Uniting community through music: An interview with Matt Carter

Back in the 90s, Matt Carter was a major orchestrator of Fredericton’s music scene, booking and promoting all-ages shows that featured some of the country’s best underground acts of the day. Then, life and career took him in other directions.

Fast forward 15 years to 2014. Matt decided he wanted to re-engage with the music and arts community in New Brunswick’s capital city. At the same time that Matt was pondering new ways to connect local artists with the broader public, Fredericton’s free events listings weekly, Here Magazine, stopped publication. Matt decided to step up and seize the occasion. So in October 2014, he launched Grid City Magazine, a free online zine that provides listings for events, interviews with local artists, photo essays, videos, and more.

While in Fredericton, I spoke with Matt about Grid City Magazine, and what he’s learned from his efforts to help unite his hometown through music.

Matt, you have a long history in the local arts and music scene in Fredericton. Can you tell us one or two accomplishments you are especially proud of? 

MC: Well, I used to book a lot of all-ages shows, going back probably 20 years now. Together with a few friends, we welcomed some of the country’s biggest names in what was then considered underground music. Because we were hosting a lot of touring acts, the shows could land on any day of the week yet time and time again, a lot of the same faces would show up. It was a really special time to me. I had a lot of fun doing that and it was through those experiences that I really learned the importance of community. As a naive kid fresh out of high school hosting events that attracted the weirdest mix of people I’d ever been associated with, I learned a lot. I suppose the biggest lesson I learned was that I was in fact just as much an outsider as the rest of the audience appeared. It was like, “Finally. I’ve found my people.”

I’m still friends with a lot of folks I met back in those early days and I consider it a really honour to have played a role in the ongoing story of our city’s music and arts scenes. I helped write one chapter in this long and twisted story.

In October 2014, you launched a new online magazine called Grid City Magazine. Can you tell us a little about it?

MC: Grid City Magazine is my way of giving a valuable voice to the many arts related activities happening throughout the city. I used to make photocopied zines when I was younger. I’d interview bands and share their stories. I always wanted to get back into doing something like that but knew it had to exist online in some shape or form. For a while, I thought about bringing back my original zine project but with the name “Nailbomb”. I decided that may be a bit off-putting to the larger scene, not to mention it would probably get me added to some government watch list these days!

So I decided on the name Grid City Magazine because our city is very much designed on a grid with perfect intersecting streets running parallel to the St. John River.

Matt Carter wears a lot of different hats in running Grid City Magazine (Photo by Matt Carter)
Matt Carter wears a lot of different hats in running Grid City Magazine (Photo by Matt Carter)

 

What compelled you to start Grid City Magazine?

MC: I was having a conversation with a fellow artist who said something along the lines of, “Unless you’re the largest festival in the city, it’s pretty much a crap-shoot to get any media coverage for arts activities.” That was the moment when I decided I might as well try my hand at getting something going to support the community that means the most to me. Artists are where it’s at. We get bombarded with enough depressing news in the run of a week. Why not create a platform to highlight the “good” in the world? I don’t want to start controversies and pick sides on issues. I just want to let people know how much great stuff happens right here in our own backyard. I’ve heard folks refer to our province as “No-Funswick” and I really feel those attitudes come from people who haven’t taken the time to see just how beautiful our province and its people really are. To counter those attitudes, I consider my city “Friendericton”.

How do you think your work has impacted the Fredericton community?

MC: I try not to look too deeply at the impact I may have made personally. When I was younger I developed a pretty big ego and have since spent the past 10 years or more trying to shed my interpretation of myself and, instead, embrace and celebrate the community’s accomplishments as a whole. There are so many people working so hard on projects that mean a lot to them. In a city our size, we’re fortunate to know each other or exist through two degrees of separation. We all help each other for the benefit of everyone. That’s pretty special. There’s an incredible comfort in knowing that if I needed a hand with something, I know people would step up to help. I’d gladly do the same. We’ve built a scene where everyone has each other’s backs, so to speak.

From your experience, what are the benefits of a thriving local arts and music scene to a community?

MC: A thriving local arts and music scene is one filled with creative thinkers, doers and helpers. Strong arts scenes only exist through hard work, appreciation for others, and through a supportive community. Those three elements alone make an enormous contribution to any population. I think arts communities exist through cooperation and, as a result, they teach us how to work together, free of malice.

Imagine for a moment that you could wave a magic wand and instantaneously transform Fredericton into the picture-perfect arts and cultural community. What would it look like?

MC: It would look much the way it does today. Perhaps with more infrastructure to support diverse theatre and music performances. Studio space for rehearsals and creation would also be a bonus. Besides that, we’ve got an incredible crop of motivated artists willing to work together, while also doing some amazing work on their own. I really feel lucky to live here and call these people my friends.

Here’s a short video of one of Fredericton’s local artists, bluesman Keith Hallett:

 

For years, you have given your energy and creativity to the betterment of the Fredericton community. What keeps you giving back?

MC: The people here are great. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than helping great people accomplish great things they believe in.

If you had to choose one thing, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from all your work in the community?

MC: The biggest lesson I learned is to embrace individuality. Everyone has something unique they bring to the table. It could be an artistic skill, the ability to solve problems, or just the gift of looking beyond the immediate task at hand and seeing the greater picture. A strong community relies on the sum of its parts. Fredericton is unique in that familiar faces wave to each other and say hello. People don’t have to have an experience together to value each other’s company. What feels better than living in a community where everyone says hello, smiles or waves at you when you’re out and about? That’s comfort. That’s my home town and that’s a big part of what we’re working to keep alive.

Matt is a big fan of his hometown Fredericton, or as he calls it, “Friendericton”
Matt is a big fan of his hometown Fredericton, or as he calls it, “Friendericton”

 

Your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their own community, and wants to make it a reality?

MC: Start by being a positive person. Get rid of your anger, your interest in climbing social ladders and all that. As a child we’re taught a lot about how life should be and the type of path we’re supposed to follow to be “good citizens”. My experience is to try and do what’s right for you and the world you live in, the people around you. Be a good person and you’ll attract other good people. That’s the best place to start.

Matt Carter is an artist from Fredericton, New Brunswick. He is an accomplished musician, composer, music educator, photographer, and a lover of artistic pursuits.  He spends his days as Director of Development and Communications for Theatre New Brunswick, and his free time working on the Fredericton arts and culture website, Grid City Magazine.