Festival of politics, art and ideas ready to Spur on conversations with Calgarians

National event held by the Literary Review of Canada touches down in Calgary this weekend with film, panels and book readings that explore the theme of Risk.

At this point in time in our society, it’s all about the conversation.

It should be.

We’re inundated with so much, with too much, with detritus that gets in the way of connecting, learning and understanding.

You can see why organizations and festivals are now making it one of their core mission statements — from TED Talks to the current incarnation of the Best of Calgary to the Spur Festival.

The latter event is perhaps a little less known than the others, a fledgling one, but it will be holding its fourth event in Calgary from Friday, June 2 to July 4, with a number of ways to get the conversation started including panel discussions and book readings at the Memorial Park Library and a film screening at the Globe.

It’s a festival held in centres across the country by the Literary Review of Canada and several partners, and it’s billed as “a national festival of politics, art, and ideas.”

Publisher and festival director Helen Walsh, however, has a somewhat different view of who they are and what guides it.

“We sometimes think we’re the bloodsuckers of the mind. We go around talking to people saying, ‘What’s on your mind? What are you thinking about?’ ” Walsh says, noting that in Calgary they rely on such engaged Calgarians as Colin Jackson, Jim Gray and Patti Pon.

“We just go around continuously and say, ‘What’s going on, what are you thinking about, what are the issues?’

“And then it’s always informed by what you learn from the audiences every year, because Spur is as much about the audience participation than anything else. So you’re always learning something both from the people onstage and the audience.”

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American author and professor Tom Nichols will be participating in the Spur Festival this weekend in Calgary.

That is, she says, how they come up with the theme for the festival — something that they can then tie back into the books, authors or films that are part of it.

Previous themes have been Alone Together, Signal vs. Noise and Our New Tribalism, while this year’s is Risk.

“In the face of (Canada’s) 150th, we didn’t just want to raise a flag and have anniversary celebrations without also looking at the headwinds that were coming along the way, and that’s where we came up with ‘Risk’,” Walsh says.

To that end, some of the events include: a panel discussion titled Measuring Risk: Climate Change and Adverse Weather, featuring Craig Stewart, who is the federal VP of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and Eva Bogdan from the University of Alberta, with CBC’s Colleen Underwood as moderator; professor, former U.S. Senate aide and author Tom Nichols will be giving a reading of his book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters; and, kicking it all off, a Friday screening at the Globe Cinema of the film Giants of Africa, which explores sport and community building.

“They’re always documentaries, because documentaries work within the context of ideas,” Walsh says of the fairly recent addition of films to the Spur programming.

“But it’s an opportunity for us to partner with other organizations and gain new audiences.”

That, again, goes back to the main intent of the festival, which is, yes, to spur on conversations with a variety of people across the country and in different communities.

Walsh says the guests are usually different from city to city, tailored to the city it’s being held in through work with local programmers.

She describes those who’ve been drawn to it thus far as an “eclectic” audience, due in part to the subject matter, those partnerships, the different events and even the fact that it’s an incredibly “accessible” festival, with admission to each event $5 for students, $10 for general admission and $25 for a pass for the entire thing.

“At the end of the day, Spur is about the conversation,” she says. “So the wider the range of folks that you can get to come, the better.”

Spur Festival runs Friday June 2 to Saturday June 4 at the Globe Cinema and Memorial Park Library. For tickets and the complete list of events go to