UrbanYEG: Connecting creatives and impacting mental health

Jeff taking photo

The origin of UrbanYEG

What if the entire trajectory of your life could be changed in one afternoon? That’s exactly what happened for Jeff Kelly when he bumped into former coworker Chan Rin on the street. Chan, who was surrounded by a crowd of photographers ranging from early teens to middle-aged, encouraged Jeff to join them on their “InstaMeet.”

This was the afternoon that Jeff learned about UrbanYEG, an Edmonton-based nonprofit founded in 2015 that helps photographers and other creatives connect with each other.

UrbanYEG was founded by Chan, co-owner of Vivid Ribbon Photography & Design as a way to give back to the community. Browsing through Instagram, it quickly became apparent to Chan that there were lots of talented creatives posting their work, but he didn’t know any of them — he realized there was no platform for photographers in Edmonton to meet each other. Chan wanted to create a space (both digitally and in real life) where photographers could network, and foster a culture of collaboration over competition — at the time, Chan felt that Edmonton’s photographers were too concerned about losing business to “competitors” to offer each other help.

Within the first month of founding UrbanYEG, he announced the first InstaMeet at Churchill Square. The meet amassed a crowd of 30 people. Since then, they’ve hosted 19 official InstaMeets (sometimes attracting groups more than 100 in size) at various indoor and outdoor locations around Edmonton to help local photographers connect and gain experience without the pressure that a paid gig can often bring.  

UrbanYEG Instameet 11

Growing beyond InstaMeets

By participating in these InstaMeets, Jeff rediscovered the sense of community he had highly valued during his time in the army.

“Before I met Chan again through UrbanYEG, I didn’t have that community anymore,” he says. “I was living by myself, and I didn't really have much going on around me.”

When Jeff discovered UrbanYEG, he saw the opportunity to contribute to something bigger. So, when Chan told him that the UrbanYEG team was expanding its volunteer leadership team, Jeff seized the opportunity to take on the role of Community Engagement Manager.

He now oversees a small team that plans the nonprofit’s community programming and events — recent examples include a photography lecture series and panel speaker event.

Now that the group is four years in, Jeff says they would like to begin applying what UrbanYEG has done for photography to other creative pursuits like dance, singing and playing music. “For example,” he says, “if we have somebody who's a dancer, we can bring them in and maybe they can do a workshop and actually teach people how to dance and that also helps support other people. Because, if there are dancers, then there's got to be music, right? And then photographers can shoot all of it for fun.”

Jeff sees the UrbanYEG community as a space for creatives to share advice and resources with each other. Photographers can teach each other new techniques, share freelance and volunteer opportunities or just brainstorm ideas. He’s also an excellent case study of the difference that the community can make.

After taking on a few volunteer jobs that UrbanYEG had promoted, Jeff began networking and taking on paid photography jobs. His involvement in UrbanYEG over the past four years has enabled him to be able to transition from doing photography part time to making Jeffrey Paul Kelly Photography his full time job.

“Because of the benefits that I've received from UrbanYEG and the changes that I've been able to make in my life through that, I want to be a part of facilitating that for other people in the community,” Jeff says. “That's why UrbanYEG is so important to me.”

Championing mental health in Edmonton

In October 2015, a member of the UrbanYEG community, Evan Tran, took his own life. This tragic loss inspired the UrbanYEG team to shift and begin to also use their platform to highlight mental health.

“I met him a few times,” Jeff says. “He was the nicest guy, he was pretty outgoing. But that wasn't what was going on behind the scenes….it was hard to understand that and make sense of that.”

The following May, Chan, Jeff and the rest of the team, planned their first community event “For the People, By the People” in Evan’s honour. They invited Evan’s sisters to speak about their experiences dealing with his passing, and City Councillor Scott McKeen also attended the event to speak about the City’s mental health initiatives. A large portion of the ticket sales was donated to Momentum Walk-In Counselling (Momentum), a walk-in counselling clinic that enables its clients to pay what they can afford.


UrbanYEG’s next big push to support Momentum was through their #YEGMentalHealth campaign, in partnership with the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre. A series of blog posts highlighted the stories of individuals who have dealt with mental health issues. The campaign culminated in a wrap-up fundraising event that gave local creatives the opportunity to promote and sell their work and give 30% of their profits to Momentum.

Early this year, UrbanYEG began running a meditation series with Shady Ape, a local apparel company that donates part of its profits to local charities. Admission to the meditation workshops is a $10 donation, with all proceeds going to Momentum. The series has already raised more than $1,000.

While Momentum is UrbanYEG’s primary charity partner, Jeff says they've also collaborated with several others, including the Bissell Centre, the Edmonton Food Bank, the Mustard Seed, and Ronald McDonald House.

Joining the Roundhouse community

Jeff Portrait

With community being such an important part of Jeff’s values, along with UrbanYEG’s need for a home base, the non-profit connected with Roundhouse earlier this year. The team has already been putting the space to use, especially the meeting rooms, which Jeff says are perfect for recording their podcast.

Jeff also finds Roundhouse’s hot desk to be a welcome change from working at home all the time. “This space really helps promote social interaction and I'm very appreciative of that because it makes you feel like a part of something,” he says. “Even though you're doing your own thing, it's like we're all involved in a similar thing as well. We're all a part of this space.”

Looking forward, Jeff sees lots of opportunities to use the Roundhouse space to further UrbanYEG’s mandate. “There's the possibility of being able to talk to other people about what urbanYEG does and then maybe there is a fit between what we're doing and what they're doing. I think as I spend more time in the space, those connections are going to happen organically.”

- Written by Peter Brown

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