March 30, 2011, Mill Woods artists from various disciplines under the leadership of poet, Jannie Edwards, and rap artist, Rod Loyola, (The Peoples Poet) met in the multi-purpose room of the local library in the town centre. We called ourselves the Mill Woods Artists Collective (MWAC) and envisioned building our community through art and culture, and bringing awareness that Mill Woods was a vibrant, diverse community—a place where art, living history and culture flourish. Our mission was to “implement activities and programs that engage Mill Woods artists of all ages and artistic states; encourage membership and involvement; work towards short, medium and long-term goals consistent with our vision.” We found a logo, developed a mandate, defined artist and relied on our volunteers to make things happen.
We threw out ideas, sorted them into short, medium and long-term goals: to build a drop-in and a performing arts studio, a dedicated youth space, a community coffee house; to display our art in public buildings, multicultural restaurants, and to beautify our spaces with installations. We wanted to organize an arts cabaret, community suppers, and we wanted to give our artists outlets to create murals from Mill Woods stories.
We held an Arts Cabaret on June 1, 2012, at the Southwood Community Hall showcasing a diversity of multicultural talent, music, dance and readings by Mill Woods artists. We told our stories. Gordie from the Koffee Café served a mix of culinary treats, both Canadian and East Asian. We allotted a room for our visual artists to exhibit their work and under Jannie Edwards’ encouragement, I showed two of my canvases and, suddenly, this gesture unleashed my interest in painting which had lain dormant for thirty years when writing had become a priority.
My suggestion at that first meeting was for a literary reading series similar to the multicultural, multilingual poetry reading series I was involved with, in Montreal, in the early eighties. My idea was filed under a long-term goal but changed quickly to short-term when Jannie Edwards approached me to say it could be done—she had found a venue—The Koffee Café. We bantered back and forth for a name, something that would reflect the diversity that was Mill Woods and, finally, settled on The Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series because the venue had a glass door but, more appropriately, a glass door reflected every culture, language, gender that entered its premises. There was the metaphor. And so the first Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series launched at the Koffee Café on Thursday, October 25, 2012.
We aimed to present both young and senior emerging authors alongside the more established, and to fill the room with the sound of music. We also believed every artist deserved to be paid but because we had no resources, it was only through generous door donations that we were able to offer our headliners a token of our appreciation plus provide an opportunity to sell their books and CDs, and to introduce their work to a new appreciative mixed audience. We did this for three years, nine months out of the year, September to November, January to June, give or take a month. I calculated (math is hard) that we held 25 readings with four headliners per evening for a total of 100 headliners.
There are many readings around Edmonton— at bookstore launches, festivals and conferences—but what set us apart was that on any given night we welcomed an array of writing: fiction in all its forms from novels and short prose, mystery and crime, literary, YA, children’s, poetry, and creative non-fiction. We didn’t discriminate. And we co-partnered with the annual Poetry Festival every April introducing poets from outside Alberta. We thought it important to give everyone a chance and held an open mic for writers and musicians (the good, the bad and the ugly) to share work-in-progress. We even booked a comedian. We held our second MWAC art exhibit at the café April 18-25, 2013, and featured works by (alphabetical order) Dolly Dennis, Kathy Dyck, Bess Rassmussen, Sophia Shaw, Marjorie Thomas, Ardith Trudzik, Theresa Wynn and Lorraine Young. We weren’t afraid to take risks. The Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series became the engine that fueled the Mill Woods Artists Collective.
I want to honour and thank all those who read and played at the Glass Door. Some appeared more than once.
Wendy Joy, Trevor Duplessis and Dolly Dennis were the original headliners. We realized we could add a fourth headliner and still stay within our time-limit of ending at 9 p.m. when Gordie and Harjit, the proprietors, would start cleaning up and want to head for home.
