In case you haven’t heard, Calgary was designated a Cultural Capital for Canada in 2012.
Amidst the various celebrations, this prestigious title put a spotlight on Calgary’s definition of culture and the state of its cultural institutions. On Friday, October 12th, the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary and The City of Calgary teamed up to present makeCalgary: Culture Space.
A reoccurring theme in the discussions was the importance of culture at street level. “It’s about what happens on the street,” said Rollin Stanley, Calgary’s new chief planner. As a street festival and open market junkie, this message resonated with me. It’s not just about innovative design or interesting art, but the people that visit.
To position itself as an attractive gathering place, cultural institutions must look beyond its four walls and official operating hours. As stated by John Patkau of Patkau Architects, “cultural institutions can’t be isolated islands”. They need to be accessible, engage the public and provide space for culture makers to hone their craft. He spoke about a recent project, the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal, Quebec. The library was designed to provide commercial space at street level for cafes and ironically, used book stores. This strategic move created a bustling literary hub. I couldn’t help but think about the new Central Public Library.
Vanessa Kassabian of Snohetta Design focused on the accessibility of cultural institutions. She presented its award winning project, the Oslo Opera House. An example of truly innovative design, this building is accessible to the public literally from top to bottom. She spoke about our great inner city neighbourhoods and their importance in developing local culture. Both Calgary’s established and proposed cultural institutions fell within these areas and they need to be better connected. Better infrastructure increases convenience for people to get together and thus, support cultural spaces.
As pointed out by Reid Henry, CEO of cSPace and Construction Manager of the King Edward Arts Hub and Incubator, “Calgary has catalysts of interest”. With the multitude potential in our city, there is an undeniable amount of curiousity and excitement for what lies ahead in the future.