Flood or no flood Calgary’s artists are made of stern stuff

For Calgarians 2013 will always be the year of the flood. Even for those unaffected by floodwater the disaster now hovers in our city’s atmosphere and has changed the tenor of our conversations. And despite everything that was lost — homes businesses treasured belongings — Calgarians never faltered in their generosity and their mettle. The flood as only extreme events can served as a spotlight for our city’s character and I for one was proud of what it revealed.

So when I look back at 2013 from an arts or any other perspective the flood naturally predominates. What I notice from this year are those artistic endeavours that exemplified our hell-or-high-water spirit: the ambitious projects and big ideas the willingness to take risks and to labour for years building foundations.

To stay on the flood theme hats must be doffed for our beloved Calgary Folk Music Festival which miraculously turned the drowned-out Prince’s Island Park back into a viable multi-stage venue a scant five weeks after the flood. The year 2013 marks my first folk fest ever and fabulous music aside as a newbie I particularly noticed the civil subculture that exists during the festival. Friends gave me primers on how to “do” folk fest even going so far as to say that I could probably leave an open wallet on my tarp and no one would touch it (not that I tested their hypothesis). Talk about bringing people together and building community.

From a festival with a long tradition to a new one that also deserves accolades. Ever since I first heard of Beakerhead I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the mashup of art science and technology to hit our streets; and as it turned out “explode” in our streets was perhaps more accurate. With Beakerhead’s spectacle sense of fun and intellectual heft I believe it will soon become one of Calgary’s favourite events. After all it’s really about inclusivity celebrating the passions of art nerds and science geeks alike. The twain do indeed meet — sometimes with fireworks.

In the realm of visual art specifically I saw too much great art to single out any work in particular. As far as overall experiences go though the highlight of the year was the massive pre-demolition art project Wreck City which ran last 4 in a block of houses in Sunnyside. The event was so successful that organizers did it again in September in a show called Phantom Wing this time taking over a wing of the King Edward School. Whether you liked the art in it or not the groundbreaking success of the Wreck City model is proven by the way I’ve heard it turned into a common noun (“Someone should do a Wreck City here”) and even a verb (“Let’s Wreck City this”).

Some of the 2013 notables were less flashy sans tesla coils or wild renovations. The new National Music Centre site officially broke ground this 2 and our year as a Cultural Capital of Canada wrapped up last spring leaving behind several exciting legacies such as the Making Treaty 7 project. The seeds for the landmark art projects of 2014 2015 and beyond are already being sown.

Being a journalist means that I have a reason to speak with artists about their work almost every week of the year. What all these artists share whether they’re building an art installation or curating a literary festival is an indomitable courage — and that’s what I’ve seen in most of the art I’ve experienced this year whether or not I personally liked it or thought it succeeded.

To exist at all art must survive a crucible and artists need both grit and a generous spirit to create in the first place. Floodwaters mirrored these traits back to us this summer; but we had those qualities before the river rose and we’ll keep them long after.