PHOTO: Jared Sych

It takes a village to make a city’s arts and cultural scene soar. Meet a few of the cool people making Calgary an eventful and vibrant place to call home and some of their top recommendations of things to do, places to see and ones to watch.

PHOTO: Darin gregson

Garret Smith

Garret Smith is a proud member of the Piikani and Kainai Nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Southern Alberta. The former interim artistic director for Making Treaty 7 is also the Founder of the Mohkinstsis Healing Camp, which was initially a protest camp raising awareness of social injustices. Its purpose was to fill a gap in the city’s current infrastructure by providing First Nation communities a place to engage and practice in their culture and spirituality. While Smith is primarily an actor with multiple theatre, film and television credits, he is also a staunch activist and youth support advocate who believes in sparking a healing form of dialogue.

  1. “My first recommendation is going to a show/performance at The Grand, Calgary’s oldest theatre. With the possibility of being closed permanently, now is the time to be part of Calgary’s history and see a show there.”
  2. “Taking part in the annual Tipi Harvests my family hosts near Castle Falls. Each year we invite the general public to join us as we harvest, barbecue and enjoy the land. Details can be found on my social media.”
  3. Fort Calgary. As the recently hired Indigenous Program Facilitator, I can honestly say the variety of programs they have is amazing. With new events coming each month, there is always something to experience.”
  4. Nose Hill. Being Blackfoot, I love this land. With perhaps one of the best views of the city, I highly recommend taking a walk and a moment to appreciate the land that sustains us.”
  5. Mohkinstsis. The river. Our meeting place. Anywhere along the river is a great place to be. A source of life that, sadly, we take for granted. Sit by the river, or take a float down its currents.”
  6. “In any case, enjoy the land with your family and friends. We signed the Treaty for a reason. To share this land.”


PHOTO: Jason Kampala

Salima Stanley-Bhanji

Recognized as one of the Calgary Influential Women in Business in 2021 and one of Calgary Herald’s Compelling Calgarians in 2022, Salima Stanley-Bhanji is the co-founder of Humainologie, a nonprofit that celebrates and supports underrepresented Calgarians. Originally from Australia, Stanley-Bhanji grew her career as a filmmaker and lawyer in Calgary and has received over 30 international awards and selections for films she directed. The TED-X speaker also loves supporting people to align with their passions while sharing their message. She also loves her black cat Naala, saunas and sunshine. Stanley-Bhanji says there is so much good stuff happening in the city that she struggled to pare it down to just five recommendations. 

  1. “Masterfully designed, intentional pieces that live on your body are no feat for tattoo artist Ciara Havishya (@la___tigresse_____ on Instagram) who brings the gentlest energy, next level commitment and care, and incredible artistry to their work. After a 20-year hiatus on ink, I feel like Ciara channeled something missing from my body that was destined to be part of me.”
  2. “I feel so lucky to drop into my neighbourhood indie cinema, The Plaza, for a great film, to snack on arguably the city’s best popcorn and grab a thoughtfully crafted cocktail afterward in the cutest side bar. Did I mention the concession area is a landscape of PINK? Catch the red-carpet premiere of Shades, a film series celebrating Black and racialized Calgary women, at the Plaza on May 16.” 
  3. “At age 45, I signed up for my first roller skating lessons with Roller Jungle at Contemporary Calgary. @livvyskates is a badass skater and the kindest human who is gifted at creating a welcoming space. In one lesson, she taught me crossovers and how to fall properly on my butt.”
  4. “Two of my fave YYC talents are hip hop/funk artist, Sinzere and soul artist, Zenon. Find them both on Spotify and Apple Music (I guess, though choosing Apple Music might affect our friendship).”
  5. Saffron Street is a need-to-know spot at First Street Market serving delicious South Asian food. My dad owned an Indian resto growing up, so I have some critic street cred here! My personal fave is the chole bhature. If you want to make new friends, order this. It’s a conversation starter as well as a gift to your taste buds.”


Stafford Arima

Stafford Arima has been at the helm of Theatre Calgary, Calgary’s largest professional theatre company, for seven years. Born and raised in Toronto, he moved to New York where he worked successfully in theatre for 20 years. He was the first Asian Canadian to direct a musical on Broadway. Since taking the role of artistic director, Arima has brought some of that musical theatre razzmatazz to the Theatre Calgary stage, which will host the world premiere of Beaches The Musical next month. The process of making theatre can be all-encompassing. “You don’t have a day off,” he says. “I’m trying to find a better work-life balance.” He says he’s also currently working to answer the question, “How do we find joy, passion and pleasure?” Here are some of the answers he’s found.

