Calgary’s Ecosystem of Art Spaces

Photo of the interior of Calgary Central Library

Calgary Central Library

Photo: Michael Grimm

Calgary’s Ecosystem of Art Spaces

The various spaces where art happens — from concept to fruition — are critical to a vibrant arts scene. Check out some of these spaces, including a few unexpected spots that support local artists.

When you think of art spaces, studios, galleries and stages might come to mind. But those types of spaces only account for a portion of what artists actually require. In order for artists to create powerful art, there must be accessible spaces for them to carry out their work and creative processes, as well as places to share, rehearse, teach and experience the arts. Joni Carroll, arts spaces consultant at Calgary Arts Development, says that access to affordable, suitable and safe art spaces is essential to a full and complete arts ecosystem in Calgary. “Arts spaces are needed for every step in the artistic process, from space for education, creation, rehearsal, production, storage and administration through to presentation and performance spaces like galleries and theatres,” says Carroll.

When exploring spaces that make up the ecosystem of Calgary’s arts scene, not all of them are obviously viewed as art spaces. Some are off-the-radar, others unexpected, and a few even surprising. But all are essential to a whole and vibrant art ecosystem. Here, we share a variety of different spaces and how they support Calgary’s artists and contribute to the city’s cultural identity.


With 21 locations across the city, the Calgary Public Library has inspired and supported Calgarians for over 110 years. Beyond the 450,000 books and materials housed at the Central Library, that location, in particular, serves as an essential part of the art spaces ecosystem through a vast offering of public programs, creative spaces and community outreach — not to mention the building itself is an architectural work of art. “Libraries are a place for creators, but also a place that inspires art and design,” says Sarah Meilleur, CEO of Calgary Public Library. “We have 10 locations that showcase art regularly, and we love that ability to feature community art. It enlivens our spaces and allows the community to feel like the library is a place for them to visit and think about art differently. All of it helps create an environment where people see that creativity and art are a part of how you make life and the world beautiful.”


Incorporated in 2007 by Harry Kiyooka and Katie Ohe, the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre (KOAC) blends the beauty of natural open spaces with a creative space dedicated to research, exhibition, education and documentation of contemporary visual arts.

“Contemporary art allows us to engage in experiences and believable ideas that we may not have experienced otherwise,” says Monica Kohlhammmer, CEO of KOAC. “It allows us to look within while simultaneously connecting with others. When you experience those same works in the open air of a natural sanctuary, somehow, the energy impact touches you more profoundly. KOAC’s unique location on 20 acres of natural woodlands and grasslands allows the public to experience its inspirational and healing aspects with the best contemporary art has to offer, symbiotically, on a grand scale, and within a preserved and beautiful natural environment grounded in community building.”

Two photographs from Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre, both exterior images of art installations


In 1991, the Evergreen Theatre was officially established to provide a place for learning opportunities and a larger art-inspired community to gather, create and connect. In 2015, the theatre opened its 24,000-squarefoot recreation facility named Community SPACES, which hosts performances, festivals, rehearsals, training and daily classes for students, artists and community members.

“All the work undertaken by the society is making space for creative communities to thrive,” says Sean Fraser, executive director at Evergreen Theatre. “We feel it is necessary for every Calgarian to recognize their own involvement in the arts and how full-time or professional artistic practice intersects with community and educational practice. The diversity of Calgary/Mohkinsstsis is tied together by art. Our micro-ecosystem is one example of how the Calgary landscape can be infused with art, and the continued development, cultivation and awareness of these intersections is how we can contribute to civic and community identities. The overlapping of communities, broadening of horizons and cultivating of conversations is how we can make space for creative communities to thrive.”


Jim and Susan Hill spent 15 years envisioning their dream of an art foundation and gallery in Calgary as a way to give back. In 2012, that vision came to life with the opening of Esker Foundation in Inglewood. Esker Foundation also shares its space with like-minded organizations that possess an appreciation for art, including media companies, retail, grocery and restaurants. Its street-level Project Space aims to engage the community by increasing the presence and accessibility of contemporary art by inviting artists to develop new, responsive exhibitions that directly address the neighbourhood.