So here, in no particular order:
Braden Gates, Rhea March, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, Ardith Trudzik, Audrey Seehagen, Campbell Wallace, Liam Coady, Colin Matty, Deejay Cardinal, Angelique Bebe, Lindsay Walker, Evelyn Lau, Marty Gervais, Naomi MacIllwaithe, Andy Northrup, Deborah Lawson, Wayne Arthurson, Barbara-Galler Smith, Alexis Kienlen, Billie Milholland, Marty Chan, Diana Davidson, Susan MacGregor, Eric Papsdorf and the Wingmen, Sandra Martin, Caitlin Crawshaw, Myrl Coulter, Rebecca Lappa, Jannie Edwards, Robin Young, Jay Lewis/Enochian, Anna Marie Sewell, Lora Jol, Aydan Dunnigan, Caterina Edwards, Olivia Rose, Katie Bickell, Fran Kimmel, Jennifer Quist, Pushpa Raj Acharya, Rashmi Kumar, Kadrush Radogoshi, Maitham Salman, Natasha Deen, Elizbeth Withey, Mary Pinkoski, Rayanne Doucet, Hendrik Slegtenhorst, Jeanette Lynes, Michael Gravel, Kaz Mega, Megan Keirstead, Steven M. Sware, Robert Lutes, Chinenye Obiajulu, Eileen Bell, Christina Hardie, Marina Hale Reid, Rebecca Lappa, Laurie MacFayden, Jim Hepler, Lori Hahnel, Tracy Hamon, Carrie Day, Astrid Blodgett, Bobbi Junior, Strawflowers, Audrey Whitson, Kessler Douglas, Mark Kozub, Nancy Mackenzie, Donita Wiebe-Neufeld, Erin Kay, Leanne Myggland-Carter, Theresa Shea, Thomas Wharton, Catherine Graham, Blaine Marchand, Peter Midgley, Julia Nicholson, Karen Bass, Leslie Greentree, Blaine Newton. Dymphny Dronyk, Inge Trueman, Michael Hingston, Ella Coyes, will play our final Glass Door June 25, 2015.
Much gratitude to all our volunteers and hosts, too many to mention here, but you know who you are. A special shout-out to Kaylan Winter Berry, a Mill Woods artist who designed our logo, banner, and monthly posters. Free of charge. Check his website: winterstudios.ca and give him your business. To Rhea March and her School of Music for providing so many outstanding young singers and songwriters, many went on to win awards. We heard them first. And to Jannie Edwards. I bow to her with deep respect. She said we could do it and we did. Thank you so much for your support, intelligence and energy! We were ambitious but enthusiastic and some of us followed through on our commitments; others, left for greener, more lucrative pastures, because, well, that’s human nature.
For me it’s been quite a ride, a labour of love. Some things cannot be measured by a bucket of money. I grew as an artist, discovered my worth, my abilities, my talent; connected with the literary and musical communities; formed friendships, and gained knowledge on several levels. A shy introvert (I know some people will dispute this) but my preference has always been to make things happen quietly in the background rising to the occasion only when absolutely required. Jannie and I always agreed on the headliners with her leaning heavily towards gathering the poets, because that is her expertise. She was the hands-on person. We made a good team.
I did surrender a couple of times to host and to read from my book, Loddy-Dah, because it forced me out of my comfort zone. Most of all, my enjoyment came from discovering fresh talent and publicizing the Glass Door—something I truly believed in. We were moving towards being even more inclusive by reaching out to authors from other parts of Alberta. Before the rest of Canada can know us, we have to know each other. There still remain many writers on our radar whom we wanted to invite but this reading series is coming to an end.
What next? A MWAC member had suggested publishing an anthology of the Glass Door readers and that is definitely a possibility once we start breathing normally. I’d like to see the book also include work by our visual artists, but for now we will let the idea simmer over the summer months while Jannie and I take a break and attend to both personal and literary projects. In the meantime, I remain a member of the MWAC. Much work still needs to be done. I envision in our community a theatre, a bookstore, an art gallery, a…well, you know what I mean.
Final thanks to YOU, the Glass Door audiences for supporting us over the years with your presence, your applause and buying our headliners’ books and CDs, or dropping some change in the hat. You all made a difference. Thanks for the memories! Now where’s that manuscript I’ve been working on…
Here’s my painting, 9 x 12 acrylic on canvas, “Home of the Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series, Waiting for the Audience”