Part III: 2005 to 2010 Was About First Things First

Here's a little retrospective to set the stage for my next posts that show where we're headed in the next 5 years. Our first 5 years of work has built a base that we're now able to build upon.


When we started in 2005, Calgary’s arts operating granting programs had been in place for over 35 years with little change,  were funding 119 organizations but at the lowest per capita rate in the country (at about $2.3M), and were not clearly connected to any sense of return on investment or strategic aim. This is not surprising: the body in charge of distributing the funds was not resourced or really mandated to do anything other than fairly distribute the funds they received on behalf of Calgarians. That had to change. Our first priority was to review and reposition our granting programs. Now, we fund over 160 organizations with nearly $3.8M ($4.3M if Event Stimulus grants are counted). We can show, with confidence, through statistical, financial and qualitative measures, the public and artistic impact of our investments. Though we are still at or near the bottom in terms of per capita grants to artists and arts organizations, we have closed the gap (well, except for our friends in Edmonton, who recently, ahem, shot ahead of us again).

We continue to make changes to our granting programs, but we can see that we are on the right track towards providing a stable base of resources that allows the organizations we support to flourish.


Calgary’s desperate need for new spaces to support the arts had been known for years prior to the existence of Calgary Arts Development. New spaces started to get investment (such as Vertigo Theatre and Theatre Junction Grand), but there were two problems that weren’t going away: first, each case had its own justification, but it was difficult to understand whether the space was actually addressing the top priorities of the broad community. That is, each decision was a “one off,” and there was little sense of whether or not we were actually making progress. Second, each decision to provide municipal funding to a capital project required a search for funds. A plan was needed, and it needed to be fundable to be successful.

With $50,000 in additional funding ($25,000 from The Calgary Foundation and $25,000 from The University of Calgary) and a huge amount of community support through steering committees, engagement sessions, and filling-out-of-yet-another-survey, we were able to produce and publish in early 2007 our Art Spaces Strategy and Capital Plan. About one year later, the Province created the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), and City Council was able to confidently agree to allocate 5% of that $3.3B flow of funds towards realizing the objectives of the Art Spaces Plan.

Since that time, we have seen City Council authorize several major infrastructure investments (National Music Centre, Folk Festival Hall, Nickle Arts Museum, Mount Royal Conservatory, Lunchbox Theatre). And there are more projects in the pipeline, with a new round of projects in the prioritization process right now. As far as we are aware, we remain the only city in Canada with a long-term vision, plan, and core funding in place to deliver new infrastructure.

We’ve also just completed a survey of demand and preferences for art spaces (thanks to Le Germain for the survey incentive prize pack!). We got a great response, and have learned a lot. We’ll start sharing those results soon.


Building awareness and encouraging participation in Calgary’s art scene was the third focus area for our first 5 years. The biggest thing on everyone’s wish list? Some kind of web portal that provided an aggregated view of everything happening in Calgary. We started by working with Pam Lang to bring in ArtsMart, a weekly e-newsletter that had been started by some of Calgary’s largest arts organizations in the early 2000’s. From there, the NAC’s LiveRush program was incorporated into our growing suite of awareness initiatives. And in 2009, we launched, your free, one-stop-shop for arts & culture listings. Big or small, we list ‘em all. Complete with an awesome weekly e-newsletter that we keep hearing is “great” from our thousands of subscribers. The best thing about this? Our intrepid Information and Communications Technology Officer, Mike “My Job Title Has As Many Syllables as a Haiku” Scullen created this site using the open-source Drupal CMS. He did it basically by himself, with the help of the online Drupal community and graphic designers at Flume Studios.

One of my favourite things about is the fact that we now have an active database that tracks arts activity in Calgary. In 2010, we know that over 1400 unique events were listed on And now, our database provides a feed to Tourism Calgary’s spanky new site Enter the data once, serve it out multiple times. Efficient. Effective.

Speaking of visiting Calgary, much of our awareness building work was done in partnership with our colleagues at Tourism Calgary and Travel Alberta. We conducted joint research on cultural tourism, worked together to promote our summer festival season and all of the cool things happening during the Christmas season in Calgary, and helped with some big cultural events (Juno Awards and Gemini Awards) that brought the attention of the country to showcase Calgary’s dynamic arts and culture scene.

And now? Tourism Calgary is rocketing forward with really cool marketing initiatives that will showcase Calgary for all that it is: an energetic urban centre with a unique cultural scene. I’m really excited to be able to enthusiastically support their work to bring people to Calgary to see and experience what we have to offer.

And before I forget... we've been facilitating Calgary's PechaKucha Nights for about 18 months... these events bring together between 250 and 300 people 4 or 5 times a year to hear talks about art, architecture, design and other topics of general interest. Acting as a facilitator of these events has been a great way for us to extend our network. The next event is February 14th, and the topic, of course, is Love. Check it out! Free!


I don’t have room to cover everything we’ve done at CADA over the years. There were numerous workshops, seminars, speaker events and community sessions. This past summer, our Board held a series of lunchtime discussions with working artists, learning a lot about their needs and desires in the process. We're a learning organization, and I'm really excited to share what we've learned in the form of our strategic plan... in my next post! Stay tuned!

