Photo courtesy of KPaddaThe rise of geek culture: Why Waterloo needs it now Kayleigh Platz November 5, 2014 Columns, Ecosystem, Tech About Town Photo: Miroki Tong (centre with top hat) with some Altekrea creators. Miroki Tong is a performer and producer who spends most of her time in Toronto for work. She’s earning her MBA at Laurier with an eye towards building a national career. She’s lived and worked abroad in the UK and China. But the Waterloo Region native keeps being drawn home. This month sees Tong launching the fourth “festival of Alternative Creation” called Altekrea (formerly g33k art show) in the Kitchener City Hall Rotunda. What started as a desire to showcase her love of comic, fantasy and sci-fi art has turned into a multi-day show, lectures and a portfolio pitch competition. “I want to help artists make a living,” Tong said. “Art needs to be sustainable.” Tong has a deep love for Japanese anime, and a fascination with the so-called geek culture of comic books and superheroes, which led her to explore the medium. She was blown away by the number of talented artists in Waterloo Region that work in this alternative genre. “I started doing this for my friends,” Tong said. She saw a lot of her friends struggle to market themselves. While many were trained in fine art, they found a bias against themselves as comic artists. Altekrea serves as a platform for artists, makers and creators to establish themselves, and also as a way for Tong to educate. “I want artists to learn that creativity and business can mix,” she said. “We’re entrepreneurs. We have to fund our own equity.” She believes Waterloo Region is the perfect place to establish a festival focused on unique ideas and artistic perspectives. “I know that an arts and culture talent drainage is seen as a problem here in K-W,” Tong said. “I felt the desire to make something here. This is a transition time in the city. I think we all want to be known for more [than manufacturing].” Tong has seen that it’s hard to get artists to travel from Toronto to Kitchener for projects, and yet similar projects in Toronto draw people from all over Ontario and Quebec. “We’re so close,” Tong said. “Why aren’t we seen as a place to go to? The drive to Kitchener is the same from Toronto as it is to drive across Toronto. Why does it work in other industries, like tech, but not the arts?” The first step to building a stronger and larger artistic community, in Tong’s mind, is to enhance the festivals and creative spaces. Altekrea is such a platform. Highlights this year include the new portfolio pitch competition, run similar to a tech startup pitch. The prizes include a $2,000 grand prize and mentorship. While much of the festival is free, Tong is holding an opening gala on Friday Nov. 21 at the Ren@41 on King Street in Kitchener. The $30 ticket includes great food, music and performers that range from a contortionist and a magician to a live cellist and electronic DJ set. The vibe will be steampunk and fantasy, and attendees are encouraged to dress up. With a blossoming tech community and a strong academic community, Tong knows that the audience exists to make Altekrea a success. “Geek culture was born from a desire to discuss social and political issues,” she said. “There’s a lot more to talk about beyond the stereotypes.” At the end of the day, Tong just wants her community to go and see art. “We need to believe in the arts,” she said. “It enhances our quality of life. It stimulates the mind to become more innovate and creative. Why wouldn’t you want art in your city?” *** There are too many awesome events going on in Kitchener-Waterloo this weekend to have you stay inside… I see and hear that… This Thursday, Nov. 6 is the Junior Achievement Business Spirit Awards. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. at Bingemans in Kitchener. Communitech will be in attendance cheering on our many companies nominated, including Aeryon Labs, Clearpath Robotics, bitHound and Wagepoint… Friday Nov. 7 is Random Acts of Kindness day. The Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation is kicking off the day at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo beginning at 7 a.m…. Well-loved musician Craig Cardiff is playing a show at THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener on Friday evening as part of the fourth annual Inclusion Celebration. Tickets are $20 for the 7 p.m. show. Finally, the Grand River Film Festival is wrapping up this weekend. The closing gala screening takes place at Dunfield Theatre at 46 Grand Ave. in Cambridge. It includes a keynote by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who is an internationally recognized peace activist, and a screening of Sepideh: Reaching For The Stars.