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Ten Years Together - The Arts

A Story of the Arts

We’ve been spending this tenth anniversary sharing stories about ourselves.  Stories of our ten years together.  And this sharing of stories is one of the things that makes us human.

The way we celebrate, our traditions, our history – all are woven into the way we choose to express ourselves. Whether that includes  great tales or heroism, tragic events, or ways of finding humanity in unlikely places, the arts allow us to travel outside our own experiences and imagine what challenges and adventures another life may hold. 

They’re also a whole lot of fun. So today, let’s talk about ten years in the arts.

Calgary has been blessed with an outsized arts community. Across every medium, Calgarians have been contributors to the local, national, and international conversation that’s been happening about these times in which we live. And while these things might be dismissed as hobbies, or nice-to-haves, the truth is, these creative outlets are a major driver of the economy here in Calgary. 

According to KPMG, Calgary’s arts sector produces more than $100 million/year to our annual GDP, while employing thousands. It’s an enormous tourism draw, and give all Calgarians an opportunity to take part in our culture. That’s why we’re continuing to move forward with projects like the Arts Commons Transformation project. 

Our artists inspire us, and help us understand not just ourselves, but those around us with a different story to tell. And the way we support and interact with the arts here is unique. So in that spirit, let’s talk arts with some compelling Calgarians.

Josh Dalledonne of Arts Commons tells this story of a festival event he had been planning that was nearly disrupted by planned City construction. 

“All my permits and applications in to The City, when I discovered that there was construction scheduled on the sidewalks right in front of the venue that I was going to be using. They were going to be completely torn up,” he recalls. “This was a huge issue.”

But, he goes on to say, The City didn’t just hear his concerns, they fixed them.

“Within about five minutes what was happening, the issue was taken away,” he remarks. “I had an answer, I had sidewalks to rely on an hour later.” 

Karen Johnson-Diamond, my favourite local actor (don’t tell all my other favourite local actors!) and the co-founder of Calgary-based improve troupe Dirty Laundry, remarks at the incredible growth in the number of performers and organizations in our city.

“I’ve tried so many times to just list every single thing you could see in theatre and dance,” she says. “Eventually I just sort of made a list of everything I know that’s out there, and every year, as a new company comes out there, I add it to the list. When people ask, ‘What’s there to do in Calgary tonight?’, I just hit send.

“The word is getting out there in Calgary. From 2010-2020, I feel like there’s been more actors moving to Calgary than away from Calgary. The actors that have picked up from places like Toronto always say, ‘It’s just such a welcoming community.’”

(By the way, Karen’s whole family is cool.  Her son, Griffin Cork, is also an actor and won the Lieutenant Governor’s Emerging Artist Award this year. But both would agree they pale in comparison to Karen’s mum Sandy Moser, who has seen nearly 1000 plays in the last decade since her husband [assed.  When COVID hit, she began to make masks for artists – over 2000 to date.  And yes, Griffin’s dad Kevin is also cool!)

One of those artists that has chosen Calgary as his home is Lanre Ajayi. Both a creator and an instructor at CSpace King Edward, Lanre discusses the shock and awe he felt when he first arrived in Calgary after immigrating to Canada from Nigeria. 

“I came to Calgary the day before the Calgary Stampede. I had no idea what it was all about, and I was blown away,” he says, describing the celebration. “It was amazing seeing all those colourful costumes, chuckwagons, the horses, the vintage cars, and that actually made a good impression on me.”

After multiple years spent working for The City of Calgary as an event technician, he began volunteering at the recently completed CSpace, which led to his working for the organization. He goes on to say what an impact this community has had on him. 

“I entered the building and it was like a Eureka moment for me. Where have I been all these years that I’ve been in Calgary and nobody told me about this kind of space?” he remarks. “These are my people, where I can function effectively.”

When asked what he thinks about his home in Calgary and the effect this city’s support has had on his ability to live a creative life, he says something so powerful, I couldn’t have scripted it better myself.

“I couldn’t imagine anywhere better than Calgary to express myself. This is where heroes are made. Irrespective of where you’re coming from, the colour of your skin, the way you sound or you speak or how you look, you can actually see the reality of what you have in mind. Your dreams and your passions and inspirations can come to reality.”

The arts are vital. They make our lives so much richer. They make our community so much better.  They bring beauty to our days. And they tell our stories. 

Categories: The Arts


This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Mayor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.