Creative Calgary and the 2021 Municipal Election


by Lisa Mackay


On Monday, Calgarians will be heading to the polls to elect the people that will represent them, their communities, and make decisions for our city. There are many issues at play this year, and many considerations on who will get our vote. One that Creative Calgary (and Rozsa Foundation) wants you to keep in mind is that the arts are an integral and foundational part of Calgary, and your elected officials should share that view.


If you are receiving our newsletter, you probably know about the work of Creative Calgary. Our Executive Director Simon Mallett sits on their steering committee, and we have been sharing and amplifying their messages. As Monday draws closer, I wanted to take a closer look at Creative Calgary, why they exist, and what is their important message.


I spoke with Simon MacLeod, the general manager for Creative Calgary, as well as the co-chair of their steering committee Janet Bwititi and their co-founder Christine Armstrong, and the conversation was full of passionate and pragmatic hope for city council and the City of Calgary.


Creative Calgary was formed before the 2017 election to speak on behalf of the arts, both as a sector and a city-building component. Christine and her husband Irfhan Rawji began by inviting people to join in conversations about the importance of the arts to the culture and livability of a city, and to strategize ways to build a robust and thriving arts sector in Calgary. One of their first calls was to Rozsa Foundation Board Chair Mary Rozsa de Coquet, who took on a prominent role in Creative Calgary. They invited board chairs and leadership teams of Calgary arts organizations to join them and together identified the need for greater civic support. The City of Calgary was at the very bottom of the list of major Canadian cities in term of its investment in the arts, and Creative Calgary put together a campaign to make the impact and significance of the city’s arts scene more visible to both politicians and Calgarians. They met with council candidates to communicate the impact of the arts and advocate for an increase in funding. Their efforts helped achieve a substantial increase for the arts.


The landscape surrounding this year’s election is vastly different than in 2017. Only five current councilors are running for re-election, making much of the advocacy work from 2017 inapplicable. The pandemic and subsequent vaccine-related issues have raised the political temperature. A surprise federal election stole much of the attention for the beginning weeks of the fall. And the fallout of the pandemic and collapse of the oil and gas economy is top of mind. Creative Calgary has been hard at work.


“We had our work cut out for us,” explained Janet Bwititi. “With so many new candidates, we needed to assess their stance on the arts and arts funding, and figure out what we were looking at in terms of advocacy, and clearly articulate the value and importance of the arts.”


The result is a HEAL campaign that focuses on the role that the arts can play in Calgary recovery. “We have to communicate the value of an investment in the arts, and the many, many returns it would bring to the City of Calgary,” emphasized Christine Armstrong. Campaign materials can be found on their website, and all three stressed the importance of existing supporters to spread the word in their communities. The campaign uses the letters of the word HEAL to outline the case for support for the arts. H = Help Calgarians recover from the impact of Covid-19; E = Energize Calgary's Economy; A = Attract talent and tourism; and L = Lead Calgary into a bright future for all. Each section is supported by compelling facts and figures that illustrate the validity and impact of the arts in each area, and the Case for Support can be downloaded and printed off from their site.


Their website also shares the position on the arts of each of the municipal candidates. “We are not endorsing anyone,” stressed Janet. “The information we list was found in their platforms and on their websites. We just want voters to know their candidates’ attitude towards the arts by highlighting their own words.”


Building on this education and advocacy, this year Creative Calgary has a pledge on their website for Calgarians to sign, expressing their support for continuing municipal investment in the arts. The goal is to have compelling evidence for councilors that this matters to their constituents. “We are asking for pledgers to indicate what ward they are in so that we can go to various candidates and councilors and show them concretely how much support there is in their area for arts funding,” explained Janet. “Often this is the best way to get their attention, and it puts faces to the numbers and statistics.”


The pledge will continue to be available after the election, and Simon MacLeod knows the work doesn’t end when the election results are announced. “We want to continually be advocating for the arts and talking about why they matter to a city,” said Simon. “Too many Calgarians don’t know about Calgary’s amazing arts scene. We need to build a continued positive outlook on the arts, and communicate the tangible and intangible ways it can propel our city forward.”


To sign the #ArtsVoteYYC pledge, visit creativecalgary.com, and be sure to ask as many people as possible to do the same.


To see how the candidates in your ward feel about the arts and arts funding, visit their Candidate Listing . “Creative Calgary’s goal is to educate voters on the extent to which candidates in the municipal election share its view that fostering support and strong investment in the arts sector is critical in building a vibrant and prosperous city,” remind the overview page.


To learn the points and compelling case for the arts in Calgary, visit their campaign platform.


To continue to support the activities of Creative Calgary, sign up for their emails on their website as well.