EMMEDIA is a non-profit based out of Calgary that acts as the convergence of artistry and technology finding a welcoming home. It serves as both an exhibition space, where media art and artists can flourish and captivate audiences, and a versatile resource hub, offering the invaluable opportunity to rent space and equipment for the crafting and production of media art. We spoke to Isabel Stanleigh, the Communications and Outreach Coordinator, and discussed how EMMEDIA nurtures and celebrates the diverse voices and visions of the media arts community, ensuring their enduring presence and impact.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society is a Calgary/Mohkinstis-based media arts centre, providing both a space to exhibit and showcase media art and artists and also providing opportunity to rent space and equipment for the purposes of producing and creating media art as well. We have been blessed to exist as an organization for over 40 years and have the privilege of being the only organization of its kind in the province.
What problem does it aim to solve?
We aim to solve the issue of accessible opportunities to witness and create media art. We understand that media art is a niche and sometimes intimidating medium and practice, and we hope to break down as many barriers as possible in our community regarding the often daunting ordeal that is a particular genre of art.
When did you start/join it?
I have been blessed to be working here for just a little over a year!
What made you want to get involved?
I actually have a background in arts admin. I went to post-secondary for an arts associate degree, the goal being to work in a gallery or museum. But after I was done with school, it was very hard to get my first foot in the door, especially in regards to paid opportunities. I met EMMEDIA’s Artistic Director, Kadra Yusuf, at a restaurant job we were both working at the time, and developed a fast connection due to our similar backgrounds in the arts, both as practising artists as well as in the more administrative arts side of things. She’s also just a super lovely person, so she was very easy to get along with. After she got hired to be EMMEDIA’s Artistic Director, she told me, “I want you at EMMEDIA, you deserve to work in the arts”. I started my role here in a Canada Summer Jobs position that turned into a full-time contracted role, so I really feel it’s an immense privilege and blessing to be given the opportunity to work here.
What was the situation like when you started?
Very unstable. Kadra and I both began our roles with no training whatsoever and started our positions just a few months apart from each other. I was actually hired to help lighten the load for Kadra, who felt she was drowning, with little to no guidance or support. We were also both brand new to our respective roles, this being my first real job in arts admin, and this being the first AD role for Kadra. It took quite some time to really understand what our roles and responsibilities were, as well as the culture, nuance and etiquette of artist-run centres in this country/province. So for many months, I want to say maybe half a year or at least a quarter of a year, it was us just trying to stay afloat, understand how to do small things to keep EMMEDIA organized and somehow still in the minds of our community while also not burning out and looking for support.
How has it changed since?
How hasn’t it changed, I think is the better question. We all received proper training and support in our respective roles and were connected with so many professionals in the ARC world who helped guide and motivate us. We got back to masterminding and creating new and inventive programming and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, with so many exciting prospects just on the horizon. With each new day, the EMMEDIA team are understanding each other more and more as people and learning how to accommodate each other professionally, given that we all have different roles, responsibilities, learning/working styles, habits, forms of communication, and values. I would like to think we have consistently been bettering ourselves individually, which creates space and opportunity for the team to then invite betterment for EMMEDIA.
What more needs to be done?
The work is never done. Aside from personal growth, both in my role and outside of it, which I believe is lifelong and carried with you everywhere, there are things I want to see for EMMEDIA as well. I want to increase the levels of accessibility to which EMMEDIA provides, especially in regards to accommodating disabled, neurodivergent and low-income folks. We are not a wheelchair-accessible space whatsoever, and never seem to provide ASL interpreters or guided tours for folks who are sight impaired. Even I only provide image descriptions some of the time, when I should really make it a constant endeavour. I also think a big and important part of our organization is to consistently give the community ways to create and experience media art that won’t break the bank. Media art specifically can be a very expensive practice, and cost alone can really prevent a person’s creativity from blossoming. These are just a few examples of ways in which EMMEDIA should improve. Art should be shared and enjoyed by all, and it’s our job to break down barriers in order to provide that for people, so I’m always interested in finding ways to see that through.
How can our readers help?
Follow us on our social media, subscribe to our newsletter, check out our website, attend our events and maybe even consider donating. Tell your friends too! You can also send me an email to inquire about volunteer opportunities and other ways you can get involved.
Do you have any events coming up?
We haven’t yet announced the upcoming events and programming we’re working on, but I’m so excited to share what’s around the corner when the time comes! Keep an eye out on our social media and website to see what we’ve got cooking!
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Walls Down Collective! This is a grassroots organization that is truly by the people, for the people. They actively provide support, necessities and safety for our communities’ most marginalized folks. It’s heartwarming to see their dedication to radical empathy and community care.