After being proclaimed the Culture Capital of Canada for 2012, Calgary moves into a new year ripe with possibilities. After all, once you’ve survived the end of the world and a year saturated in culture, community and, of course, art, where do we go from here?
To contemplate a packed cultural year and its future in Calgary, five key players have offered their insights and critical reflection, each with a wide scope of experience. From the grassroots to the grandiose, these individuals are not only movers and shakers, but cultural heroes sacrificing their own personal lives for creative communal gain.
Poet, Spoken Word Artist, Musician, Calgary Poet Laureate 2012 – 2014, Juno Award Winner best video.
It seems like the fruition of a lot of the great ideas haven’t even come to pass, yet. It does seem like the whole year was, in some ways, a neat investment in something a bit bigger. It wasn’t like we just threw a bunch of money at a couple of sculptures and big galas and said, “Yay, we are artsy!” It seems to me that it is actually going to be sustained well into next year.
A good starting point is just to break down the conception of that guy who just kinda gives in to the idea that mainstream entertainment of Hollywood, television, or radio is actually culture. How do we bring those people out? Is it to try and bring shows out to where they live? I think part of the next wave of things is to try and bring work to neighbourhoods and try and engage the citizens directly. That doesn’t mean to try and get them to do crafts and take up poetry, but to try and solicit the skills and the knowledge of those people, and also the skills and the knowledge of the people who are immigrants here from other countries who may have stronger traditions in things like poetry and literature and art.
Owner/Founder The Gorilla House Live Art
I was thrilled to live in Calgary after Nenshi was elected. I was thinking, “This couldn’t possibly happen here.” But, by the time the election, came I was just so amazed at where I lived. Calgary is cooler than Vancouver, how could that possibly be? I feel like there has been a shift in the last year: every time I look around I am totally blown away by what’s going on around me. A lot of our artists are getting out to other events and feeling more and more immersed in this city.
We have a body of people interested in expressing themselves, and it is bigger than it ever before. The momentum we have is so intense! The events we are getting to are amazing now and they are surrounded by amazing people, but it is often a lot of the same people. If we were able to bring more people out to these events, it would just be a flood.
Talent Buyer Broken City Social Club, Sled Island Executive Director 2010 – 2012
From my point of view, we seem to miss out on having a lot of bands’ tours come through here. But, in the past few years, it is becoming a major stop and we are not missing as many bands coming through. Calgary has become a hotspot where bands are really looking forward to visiting because the audience is so responsive and you can tell that people really appreciate having all these acts come through.
I came from Vancouver where I found it really apathetic and, even though I was part of a pretty great music scene there, it just didn’t feel engaged like it does here. In Calgary, the music scene doesn’t seem segregated from the art scene, the theatre scene or the burlesque scene. It all seems to come together and overlap in different ways, which I think is really cool.
I think it is only going to get better. This city is really supportive of the arts and culture department of Calgary: it does a phenomenal job of looking for new and creative projects. There seem to be a lot of pop-up art shows and spaces really coming out of the woodwork and doing all these great different things, and the city is just saying yes to everything. Look at all the things that are allowed to happen at Olympic Plaza!
Impresario/Founder Tooth Blackner Presents, Chair Breakout West Host Committee, Treasurer Music Calgary 2009 – 2012, Board Member Western Canadian Music Alliance (current)
I think that goals were achieved and that the profile was there. From my discussions with people in other markets, Calgary pulled it off better than any other market to date.
You know, I think groups were given more incentive to go ahead. They were certainly given support incentive: the idea that the civic government and federal in this case have shown them support, I think that is encouraging, you know? People need encouragement as well as just straight up financing. They realize people do care and they do want to see them succeed in Calgary. I think that part of the Calgary2012 campaign was to make Calgarians aware of what was happening in their own backyard, and I think those goals were achieved, as well.
I think  generally has made citizens start to view Calgary as more of a cultural centre and that we are not necessarily that conservative redneck, back-water that we have a reputation for. People are seeing that there are exciting things going on here that aren’t necessarily happening in other markets.
Village Brewery Co-Founder, Strategist at Evans Hunt Group in Digital Marketing on the Calgary2012 digital campaign
When I first started being involved in the mid- to late-1990s, the city was in a very different place than it is right now.
A combination of technology, new Calgarians and just a density in this city allowed a lot to happen this year. So, with the awarding of 2012, I think it was a bit of a spark plug and a bit of a beacon that added to an already rapidly expanding cultural scene.
You know, things like Welcome to the West and The Area are incredible examples of what has changed in this city just in the last year.
When we won Culture Capital of Canada, I couldn’t tell you how many people scoffed at the idea. I think people had always been comparing us to Toronto, or Vancouver, or Montreal, New York, Berlin. You know, we have always been comparing ourselves and never giving ourselves credit for the unique type of artistic culture we have: it is very Calgarian, it is very different and it is very collaborative and helping, which is very different than any of those other places.
It is at the point now that people are actually saying, “We actually have this shit figured out, but it is our style, it is our pile of shit and we are proud of it.” And I think that is what is going to be big and different.
By Andrea Llewellyn
Photo: Sebastian Buzzalino