In the future, the average Calgarian’s attitude toward arts and culture, their place in society – our individual and collective perspective toward it – will be very different from what it is today. When electricity is accessible by invisible means, when waste is energy, when passenger jets are replaced by a new wave of luxury dirigibles, Calgarians will gradually lose the suspicion we feel for those things in life that have intrinsic and life enhancing, if not monetary, value. In the future, we will come to value happiness as wealth. Serious play will be as much a part of our quality of life as any financial portfolio.
Calgary’s Arts Plan is the long-term strategy for arts development and investment in Calgary and a legacy of Calgary's year as a Cultural Capital of Canada. The arts inspire our children’s futures, connect our communities, drive our city’s economic growth and energize our lives. Our goal is to work with citizens and artists to craft a bold and integrated plan that sets clear, long-term targets for the resources and partnerships necessary to support a thriving arts sector in Calgary.
Calgary’s first Arts Plan is about dreaming big. It’s about imagining a Calgary at its best, with an arts scene that is diverse, robust and welcoming, and then paving the road to get there. Building a better Calgary starts with foundational questions: What is your vision for the arts in Calgary? What would you like Calgary’s arts scene to look like 10, 20 and 50 years from now?
Answers to these questions take many different forms, and the Arts Plan team is pleased to present you with the thoughts of artistic luminaries in Calgary in an ongoing series of visionary articles.
The year 2040 marks Calgary’s 25th anniversary for its Municipal Artists-Ateliers (MAA). To celebrate this milestone, the Calgary Museum of Modern & Contemporary Material Culture (CMMCMC) presents the exhibition YYC: 25 Years of Municipal Artists-Ateliers. In addition, a series of exhibitions and events will be held throughout the year in the 1,000+ Municipal Artists-Ateliers around the city. All events are free and open to the public.
I am an artist.
I am a pragmatist and a romantic. I am a realist and I dabble in utopias. I walk the line between discipline and rebellion, between production and destruction. This can appear counter-productive at times, but is fundamental to my practice of allowing ideas, processes and my materials to unfold.
Arts professions are not clearly defined vocations. They require steadfastness in taking a difficult path, while remaining open to new thoughts and ideas; making one’s own way, navigating the physical, cultural and economic terrain to find one’s own unique contributions. It is not only us artists who live this way. Innovators, pioneers and entrepreneurs of all kinds complement and champion artistic endeavours in a multitude of ways.
Theatre, the largest of the performing arts, must do a much better job reflecting the face of Calgary. By improving how we reflect the society around us, the theatre community can develop new audiences, artists, board members, and private and corporate donors. Don’t we want to make our theatres healthier, and more interesting?
Having spent 20 years as an artist/arts executive in South Africa, I moved to New York City – then Mesa, Arizona – and in 2009, to Calgary. I have lived in six cities with populations between 500,000 and 8 million before coming to Calgary. Based on what I experienced in these cities, here is the Calgary I see:
Calgary is safe, friendly, welcoming, clean and orderly. It is proud of its deep, traditional western roots, and the “can-do” pioneering spirit that drives it ever forward. It is a caring city, and people actually go out of their way to understand the “other,” and to be understood. A gentle strength underpins human interactions here, and competence is assumed without swagger. Built on this strong foundation is an ever-evolving, diverse and multi-dimensional “new” Calgary. It is a city of contrasts: modern yet traditional; big city yet small communities; conservative yet open-minded; bold yet prudent; western yet global; and proud yet humble. Calgary is creating its “now” story, and as it develops an updated foundational narrative, it is also discovering its new DNA. For someone earning a living in the arts and cultural sector, there can be no more exciting, dynamic and creative moment in time to live in this wonderfully confused city!
I am an independent dance artist in Calgary. There aren’t many of us. We often struggle to have our voices heard.
The following thoughts come from a personal place.
I was invited to write this piece after a strong reaction on my part as I tried to make a heartfelt point at the recent Arts Champions Congress in Calgary: I started to cry as I spoke. I was probably more surprised than anyone else in that particular session that day, but my reaction made very clear to me just how frustrated I am by the lack of support I feel for independent artists in this city.
Artists are dangerous.
Don’t be deceived by the fancy scarves and all that kissing on both cheeks stuff. Artists are dangerous creatures who go straight for the jugular… actually, that’s what those scarves are for: protecting the neck from other artists.
I met my husband, a stage carpenter, as a University of Calgary BFA intern at Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) and we were later married on the stage there. My husband studied his craft at the Banff Centre and worked for One Yellow Rabbit and ATP. I worked in fund development for ATP, Quest Theatre and the Calgary International Children’s Festival and forged strong and cherished friendships in Calgary’s pocket of arts champions. Our son and daughter have attended classes and summer camps at Calgary Young People’s Theatre; our son has performed in their productions and with The Shakespeare Company; our daughter has assistant stage managed for Calgary Young People’s Theatre. As a family we embrace the arts – consuming, creating, producing, writing, performing, directing and learning as we go along as a family.
But every now and then we face barriers.
There’s a Bertolt Brecht quote in which he suggests that art should not be a mirror held up to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
In coming years, art in Calgary needs to become a hammer.
We talk a lot in the arts community about building bridges, finding consensus, working within the corporate structure, and I would not suggest we stop these initiatives.
But I can’t think of art in Calgary in 20 or 30 years without thinking of its role in defining the overall social and political trends of the future. While art’s reflective qualities, its ability to hold up and expose truths, gives it the power to educate and enlighten, the art world has a responsibility beyond that to actively transcend norms and transform societies through work and action that challenges the tenets of power through subversion and civil disobedience.
It is a joy to be part of the emerging story of Calgary. Ours is a tale of hospitality, of good will, of opportunity, of generosity. For many of us, we are among the most fortunate humans beings in creation, blessed with education, security and material wealth. That good fortune brings with it the opportunity, I'd say the obligation, to engage big ideas, to be a laboratory for a sane, just world where diverse peoples collaborate for the common good.
When I say “big ideas,” I mean BIG. In my view there are none bigger than Alan Knight's “9 Billion quality lives by 2050.” He proposes that by 2050 all of humanity will have lives rich in meaning and be free from hunger and oppression. OK, “9 Billion quality lives by 2050” may be a bit daunting. Let's start with “All Calgarians have quality lives by 2025,” or a more narrow but still huge stretch goal, “by 2020 Calgary be a city where beauty is a core value and fostering creativity is a top priority.”