Calgary's Billion Dollar Gamble????

Could Calgary be on the cusp of becoming a major arts centre? And could the arts become a major element of Calgary’s economic diversification program?  With a billion dollars of private and public investment, one would sure hope so.

Yes, you read right.  A billion dollars!

Probably the biggest criticism of Calgary by left wing, bohemian artsy folks is the city lacks a vibrant arts scene. However, this is quickly changing with the opening of the new Bell Studio (National Music Centre) which has generated international attention including a piece by the prestigious Architectural Digest titled “Canada Just Opened a Massive Museum Dedicated Solely to Music.” 

Unfortunately, it didn’t say, “Calgary Just Opened a Massive….”

National Music Centre a massive construction project is now the southern gateway to Calgary's East Village community from the south. 

Is Calgary on the international art map yet?

While Calgary is not yet on the international art map, things like the Calatrava’s Peace Bridge and Jaume’s Wonderland (sculpture of young girl’s head on the plaza at the Bow Tower) are attracting international attention in some circles. 

And, flying under the radar was the opening of the opening of the $90 million, 787-seat Bella Concert Hall in at Mount Royal University (MRU) in September 2015.  It is part of the world-renowned Mount Royal Conservatory, whose roots go back to 1911 and today boasts over 4,000 students.  How many Canadians or even Calgarians know MRU was a huge musician incubator?

Fact:  Calgary has 190 venues for live performances?

And coming up next is cSpace, the $29 million transformation of the historic King Edward School in Marda Loop into a multi-use arts centre. The majestic sandstone school looking over the City Centre, being reborn as a creative hub, will have 29 tenants representing over 1,000 artists – an eclectic mix of fashion designers, film makers, musicians, theatre groups, writers, jewellery makers and the Alberta Craft Council’s Calgary office/gallery.  It will also include an intimate multi-purpose theatre and a Montessori School. 

The east side of the site has been sold for a 56-home active living seniors complex while the west side was sold for upscale townhomes – deals helping finance the project.

The fact cSpace had three times as many arts group and artists interested in renting space than they could accommodate is a strong indication of Calgary’s growing arts community.  In the past, Calgary’s prosperity resulted in emerging artists often moving to other cities with a lower cost of living.  However today, more and more artists want to stay and make Calgary home.

Fact: Calgary has 19,000 establishments involved in creative industries employing over 67,000 workers?

The Taylor Centre For The Performing Arts at Mount Royal University includes the Bella Centre as well as teaching and practice spaces. 

Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre is just one of several exciting new cultural facilities being added to the east side of Calgary's City Centre. (photo credit: CANA Construction)


  • August  2015             Bella Centre ($90 million)
  • April      2016             DJD Dance Centre ($26 million)
  • May       2016             Film Centre ($28 million)
  • July       2016             Bell Studio ($191 million)
  • Spring   2017             cSpace ($29 million)
  • Winter   2017            Youth Campus TransAlta Performing Arts Studios ($20 million est)
  • Fall        2017             Youth Campus BMO Amphitheatre ($7 million est.)
  • Winter   2018             Youth Campus Calgary Arts Academy ($20 million est.)
  • Fall        2018              New Central Library ($245 million)   
  • TBD                            Youth Campus Calgary Opera Centre ($23 million est)

If we include the cultural spaces in Calgary’s new recreational centers (i.e. theatres, studios and gallery space) and new theatres like Webber Academy’s Performing Arts Centre we are closing in on a billion dollars in public and private investment in new cultural facilities over the past five years.

Fact: Calgary is third in Canada in attracting cultural migrants?

cSpace is nearing completion with occupancy later in 2017. 

Grassroots Cultural Centres  

It is also important to note there are many smaller DIY art group projects that are just as important as the mega million dollar projects in transforming Calgary from a corporate city to a creative city.

For example, the Beddington Community Hall has been recently. Renamed the the Bedding Heights Community Arts Centre, it is home to two of Calgary’s longest running community theatre companies - StoryBook Theatre and Front Row Centre Players. 

In Sunalta, underneath the gritty Bow/Crowchild Trail spaghetti interchange, sits a non-descript, bluish-grey building that is now home to TRUCK Contemporary Art, Ghost River Theatre and West Village Theatre

Flying under the radar is how the community of Forest Lawn has become a magnet for many Calgary artists to live. artBOX on 17E (converted retail paint store), an initiative of the International Avenue BRZ, which serves as their performance and exhibition space has been so successful a shipping container was dropped on the front lawn this past summer to serve as a retail incubator space for artisans.  

Market Collective, founded in 2008, is a group of local artisans who have organized weekend pop-up sales of their work all over the city- old car dealership on International Avenue, Simmons Building in East Village, Chinese Cultural Centre, downtown and King Edward School (soon to be cSpace) in Marda Loop.  

Artpoint Gallery & Studio Society is Calgary’s off-the-beaten path, hidden gem cultural facility. It is hidden from the street and sidewalk in an old warehouse next to the railway tracks above the 12th street railway bridge underpass in Inglewood.  Tucked inside are 23 artists’ studios, three gallery spaces and an ambitious year-round exhibition program.

Computer rendering of Calgary Stampede's Youth Campus which is currently under construction.

Last Word

Need we go on? It is too bad that Calgary’s corporate culture gets all the attention - in good times and bad – while the ongoing growth of our cultural sector flies under the radar. 

Perhaps with a billion dollars of new investment in cultural facilities, Calgarians and Canadians will realize our city is more than just oil & gas head offices. 

Note: All of the facts are from Calgary Economic Development’s website.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

What's with the names - Art Commons & Contemporary Calgary

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum!

Calgary Civic Art Gallery: Do we dare to be different?