  1. “The Pearce Estate Fish Hatchery provides a tranquil escape for a five-minute walk even in winter.”
  2. Crossroads Market. I just love Billingsgate Seafood Market and Kelly and Sons — it’s retail therapy of a different kind.”
  3. Ari Sushi has their fish flown in from Tokyo daily. It’s the best sushi in Canada.”
  4. My Name is Barbra, is a book I recommend to actors, directors and writers and everyone — it’s extraordinary.”
  5. “I use ripe avocado as a face mask. It’s perfect for the dry climate in Calgary.”


Amy Hef 

From beginning her career as a rock drummer to establishing a successful career in pop and now returning to her country roots, Amy Hef is an accomplished musician who refuses to be confined to a single genre. In 2023, Hef was awarded Female Country Artist of the year at the Alberta Country Music Awards. Her songs have also found placements in popular television series and networks such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Vanderpump Rules, HBO Max and FX Networks. Her latest single (Far From) Perfect just dropped, so pop it on while you read.

  1. “I spent most of my career recording music in Los Angeles but when 2020 rolled around and travel became a no-go, I teamed up with Dave Temple and Johnny Gasparic at MCC recording studio here in Calgary. The studio has been around since 2001 and Johnny’s engineering skills are next level. And the Rock Lord, Dave, will instantly be one of your favourite people and will make sure your project is exactly what you want.”
  2. “The industrial area of the city can be a little, well, industrial looking. But there is a hidden gem of an event space nestled in there called The Prairie Emporium. Located inside Ill-Fated Kustoms motorcycle shop, owners Jenn Kwan and Dan Clapson have the place decked out with unique decor — think cool pictures, funky lamps and a vibe you won’t find anywhere else. They are home to the award-winning Blue Jay Sessions, which is an intimate songwriter round of incredible Canadian artists paired with great food and drinks.”
  3. “I had this purple velvet blazer just collecting dust in my closet and I took it to DOME’ Leather Design Studio by Marina Ortman. She worked her magic on it and completely redesigned it into this jaw-dropping, one-of-a-kind jacket with custom crafted leather sleeves and her signature leather work. Marina specializes in upcycled leather, so it’s all about sustainability, too. This local designer is hands down one of the most talented, unique artists we have here in Calgary. Get something made to be as unique as you are and support local!”
  4. “Did you know we have a ‘Music Mile’ here in Calgary? Well, at the end of that mile, located in Inglewood, is the legendary Blues Can. Unfortunately, we just found out that this venue will be torn down for condos, most likely within the year. So, I guess “Music Mile” may turn into “Music Kilometre” at some point. Anyway, this place is such a gem, and I am devastated to think that it will no longer be there to go see amazing blues, rock, country, musicians, every night of the week and just go in for a causal pint (or six) and have the greatest time.”
  5. “Just north of the Saddledome we have Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. Yes, you read that correctly. Calgary is home to the National Music Centre — not Toronto. This stunning building is a museum with exhibitions changing to keep featuring Canada’s best and emerging artists. It’s also a performance hall where many unique concerts and music experiences happen all year round. This not-for-profit is helping put Calgary on the map as a music city and I’m here for that.”


PHOTO: Heather Saitz

Shelley Youngblut 

The “creative ringleader” and CEO of Wordfest, Shelley Youngblut’s resume is nothing short of remarkable. Youngblut earned the Calgary Award for Community Achievement in the Arts in 2020, the Rozsa Award for Arts Leadership in 2018, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Western Magazine Awards in 2008. Youngblut was also the founding editor of Calgary’s award-winning Swerve magazine and has created magazines for ESPN, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Nickelodeon, Western Living, and The Globe and Mail. The former pop-culture correspondent for ABC World News Now and Canada AM is now a regular CBC Radio contributor. 