“For the public, [the Esker Foundation] is about access to incredible exhibitions and artists both locally and internationally,” says Naomi Potter, director and curator at the foundation. “Our offices are situated above the gallery, so we constantly move through our exhibitions and are available for people to talk to us about the model of the foundation, our programs and who we are exhibiting. For artists, it’s first and foremost about how we support them and their practice. We have a small commissioning fund to support the production of new work that is then shown [here] for the first time. It’s not about replicating what already exists but looking for the holes in the arts community, and finding ways we can support this, and the next generation of artists, art leaders, directors and curators.”

Photo of Esker Nest at the Esker Foundation


Throughout YMCA’s history, it has acted as a trusted charity and a place that allows everyone to explore their potential. It also helps foster cultural expression, community engagement and overall well-being. The launch of Calgary’s YMCArts in 2018 made it the first YMCA in Canada to fully integrate creative pursuits as part of its core programming through a selection of visual arts, drama, choir and dance programs. YMCArts performances take place at the Evan Hazell Theatre at Brookfield Residential YMCA at Seton and BMO Theatre at Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge.

“Calgary is a large city with various communities, some of which may not have easy access to downtown. That’s why it’s essential for the arts industry to extend its reach to these areas, ensuring that art is accessible to all Calgarians, regardless of their location,” says Kate Stadel, YMCA’s general manager of the arts. “Art spaces act as community hubs, bringing people together, encouraging dialogue, understanding and a sense of belonging through exhibitions, performances, workshops and cultural events. They also contribute to overall well-being, providing a safe and inclusive environment for people to explore their emotions, improve self-esteem and cope with stress. Art spaces like the YMCA are essential components of a complete ecosystem and community as art spaces enhance the cultural and social vibrancy of neighbourhoods, making them more attractive places to live, work and visit.”


Finding new meaning in old buildings is an opportunity for the arts to build off the legacies of established spaces while introducing new life and engagement.


This non-profit arts foundation provides an open-minded, affordable and safe art space where artists can gather, create, experiment and share their work with the public. nvrlnd. is spread across three buildings featuring 50+ artists across 28 studios that were once hotel rooms transformed into creative spaces.

Workshop Studios

Workshop Studios converted two bays in the historic Northwestern Brass Foundry building in Inglewood and created an open-access facility that houses creative studios and a ceramics facility. The space offers artistic studios, ceramic memberships, pottery workshops, events and more.

University of Calgary Nickle Galleries

What began as a small art collection in the basement of the Library Block has since grown to a permanent collection of nearly 30,000 artifacts, featuring art, numismatics and textiles. In 2012, the Nickle Galleries opened its new space on the main floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library.


Fuse33 is a collaborative maker space for artists, designers and enthusiasts to work on their projects. MakeFashion provides a platform for designers, artists and technologists to showcase their work. Together, these two organizations offer access to equipment and community for artists to explore new means of expression.

“Both Fuse33 and MakeFashion prioritize diversity and community; [these spaces] foster a supportive, inclusive environment that encourages collaboration and creativity,” says Maria Elena Hoover, co-founder of Fuse33 and MakeFashion. “Providing access to state-of-the-art equipment, particularly for emerging artists, small businesses and those from underprivileged backgrounds — this level of accessibility would otherwise be unattainable. Our community also offers a supportive learning, mentorship and collaboration environment. These elements collectively augment the skills and potential reach of any artist who becomes a part of our community. The presence of Fuse33 and MakeFashion adds vibrancy and innovation to the arts ecosystem in Calgary, making it a thriving hub for artistic expression and fostering an inclusive and empowering atmosphere.”


Over the years, the Calgary Stampede has become a collective celebration of a legacy that has brought people together and provided space and opportunities to flourish. The Campus at Stampede Park supports youth achievements by having professional artists help train young people in performing arts and hone their crafts.

“The Campus at Stampede Park promotes collaboration and community engagement by providing a shared space for artists, educators and art enthusiasts to come together,” says Rory Siddall, team lead of campus operations at Calgary Stampede Foundation. “This facilitates the exchange of ideas, artistic practices and skills, and fosters a vibrant and dynamic artistic community. The presence of such a diverse and interactive environment encourages interdisciplinary collaborations, leading to innovative and groundbreaking artistic endeavours. Stampede Campus provides a dedicated space for artists to create, rehearse and exhibit their work; it nurtures artistic production and encourages the growth of emerging artists. This contributes to the city’s cultural identity, enriching the lives of its residents and fostering a sense of pride and belonging within the community.”


cSPACE Projects offers artists, non-profits and entrepreneurs creative spaces that activate people and ideas to ignite collaboration and community-led change in Calgary. Located in the reimagined historic sandstone building of the former King Edward School, the cSPACE Marda Loop creative hub and coworking space features studio spaces, galleries and a theatre.

