When I made the decision to move from Vancouver to Calgary, reactions from my friends ranged from “why?” to “my condolences.” There’s still a perception of Calgary as a hyper-conservative and culturally-void cowboy hub.
It’s easy to dismiss Calgary as inferior to cities like Vancouver or Montreal. Calgary doesn’t have great sushi. Or oceans. Or feel European. You could say Calgary got the short end of the cultural stick. But if you look closely, that’s not the case. Our cultural scene is more than the Stampede and oil companies.
With an eclectic population, the arts scene is vibrant and varied. It seems like there is a film festival nearly every weekend — recently the Arab Nights Film Fest, Fairytales and the Calgary Underground Film Festival, to name a few.
Calgary is also home to Beakerhead, a hands-on, city-wide festival that brings art and technology together in quirky and unconventional ways.
Then there’s the music festivals: Folk Fest, Blues Fest, Afrikadey, and Sled Island — which Time named as one of the top festivals in the world in 2014. It’s easy to find something that you love or venture out of your comfort zone.
Calgary’s art scene is inclusive. You don’t have to fit into a narrow cool kid aesthetic to take part in local events. If you’re interested in doing something — whether it’s writing for a school newspaper, burlesque dancing or helping with a community garden — Calgarians are excited to include you. That enthusiasm promotes community, collaboration and innovation, which helps arts and culture thrive.
Our local culture is accessible. From modern and interactive public art to “secret” movie screenings, participating in the arts doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. At the U of C, we’re lucky to have a free art gallery on campus. Many venues offer student rates, lowering the barriers to Calgary’s culture scene.
While Calgary’s arts scene isn’t as developed as Montreal’s or Vancouver’s, I see that as an advantage. Since Calgary is so young, there’s room for people to pursue their interests and shape their city.
Although I’ve only been here for a short time, I feel hopeful for the cultural future of Calgary. The city is full of talented people making incredible art.
In the process, we’re making Calgary a vibrant, exciting and dynamic place to live. My condolences to people who don’t take the time to appreciate that.