  1. Memorial Park is home to Alberta’s oldest library, which is also home to Wordfest’s 140-seat performance space where you’ll discover the world’s best writers and the only licensed bar in a library. For me, it’s Calgary’s equivalent of New York City’s Bryant Park, and I am endlessly delighted by the 1912 Carnegie-funded sandstone building, the war memorials, meticulously kept gardens, and Park by Sidewalk Citizen restaurant, where Wordfest collaborates on memorable Tzavta Salons. Watch for our first Reading in the Wild in June, when Memorial Park will come alive with the joy of reading outside.” 
  2. “My dog’s favourite spots (she’s marked them all along our Saturday morning route) begin at the off-leash area at the Elbow Park Community Centre, then across the bridge onto Riverside Avenue, down into Sandy Beach and then up into the Britannia Shopping Centre, where I get a Monogram iced London Fog or a Village Ice Cream sundae and she gets a kangaroo treat (allergies!). On Sundays, it’s my turn for a workout at Elbow Park, pushed to my planking limits by Christy Hayne.”
  3. “My Marda Loop neighbourhood’s biggest positive is its walkability (driving, not so much!). Amidst the chaos of development on steroids, I’m a huge fan of the human scale of The Leonard Development Group’s renovation of two-storey traditional buildings into right-sized retail opportunities for local entrepreneurs on 34th Street SW.”
  4. “With more than 100 Wordfest shows a year, I’m often on stage. Years ago, I decided that I needed a uniform – and that’s when I invested all my extra money in jumpsuits created by Horses Atelier’s Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka. Best-selling authors, the sublime Horses duo make the “Jumpsuits for the Revolution” that have become my trademark. Because you can never have too many books or be too stylish, I’m saving up for new soft armour — they just announced Elektra design.”


Dan Owen

Dan Owen is the owner of OCL Studios where Shaye Zadrevec, Miesha & The Spanks, and JannArden among many others, have all recorded albums. After wrapping up a hand-to-mouth tenure as a bar-musician in the 1980s, Owen got a real job, got married and had kids. Owen Construction Ltd., his asbestos abatement business, funded a move to a large country home. After looking for studio space to record the album his band never made way-back-when, he built OCL Studios in his house. From the other side of the microphone, he says he fell in love with “all the amazing talent in Calgary.” He became a part-owner of the Ironwood Stage & Grill, a board member of the Prophets of Music society, and is associated with Annerin Productions, which has created many shows including Rock the Nation (on now until the end of the month at the National Music Centre), Beyond van Gogh and the Queen musical We Will Rock You. 

  1.  “Certainly, the Ironwood for live music.”
  2. “Every Thursday throughout the summer,I can be found at Quinterra Legacy Garden [a memorial park at South Glenmore Park].” 
  3. “I had a fab meal at Klein/Harris before the Theatre Calgary show the other night. 
  4. “Basically, meeting all the great folks that come through OCL is the thing I love best.
  5. “[One to watch is the] up-and-coming ukelele duo with great harmonies, The Crikettes.

— M-L.W.

Lili Yas Tayefi 

Lili Yas Tayefi is an Iranian-Canadian architectural designer, educator and interdisciplinary artist. Inspired by the life-and-death cycle of working with clay, and navigating the intersection between her Canadian and Iranian identities, Tayefi balances academia (she is an instructor at both UCalgary and AUArts, and specializes in material science and 3D printing) with intuitively hand-crafting ceramics out of her business, LYT Studio.

“I play with the clay, and depending on where I am sitting or my mood or the atmosphere, I just work to build the sculpture upward. And whatever turns up turns out,” says Tayefi, describing her meditative, “feel-first” approach — before sharing her top five recommendations. 

  1. “I definitely spend a lot of time frequenting Missy’s This That. [I love] all the homies who run it. I have been going since they opened, and I am so stoked for them because they have become a bit more popular. Everytime I go, we end up staying until close, because more friends come in. It is such a beautiful community — so intimate.”
  2. Sought X Found is my favourite coffee shop. They do such a great job, and their beans are really good quality and ethical, and that’s fabulous. And the couple who owns it are so sweet.”
  3. Field Kit Studio candles. My friend Jemma makes wonderful, naturally scented candles in town.”
  4. “I wanted to give a shout out to The GRAND theatre, because I think they are moving through a transition right now and I think anyone who can support theatres staying alive should. And I think The GRAND is the oldest theatre in Western Canada, so it would be great to keep that around and continue supporting it.”
  5. “I love the Sidewalk Citizen in the Simmons Building. Their breakfast sandwich is amazing.” 


Lisa Jacobs 

Multi-instrumentalist, Lisa Jacobs, declares the bass guitar her most beloved of the group. Playing her first blues festival at age 12, she has written, recorded, music directed, performed and toured with a wide variety of artists, including platinum recording pop artist Jocelyn Alice, Terri Clark, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Jann Arden, to name just a few. Jacobs was recently awarded “Musician of the Year” by Country Music Alberta (CMAB) and was nominated for “Bass Player of the Year” by the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) in 2023. She has a degree in music therapy (with a minor in jazz performance on electric bass). As a therapist, she’s had the opportunity to create music with people of varied abilities in many different settings including schools and even a maximum security prison. You can also catch her in Rock the Nation at Studio Bell on weekends until the end of the month.