(If you like what you're reading, why not consider applying for one of our 2 open job calls)

Purpose-Driven City - Alberta Venture Interview

I've been following the ThinkAlberta blog, a feature of Alberta Venture Magazine, for quite a while in my trusty Google Reader.  Not long ago, there was a post that ticked me off a bit... so I let them know in the comments.  Within a short time, their Web Editor, Rachel Singh, contacted me and essentially said... it's pretty easy to criticize in the comments of a blog, lets hear what you really have to say about this stuff!  Lo and behold, this month's print issue has an interview we completed over phone and e-mail, called "The Purpose-Driven City." Read more »

Positive Space as Clean Space

Paul I thought this short video of an artist who makes graffiti using water on dirty surfaces was pretty cool. The English artist, Paul "Moose" Curtis, has an elaborate website all about his work worth taking a look at. It looks like the work is of very high artistic merit. People say Calgary is a clean city (and I won't argue with that) but is it too clean to try this here?

Chillin´ in Chile

Writing on location from Curico, Chile. It´s a small city two hours south of the capital, Santiago. Curico is not unlike the Okanagan, surrounded by vineyards and orchards. (The wine is cheap and delicious… and so is the fruit.) It´s spring here: the sun is shining and I´ve slathered sunscreen all over my fair skin. I´m staying with a visual artist whom I met several years ago when studying art in Spain. She has regular exhibitions and teaches art and yoga by day (not at the same time). I´m here on vacation but our work at Calgary Arts Development never escapes me. There´s nothing like a trip to South America to offer some perspective on development in general… Read more »

Re-Inventing TV

Over and above back-to-back arts events for 11 weeks straight... I find myself in a particularly exciting week book ended by me in a bumble bee suit at the Grave Gala Karen and Holly at the Grave Galajavascript:mceToggle('edit-body', 'wysiwyg4body');and a flight to Buenos Aires. In between, I had a flash adventure in Regina, Saskatchewan, for the 22nd Gemini Awards. (I hardly even watch television. When I do watch, I watch The Hour or Corner Gas.) I had a line on good seats through a friend and I couldn't say no...

I've seen the Gemini Awards now and again but this was obviously different. If you know George Stroumboulopoulos and The Hour, you'll not be surprised that he and some of his team re-invented the Gemini awards this year.* As soon as the show went live on the air at 5 o'clock, the energy in the room spiked. George StroumboulopoulosGeorge was his usual attentive, humorous and provocative self. Somehow, a show about television, became about relevancy and response to the Canadian condition. The humour became a little more real. (I hope you saw the "Saskatchewan IS flat" skit - not the correct title - written by Paul Bates, I think.) This was the first Gemini Awards that was open to the public (which hopefully foreshadows the open and transparent future of Canada). The day ended with a party in the (haunted) Hotel Saskatchewan lobby with a crowd of young and smart Canadian television makers. Besides feeling a little star-struck, I'm reminded of the constructive threat our generation provides to the status quo.

I'm excited for the Juno Awards in Calgary, April 2008!! Let's break the Calgary music scene wide open to the world. Music lives here!

P.S. Many thanks to George and his friends for the hospitality.

*My knowledge of the whole Gemini's production is limited.

Engaging Art

I've been reading the ArtsJournal series "Engaging Art" since last week. What a great conversation about how things happen between art and audiences. A few brief excerpts below, plus great reading on the blog, mp3s, and a future book, so dig in!

----- Read more »

Art Imitates Life

"Google search frequency for "art" and "life" from 2004 to 2006 are plotted against each other on a search-volume graph where the number searches for each term is shown in relation to the number of searches done on Google during a given time period. The two graphs synchronize a surprising amount and are generally very close in volume, At least on the web, Art and Life imitate each other." By Caleb Larsen.

Which makes more sense to you: art imitating life or life imitating art? I'm going to go with a both/and answer.

via VVORK Read more »

Sculpture Park a Combo of Art, Environmental Conservation, and Urban Planning

SAM Sculpture ParkCheck out this new major sculpture park project in downtown Seattle. The Seattle Art Museum purchased a 9-acre waterfront brownfield site 8 years ago when it was in the final stages of environmental cleanup and the neighborhood still pretty rough. The park has a unique architectural design (Weiss/Manfredi Architects) that surrounds and overpasses a major roadway and railroad track, exhibits almost 30 critically acclaimed sculptors (I'm a Richard Serra fan), and offers free entrance for all. Read more »

Peter Sellars

Sellars The staff here had a listen to Peter Sellars' (no, not Peter Sellers) keynote for the American Symphony Orchestra League.

Certainly worth a listen; Sellars arugues that an important cultural link has been broken between the community and the typical American orchestra.

Listen to the audio here

Symphony Magazine scan here

Read more »

TCFKAC: The City Formerly Known as Cowtown

For those still wondering just what Calgary Arts Development is all about, check out this interview with Creative Generalist where our illustrious and insightful President & CEO, Terry Rock, elaborates on the goals and aspirations of the organization. Terry uses an acronym sums it up well: “TCFKAC: The City Formerly Known as Cowtown.” Which makes the marketer in me wonder, should we start taking orders for t-shirts?


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