Reflecting for the Future with Michael Benz

Welcome back to Reflecting for the Future, SubText’s monthly ruminations on the state of the Calgary and Western Canada arts scene. In this feature, we connect with creators to get their thoughts on what will continue a positive path forward for inclusion, expression and positivity in our little corner of the globe.

This month, we speak with Michael Di Benedetto, better known as Michael Benz. He is a photographer, graphic designer, festival producer, show promoter and bass music aficionado based in Calgary and has been documenting venues and events around the city for well over half a decade. From curation and bass shows with Noctilux Collective, to graphics and photographs for grassroots and established brands and businesses, to crafting one of Alberta’s newest boutique festivals, Borealis, he has his hand in a number of wings of the creative musical scene in our fair province.

SubText’s conversation with Michael touched on a significant hurdle in creative scenes, which is how to achieve significant engagement in a highly distracted and digitized world. Ongoing connection and feedback is critical for any producers to adjust and curate their spaces to reflect the needs of their audience, but it is a never ending challenge to find forums and formats which engage and rise above the rabble of every other easy-to-access form of interaction, entertainment and engagement being fed to people by marketers, broadcasters, and journalists.  

Image captured by Michael Benz of the inaugural Borealis music festival

Image captured by Michael Benz of the inaugural Borealis music festival

What is your vision for the best possible future of arts and creativity in Calgary and Western Canada? What tangible efforts and practices should the promoters, producers, artists and patrons of our city put in place to create a multi-faceted, equal playing field for artistic voices?

When you asked this question, what came to mind was this flowery future, a nice green pasture of positive inclusion, because that contributes to a very important and sustainable future for electronic music and all sorts of other arts. 

Harm reduction is a big thing in this, and safer spaces policies have a lot of merit as well. It’s important to listen to all voices and make sure people are heard. It’s critical in the arts to have a multitude of opinions when trying to achieve a certain product. 

For me, one of the most important practices is to cultivate feedback. The most basic form is something like an anonymous feedback or question box at a show, or a feedback form on a website for promoters. Having an anonymous question box or statement box where people can drop their information to at least gives people a way to communicate with the people producing shows and curating safe spaces. That said, if it’s a private anonymous thing it’s not necessarily going to be heard by anyone but the person in charge, so it can be a challenge to make the feedback productive.

Michael Benz

Michael Benz

Through AEMCON I’ve seen where panels can touch on ways to promote alternative voices and viewpoints, and I think that’s a good public forum because it’s a community based event and there are a lot of creative people involved with that operation. That’s a good place to make people heard because there is a way to create good feedback. 

I’ve heard of people talking about having public meetings for promoters at places like the Public Library, though that kind of voluntary involvement means people have top show up to listen and voice their concerns, which can be a big hurdle especially these days with people’s busy lives and so many distractions involved with just living your life. It can be hard to have a fully operational feedback loop with all these things in the way. 

Calgary and Western Canada have a very condensed history in the Arts which is growing more and more as years pass. More players are involving themselves in different fields, so as we grow I think inclusiveness is very important. 

Artists should be seen as team members, and not in direct competition since we all have different strengths. I feel that sometimes others feel threatened when some grow their knowledge, but everyone is just trying to find their place in this landscape. It should be more of a symbiotic relationship, where we grow with one another, with help from one another. Collaboration is important in this. 

  • We need to work together in symbiosis

  • We need to nurture each other with each of our strengths

  • We need wider acceptance and sharing of information

James Nason