Abigail Slater is on a mission to share her love of music with as many people as possible. For years, Slater has been hosting shows in her home in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood as a way to to introduce friends and neighbours to new and wonderful music - and to support the arts in general.
We recently sat down with her to talked about her discovery of Artery, how she embraces her showcases as a meeting point between generations, and her one golden rule of creating a positive experience.
Who are you and what do you do in the world?
I take a portfolio approach to life and I have a lot different things on the go. My 9-5 is as an impact fund manager. I invest private equity for a small fund, some of which goes to ventures that have impact, many of which goes to women entrepreneurs. I also mentor female entrepreneurs. The other path of what I do is sitting on a lot of nonprofit boards for social justice, community building, and entrepreneurship. I’ve been doing all of this for probably over 20 years.
When did you start hosting showcases?
Many years ago, I was watching a documentary film and on the screen, came the musician, Blair Packham. I later discovered that Blair was indeed my high school classmate. We got in touch and I started going to his shows. He hosted a series of performances called “I wish I wrote that” where a group of songwriters perform songs they’ve written for larger artists and one song they wished they had written and It was just such a great series. Blair came up to me and asked if I would ever be interested in hosting a show and it got me thinking.
I’ve been a music lover for so long and I’ve always been confounded with how there can be so much talent and yet, it’s so hard to make a living as a musician. I asked Blair if hosting house concerts really made a difference, and he said “Are you kidding? It makes a huge difference!” He explained to me that house shows can be the difference between paying rent and not paying rent for many musicians.
I’m heartbroken that so many artists who are so amazing have to struggle so much. So, I decided that I would do my teeny-weeny little bit in helping the cause and started hosting house concerts and people immediately loved them. I’d never done them before this point and I ran into some issues. People would pay at the door, but it was difficult to keep track of who did and didn’t pay, and I hate asking for money. People would also say they would come and I thought I would have enough of an audience and they wouldn’t show up which would be disappointing. It was all very fabulous, but there were pain points that were annoying. Then everything shifted when I heard about Salimah’s (Artery co-founder) work at a conference and I was invited to attend an Artery showcase. It was there that I realized that all of my previous pain points were resolved. Everyone RSVPs in advance and I don’t have to police people to pay. I don’t have a problem finding artists and I’m now able to look for new artists on the platform to host.. It’s so much easier to pay the artists and grow an audience at the same time. And it’s not just about an audience, the Artery platform helps build a sense of community in itself.
What I especially love about Artery is that there’s often a mix of generations at each showcase. Everyone’s coming together to share an experience with each other. We need more of that.
It sounds like that surprises you - the inter-generational mixing at Artery showcases?
Oh, most definitely. Before using Artery, it was just boomer friends of my boomer friends, and every once in a while, people would maybe try and bring their kids along. Now, not only do younger people come to shows on their own, they come back. I purposefully set up the shows with an intermission to give time for people to really talk to one another and there’s always time to speak to the artist. Most of the artists are always so open and generous. The whole experience is interactive.
What do you think each generation has to learn from each other?
When you have a space, you just need to open it up. You don’t need to do a lot. It teaches everyone that they can be explorers in their own community, push out of their normal routines. For younger people, I would say you don’t have to be a billionaire to help the arts, you can help the arts on a local scale by showing up and showing support. For the other older generation, there’s a new way for artistic expression, models are changing and emerging and they’re so important. Every concert provides a space for the artist to be appreciated and people are really engaged, creating the experience together.
In addition to showcases at our home in the city, we do a farm showcase once a year and try to get around 90 people. It’s a picnic, it’s a whole afternoon of music and cooking. Three or 4 artists perform. . This year is different. I usually host folk music in the past, but this year I’m focusing on a more culturally diverse lineup. There will be an African-Canadian performer, an indigenous storyteller, and a Brazilian-Canadian performer. These are performers who wouldn’t normally be on my radar, but now they are and they can get the exposure to new audiences and it’s all happening through the platform.
What’s one thing you’d say to people who are apprehensive of hosting people in their homes?
As a host, I started mostly with people I knew so I wasn’t worried. As we went on Artery, we liked that you get to control the amount of people who come. I think ultimately that the peer to peer model is what makes these easy. Everyone has a profile and reviews and references. If someone’s disruptive, you know. When you host a show, you set the parameters of the space, no one’s wandering around. I’ve only experienced people being so happy and grateful to be at the events. They’re getting so much value.
What’s your one golden rule of creating a positive showcase?
If you have at least 15 people, you’re good. Be relaxed. You don’t really need to do anything other than open your home for an hour or two. Maybe put out some snacks, and you’re all set. People will create a positive environment naturally.