"I always tell young people now — go find a mentor. Work under their wing for a year or more, learn from them. Because when I was young I thought I had to do everything myself. So I didn't do it because it seemed too overwhelming."
Those who know Amy would find this to be a strange statement.
Because she’s viewed as someone who actually did go out and do it. She did actually go out and find herself a mentor.
Amy is one of those people who we have to thank, in part, for opening up active transportation culture — and bike cool — to the mainstream. And not just in Vancouver.
As one of the co-founders of Momentum Magazine, Amy was core to the publication’s first decade, from start-up through two major growth spurts which eventually led the magazine to bike shops and cafes across the rest of Canada and select cities in the US.
Her mentor? Magazine co-founder Carmen Mills, a marketing communications pro, former editor of the Spoke’n Word newsletter, and eventual co-founder of Car Free Day.
So what’s this about not doing it? Being overwhelmed?
I studied furniture making, I studied craft and design. So I did a diploma program at Sheridan College. We did woodworking, we did metalworking, we did photography, drawing, it was a really good program.
But when I came back, I basically just talked myself out of making furniture for a living because I thought, oh I have to have a shop, and I have to have tools, and I have to do all this by myself, and I couldn't imagine doing it myself.
Breaking into furniture design and manufacturing is probably one of those business paths where it helps to have a bit of a runway, in terms of capital and products. And maybe, more importantly for an artist, a community — one that can absorb a new person with new ideas, even the disruptive forces that come with iconoclasm. Because this is Amy.
When I was about sixteen, we had an environmental fair. There was a film, it talked about the book Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher and the idea of appropriate technology. I was like, I shouldn't be spending this money that I'm saving on a car, I shouldn't be buying a Dodge Dart out of the Buy & Sell. I should ride my bike.
So when I was sixteen, I started riding my bike to school. I lived in East Van, I went to school up at 59th and Oak, so it was like an hour ride each way. It was a significant bike ride, but it was also, I felt healthy and I felt good.
And that's just kind of the way I am, I don't look for other people necessarily, I'm like a bit of a rogue. I'll just go do something if I think that's the thing to do.
Over a decade later, back in Vancouver and working in marketing, publishing and design, Amy saw there was a small community around cycling. It sort of spoke to her.
I was taking a video course and I started making PSAs for the Alternative Transportation Centre, but I didn't tell them. I was just doing it in my little class.
I was just doing it as this class project on my own, but I was not connected to people. I was kind of shy to say hello to the bicycle people, I didn't know anybody. But in my mind I was connected with them. And I was doing this work, but not connected to it. It was ridiculous.
And then, before she knew it, the community began to literally speak to her.
Shortly after, in that last issue of Spoke'N Word, Carmen basically said, “this is the end of this publication, but if anyone wants to see something in the future, come say hello. Come meet me.”
And I did — I just walked up to her at a city infrastructure meeting and said, "Hi I'm Amy. I read your last edition of Spoke'n Word. I want to be in your club!" When I look back, it was pretty funny.
We started talking about doing a magazine. I had been accepted to Emily Carr to study communication design, but then I was like, well I could go to school or I could work on this magazine. I think I'll work on this magazine. That will be my education.
By 2001, we had published our first issue. For that first two and a half years, I worked with her and I basically just paid attention to what she was doing, and learned from her. And then when I relaunched it, I was using that experience, and I could see some things that I would like to add onto it, but I had in my mind a system that I based on what Carmen did.
In the history of an event with such specific (and documented) provenance behind it, there’s usually a good ‘what if?’ riff in there — in this case, what if...Amy hadn’t read that final Spoke’n Word editorial?
Without Momentum, there certainly would still have been the same cycling infrastructure that was eventually built. NGOs like BCCC, B.E.S.T., HASTe and HUB would still exist.
But there would have been precious little expression of the fun, stylish, and normalized bike lifestyle and culture that Momentum broadcast outward, perhaps nothing tangible nothing to for the otherwise insular community of “hard core” cycling advocates to use as a breakout moment within the zeitgeist.
There would be nothing on the newsstands, nothing arriving in people's mailboxes to herald what was to become the massive shift in how Vancouver-ites, and people across the region, get around. Nothing to celebrate the thousands of people who, today, tip bike counters across the million trip mark, at their strategic locations around the city, year in and year out.
Momentum Magazine became a lifestyle guide, a 'how-to' (and 'why-not?') primer for cycling as a hip transportation choice. And thanks to Momentum, people who began to think of people on bikes as ranters and ravers, got a break from the bleak, often remonstrative advocacy messaging that likely did little to convert anyone away from driving.
And it had nothing to do with who Amy was necessarily ("I really don't care about that stuff. I don't even have a cup-holder on my bike!"), because she has never been part of the mainstream. She was more like the anthropologist on Mars — knowledgeable, insightful, curious, and really good at packaging quirky ideas for broad audiences.
Mainstream people care about how their hair looks. They want to look cool and stylish. They don't want to do things because of the right reasons. They want to express themselves and be respected by their peers.
[I wanted] to externalize the feelings inside and show those outside, because a lot of the bike attire and a lot of the bike image was very nerdy and gear-oriented. That wasn't what I saw in my mind.
It's not so much about fashion, it's more about people. Just regular people who have style and have lives and do normal things, and it was very much normalizing cycling, so that everyone could relate to it.
But also making us slicker-looking products, so it's attractive. It's like playing to consumerist inclinations. So we're going to do our best to show that we exist in that world too. And we're not on the fringes, we're part of the mainstream of people.
And you can do this crazy thing, you can ride your bike and be a normal, cool person.
It might not have worked in the 1980s or early 90s, and it seems painfully obvious today. But that, in a neat way, is the point. Thanks in part to Momentum providing words and pictures for the narrative playing out across the city and region — via neighbourhood bike networks, painted bikeways and separated downtown lanes — it all clicked, and today...well, today is different.
It would be very difficult to start Momentum today, first of all. (“Momentum was born at this time when print was declining and dying. I like books and printed things, but in terms of organizing our community, there's more effective ways to do it.”). But also, it just wouldn't be necessary. Thanks in large part to Amy giving a decade of her life to this baby, and helping it walk on its own.
I was struck, when I talked to her, how similar we are in many ways, though she honestly beats me on all fronts.
She was, and is, a deeply creative person.
She gets bored when a project becomes rote and repetitive. Bend it, break it, and re-assemble it into something new....or forget it.
She derives more joy from the process than the product. But for practical reasons, she will produce products (and you can damn well be assured it will be creative).
And lastly, she is keenly aware of broader social dynamics, about how people work, and commune, and share. She's both an artist and a sociologist...in other words, the ideal marketer.
There's a lot of people out there who are shy, who are active in some way, but inside their own world. Because people are really isolated. All those people who are just like, "I like it, but I'm shy."
Especially in the early days when there weren't a lot of bike lanes, and there wasn't visible bike culture, you felt like you were just kind of out there on your own. So having the sense that there's a community is a powerful thing.
I think that's what the magazine was. To me, it was a way of helping people feel less alone.