Champions! Community! And Thanks! A #yycpoet Reflection

I can’t stop thinking about last night’s Calgary Poet Laureate showcase. Six Calgary poets. Over 250 people in the audience (many of whom stood in a standby line to grab their seat). Six Poet Laureate Ambassadors (corporate and community financial supporters). An incredibly positive energy. Beautiful and challenging work that brought cheers, jeers and tears (see what I did there?). Smiles that would not stop.
How do we find ourselves in this enviable position, at the penultimate step on the way to Calgary’s first Poet Laureate? Two things come immediately to mind: Champions and Community. 
DJ Kelly. DJ put out a challenge (Calgary should have a Poet Laureate!), proposed a way do it (it was DJ’s idea to have the Poet Laureate privately funded), and did the initial spadework to attract funders (now called Poet Laureate Ambassadors). We wouldn’t be here without DJ.
Alderman Druh Farrell. Ald. Farrell crafted the Notice of Motion to City Council to formally establish the Poet Laureate, and has been championing the concept quietly for over 5 years. Her gentle encouragement and constant enthusiasm kept the embers glowing whenever we hit bumps on the road. We wouldn’t be here without Ald. Farrell.
Alderman Brian Pincott & Mayor Nenshi. Though Calgary’s version of a Poet Laureate utilizes private funding and leverages existing staff capacity at Calgary Arts Development, there remains political sensitivity around the concept. Ald. Pincott and Mayor Nenshi were both outspoken champions of the Poet Laureate when the matter was up for consideration. Ald. Pincott subsequently joined the selection committee. We wouldn’t be here without Ald. Pincott, Mayor Nenshi and, frankly, the vast majority of City Council, who voted to create the position.
The Calgary Foundation. Once Calgary Arts Development began to work with DJ Kelly on the Poet Laureate, an early conversation with The Calgary Foundation lent immediate encouragement to our joint efforts. We have a very close working relationship with the Foundation through our collaboration on the King Edward School project. They are always ready with great advice, and with their adaptable and responsive funding, TCF was able to be the first-in funder with a 3 year commitment to cover half of the cost of the Poet Laureate’s honorarium. From there, we were able to bring on the remaining ambassadors over time. We wouldn’t be here without The Calgary Foundation.
Poet Laureate Ambassadors. Six community partners jumped on board to give Calgary a Poet Laureate. In addition to The Calgary Foundation, our ambassadors include First Calgary Financial, TransCanada, First Energy, The Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Arts and an anonymous supporter. In each case, there are individuals within the organization who found a way to support an unproven idea, and who I’m sure will be going well beyond their financial contribution to make Calgary’s first Poet Laureate a household name. They took our calls, listened, and did what they could to give life to this idea. We wouldn’t be here without our Poet Laureate Ambassadors and the people behind the scenes.
The Board of Calgary Arts Development. Agreeing to allocate staff time and bring in outside sponsors to develop this program was a new step for Calgary Arts Development. I gave regular progress updates on how we were supporting a citizen-led initiative to create a Poet Laureate. They were very encouraging and patient throughout the process. As we moved closer to the funding goal, some board members agreed to become Poet Laureate Ambassadors if required to make the program successful. We wouldn’t be here without the support of the Calgary Arts Development Board.
Last night was about community. Look at the list of champions that helped make the night possible. Every one of them did something they didn’t have to do. They just acted because they thought it would be good for Calgary. And consider this: the initiative came from the community, was funded by the community, and has the community infused throughout the selection process. In Calgary, the Poet Laureate will truly be “of the community.”
The decision to invite the community in to the process through a showcase was not one we came to lightly. Calgary Arts Development always errs on the side of open, transparent, community-engaged process when we make decisions. Whether it is the community steering group for Pecha Kucha Nights, grant allocation assessment committees, or the prioritization of multi-million dollar infrastructure investments through the Cultural Spaces Investment Process, you will find members of the community at large alongside cultural professionals, working together to make recommendations on behalf of the citizens of Calgary.
But a showcase of poets as part of the process of selecting a Poet Laureate? That may be taking our commitment to transparency too far. We didn’t want it to be a popularity contest (Poetry Idol?) or overly stressful, but on the other hand, the vision for Calgary’s Poet Laureate calls for someone who is engaged, and who will be engaged with the community as part of the role. The thought of a small group of people completing the full process in private just didn’t fit the vision. So, the shortlist was published, poets were contacted, and plans began for a showcase.
How big should the room be for a Poet Laureate selection showcase? 50? 100? We started at 100. Then moved to 200. Then 250. Then, thanks to the flexibility and generosity of Hotel Arts, we increased the number of seats even higher. (I should note here that it was Calgary Arts Development’s Emiko Muraki who was highly effective in managing this whole process). And people showed up. Lined up. Threw coats on prime seats. And, I heard, lost each other in the crowd…
The people who showed up weren’t there to see our poets do battle. They were there to support friends. To get a sneak preview of what it might be like when Calgary has a Poet Laureate. To be moved by poetry. And it wasn’t a “War of Words.” It was a celebration of our artists, of our city, and of six unique voices that form a part of a bigger, and also unique, Calgary voice. We learned that all six would do our city proud. The approaches would be different. The impact would be different. But the outcome will be a stronger community.
What an honour to be part of this process and to contribute to this amazing community! At the end of the night, I was at a complete loss for words. I just wanted to thank everyone: the artists, the selection committee, the Poet Laureate Ambassadors, the audience, DJ Kelly, the staff, board and volunteers of Calgary Arts Development, City Council, event host Russell Bowers, the media, the people who tweet using #yycpoet…
You only have a few more weeks to wait… committee deliberations begin soon, and the plan is to announce Calgary’s first Poet Laureate in March at a City Council meeting. Once we do that, I’m sure I’ll be saying thanks to a thousand people again!