  1. “Fave Place: The Glenmore Reservoir The water. The mountains. The trees. The endless but ending skies. I go to the reservoir to feel small. To remind myself of who I am in the grand scheme of things. I walk with my friends and we solve everything and nothing. I go by myself and do the same. It’s my place of solace. No matter the weather.”
  2. “Fave Music Venue: Ironwood Stage and Grill in Inglewood. I love playing here. They foster a listening crowd. It’s intimate and special, which is why I adore watching shows here. The unwavering support of the staff has made me a better musician and a more confident human.”
  3. “Fave New Thing: I recently started art classes with my friend. As a musician, I spend of a lot of time formulating and analyzing my creations, onstage and not. I’m a mediocre visual artist at best. I’ve been using these art classes as a way to express and create without judgement and ego (and overall care for the outcome — some turn out surprising, some abysmal). The unexpected value: Whilst learning the skills to create art, what I’ve really been learning is how to see. The City of Calgary offers affordable classes for adults and children via”
  4. “Fave Clothing Store: Kate Hewko. When I’m looking for something to wear (both on and off the stage) that’s unique and offbeat (and often oversized), I go downtown to Kate Hewko. The highly curated, fun, whimsical, badass, don’t care what you think of me fashion super appeals to me. She has a store in Calgary, Nashville and online at”
  5. “Favorite Local Small Businesses: [My sister], Leela Jacobs Designer Leather Toques ( Cornerstone Music Cafe for community-minded music development, cafe and catering and performance venue ( And Moonlight and Eli a champagne and fondue bar (”


Kay L 

Zimbabwe-born Calgary musician Kay L has had a remarkable career already, and he’s not done yet. Winning the “Artist of the Year” award at the Zimbabwe Achievement Awards in 2020 is a significant achievement, but he didn’t stop there. Kay L, whose music can best be described as hip hop with R&B soul infused pop elements, also received the White Hat Award in Calgary, was nominated for a Juno award and a World Entertainment Award and has also won multiple YYC Music Awards to further solidify his status as a decorated artist. Kay L might be best known for his single “Alone” with Calgary radio Host DJ Kav, but he is also making a name for himself touring and performing with Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent, just to name a few. 

  1. “One of my favourite places to eat in YYC is Modern Steak. Probably the best steak in Canada.” 
  2. “If there’s any DJ in YYC you should definitely maketime to see, it’s DJ Kav. He does it all and is the ultimate showman when performing.”
  3. “One of my favourite nightclubs to visit is downtown’s PnT [Please and Thanks]. Be sure to check them out on Saturday nights for XO Saturdays.”
  4.  My favourite artist in YYC right now is named Cybril. He is an R&B singer and has some amazing vocals.”
  5. “One of my favourite places to visit in YYC is the East Village Riverwalk because it has really nice art, architecture and scenery. It’s one of my favourite places to just soak in and unwind.”


Jasmine Palardy

Jasmine Palardy is a passionate community builder who has worked with urban innovators around the world to create more creative and imaginative places where ideas thrive, including right here in Calgary. As the founder of the new-last-fall Lobbyfest, Palardy’s goal is to engage with a diverse range of citizens to help envision and shape the future of the city’s urban core. Her goal is simply to elevate the serendipity between people in ways that make places and products that are better for humanity. Palardy proudly amplifies the city’s vibrant innovation energy and the arts and culture scene as she takes in all of its beauty and potential. 

  1. “The perfect day is soaking my feet in the Bow River or the pond on St. Patrick’s Island mid-bike ride.”
  2. “I am beyond excited about all of the cultural potential that is about to be unleashed thanks to the massive projects underway in Calgary’s downtown including the transformation of Arts Commons, Olympic Plaza and the Glenbow.”
  3. “The year-round covered patio at Citizen Brewing. Beers, dogs, kids, dogs, astroturf, great conversation, more dogs and super friendly staff. Dogs!”
  4. “I love this city, and the fact I’ve boomeranged back a few times after living elsewhere and I’m now old enough to walk down 17th Ave. and say, “That store/restaurant used to be a _____.”
  5. Lil’ Empire burgers and dirty fries, please. Enough said.”


