CPO failure shows Calgary not a world-class city

Paul Romanuk–the TSN and Team sports-radio personality–once pointed out that, because it lacks an opera house, Toronto doesn’t rank as a world-class city. Still, Toronto is closer to that ranking than Calgary. As of right now, Calgary doesn’t even have an orchestra.

With more than one million people in the area, Calgary should be able to support the things that make a city great: notable arts development, top-level sports teams, a general sense of culture. Nevertheless, our most prominent musical organization has gone belly up, our biggest name on the continental sports scene continues to threaten to skip town and any sense of culture is pretty much non-existent.

I realize that it was more than a lack of support that made the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra go under. Poor management, an unreasonable rent deal, and a baffling approach to self-promotion and musical scheduling all contributed to the CPO’s problems. But we are a wealthy city in a wealthy province. How can it be that there isn’t enough money to go around here to keep both (or even either) an orchestra or major league professional sports franchise in operation?

It could be that Calgarians have too much to do. Many of our residents spend their summer weekends golfing and their winter weekends skiing. Few other cities that try to reach that elusive world-class ranking can truly boast the recreation opportunities that Calgary does. Even so, there should be enough money to go around, enough corporate sponsorship, enough oil company executives who don’t ski, to keep an orchestra in demand.

Alderman Druh Farrell is spearheading an attempt to make Calgary’s downtown core more inviting. Part of her logic for this move is that our city has recently gone to a new level–we are no longer competing with Regina, Edmonton and Winnipeg for tourists and events, we are now in a league with Vancouver, Portland and Seattle. She’s only partly right. In terms of population and income, Calgary is on par with the elite cities. When it comes to civic pride and supporting anything that might bring recognition, Calgary lags far behind.

Cities much smaller than Calgary can keep orchestras alive. Red Deer (population 67,600) and Lethbridge (pop. 71,000) have orchestras. Fairbanks, Alaska (pop. 31,000) has an orchestra. And it goes beyond that. We recently lost our Triple-A baseball team to Albuquerque (pop. 453,600).

Not only should Calgary have an orchestra, Calgary should have one of the better orchestras in the country. It has been that way in the past. But now, there must be some reason why proud Calgarian Jann Arden chose the Vancouver Symphony when she wanted to record an orchestral album. What’s next? Kris Demeanor deserting his hometown for the London Philharmonic?

If the CPO folds permanently, and if the Flames join the Cannons/Isotopes in moving south, what will Calgary be left with? A handful of summer festivals and a junior hockey team that competes against Cranbrook and Moose Jaw. World-class? Scarcely. We’ll be a second rate city in our own province.

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