Can Calgary become a 'music city?' New report outlines strategies on how to get there

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An advocacy group has released a new report on how to turn Calgary into a “music city,” including strategies on repurposing city or provincially owned spaces for arts activities, increasing funding for artists and organizations, and addressing venue parking and musician housing issues.

West Anthem, which was founded in 2012 as the Alberta Music Initiative, released the report — Resonant Energies: A Music City Strategy for Calgary — during a media launch at Mikey’s on 12th on Tuesday. It was developed over the past year and involved surveying hundreds of artists and individuals. But it is the culmination of a 10-year effort to have Calgary seen as a music city, not unlike Nashville or Austin, Texas.

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The report follows The Music Ecosystem Study, which West Anthem released in October 2020.

“We’re moving to action now,” said Andrew Mosker, co-founder and chair of West Anthem and president and CEO of the National Music Centre. “Simple things like (starting) an online database for music-industry professionals that live and work in Calgary. Within that, you can share details about available spaces for rehearsal, available spaces for recording and under-utilized buildings where landlords can potentially offer temporary pop-up venues. That’s what’s different from the previous report. It’s getting into easy wins on things that can be done to strengthen our ecosystem.”

The report includes statistics comparing musical assets in 2020 — when the city was largely shut down due to the pandemic — to 2023 numbers. In some cases, the city has become healthier: there were 50 music festivals in 2023 compared to 35 in 2020, for instance.

But in other areas, more work needs to be done. The report shows a decline in places to see live music; in 2020, there were 67 multi-purpose venues programming music, and 75 bars, cafes or restaurants with live music performances. In 2023, the numbers were 58 and 53, respectively. Mosker says there has been some progress in the past 10 years, but challenges remain.

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“This is not easy work,” he said. “It’s challenging work that requires a whole community that believes in the power of music.”

Music cities are simply defined as communities that have a vibrant music economy that is actively promoted. “But the underlying idea is that the music community can be “an economic driver in addition to an art form, in addition to entertainment,” Mosker said. “It also grows and stimulates other industries and is a very, very powerful tool for community building.”

According to the report, music contributed $1.7 billion to Alberta’s GDP and supported 20,577 jobs in 2020. Hosting the Junos in 2016 had a $9-million economic impact on Calgary, while hosting the Canadian Country Music Awards in 2019 had a local economic impact of $12 million.

The report was divided into three key areas with long- and short-term strategies. That includes plans involving infrastructure, where there are recommendations for making private spaces affordable as rental options for individual artists and musical groups, and building capacity for programming in outdoor spaces year-round. The report recommends several initiatives that require regulatory and government support, including addressing parking issues at venues and recording studios, exploring venue and noise bylaws to support after-hours venues, and involving music and after-hour venues in future transit planning.

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Lisa Jacobs
Musician Lisa Jacobs speaks during the release of the West Anthem report at Mikey’s on 12th on Tuesday. Gavin Young/Postmedia

The report also makes recommendations around mentoring opportunities between new and established musicians and strategies to promote diversity within the music industry, including investing in programs that empower minorities, which traditionally have not been included equitably.

“The entire idea behind it is just being intentional,” said Lisa Jacobs, a Calgary musician and music therapist who spoke at Mikey’s on Tuesday. “We’re just making intentional choices so that our spaces . . . look like our city. We are going to have to continue to do that for a while longer. I’m going to promise you that one day, it’s not going to be interesting that I’m a girl that plays bass, nor is it going to be interesting that I’m a woman of colour who plays an instrument. It’s just going to be boring because there’s going to be a million others of me standing on stage. But we’re not there yet.”

Each recommendation in the report includes possible partners — from the City of Calgary, to private investors, granting and funding bodies, and real-estate developers — and a possible timeline for when they could be achieved.

But Mosker stressed that turning Calgary into a bona fide “music city” requires total buy-in, not just from civic, government, business and artistic leaders.

“The rest of the community has to look at this as something we value,” Mosker says. “When friends come to town, instead of only taking them to Banff (we should say), ‘We have an incredible music scene here, an incredible music district, I’m going to take you down here because you need to see this part of town.”

Visit westanthem.com for more information.

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National Music Centre president and CEO Andrew Mosker, Calgary Arts Development president and CEO Patti Pon and musician Lisa Jacobs hold copies of West Anthem’s latest report, Resonant Energies: A Music City Strategy for Calgary at Mikey’s on 12th on Tuesday May 28, 2024.Gavin Young/Postmedia
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Shane Ghostkeeper performs at the release of West Anthem’s latest report, Resonant Energies: A Music City Strategy for Calgary at Mikey’s on 12th on Tuesday May 28, 2024.Gavin Young/Postmedia

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