Fuelling a vital, prosperous and connected city

The Calgary skyline drawn in sugar on a table with coffee cups
Living a Creative Life | Photo: Jason Stang

The Arts Plan process was one result of our year as a Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012, but the momentum for a formal arts development strategy started several years earlier. The 2004 Calgary Civic Arts Policy led to the creation of Calgary Arts Development, an arm’s length arts development authority for The City of Calgary that promotes and directs investments in the arts to increase the sector’s public and artistic impact. Calgary Arts Development was also directed, via the Calgary Civic Arts Policy, to create an arts development strategy for Calgary.

In 2007, Calgary Arts Development identified a gap in access to affordable arts space in Calgary, which was a catalyst for creating the 2007 Art Spaces Strategy and Capital Plan. This document helped shape new investments in the arts sector and has also informed Living a Creative Life.

Cultural Capital of Canada

By 2010, the prospect of becoming a designated Cultural Capital of Canada galvanized Calgarians. Over 5,000 people participated in an unprecedented bid process that saw six civic partners join forces (Calgary Arts Development, Calgary Economic Development, the Calgary Public Library, the Calgary Stampede, The City of Calgary – Recreation, and Tourism Calgary). That bid was successful, and Calgary was designated one of Canada’s Cultural Capitals in 2012.

Calgary 2012, which oversaw Cultural Capital activities and investments, engaged Calgarians from diverse communities in Calgary’s arts, culture and heritage sectors. Attracting thousands of participants to events like the One Love Concert and Sweet City Lip Dub, Calgary 2012 also supported many creative projects through its Grassroots Inspired Grants (GIGYYC). Legacies from our year as a Cultural Capital include crowdfunding platform InvestYYC and the Cultural Leaders Legacy Artist Awards, but perhaps most importantly, a widespread pride in Calgary’s arts scene.

June 2013 Floods

In June 2013, Calgary was hit by a hundred-year flood that devastated several neighbourhoods and irrevocably changed the lives of many Calgarians. Many artists and arts organizations were affected by the floodwaters. Yet, in the midst of the disaster, our city witnessed an outpouring of generosity from Calgarians who helped their neighbours get back on their feet. Our artists were also on the front lines, donating their talents as musicians, visual artists and more towards flood fundraisers—sometimes when they, themselves, were still struggling to recover.

More than 35 organizations and agencies across Alberta banded together in the aftermath of the flood to form Alberta Arts Rebuild, which both measured the flood’s impact on Alberta’s arts community as well as raised funds for arts-specific rebuilding efforts. While funding was disbursed to successful applicants in 2013 and 2014, the needs of those affected far outstrip the available resources, and the repercussions of the disaster will be felt for many years. While Living a Creative Life is presented with optimism and a faith in Calgary’s hell-or-high-water spirit, we must also acknowledge that there are enduring challenges ahead, not only for the arts community, but also for the public and private sectors that support it.

All the same, Calgary enjoys a rich artistic heritage. The arts are everywhere and they touch everyone: from popular music to theatre to dance; from neighbourhood galleries and festivals to children’s programming. Calgarians are involved in the arts in countless ways, big and small. Now is the right time to build on this legacy and to imagine how the arts can continue to play a vital role in building our city.

Connections to Other Strategies

Living a Creative Life is a development strategy that seeks to enrich Calgary specifically through the arts, and many of its goals dovetail with plans designed to improve our city from other perspectives. Signatories to Living a Creative Life also commit to considering the strategy when undertaking their own strategic planning.

A few specific parallels are listed below.

imagineCALGARY (September 2007)

The aspirations of this strategy tie closely to imagineCALGARY: Calgary’s Long Range Plan for Sustainability.

Direct Connections

All aspects of life in Calgary provide opportunities for aesthetic enjoyment. We recognize and protect our natural and built environments for their beauty. Our traditions, values and distinctive characteristics are used to enhance physical and human resources. Opportunities for aesthetic enjoyment are accessible to all.

» Target 86: By 2036, 95 percent of Calgarians report that they have a range of opportunities for the aesthetic enjoyment of nature, arts and culture.

Creative self-expression is cultivated and nurtured as part of everyone’s life. We renew ourselves, using our unique gifts and talents, through creative self-expression. There is a wide range of opportunities for creative expression.

» Target 87: By 2016, 90 percent of Calgarians report that they have opportunities to express their unique gifts and talents.

» Target 88: By 2021, 90 percent of Calgarians report that Calgary is a city that promotes creative freedom.

» Target 89: By 2026, 90 percent of Calgarians report that participation in creative activities is an important part of their lives.

We are continually renewed by participating in activities that refresh our bodies and minds; active lifestyles contribute to our abilities to restore and enhance our senses of personal and community well- being.

» Target 107: By 2036, 90 percent of people living in Calgary report that they participate in active lifestyles that include informal and structured recreational opportunities.

» Target 108: By 2036, 100 percent of Calgarians report that they can access a range of high-quality recreational experiences, regardless of gender, socio-economic status, age, ability, religion, race, sexual orientation or heritage.

Indirect Connections

We create individual meaning, purpose and connectedness in our lives for our own benefit and that of others. We respect and embrace the ways in which others choose to create meaning, purpose and connectedness.

» Target 101: By 2036, 90 percent of citizens agree that “Calgary is a city with soul,” which is defined as citizens having meaning and purpose in life and experiencing ongoing feelings of connectedness with some form of human, historic or natural system.