“By providing a nurturing environment, exhibition opportunities and community engagement that is affordable and appropriate to elevating the work of the creative sector, we contribute to the overall vibrancy and diversity of the city’s art scene, supporting artists and fostering creativity,” says Deeter Schurig, president and CEO of cSPACE Projects. “Through our projects, cSPACE provides the conditions that diverse communities of creative entrepreneurs need to remain vital, sustainable and innovative while generating dividends for Calgarians. cSPACE Projects also specializes in the adaptive reuse of existing buildings, transforming them into vibrant and functional spaces for artists and creative professionals. This approach not only revitalizes underutilized spaces but also promotes sustainability by repurposing existing infrastructure. It showcases innovative ways of utilizing urban spaces and encourages more efficient use of resources.”


Originally known as the Untitled Art Society, the artist-run centre was renamed The Bows in 2021, to acknowledge the place — Mohkinsstsis/ Calgary, Treaty 7 Territory — where the centre’s artists live and work. The name is dedicated to its lands, the proximity to the Bow and Elbow rivers, and the symbolism of collaboration within its space. Aspiring to be like the meeting of the two rivers, The Bows is a place of perpetual encounters, stability, regeneration and collaboration with its artists, the community, guests and those within the organization itself.

“Over our nearly 30-year existence, we have developed an operational system, which continues to provide wholesale support to artists living and working in Mohkinsstsis/Treaty 7,” says Jasmine Hynes, director at The Bows. “We aim to cultivate long-term relationships with artists by supporting projects that span several years and supporting artists through multiple projects. The Bows aims to broaden the reach and scope of contemporary art and expose the city to artistic work that explores pressing contemporary issues. We are focused on projects and practices that dovetail with this province’s specific socio political, cultural, colonial, economic and Indigenous histories and contexts. Ultimately, The Bows strives to empower and support artists to imagine radical futures and invite those inside and outside our community to be co-conspirators in realizing such futures.”


Some of the most breathtaking works of art aren’t found within traditional galleries or art buildings. Sometimes, artwork can be found in unexpected places that serve as essential parts of the arts ecosystem by exposing new and different audiences to arts and culture.

Theatre 1308

Operated by Calgary Inter-Mennonite Church, Calgary’s newest performance and art space offers an intimate, affordable, accessible and welcoming art space. Theatre 1308 reimagines the historic church space to support local artists and arts organizations to create meaningful and impactful programming.

Lantern Community Church

The historic 1912 church, located in the heart of Inglewood, is home to weddings and celebrations. It’s also a venue to celebrate arts and music with concerts, Calgary Fringe Festival, Bleak Midwinter Film Festival, movie and music video filming, live theatre productions and more.

Congress Coffee

Paying homage to the ’90s with a neighbourhood-focused coffee shop, Congress brings together strong coffee, good conversations and local arts. The community-driven programming features monthly cinema screenings, local bands, presentations, open-mic nights and more, all designed to showcase and support the best of Calgary’s arts.

Colour on Fire Art Studio

Named one of the best five art schools in Calgary in 2021 by The Best Calgary, Colour on Fire Art Studio blends a learning-accredited art studio and a school into one. Adults and kids alike are welcome to share, learn, paint and create.

The New Gallery

This artist-run centre was founded in 1975 as a space to provide alternative-to-mainstream opportunities and venues for artists to foster social and political art practices, while engaging and educating audiences through artist-run culture and contemporary art. It has called many locations home and now resides in the historic Canton Block in Calgary’s Chinatown.

This article was originally published in the 2023 edition of Create Calgary, an annual magazine launched by Calgary Arts Development in 2022 to celebrate the work of artists who call Mohkinsstsis/Calgary home.

You can pick up a free copy at public libraries, community recreation centres and other places where you find your favourite magazines. You can also read the digital version online here.

Magazine front cover of Create Calgary