by Kalyna Hennig
February 25, 2017:
What gives a city life? Is it a booming economy, an intersection with a major highway, a shiny new hockey arena? Or is it community, a sense of belonging, and mutual experiences? Edmonton is our Festival City, and it’s our events, markets, and festivities that set growth and community-building in motion. So, what happens when support dwindles and budgets are cut?
In December 2016, the arts in Edmonton “took a hit” when city council made the choice to cut funding drastically. Metro Edmonton reported that, in a seven to six vote, council chose to say no to funding the 300,000 plus dollar returning contemporary art festival, Nuit Blanche. City Councillor Ben Henderson says he doesn’t expect the event to reappear in light of the new budget, but the Nuit Blanche committee still has its eyes on an event for 2018. Just this month, on February 3, the committee hosted an Artspeil Fundraiser at Latitude 53 with all proceeds to go towards running the next Nuit Blanche event.
In 2012, Edmonton’s first Nuit Blanche was organized and executed by entrepreneur Krista Franke, the founder and director of Wild Heart Collective, along with her business partner Amy Hayduk, who have been tirelessly working to encompass Edmonton’s heart into their events production, planning, and programming company. The two also planned and executed Petite Nuit in September of 2016.
Nuit Blanche is a worldwide phenomenon, originating in Paris, France that attracted over 55,000 people and featured over 30 artworks in Edmonton in 2012. Franke and Hayduk had a bid in to run the event once again, but the city’s budget cuts have now made entrepreneurs, like Wild Heart, sitting ducks on the matter.
Give the People What They Want
Beyond the recent budget cuts, Wild Heart Collective has been the brains behind many more community-driven initiatives across the city such as 124 Grand Market, French Quarter Grand Market, Wild Heart Brunch Club, The Lodge on 124, Little Beans, and Eats on 118. Since she quit her job in February of 2012 to become her own boss, Franke has been working to accommodate for lost funding, the desires of patrons, and the expectations of the community with grace and precision, but each of the challenges and successes she has faced have proven that upkeeping Edmonton’s vibrancy is an art in itself.
“I really wanted to animate [the city]. I wanted to give [Edmontonians] something that they needed,” says Franke about her first business venture—starting 124 Grand Market. Despite the competitive, and somewhat secretive, nature of the farmers market industry, Franke set out to start her own.
“Not a lot of people wanted to share information, vendors, success stories or failures. That’s why we are so open as a company now. We want to set people up for success, and that means helping other people in the industry.”
After tedious planning, advertising, and curating, the first 124 Grand Market boasted a humble 18 vendors. It wasn’t until 2500 patrons showed up, however, that Franke knew she had started something the community was really craving. By the end of the first season, the 124 Grand Market had 45 regular vendors, and continued to attract large and sustainable crowds. As Franke took on more jobs and started brainstorming more creations, she added Hayduk to the Wild Heart team.
“We want to make sure we are always illuminating different parts of the city that we love and are invested in,” says Hayduk. “We always want to be sure we are doing something purposeful, something meaningful, and something that is going to contribute to the well-being of a community.”
This manifests in building strong relationships with the people and organizations that they work with, and making sure those involved in the events are benefiting every step of the way. Edmonton is a unique mosaic of people, cultures, and interests, and the city is given life by the wild hearts of Edmontonians themselves. Franke and Krista work to foster and incubate those hearts.
Moonshine Donuts, a local donut-baking duo, started out at 124 Grand Market selling boxes of four donuts of any and all interesting flavour combinations in 2012. Now, they’ve blossomed into one of Edmonton’s best known names, selling out at events across the city, and just recently opening their own shop called Donut Party. In an interview with CBC Radio on February 15, Simon Underwood, co-founder of Moonshine and Donut Party, mentioned 124 Grand Market three times.
“The fact that they have attributed their success to what they did a on a really grassroots level with us, that shows that we did something that is truly impactful,” Franke says.
Rolling with the Punches
But just because one business venture is wildly successful, doesn’t mean others may need a bit of a push—or an abort mission button. Franke and Hayduk took on the job of planting another market in Edmonton’s French Quarter. The French Quarter Grand Market ran on Sunday evenings in and around Le Cite Francphone Theatre for two seasons, but Wild Heart pulled out of the arrangement after last year.
