Best of Calgary grows and evolves into a greater conversation

Annual celebration of the city and the people that make it special is now more about experiencing it in a tangible way and helping to make it better.

With growing, comes pain.

Some of it comes from within and some it comes from external forces.

Organizers of the Best of Calgary understand that more than anyone.

When they took over the annual poll that was a regular fixture in local weekly Fast Forward after the paper closed shop in 2015, they did so knowing that there would be some who resented the fact that it would no longer be a seemingly smaller, grassroots affair and they were prepared for the criticism.

(Full disclosure: I was the original arts and music editor at FFWD and helped launch the publication’s Best of Calgary poll, and, further disclosure, I was named runner-up in the Best Journalist category this year.)

But, they also admit there were some self-inflicted stumbles when they relaunched it last year, from a lack of inclusivity to getting the message out about the event’s intent.

This year, they’re hoping to have rectified many of those issues — well those that are within their control — with them getting feedback from some of those critics and bringing onboard executive director Mandy Balak from It’s A Date Night, which plans and stages over 200 events a year.

And that’s fitting because rather than merely being the one event — the feting of the winners of the awards, themselves on Wednesday, June 1 at The Palace Theatre — it has grown into something much bigger and grander called Ideas Week

“I think that’s what gets a little lost. The awards are one thing, it’s celebrating the greats, it’s celebrating the people that are making this city a better place,” Balak says of what she describes as a “networking” evening. “And whether that’s a better place to go eat or a new bar or the best chef or the best politician — whatever it is, those people deserve to be recognized. Now more than ever we need to celebrate the wins in the city and celebrate the people that are making this city great.

“But it’s not just about the awards it’s about Calgary and the people in it …

“It’s about creating a conversation of what Calgary is today and how it can be better.”

To that end, Best of Calgary is now a full week of events, opportunities for regular Calgarians to get involved, be heard.

“A big part of Best of Calgary going forward is Best of Calgary interactive labs,” she says, noting that new Best of Calgary founder Gary Davies got the idea from a similar event in Chicago, where he got to make his own shoes.

She laughs. “I’ve yet to see him wear them. I cannot wait until they come out.

“But it was kind of a collision — he was in a cool bar and got to have a cocktail and make these shoes and he really got to experience something that he wouldn’t have been able to experience before.”

Some of the labs took place this past weekend, including a workout at Barre Body Studio, which was voted Best Place to Workout in Calgary, with music supplied by the Best DJ, DJ Disoriental.

But the rest of the week is filled with some interesting opportunities to get involved

For example Mandy Stobo, named Best Visual Artist, will be offering a workshop on how to make her signature Bad Portraits at the Best Coffee House Phil & Sebastian on Thursday. The same night, Best Chef Michael Noble will also be doing a community dinner at space created by Amanda Hamilton, who was deemed the Best Interior Designer.

“Really the intention behind them is to get people to get out and experience Calgary in a new way that they never have before,” Balak says. “And also combining the collaborative efforts of some of the best in the city.”

There are also two signature days featuring workshops and panel discussions with “thought leaders” — Monday, May 29’s Telus Community Day and the ATB Business Day on Tuesday, May 30, both at the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University.

Some of the conversations over the two days include The Importance of Social Innovation in Building a Business, Why Arts and Culture Matters in Building Community, The Importance of Sport In Building Community and The Generational Shift In Giving Back.

A complete list of events is available here.

And don’t expect things to completely wrap up once this week is done. Balak says the long term goal of the organizers is to make it a year-long thing, filled with events to help Calgarians celebrate their city, while also helping it grow without any pains.

“The evolution of Best of Calgary has been, ‘OK, let’s celebrate where Calgary is but how do we create a conversation that says what do we need to do to make this city better in the future.’ ”

Best of Calgary Ideas Week runs until June 3 at various locations around Calgary. For a complete list of events go to