Big Ideas 2012 for Local Art & Music: Out of Town Ideas

Illustration by Kelly Bastow

Every year The Scope publishes a feature that brainstorms ideas for the city. This year, for the first time, we decided to focus on ways to improve or grow the local art and music scene.

The St. John’s art and music scene is pretty great. There are tons of talented people here doing amazing things. It’s relatively easy to get in there, get your hands dirty. Even if they don’t participate, people in the city are proud to live in a place with vibrant culture.

But for all we has going for us, where can we go from here?

Here is a bunch of great ideas from elsewhere that might be worth copying in St. John’s.

Written by Morgan Murray.




Diyode (Guelph,Ontario)

While robust and a source of immense pride, the St. John’s arts scene can’t really call itself an arts scene because it is missing one crucial component: Fighting robots.

Okay, just kidding. Still, the idea of people building things themselves for fun is a good one. And it’s a gateway into all sorts of collaborative cultural creative activity, or at least could be.

In cities around the world, communal work spaces, sometimes called “Hacker Spaces” have been popping up recently. These spaces bring together creative sorts — call them DIYers, geeks, artists, what-have-you — to share knowledge and resources (power tools!) as they work on gnarly projects. One such place is Diyode in Guelph,Ontario.

Diyode is a 1,600 square foot space divided into a fully-stocked wood shop, metal shop, clean work space for electronics and such, a common area, and classrooms. For a nominal fee members can use the tools, participate in workshops — on everything from furniture design to computer coding — and team up with others to make, say, killer underwater robots. Diyode also owns an old beat-up pick-up truck that members can use to haul around their creations.

Surely if a similarly small city like Guelph can pull it off, we can too.



Fredericksburg All Ages (Fredericksburg,Virginia)

Fredericksburg All Ages (FAA) is a youth-run not-for-profit organization in the city of Fredericksburg— a city of 24,000 mid-way between Washington,DC and Richmond,Virginia. The group books and organizes all ages shows.

Yes, FAA is run by youth. There are adults on the board of directors, and young adults (or older kids) who hold administrative positions, but the organization ensures that youth are involved in all aspects of running the organization.

All-in-all this isn’t so unique (in fact, St. John’s Peace-A-Chord was an annual festival coordinated by youth through the 80s and 90s) but one unique feature of FAA is they actively pair local bands of high schoolers with big shot touring bands. Similar groups showcase young local acts, some bring in touring acts, but few do both at the same time, on the same stage, on the same nights.

The young bands love it, and according to the organization, the touring bands like it too.

“They see their younger selves in the high school bands and are reminded of the excitement they had when they were their age,” reads the FAA website. “It’s not uncommon to see professional musicians take the time to talk to the opening local bands backstage, give them mentoring advice, and assume a big brother or big sister type of role.” 



826 Tutoring Centres (Various American Cities)

It all began simply enough. David Eggers and his McSweeney’s indie-publishing swashbucklers needed a new place to work. They found a place in an old storefront at826 Valencia StreetinSan Francisco, and it was so good that the crew thought they could run some free after school writing tutoring on the side to help out people in the area. But there was a catch. The building was zoned for retail. If there was no store, it was a no go.

Instead of walking away, they opened a tongue-in-cheek Pirate Supply Shop in the front and a publishing house and a tutoring centre in the back.

Things went incredibly well. The store was a hit, the publishing house continued to grow, and the tutoring sideline was an overwhelming success. Things went so well that the idea has been farmed out to other cities across the States. There is now a superhero supply store in Brooklyn, a time travel supply store in LA, a robot supply and repair shop outside Detroit, a secret agent supply shop in Chicago, a space travel shop in Seattle, a Museum of Unnatural History in Washington, DC, and a Bigfoot Research Institute in Boston. All with free creative and expository writing tutoring for kids between six and 18. The tutoring centres have had such a huge impact that Dave Eggars won a TED prize for his work.



The Apartment Series (Nanaimo,British Columbia)

The Apartment Series, based in Nanaimo, British Columbia, is a roving performance art troupe that performs in people’s homes. Their first piece, performed last November, was a one-act play called The Table Saw, about a too-close encounter with a table saw, performed in the very apartment it happened in. Interested theatre-goers simply contacted the organizers to find out the secret location and pay-what-you could donations were accepted at the door.

The Apartment Series’ shows are public events in private homes, sort of like house shows for music. And consideringSt. John’sis awash in talented thespians, dramaturges, and playwrights, you would think that something like this would fly here.

On top of the public-in-private performance, you would also think that in a city full of increasingly wealthy socialites, there would be an opportunity for enterprising actors and directors and writers to make a buck performing plays at private parties too.


  1. Hal Brownlee · November 4, 2010

    In response to part of the article titled “Big Ideas For Local Art & Music” by Morgan Murray in the latest issue of the Scope (Nov 2012, Vol 8, #9), the members of the local hackerspace wanted to write in to say “we’re here!” and make our existence and mission known.

    Incorporated earlier this year, ProtoShed Community Workshop Inc. is St. John’s very own hackerspace! Dedicated to providing a space, technology and technical knowledge to its members and the community, this not-for-profit organization is eager to become better known. Members are currently working on various projects including modifying and creating electronic devices, prototyping, aquatic robots, and have hosted presentations on programming and technology. We are growing, and are expanding our inventory of tools and equipment for gnarly new projects and workshops.

    We are currently located in the old Victoria Park pool-house, and meet from 5:30-9:00 pm on Tuesdays. We invite you to come down and check us out, because we also believe that if Guelph can pull a hackerspace off, we can too! Everyone is welcome to our meetings, and we would love to expand our membership.

    More information can be found on our website, or by emailing me.

    Hal Brownlee
    Treasurer, ProtoShed Community Workshop Inc.