Reflecting on 2021

Reflecting on 2021

President & CEO Patti Pon looks back at a momentous year and into the future

Another year has passed.

And, even though COVID-19 continues to be a major disruptor in the arts sector, and even though working from home can make time feel like one long continuum of sameness, I will always remember 2021 as a momentous year for Calgary Arts Development–a year of deep connections and extraordinary growth.

2021 erupted with a burst of colour, light, and spectacle when the inaugural Chinook Blast kicked off the new year. Who could have predicted that over 300,000 Calgarians would venture out in the dead of winter to enjoy art experiences and installations by local artists? Outdoors! In minus 30C weather! With smiles on their frozen faces! We were thrilled to support this initiative through the cultural activation fund and look forward to the next iteration of Chinook Blast from January 21 to February 27, 2022. Chinook Blast is quickly becoming a signature event in our city.

There were many other events that helped kick-start the live experience economy in 2021 even before the more traditional fall arts season started up, including Calgary Folk Festival, and over 100 safe live events under the umbrella of RISE UP. Arts organizations continued to survive COVID, even though many of them could only connect with their audiences online, and our community investment team made over 500 grants to Calgary artists and arts organizations in 2021. But even though things have slowly started opening up, what was loud and clear was the devastating losses that have been experienced by individual artists during the pandemic.

Our 2020 Arts Professionals Survey report, which has just been published, outlines the state of affairs for individual artists in our city. And that even with the circumstances our artists find themselves in, as a city and communities who need to connect, we NEED artists now more than ever!

2021 was a year of deep learning and organizational reflection as we continued to build on the equity work we’ve been doing over the past several years. Through engagement with a newly formed community working group, we have deepened our commitment to Indigenous reconciliation, racial equity, disability justice, and gender and sexual diversity. This work has already had a positive effect on our hiring processes, our granting programs, and our assessment committees, but we recognize that there is still a long way to go and we look forward to continuing on this path in 2022.

At the centre of our equity work is a deep commitment to reconciliation and right relations with Indigenous communities. By working with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Indigenous artists, we are increasing our learning and understanding as well as our support for Indigenous artists and communities. I was personally thrilled when Sable Sweetgrass accepted the position of Director, Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation, on our leadership team. I continue to learn from Sable every day and look forward to how she will help steer this organization over the years to come.

In 2021 we were invited to participate on a new Art for Social Change national network. It was because of our three-year partnership with the Trico Changemakers Studio at Mount Royal University, which hosts the Artist as Changemaker program, that we were able to contribute to the network. Led by Sally Njoroge at the Changemakers Studio, this new hub will open up more possibilities for networking and collaboration between artists who practice community-driven art and art for social change. I am eager to see what unfolds in 2022 and beyond.

One of the major changes in our city in 2021 was the election of a new mayor and city council. As our shareholder, city council is instrumental in providing us with the means to support hundreds of artists, arts collectives, and arts organizations in our city. We are very grateful for a $3.2 million increase to our 2022 budget, which will help us support the recovery of our sector as we all emerge from pandemic relief to recovery to resilience.

And, saving the biggest occurrence of the year to last, in March 2021 Calgary Arts Development was selected by The City of Calgary as the future manager of the public art program. This was a major feat on so many fronts, not the least of which is that it has caused an almost doubling of our staff. I am so excited to welcome our first Director of Public Art, Brandy Dahrouge, to steward the transition of this program over to Calgary Arts Development and to lead our amazing new public art team. Brandy will be joining us early January 2022 and we can’t wait to introduce her to our community.

In addition to all of the new public art faces, we also welcomed a new executive assistant, communications assistant, and community liaison to our growing family. I feel fortunate to be able to work with such a passionate and talented group of people to serve artists, arts collectives, and arts organizations for the benefit of all Calgarians. You can meet the entire team on the staff pages of our website.

2021 has been a momentous year. One of exponential growth. One of increased collaboration, deep inner reflection and new external partnerships. A year of being adaptive while also spending time forecasting and planning. And a year of seeing more than ever before the powerful role artists and the arts play in connecting us, creating a sense of belonging, shaping our identity, and sharing our stories.

I’m going to use the holiday break to catch my breath, rest up, and get ready for 2022!

Calgary Arts Development’s President & CEO Patti Pon in Olympic Plaza

Calgary Arts Development President & CEO Patti Pon (she/her/hers) is a veteran community and arts champion with an extensive track record of leadership and service in Calgary.

Patti has deep and diverse experience in the arts sector. She has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal as well as the 2013 Harry and Martha Cohen Award, recognizing significant contribution to Calgary’s theatre community. And most recently was deeply honoured to be gifted the Blackfoot name of Miss’tommohtsaamiaakii – Two Standing Headdress Woman.

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