We acknowledge that there has been art, music, dance, storytelling and ceremony on this land since time immemorial and it is in the spirit of this land and its people that we do our work.
Acknowledging the traditional territories on which we gather has become a customary practice at Calgary Arts Development and an important step in our reconciliation journey.
More than just words to memorize and recite, the land acknowledgement is a way to remember and honour the Original Peoples of this land — people who have been here for millennia.
In this spirit, we created a musical land acknowledgement to begin the 2019 Mayor’s Lunch for Arts Champions, featuring Olivia Tailfeathers and the Grassland Singers, visual artist Mandy Stobo, and Calgary Arts Development President & CEO Patti Pon.
We believe that finding a personal connection is essential and we strive to communicate that personal meaning every time. Adding music and visual arts to the land acknowledgement at that Mayor’s Lunch for Arts Champions was a way to connect the meaning of our work to this land and the peoples who have lived here since time immemorial
I was appointed as chair to the Calgary Arts Development board of directors in 2019, the same year our grant from The City of Calgary went from $6.4 million to $12.4 million. What a way to start. This transformational increase provided much needed support to arts organizations who had experienced stagnant operating grants for the previous 10 years. We ensured the increase not only supported catch-up for those organizations who had been in our programs for years, but also those new to our programs, with a particular emphasis on equity-seeking artists and groups.
As I started my term, it seemed like we were already making headway on the two strategic priorities in our 2019-2022 strategic framework: fostering a sustainable and resilient arts sector, and supporting arts-led city-building. And then, BAM! The world changed in March 2020, putting a whole new meaning on “sustainable and resilient.”
In reflecting back, it is surprising that our sector made it through with all the disruption and chaos that ensued. When COVID struck, the arts communities were immediately some of the hardest hit. Curtains closed, exhibitions were put on hold, contracts were cancelled. It was alarming. We knew a quick and serious response was necessary and we understood the end was not in sight anytime soon.
We reacted quickly with some research and short-term emergency relief programs, including special emergency relief funding from The City, but it was difficult to stop the bleeding. 88% of arts organizations had to cancel or postpone events or exhibitions, 51% of staff were laid off, and over 70% of arts professionals reported that their ability to generate self-employment income was reduced. Over half of arts educators also reported that contract and freelance work was cancelled entirely. As the year went on we undertook a number of relief funding programs and strategic partnerships to support the health and sustainability of the arts sector. Our actions were guided by three Rs: relief, recovery and resiliency.
During my term as chair, the focus was mainly on relief. We started to see signs of recovery in 2022, but we think true recovery will take several years.
I have lived all over the world and one thing I know is that the arts are important to great cities. They bring us together, reflect the world around us, and bring joy and meaning to our lives. They make our cities more vibrant and create a sense of pride and belonging amongst their citizens. That’s why it’s so important to do whatever it takes to ensure the recovery and resilience of the arts sector in our city.
It is a pleasure to be of service to an organization whose mission is to support and strengthen the arts to benefit all Calgarians.
On behalf of everyone at Calgary Arts Development, we would like to thank Brian Frank for his service as board chair from 2019 to 2022. Being chair during the pandemic required a lot of leadership and heavy lifting and we are deeply appreciative of Brian’s guidance and fortitude during that challenging time.
The pandemic shed light on many inequities that had gone unattended for much too long, including a racial reckoning that had been years in the making. When George Floyd was murdered in May 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and brought a heightened awareness to the need for a strong commitment to eliminate anti-Black racism. There was also an increase in anti-Asian racism throughout North America including in our own city. Our response included hosting a series of anti-racism virtual town halls, the creation of an EDIA (equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility) community working group, and support for the Cultural Instigators — a group of artists who work in racialized and marginalized communities who want to achieve an anti-racist Calgary led by artists.
About a year later, in June 2021, the discovery of the mass burial ground of 215 children at the residential school in Kamloops, home of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, was a horrific addition to the proof of genocide by church and crown, and the ongoing violence suffered by Indigenous peoples due to the legacies of colonization. Our response included the Honouring the Children Grant available to Indigenous artists who wanted to use their art to commemorate the tragic lost lives of all of the children who didn’t return home. We also ensured there was Indigenous representation at the leadership level of our organization (staff and board), as well as continuing to work with an Indigenous Advisory and to further develop granting programs specifically for Indigenous artists, like the Original Peoples Investment Program and the Indigenous Artist Microgrant.
As the pandemic went on, Calgarians suffered from isolation, depression, and loss. Within the arts sector, individual artists were particularly hard hit, many unable to find ways to create and share their work, and others having to leave the profession altogether. Live performances were few and far between until after there was a vaccine and public confidence increased enough to go out to live events. In the meantime artists and arts organizations adapted, moving a lot of their programming online or outdoors. Collaborative initiatives like Hotels Live, Chinook Blast and Rise Up were launched, and played an important role in presenting safe, live events for Calgarians.
In 2022, the arts ecosystem began to spring back, slowly but surely. Festivals and live performances started up again, exhibitions opened their doors, and you could feel the buzz in the air when you attended a live event. In 2022, in-person activities produced by arts organizations increased by 38% over 2021. It still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels but the ship is turning and the recovery phase has started. Attendance was up 11% over 2022 with 4.5 million participants, and down just 6% from 2019. This is in part due to more opportunities for arts organizations to participate in new large-scale community events like Chinook Blast and Rise Up.
The number of youth education activities was up 10% from 2021, but still down 40% from 2019 as schools are slow to return to allowing outside programming in the classroom and are still wrestling with budget concerns. While programming is up slightly, attendance at youth programming is down 24% from 2021. This is likely partially due to a reduction in online participation, where it may have been easier to reach a broader audience.
There was other good news in 2022. The number of artists hired was up 32% from 2021, full-time equivalent staff was up 9%, and the number of volunteers was up 13% with the number of volunteer hours up 44%.
While there are signs of improvement, we have learned a lot during the past four years, and we are approaching the next four years with guarded optimism. We learned that artists and the arts are adaptive. We saw first-hand how artists reflect and help us make sense of the world around us, even in chaotic times. We saw how the arts connect us, heal us and bring us joy, even in times of isolation. And we saw the ways the arts can help us achieve a more equitable, inclusive and accessible city. We learned that we need the arts and artists now more than ever to lead us to a new and better world.
When crafting our 2023-2026 strategic framework, we were led by a Treaty 7 Indigenous world view. Our new plan is titled Ákáakomatapoap — the Blackfoot word for We are now going to begin, which recognizes the transformational times the arts face. We seek to renew the true spirit of this land as understood by the Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda and Métis peoples; a vision that sees art and culture as integral to how we relate to one another in a good way, in concert with the land and stewarding it for our future generations.
It is heartening to know that most Calgarians, even those not highly engaged with the arts, value the role of the arts in creating a vibrant city. Making the city a better and more beautiful place to live are listed as the top arts benefits by Calgarians. An increasing number of Calgarians feel that developing local artists is a good thing for Calgary (92%), and that it is important that there are organizations dedicated to the development of the arts in Calgary (88%).
We embark on our next four-year journey with a renewed confidence. Like Calgarians, we know the power of the arts to make our city better and more beautiful. We believe artists can lead the way; that diverse art and artist-led city building will foster a truly equitable, inclusive and accessible city where everyone belongs. Their voices just need to be heard.
President & CEO