Rick Thomas felt as if he had travelled to a hip, culturally-rich city as he mingled with those enjoying a marketplace of local art at the former King Edward School in south Calgary a few weeks ago.
The 100-year-old building is being renovated as a hub for creativity and on Nov. 29 featured the Market Collective, an independent market created to showcase the works of local artists, artisans and musicians. The former school will eventually support dozens of small arts organizations as the King Edward Arts Hub and Incubator. Walking through the history-rich building that night to meet up with “artrepreneurs” showing their high-tech, high-touch products gave him a sense of something that was “very savvy, very now, very hip, but really engaging and authentic and passionate and artful,” Rick says. The creative director of the strategic communications firm Juice Creative tells this story as an example of when he’s seen the Calgary community at its best in recent times. He’s especially excited to see more and more signs of support for the arts and “creative class.” “I've lived here all my life and wanted to move and the last couple of years have really shown that it's happening right here. It's finally happening here,” says Rick, who is also a member of the imagineCALGARY stewardship group and the mayor's Civic Engagement Committee. “Calgary is rising; we're finally getting it.” In addition to the strengthening of the arts community, change Rick is seeing include more connectivity across many parts of the city. This is enabled in part by the large suite of digital tools now available, but, more significantly, by more people being willing to be fearless and take risks. More people seem to be “sharing more and thinking more and being a little more critical — and they're demanding more.” There is a burgeoning theme of intention across the city. “People are intentionally looking at creating the city they want for the future, for their children. This isn't just a leaping-off point to go somewhere else anymore.” The Wreck City project, which involved a group of artists taking over a row of Hillhurst houses slated for demolition and creating a temporary art space out of them — with significant backing from the community — illustrates these changes in the wind. The reopening of River Café Restaurant is yet another recent moment capturing the positive shift in community connection, says Rick. He was amazed that in what is often a “cutthroat and competitive” business, so many fellow restaurant owners showed up to demonstrate their support for the cafe's reopening. More businesses seem to want to do more than make a donation to charity as their act of community service. GoodMob, for instance, a Calgary-born organization, invites people via social media to join a flashmob-inspired gathering to buy stuff “on mass” from a designated local business. Some of the proceeds are directed to a local charity. The goal is to support local business, charity and build community at the same time. A shift in tone is also appearing at city hall, inspired in large part by Mayor Nenshi, which seems to have heightened engagement with respect to policies, for instance, Rick adds. “There is that sense of ‘We are the city; it isn't city hall doing it for us; we are the city.’ People are taking charge.” With his role on the mayor's Civic Engagement Committee, in particular, Rick is struck by the number of people who are aware of the committee and its intention to inspire people to do three things for the city — and those who are actually doing so. Rick's own personal commitment to fanning the flames in this new direction of a Calgary “that gets it” is to “attend, tweet, post and spread the word.” Not to be a “slacktivist,” — that is someone who might retweet but won't go so far as to “put their skin in the game” — but actually get out and participate and then share about these efforts face-to-face and using social media. The big challenge, which is a good one, is making choices around which of the growing number of causes, arts events and entrepreneurial activities to join. Rick's even had someone he got into a fender bender with recently asking if he wants to participate in launching a start-up. As for the role imagineCALGARY (iC) could play in this rise of Calgary as a creative, connected, restorative force, Rick envisions that more people become active champions of the iC plan and effort. “The biggest job imagineCALGARY has to do is engage wider circles of people to take up the cause and spread the story and engage people. “But because there really isn't money to pay people to go out and do this, it has to be this organically grown thing fanning out from the middle,” Rick says, noting his hope that much more of this happens in the coming year. The Pathways 2 Sustainability conference last year, in which some of the presenters framed their work from the iC plan and targets, illustrates in part how this might be done. “The fact that now more people are aware and we got so much play in front of that crowd is a great stepping stone to building awareness that really the story has to change; we have to write our own story because the business as usual model isn't going to sustain us,” says Rick.
Photo Caption: A photo from the Market Collective held at the King Edward Arts Hub and Incubator. Photo Credit: Mike Tan. Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger If you have a story to tell, or see someone whose story you would like to see amplified write to firstname.lastname@example.org with a line or two about your idea. Someone will get in touch with you. After a short interview a story will be fashioned and shared. These stories are part of an open exploration of the personalities and possibilities present in the imagineCALGARY community. Articles appearing here are produced on behalf of imagineCALGARY by third-party Axiom News and do not necessarily represent the opinion of imagineCALGARY. They are intended to amplify authentic voices as the network discovers and energizes its gifts and shared vision. You are welcome to republish these stories, just drop Axiom News a line to let us know.