On the first snow day of the year, as reports of a bus ditched at the West Kelowna Walmart hit the radio and police warned Okanagan residents to stay indoors, a handful of dedicated souls hurried to the Streaming Café.
A meeting of the minds for those currently filling the oook.ca website was about to get underway with artist and curator Katie Brennan presiding.
“The mandate (of the website) has always been to bring together isolated pockets of artistic and cultural activity to one place because lots of great things go on, but it tends to be you have to know so-and-so to find out,” Brennan later explained in interview.
Her cultural producers for the evening—people like art student Brit Bachman, photographer/mixed media artist Joanne Gervais, artist and marketing expert Shauna Oddleifson, and theatre professors Neil Cadger and Denise Kenney—were there to throw out ideas. Some wanted to see reviews on the site, others wanted the the events catchall to expand so oook.ca would become the go-to site to find out what’s on.
“I think you can’t try to be everything,” said Michael Donley, booking agent for the Streaming Café.
Just what the site becomes is still relatively up in the air, but with 200-400 visitors per day, having only launched in June, it’s clear Brennan’s “passion project” is no airy-fairy, one-hit wonder of a media site. Without a promotional budget, without revenue, without paid staff, oook.ca is filling a void for the creative community—they’re just not totally sure what that void is as yet.
“The really dreamy thing is that this becomes a vibrant site where a lot of people are interacting with it, either by listing their event or by generating content,” said Brennan. “I would love to be the organizer that pulls all these interesting people together for oook events or oook and other organizations team up for maybe a concert, a seminar, an exhibition.”
The dream-maker in this case is Jason Vance. The designer behind Red Mill Propaganda, an award-winning online magazine he ran out of the Okanagan, Vance describes himself as a make-it-happen consultant who takes ideas and brings them to fruition. He connected with Brennan through Tribe House Collective’s Nico Boesten and the pair have come to an agreement. He handles design and tries to figure out how to make money off the site, she fills it.
Vance has his eyes set on building online cultural hubs like this in other communities as well, and is starting one in Toronto in the New Year with another cultural chameleon. The project with Brennan presented an opportunity to expand on his own goals and enjoy a great partnership.
“I was about to launch this site kelownaloves.com,” said Vance. “It was going to be all about the things and people that Kelowna loves…(but) it’s a lot easier to work with a team of people than on your own.”
Brennan had been brainstorming ideas with people like Okanagan College instructor John Lent and Okanagan Institute founder Robert MacDonald as she tried to refine her concept. Between the pair they’ve build a clean, user-friendly arts information portal that’s definitely got traction.
Their biggest hits are for their multi-community events listings, which see everything from music to theatre to writing, fine art and commercial arts events mixed into an easy-to-read, what’s on-style schedule running down the site’s main page.
“I think that’s something people are really connecting with,” said Brennan, noting its long been a void in the Okanagan.
Other unique features include the site’s resource list, which files together creative community sources for all three Okanagan cities. By including Penticton, Vernon and Kelowna in one site, Brennan hopes oook will also serve an activist role, illustrating just how much is going on in the Okanagan arts and culture scene and how critical it is to these communities.
“If you happen to see a poster here and run into an event there, it feels very sparse, like nothing’s happening. When, in fact, there’s tons happening,” she said. “There just hasn’t been a way to find out everything happening in one spot to get people excited.”
For now, the project includes blog features posted by contributors who are, as Brennan describes them, “the culture producers.” They are not paid, but the role offers said producers a way to get a project or venture noticed. At some point in the future she does hope to compensate those who contribute, but how and when is undecided.
To check out exactly what the pair are talking about go to www.oook.ca and start strolling through the Okanagan cultural scene; every trip is free and Brennan is looking to hear from those who might want to lend their voice to the mix.