“It wasn’t patronized enough. It’s important for our vendors to be successful, and if our vendors aren’t successful then we can’t be sticking out necks out there every Sunday with no one seeing returns,” Krista explains.
“That is something we are trying to be very candid about,” Amy continues. “People are frustrated, and they say to me Why is it cancelled? That was the best market in Edmonton! But I need to ask them, Did you go to it? And if you did, did you go more than once? In order to keeps things successful, you need to support them, and we just weren’t seeing the level of support that was viable.”
This past Saturday, on February 18, Wild Heart put on the City of Edmonton’s second Shake Up Festival and were faced with another curve ball. What was supposed to be a winterized festival was scheduled at the end of a week that showed record high temperatures for the city, and the majority of the snow had melted. The family-based event was meant to have sleigh-rides, free ice skating, and a curling-croqueno game. The warm weather put a damper on those plans.
“It was supposed to be an ice event, but it couldn’t be. We could have cancelled, but instead we innovated. We built a floor and used rolling rocks instead of curling gear for the big game, we used buggies instead of sleighs, and we made it work,” explains Krista.
An employee of the City of Edmonton said, “It seems like nothing [Krista and Amy] do is ever easy, yet they always seem to meet all of their needs and all of their goals.”
“You have to innovative, work on your toes, and be ready for anything,” says Hayduk.
Throw Like a Girl
Regardless of how hard you work, challenges and failures are bound to fall your way in the running of any type of business. Sometimes those challenges are unfairly rooted, however, in gender. What is it really like to be a women in the business world, dealing with budget cuts, cancellations, successes—and people in general? Franke and Hayduk say they talk about it all the time.
“Edmonton is a very supportive community for entrepreneurs regardless of gender. But we do run into the odd male who doesn’t take us as seriously as he should,” Hayduk says, “whether that is because of our gender or age, or because we don’t look traditionally business-minded, I’m not sure”.
Hayduk says she often has to unnecessarily defend herself by offering her age and her experience running a family owned business from the time she was old enough to answer phones, or defend Krista by explaining that she ran a restaurant when she was in her early 20s, has an excellent education, and knows her stuff better than anyone.
“Our experience should speak for itself, but I think people see a barrier that doesn’t have to be there,” Hayduk continues.
So, don’t be surprised to see Franke and Hayduk moving barricades, setting up tents, and doing the dirtiest of the work on event days. Event planning isn’t all ruffles, glitz, and glitter. Sometimes you have to drive a 5 ton truck or two, and clean up some vomit.
“We are very competent women in a male-dominated industry,” Franke says. “Production is not something that is glamourous. But we do it and we love it.”
The ladies admit that these issues don’t always arise with near-sighted men. Many come from women too.
“We have encountered women who are older than us who bring a lot of bitterness to our interactions. They think we shouldn’t be so successful at such a young age,” Franke explains. But that just goes to show how hard and smart they have been working. The collective experience they have from schooling, small business experience, communications and political science, can be put to use in so many ways.
Growing, Growing, Gone
Regardless of the challenges, Wild Heart Collective has been wildly successful in growing the communities within Edmonton and showing the treasure that our city truly is. The 124 Grand Market is now entering its sixth season. Though they are still waiting to hear about Nuit Blanche, they are also in the midst of growing The Lodge on 124 into a multi-purpose space. Studio spaces are available for artists, jewelry makers, screen printers, and more on the main floor, where Wild Heart Collective’s main office also resides. The events hall on the second floor has a big capacity, a commercial kitchen, and loads of charm to be rented out for events of all types. Wild Heart Brunch Club, also hosted out of the space, continues to grow as a unique re-occurring event. Little Beans, a fresh produce and nutrition program for kids at the 124 Market hopes to become a full-scale day camp concept for this season. And Eats on 118 will host four food-crawl-esque tours once again, to promote the under-loved restaurant district of 118th Avenue. All in all, the girl’s calendars are currently filling up to the brim with jobs for 2017, and Edmontonians are benefiting.
“The most amazing thing we see are the relationships people make at our events, and how they carry over to other aspects of life. It’s so nice. It’s true community-building,” says Hayduk. “And I don’t think we would be where we re no if we hadn’t just dove head first into the whole experience.”