Lachlan Muir

In 2016, Lachlan Muir had the opportunity to coalesce his hospitality industry experience with his business acumen by helping his mother, Lisa Maric, open Distilled Beauty Bar. The café-winebar-spa hybrid offers an experience so unique, it has attracted patrons from as far as Japan. 

“One of the greatest joys of having the business setup the way it is, is that I get to interact with my family almost daily,” says Muir. “That’s something that has always been [important to] my mom and me. We stayed together through things that would probably break most [business partners] apart.” Family remains an important theme as Muir breaks down his top five recommendations.

  1. “On our first date, my fiance and I actually went to Cannibale, so it has always had a special place in my heart. The Spicy Dead Lady is my go-to cocktail.”
  2. “Right beside Cannibale, Bluestar Diner has the best brunch. I live in Bridgeland, so those have been my two stomping grounds.”
  3. Cassis is one of the best restaurants in the city. That place has knocked it out of the park with the food and the French ambience. That is another one of my favourite spots for dining.”
  4. “I would say for new places, Missy’s This That really takes the cake. They have a great cocktail menu there and an unbelievable wine list.”
  5. “The River Café is really meaningful to me. My parents got married there. There’s a big family theme to most of the stuff that I like, so that place has always been special to me. And a great venue as well, it’s beautiful there in the park.” 


David Sidjak

David Sidjak, the owner of Sigla Books, says he was not particularly “bookish” in his youth. When he was 30-years-old, Sidjak discovered Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges, and his passion for literature was born. Thirty years later, Sidjak describes the book trade as both his “vocation and avocation.” 

“One of my self-imposed mandates is to physically save books from the landfill, and then to also make them available to anybody who is interested,” says Sidjak, whose
shop stocks an array of titles — from rare antiquities to
$12 paperbacks that are otherwise fading from mainstream shelves. Unsurprisingly, when asked to share recommendations that Calgarians should know about, Sidjak picked books.

  1. Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec. Perec died before the internet, and it occurs to me that [this book] reads now, in 2024, as a pay-in to a pre-internet world. It makes you, amongst so many other things, nostalgic for a world more bookish, and full of an appreciation for antiques, art, books, and the old Paris.”
  2. The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero. Levrero and Perec both wrote in many different genres, and they both liked [literary] games. They also both made crossword puzzles for newspapers. So, they are kind of like distant cousins. This is a great book. Although it is not for everybody — I have no reservations about recommending it, and I don’t think he is that well known.” 
  3. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. I don’t think it has even been out of print since the 17th century and it’s a really influential book. Borges loved it, and Samuel Beckett loved it. This was Burton’s life work; he published the first edition in 1621 and then he kept adding to it. He dissects ‘melancholy’ — which in the 17th century stood for everything from the blues through to madness.” 
  4. The Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson. Jackson definitely makes no bones about the fact that this book is modeled on ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy,’ but written 300 years later. He is applying it to the madness of book-love. Which really was a phenomenon and still is to some extent. There are still lots of people who love books, but in the past a lot more so. Before the internet, when books were king.” 


Russell Broom

Calgary-based musician/producer/songwriter/guitarist Russell Broom is well known for his work with Jann Arden, Ian Tyson, Kyle McKearney and Art Bergmann and has graced recordings by Robbie Williams, Josh Groban, Martin Page, Iskwe, Jason McCoy, Chixdiggit and Mariel Buckley. He won a Juno Songwriter of the Year with Jann Arden for their song Thing for You, and was nominated for Producer and Recording Engineer of the Year. He recently earned a Canadian Country Music Award and Country Music AB Award for Kyle McKearney’s A Traveler’s Lament. He’s also performed live with Jann Arden, Ian Tyson, Corb Lund, Amy Helm, Matt Anderson, The Rankins, Tom Cochrane, Barney Bentall, Johnny Reid, Colin James, Lindsay Ell, Dallas Smith, and George Canyon.

Not one to follow someone else’s arbitrary formats, Broom provided the following as his recommendations.

Local artists such as Kyle McKearney and Kue Varo, walks through the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, eating at VarBar, Pigeonhole, Paper Lantern and Bar Annabelle, reading “Are We Still Rolling” by Phill Brown, and a monthly hang with some inspiring musician friends where we meet at Loophole Coffee, walk through galleries like Contemporary Calgary and The Esker Foundation, and sightsee through downtown, because we take it for granted and forget to appreciate where we live. If that isn’t enough, travelling to London, UK, as often as possible with my incredible wife is always inspiring.”