News / Edmonton

'I thought it was a joke': Make it Awkward Inclusivity Summit criticized for high ticket prices

Critics blast $400-plus tickets, but organizer Jesse Lipscombe says he won't make any money off the three-day event

Jesse Lipscombe is the founder of Make it Awkward in Edmonton.

File photo

Jesse Lipscombe is the founder of Make it Awkward in Edmonton.

A summit aimed at promoting inclusivity is taking heat for ticket prices exceeding $400.

The Make it Awkward Inclusivity Summit, which is scheduled for Feb. 1-3 at the Westin and will feature 30 speakers and performers, came under fire from social media users Wednesday.

“I thought it was a joke. The irony was just so very apparent,” said Ki Schoendorfer, one of those who criticized the event online, in an interview with Metro.

“Segregating poor people from an event is just not inclusive.”

The Make it Awkward campaign – coined by Jesse’s wife Julia – encourages Edmontonians to share their experiences and strategies for calling out discriminatory and ignorant behaviour.

On social media, others raised questions about where the money is going and why the city is sponsoring an event put on by a for-profit corporation.

"When you boast inclusivity for your event you need to make ticket prices affordable so those interested in attending IN PERSON can be present," Twitter user Beverly Theresa wrote.

An adult weekend pass is set at $472, while student passes go for $318, "slim" passes that exclude networking and food are $209, and one-day youth chaperone passes are $95.

Scheduled speakers include Mayor Don Iveson, Buzzfeed culture writer Scaachi Koul, and local activists including Marni Panas and Chevi Rabbit.

Event organizer Jesse Lipscombe said he does not expect to profit off the event, however, citing high costs including speakers, performances, meals for attendees and the cost of renting the hotel.

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“Right now, we’ll be high-fiving each other if we break even. And by break even, that means me not having to pay out of my bank account,” Lipscombe said.

Lipscombe argued the event is priced in the low-to-middle price range as far as conferences go, and noted it is accessible by streaming for free online for anyone who can’t afford to go.  

Lipscombe launched the campaign in September 2016 after being targeted by racial slurs in downtown Edmonton, in an encounter that was caught on video.

He has since incorporated Make it Awkward, and he said he hopes to one day make a comfortable living off the campaign.  

Despite working on the project full time, however, he said he hasn’t made any money off it yet and has no paid staff.

Lipscombe engaged in heated debates with his critics online Wednesday, and told Metro he has taken concerns into consideration. He said some points made were “harsh,” but some were valid.

“We were trying to create something fun and special that our whole city can be proud of, and we appreciate all of the input and support. No matter how it comes in, we hear it and we listen and try to apply it and make it better,” Lipscombe said.

The city has a general policy against sponsoring for-profit events, but citizen services spokesperson Francis Asuncion said its sponsorship of the summit was specifically directed toward funding 100 youth participants to attend, and therefore was not going to the summit itself.

“It’s really just to support that inclusivity and making sure that these kids could attend this event,” Asuncion said.

The city provided $30,000 from the multicultural relations office and the community initiatives and co-ordination.

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