the opportunity to show their art.”
Editor: Jamie McNamara | firstname.lastname@example.org