There were no signs of an economic slump at the 2017 Mayor’s Lunch for Arts Champions, held March 22 at the BMO Centre.
It was a balmy Wednesday, on the day that around 650 members of the Calgary business, arts, and cultural community gathered to schmooze, break some bread, and honour a variety of creative lives that received awards.
What makes the Mayor’s Lunch such a compelling and inspiring event is that it is a celebration of creativity in the lives of everyone, not just professional artists.
That philosophy was beautifully articulated by Her Honour, the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, CM, AOE, LLD, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, in her opening remarks, when she said that for a long time—despite being a longtime Calgary arts champion—she didn’t think of herself as having a creative bone in her body.
“I can’t sing,” she said. “I can’t draw.”
But then, one day, she realized that creative living is not only demonstrating artistic ability—it’s also a kind of worldview that’s more fluid than fixed, more improvisational than didactic, and a reflection of your own individual ability to problem-solve.
“It’s all about having the courage to act,” she said. “Thinking outside the box.”
That led her to an epiphany she suggested every single person in the room might experience.
“I actually am a creative person,” she said, “living a creative life!”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi took up the baton as well, talking about the 3 Things for Canada initiative.
Nenshi—who might be the all-time arts champion politician of any persuasion or office—also made a point of repeating his personal mantra when it comes to sharing your arts passion with others.
“Promote. Attend. Invest,” he said.
Nenshi also punched back at tough-guy politicians who like to label people who embrace multiculturalism and ideas such as empathy and compassion as being the qualities possessed by an elite few “delicate snowflakes.”
“I’m the man in charge of snow removal,” he said. “Put enough delicate snowflakes together and they can become the most powerful force in the world.
“Never,” he said, “make the mistake to call compassion weakness.”
Calgary Arts Development President and CEO Patti Pon stressed that increasing investment in the arts benefits the community as much or more than artists.
She also accepted Mayor Nenshi’s challenge to come up with three things she would do to live a more creative life, which she said were inspired by the words of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris.
“My words are going to come more from my heart and less from my head,” she said. “My deeds are going to be inspired by the artists I get the privilege of working with every day and try and activate my third thing, which is being a champion for increased investment in the arts, because again, increased investment is not about benefiting artists: it’s about benefiting our communities, benefiting our country, [and] benefiting our city. There’s no better way to present who we are and what we can accomplish than when we have artists in the room.”
The award-winners, each of whom received $5,000 from a contribution from a local philanthropist or organization with matching money from Calgary 2012, included The New Gallery (SANDSTONE City Builder Award), Antyx Community Arts (Colin Jackson and Arlene Strom Creative Placemaking Award), paramedic Teresa Coulter (ATB Financial Healing Through the Arts Award), hip-hop artist Stephane Nouz (Calgary Catholic Immigration Society New Canadian Artist Award), filmmaker Benjamin Ross-Hayden (RBC Emerging Artist Award) and Kris Demeanor (Doug and Lois Mitchell Outstanding Calgary Artist Award).
The winners ranged from a project created by Coulter, where she painted a dozen portraits of her colleagues, to address mental health issues, to The Northlander by Hayden-Ross, an ambitious sci-fi film that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival—all while being financed by a Telefilm micro budget grant.
Demeanor, the well-known, self-described Calgary singer-songwriter spoken word artist (who left out actor and librettist—he’s the co-creator of several musicals) may have only been speaking personally in his remarks, but in a way, he summed it all up beautifully.
“Calgary is my home,” he said, “my muse, my sparring partner, and my fuel.”
Speaking of his art-making practices, he added, “It can be so ephemeral. It goes by so fast, you don’t know if it’s having any effect—and this award suggests that it is.”