The Exchange fosters Regina’s music scene
Article: Dana Morenstein – Contributor
[dropcaps round=”no”]S[/dropcaps]ome would say that the Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange Society (SCES) is a local legend. Established in 1977 under the Societies Act, it began as a rented space on Broad Street and quickly became a popular spot for local artists to congregate and establish their roots.
In the 80s, SCES was a membership-only center where local arts enthusiasts and their families would gather to shoot pool and play music. Sadly, in 1990 a fire broke out as a result of an illegal fish farm in the building’s basement and a man was killed. Members managed to reach the organization’s safe, which they then used as a down payment on an old warehouse they secured for $120,000.
Today, SCES is a not-for-profit cultural organization that also does provincial programming. No longer do they require membership. Instead, the organization states that if you participate by performing or just being in the audience, you are already a member.
Mirtha Rivera reminisces about her days singing in a Latin group onstage at the old Broad Street location.
“It was a community centre and most of the people who went there were in the arts. It was pretty much like a family. We could take our kids and it was a home away from home.”
Rivera echoes the same sentiments as Exchange employee Mike Brown.
“The Exchange is awesome. It’s been my second home for as long as I can remember. Especially being in high school; sometimes you just didn’t have anywhere to go and you didn’t want to be at home for whatever reason. I wasn’t cool enough to go to a house party, I wasn’t cool enough to go out and get drunk—I came here. I saw my friends, I saw bands. It gave me something to look forward to every week.”
As an employee, Brown says, “It’s one of the coolest places to work. I’d be here even if I wasn’t getting paid… It’s really cool to give back to the community that has given so much to me, even if in a small way.”
Dylan, another employee of the Exchange, agrees.
“I like it a lot. It’s a very important cultural institution, it’s non-profit…It’s one of the few places that’s left that isn’t concerned with making money so we can have a lot of different shows going on, from small shows to big shows. It’s an important part of our scene.”
Vocalist Dylan Nash, a member of unsigned punk band The Man and His Machine, says, “We’ve been playing here for the last couple years. It’s a really good place to be able to meet people and it has a good diversity of shows and music. When I think Regina, I usually think the Exchange as the best place to play.”
Derek Lutz, a local music fan who has been going to the Exchange for over ten years, says that the Exchange is “one of the only venues that supports an all-ages atmosphere.” He says that’s important because it means that young people have somewhere positive to go and be influenced to get involved with the local arts and music scene.
One of his earliest memories of the Exchange was seeing the band Kerosene play. He would drive up from Lipton, SK with friends to watch. Along with other local artists, Lutz uses the building’s basement as a jam space.
The Cultural Exchange contributes to the arts and culture scene in many more ways than by just having punk and indie shows. They operate two different venues in the building as well as a small art gallery called the 8-Track. In addition, they hold workshops, fiddle camps, and have an outreach program.
“It’s very important for both local and touring artists to have a place to develop and grow as artists,” says Artistic Director Zandra Kas. “Our main goal is to help artists grow…We want to make sure they have a place to play; we help with all their marketing when they do play here. We help as much as we can. [We want to] continue to see not just bands but theatre here as well.”
According to Kas, there is no general preference of which genre of music they showcase, and they welcome as much diversity as possible. There’s also live theatre that happens on occasion.
Recently, The Vagina Monologues was on stage.
One of Kas’ favourite memories of the Exchange is seeing one of her favourite bands from Europe, Katatonia, perform their last anniversary show stop at the Exchange.
“For me, that’s one of my most precious show memories but if you asked any other person, they would have a different story or event. There are so many great shows both local and touring that have stopped through here; it’s so hard to pick just one.”
Ramiro Sepulveda, a local Chilean musician who has had the opportunity to play in a variety of different venues across Canada, sees the Exchange Society as an extremely important contribution to the city’s live music scene.
As a music teacher, Sepulveda thinks it’s crucial that venues offer all-ages shows, so that young people have somewhere to go where they can experience a network of like-minded friends. He also believes that in order for the arts to continue to flourish, young people have to have an opportunity to get involved. The Exchange helps by providing music to all ages in a safe, inclusive atmosphere.
As a working musician, he encourages people to see music as not only a hobby, but as a trade that can be a viable career. Places like The Exchange support this vision not only by allowing artists to perform, but by overseeing a whole list of different cultural programs and opportunities.
Margaret Fry, Executive Director for the past 27 years, has a vision for the future that the organization will continue to empower artists to promote their creative work. One of her goals is to see other Saskatchewan communities, especially those in the far North of the province like Ile-a-la-Crosse, become empowered to present their own artistic experiences.
“We don’t have trials here, we have challenges,” Fry says. “In the 80s, it received huge cuts and funding as did most of the art and sport organizations here in the province. It has faced the challenge of a fire and the flood. The reason we’re still here is because it’s an organization with a strong commitment from its membership, whether it be formal membership or not. It’s also a risk-taking organization, which prides itself on being flexible.”
[button style=”e.g. solid, border” size=”e.g. small, medium, big” link=”” target=””]Image: Emily Wright[/button]