Arts centre sparks collective imagination

Epcor Centre breaks new ground inside the same box

It may seem odd to consider that the largest arts centre in Western Canada is named after a utilities company; after all culture and industry are often considered to be reasonably distinct in purpose and usefulness depending on who you talk to.

But for Johann Zietsman the CEO and president of the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts the two realms of society aren’t really that opposite. To him creativity and innovation are necessary to success in both areas.

“With a lack of imagination oil would still be in the ground” he says. While sporting a plain bow-tie and a faint South African accent Zietsman muses that the arts — whether it be a contemporary dance or a classical orchestra — are the keys to unlocking that imagination.

Plenty of opportunities to stimulate creativity and perspective will continue to be provided by the centre in the wake of its 25th anniversary in 2010. The long-enduring World Music Series and the Acoustic Blues series will both kick off in mid-October. The third year of hosting the High Performance Rodeo’s Soundasaurus is coming up in the new year. And starting in mid-January 2012 the Epcor Centre will be hosting National Geographic Live! a speaker series run through the world-famous nature organization.

Adventurers such as photographer Annie Griffiths and scientist Spencer Wells will be presenting stories from their careers and observations on the human experience at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Jennifer Johnson the director of programming at the Epcor Centre excitedly reports that this is the first time the series has come to Canada; creating the full partnership with National Geographic and organizing the speakers took over two years. In response to the announcement Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall has created a similar partnership with the organization and series.

The national leadership role that Calgary has assumed with the upcoming National Geographic series isn’t an anomaly; in fact Zietsman suggests that Calgary is known all over the world as a city that is quickly evolving into a cultural and artistic hub. However citizens of the city are often oblivious to the talent that graces the stages of the 400000-square-foot facility and other venues around town.

Currently the Epcor Centre houses eight resident companies although the building was only designed for three. Zietsman acknowledges that the over-use is a positive thing but the lack of space — which results in touring companies having to perform in times such as the dreaded Monday night slot — needs to be addressed once the city enters a normal budget year. Mayor Naheed Nenshi served as the chairperson for the Epcor Centre for six years and Zietsman says Nenshi is extremely supportive of the arts but needs to eventually walk the talk.

However he adds an increase in space diversity of art forms and funding for the centre will only really come when people living in the city demand it.

“This is not finger-pointing at politicians or the city. This is finger-pointing at citizens of Calgary when they articulate their own priorities about what they expect from the city and what they expect from the province.”