» Target 102: By 2036, 100 percent of Calgarians report that they feel respected and supported in their pursuits of meaning, purpose and connectedness, and that they extend respect and support to others who meet this need in ways different from their own. We have a sense of belonging, friendship and identity within the context of our groups and neighbourhoods. We honour and celebrate diversity. We act as collective stewards of our values, traditions, institutions and the natural environment.

» Target 112: By 2010, 90 percent of Calgarians agree that there is a strong sense of community in Calgary, and at least 80 percent of Calgarians report high levels of satisfaction, sense of belonging, attachment and civic pride.

» Target 113: By 2010, 80 percent of citizens experience a high sense of community in their neighbourhoods and affinity- related communities, as reflected by residents’ reports of neighbourhood participation and volunteering, sense of belonging, neighbourliness and reciprocity, sense of efficacy, attachment, safety and voter turnout.

» Target 114: By 2010, at least 75 percent of Calgarians report that they volunteer for the benefit of others who are outside their circles of family and friends.

The City of Calgary’s Centre City Plan (May 2007)

The arts are embedded throughout the Centre City Plan, which particularly refers to public art as a way of enlivening our streets and identifies areas of the Centre City as potential ‘entertainment districts.’ In Section 8.0: Vitality, the plan devotes specific subsections to Tourism (8.2), Entertainment (8.3), Arts and Culture (8.4) and Public Art (8.6).

A few specific connections to Living a Creative Life are listed below.

8.4 Arts and Culture


  • The Centre City contains many of Calgary’s major cultural institutions and festivals. The City, in collaboration with Calgary Arts Development, will actively support these institutions and festivals to ensure their long-term sustainability and growth within the Centre City.
  • The Centre City should become a place where new and alternative cultural groups and venues are developed and supported. The City, in collaboration with Calgary Arts Development, will be an active partner and enabler to nurture the growth of culture in the following ways:
    • Administrative and financial support.
    • Support the establishment of an organization to champion the brokering of partnerships and arrangements to connect cultural groups with facilities and spaces.
    • Flexible and supportive land use and design policies and regulations.
    • The use of City-owned lands and buildings, including heritage buildings.


  • Prepare a Centre City Arts and Culture Master Plan to include both facility and programming strategies.
  • When reviewing the Downtown density bonus system, specifically include the provision of cultural facilities as a key objective

8.6 Public Art


The Public Art Strategy within the Centre City Plan involves:

  • Capitalizing on the opportunities afforded within the Centre City for strategic and thoughtful public art projects and initiatives that celebrate the area’s unique characteristics, mixed-use neighbourhoods, history, and urban and natural environment.
  • Creating a culture of excellence in regards to public art by encouraging collaboration and cooperation between The City and the private sector.
  • Adhering to the principles and processes outlined in the Public Art Policy, and developed by the Public Art Program, in the implementation of diverse public art projects and initiatives throughout the Centre City.
  • Developing and enforcing criteria, standards and a review process for all privately owned art to be sited on publicly accessible locations as a result of a bonus requirement.
  • Continuing to research and refine the priority areas identified on Concept 29: Public Art Strategy.
  • Implementing the Centre City portions of the Utilities and Environmental Protection Art Masterplan.


  • Develop a Centre City Public Art Plan, in collaboration with the Public Art Program that provides a long range, visionary approach to public art in the Centre City and contributes to a culture of excellence for all public improvement projects in the area.
  • Develop a strategy to position the Public Art Program as an essential resource for private developers looking to create privately-owned public art on publicly accessible/visible land.
  • Research and implement mechanisms to support private/public collaboration, cooperation and shared commitment.
  • Ensure successful implementation of the Public Art Actions by allocating additional resources. There is not, at present, the capacity to undertake the planning, implementation, administration and management necessary to support such large scale cross-departmental and cross-sector initiatives.

Inspiring Education: A Dialogue with Albertans (April 2010)

Alberta Education’s Inspiring Education report has a vision that reflects Albertans’ desire for our education system to cultivate qualities in students that will help them be engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. The report identifies three shifts needed to achieve this vision:

  • Partnering effectively with the community, including not-for-profit organizations and cultural groups.
  • Supporting children’s personal interests and strengths, including activities that encourage play, creativity and imagination.
  • Developing skills for life-long learning, including a focus on “a curriculum that allows for more interdisciplinary learning, combining the arts and other academic streams.”

Starting a Conversation for a Blueprint for the Future of Fine and Performing Art Education (June 2013)

The Calgary Board of Education’s 2013 report on arts education has connections with Living a Creative Life in its education-specific goals as well as its commitment to aligning more effectively with freelance arts educators, artists and arts organizations.

In Section B: Context, the report states, “Not only are the arts of great value in themselves, there is now wide-spread support for strengthening art education to develop well-rounded, creative, innovative and compassionate citizens who can problem-solve, collaborate, network and contribute to society, both socially and economically.”

Section C: Emerging Themes in Art Education describes the role the arts play in education for eight areas that align with the goals of Living a Creative Life:

  1. Curriculum Development/Pedagogy
  2.  Staffing
  3. Professional Learning
  4. Accessing Artists
  5. Fine Arts Integration
  6. Collaboration/Community
  7. Facilities/Space
  8. Resources

Other Strategies

As Living a Creative Life progresses, it will continue to find ways of joining its efforts with other relevant planning initiatives, such as:

Calgary Economic Development’s 10-Year Strategy
Tourism Calgary’s Strategic Plan