Have you heard? Calgary is the cultural capital of Canada for 2012. And an independent non-profit operating for the year of 2012 has taken on the role of showcasing Calgary’s culture and create legacy projects to encourage future cultural achievements. This non profit is called Calgary 2012.
It’s comprised of a people, mostly from Calgary Arts Development (and Michael Green from One Yellow Rabbit Theatre) who are working to fulfill the cultural capital program. The program is administered (Edited: had in wrong to begin with) funded by Canadian Heritage. The objective of the program is to stimulate sustained community support of arts and culture. That is worth repeating. The objective of having the cultural capital program is to stimulate sustained community support of arts and culture.Calgary has some organizations celebrating centennials this year, and so they came together to collaboratively bid for this cultural capital designation. This designation comes with $5 million (assuming that corporations kick in a half million) in funding from all three levels of government.
So what does this entail exactly?
There are grants, that have been administered by Calgary 2012. Upwards of $425 million thousand (Edited to say that I got this number wrong initially) in project grants that have to take place between now and March 2013. Believe me, artists and arts administrators have been maxed out applying for these grants.
Calgary 2012 recently had their media launch, a big gathering at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, in which the long anticipated programming of this cultural capital was revealed.
“…A Sweet City Opening Celebration at Stampede Park (BMO Centre) in May and Sweet City Woman City-wide Lip Dub project & Street Party in September. (Otherwise marketed as: Sweet City Woman was the first #1 international hit to come out of Calgary. Now, it’s our Cultural Capital theme song. This project will involve the entire city and will culminate in a one-day shoot during the Culture Days weekend and conclude with a public party at Olympic Plaza.) – A Harvest Festival in October and A ‘One Love’ Concert also in October.” (Calgary 2012 website)
There are also other initiatives that are being implemented. Cultural Ambassadors. Anyone can be one. An opportunity to brag and throw down about culture in the City, otherwise known as ‘engaging your community’ creatively. Put it on your linked in profile! Put it on your twitter page! (I filled in a form now I can call myself a cultural ambassador!)
Foursquare is an application developed for social media. You can ‘check in’ to places and any friend who subscribes to you (by facebook or twitter) can see where you are. Calgary 2012 has developed this application specific to culture within the City of Calgary. You can become the mayor of places if you check in enough.
Calgary 2012 is also using IndieGogo – a micro financing site – to develop a model for an alternate method of raising funds for the arts.
So that’s the outline and all the pertinent information.
And by all means call me a cynic, but I can’t get past my skepticism.
I recently tweeted this article – about why women in particular shouldn’t be checking in. There are apps that have been developed that tracks that data, so that guys can know where you are, what you look like, and what places you frequent the most. So you’re telling me that part of the funding for stimulating sustained community support of the arts is an APPLICATION? Never mind the fact that a large portion of art supporters aren’t engaged in social media, or that checking in requires a smart phone, or even that you can’t use the application on a Blackberry. But really, when it comes down to it, Calgary 2012 discovered Four Squares, thought it was cool, and decided to develop it.
Then there is this whole thing of cultural ambassadors. And it’s kind of brilliant in a marketing steals your soul kind of way. Let’s get a lot of people together and get them excited about something that we need to promote. If it works, and Calgary 2012 managed to engage communities outside of the downtown core, then congratulations are in order. But it really does seem like this is an in-authentic, self indulgent partaking in hype. Something that will fade fast and totally disappear after we are no longer the cultural capital. And it focuses on the wrong thing. Instead of building momentum and energy in art that pushes the envelope, that creates a legacy, that creates a well rounded society, we are instead focusing on people saying that they are at arts events. It’s like going to the opera just so that you can say that you enjoy refined art. And it all takes place on social media. Canada is responsible for 2.5% of traffic on twitter. Most people are not getting their information that way. Most people in Calgary don’t know that it’s been designated the cultural capital of 2012. And I highly doubt hosting a party on the Stampede Grounds, checking in on Foursquares, or playing Sweet City Woman will change any of that.
Which I suppose at this point, begs the question, what was I expecting then?
I was expecting programming that would be in the trenches of culture and the arts. And maybe you need to create hype about superficial, surface things to get people to pay attention, but those efforts can happen simultaneously. Why not have programming that supports the projects that are being supported? Like Verb Theatre’s Noise? Or any of the other projects that got funding. Everyone who is not from Calgary doesn’t think that we are a city that has anything going on other than cowboys. Prove them wrong. How about a local art day during one day in the Stampede. Promote local musicians, theatre groups, dance troupes. People flock to the Stampede, go where the people are. If the Calgary Stampede helped in the bid, maybe they’d be open in supporting other art as well. The only positive thing is the micro financing website. That has some interesting potential.
I was expecting a well thought out strategy to stimulate sustained community support of arts and culture. I got people calling themselves cultural ambassadors and telling me to get excited about checking in.
There is still some time remaining, so maybe programming will be added that will make me change my mind.
But I’m not holding my breath.