My way, we lose with the books

As our City Council embarks on a few weeks of budget deliberations, confronting tough choices on how to spend limited public dollars to continue building Calgary as "a great place to make a living, a great place to make a life," (from Imagine Calgary) I'm reminded of one of my favorite exchanges in literature:

I bought you some books in Lutsk, he told her, shutting the door on the early evening and the rest of the world.

We can't afford these, she said, taking the heavy bag. I'll have to return them tomorrow.

But we can't afford not to have them. Which can we not afford more, having them or not having them? As I see it, we lose either way. My way, we lose with the books.

- A conversation between Yankel and Brod in Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated

Tune in 7pm tonight

This just in - you may want to tune your radio dial to 102.1FM in Calgary before you read.

The Calgary Girls Choir has just won the CBC Radio Choral Competition in the Youth Choirs Category! The choir performed this afternoon as part of a "live-to-air" broadcast today, April 30. If you were unable to attend in person, tune in to CBC Radio Two tonight at 7 p.m. MST or listen via the internet (see below).

A huge congratulations from all of us at Calgary Arts Development to the Calgary Girls Choir, artistic director Elaine Quilichini and all the hard-working parents and volunteers behind the scenes!

Internet Listening Instructions

1. Go to http://www.cbc.ca/radio2/ Read more »

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 »

News from the creative industries

Scanning bloglines today, I noticed an item on the 37Signals blog Signal vs. Noise... it appears that Calgary's own VEER was purchased by Corbis. Congrats are due to the folks at VEER for another major Calgary creative industry success story. Some of the heaviest hitters in the world in the creative industries--Corbis and Getty Images--now both have major operations in Calgary. Read more »

More news from the Big Apple

Congratulations to Calgary's Joe Slabe, who is basking in the glow of a successful run of his show Austentatious, recently part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Heck, even the New York Times agrees!


Taking on the Big Apple

Calgary's strength as a centre for new performance creation is not going unnoticed. One Yellow Rabbit has just wrapped up the High Performance Rodeo, ATP's playRights Festival is on the way, the premiere of Calgary Opera's Frobisher just closed and the Old Trouts Puppet Workshop has recently returned from their trek to New York's Under the Radar Festival. And now Alberta Ballet is getting international press coverage for their new work, Dancing Joni. Read more »

National Post: Explorers Of The Opera

Take a look at this piece by Sean Carrie in today's National Post. Sean looks at the story of the creation of Calgary Opera and the Banff Centre's Frobisher, making its world premiere on January 27th. Here are a couple of great quotes that speak to what we're starting to think is Calgary's authentic story: Read more »

Stick Your Neck Out

Seth Godin , one of the office's favorite thinkers, has a great new post on his blog, called "Hard Work." It's basically a list of 'easy things' and 'hard things.' (In his words, One... or the other...). Here are some of my favorites:

  • One... Being board certified... or the other ... Looking patients in the eye
  • One... Making a lot of money... or the other ... Donating a lot of money (quietly)
  • One... Having a great idea... or the other ... Sticking your neck out

One of the many things I love about my job is that I'm around people who are CONSTANTLY sticking their neck out. Every time I look around Calgary's arts scene, thats what I see... you? Who've you seen take a great idea and make it reality by sticking their neck out?

Greatness in the Social Sector: Better than Business

Andrew Taylor (The Artful Manager) has written an insightful article in response to Jim Collin's monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors.  He gives a six point alternative to 'running like a business' that raises the bar for arts organizations:

"1. Arts organizations must strive to be better than a business.
Being responsible, accountable, transparent and responsive is the lowest standard we should set for ourselves. Let's be exceptional."

read the rest here: 



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