Year in review: Calgary arts in 2023

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From the premiere of HBO’s Alberta-shot The Last of Us to reality show wins, a massive Diane Arbus exhibit and the death of improv legend Keith Johnstone, 2023 was an eventful year in Calgary and Alberta arts. Here are some of the highlights.

The Last of Us
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in a scene from HBO’s The Last of Us. This scene was shot near Millarville, Alberta. Courtesy, Bell Media. cal

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The Last of Us

While HBO’s zombie thriller was a big story in Calgary before 2023 – the production spent most of 2022 here using 180 locations from Waterton to Grande Prairie – it wasn’t until Jan. 15 that Alberta and the world would see the results of the massive shoot. The series didn’t disappoint, picking up boffo ratings and acclaim and 24 Emmy nominations. A report commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of Canada also found that the production spent $141 million in the province, creating 1,490 jobs. This officially made it the biggest production to ever film in Canada.

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Jon Hamm in a scene from Fargo’s fifth season. Photo by Frank W Ockenfels III/FX cal

Filming in Alberta

The Last of Us may have been the big news, but it wasn’t the only game in town. The Hollywood strikes dampened what was shaping up to be a busy year in the film and television industry. MGM’s Billy the Kid had to shut down before it finished its second season, while Netflix’s The Abandons had to shut down before it began but both will return. Before the strikes, other productions that shot here included indie western The Thicket starring Peter Dinklage, Wind River: The Next Chapter, the second season of the Fraggle Rock reboot, and the feature film The Order starring Jude Law and Nicolas Hoult. Meanwhile, Netflix’s Alberta-shot family drama My Life with the Walter Boys and CTV’s Ride debuted in 2023. Fargo returned to Calgary after a one-season break – Season 4 was shot in Chicago – for a star-studded new instalment featuring Juno Temple, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Joe Keery. It debuted in November on FX to rave reviews.

Tate McRae
Tate McRae performs during the 2023 Juno Awards at Rogers Place in Edmonton on March 13, 2023. Photo by David Bloom Photo by David Bloom /David Bloom/Postmedia

Winning ways

This year proved triumphant for several Calgarians/Albertans and expats, who chalked up impressive nominations and wins in various disciplines. Calgary expat Odessa Rae won an Oscar for producing the documentary Navalny about the Russian dissident and vocal critic of Vladimir Putin. Calgary filmmakers and animators Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby picked up an Oscar nomination, their third, for the animated short The Flying Sailor. They were also named 2023 Distinguished Artists by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation. Author Deborah Willis made it onto the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist for her phenomenal debut novel, Girlfriend on Mars. Hanna’s Nickelback was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame this year, while Calgary-born veteran rockers Loverboy made it onto Canada’s Walk of Fame in September. Kablusiak, a multidisciplinary Inuvialuit artist and curator, won the $100,000 Sobey Art Award. Nickelback, Jann Arden, Calgary composer Vincent Ho, expat jazz vocalist Caity Gyorgy, Calgary-born jazz outfit The Ostara Project, Grande Prairie’s Tenille Townes, Medicine Hat’s MacKenzie Porter, Blumenort’s High Valley, Tegan and Sara’s album Crybaby and alt-pop songwriter Devon Cole all received Juno nominations. Alberta music promoter Ron Sakamoto earned the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the Juno Awards. But it was Calgary-born superstar Tate McRae who led the list of provincial artists with five nominations. In fact, it was quite the year for McRae. The 20-year-old appeared on Saturday Night Live in November, had higher numbers than Beyonce when it came to streams of her hit Greedy (425 million and counting) and released her second full-length album, Think Later.

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Amazing Race Canada
Calgary team Ty Smith and Kat Kastner with host Jon Montgomery on the season finale of Amazing Race Canada. The team took first place. cal

Reality-TV stars

This was also an unusually good year for homegrown contestants on some reality-TV programs. In September, former Humboldt Broncos player Ty Smith and his girlfriend Kat Kastner, who live in Calgary, took the top prize on Amazing Race Canada, beating out fellow Albertans Shayla Oulette Stonechild and her half-brother, actor Joel Oulette. Calgary psychic medium Donna Hartt was a runner-up on The Traitors Canada; Medicine Hat native Joey Kirchner proposed to Tessa Tookes on the season finale of Bachelor in Paradise Canada, Airdrie cancer survivor Paul Hamilton made it to Episode 7 of the American series Tough as Nails, while Calgary speedskater and three-time Olympian Gilmore Junio was enlisted to coach a team on Canada’s Ultimate Challenge.

Diane Arbus
Contemporary Calgary senior curator Ryan Doherty, left, and associate curator Kanika Anand take a look at some of photographer Diane Arbus’s photographs at Contemporary Calgary on May 8, 2023. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Visual art

After a three-year wait, Contemporary Calgary finally launched Diane Arbus Photographs, 1956-1971 in May. Originally scheduled for its 2020 season, the pandemic delayed the exhibit. But it was worth the wait, offering a stunning overview of the controversial American photographer’s work in what is likely the highest-profile exhibit for the gallery. Other major visual arts shows this year included A Terrifying Obsession: Toller Cranston – the Legacy Paintings in November at the Art Evolution Gallery in Cochrane; and Gathie Faulk: Revelations in July, a career retrospective of the 95-year-old artist’s work at Glenbow at the Edison. Speaking of Glenbow, it was revealed in late October that renowned American artist Maya Lin, known for her 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has been chosen to design the rooftop terrace at the Glenbow Museum, part of a $205-million renovation of the museum. It is expected to reopen to the public in 2026

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The Alberta government dismissed the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity board and replaced it with a temporary administrator. Photo by Jeff McIntosh /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Banff Centre for the Arts

In October, the Alberta government dismissed the board of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and replaced it with Paul Baay, who became a “temporary administrator.” While no official reason was given at the time, it was later reported that the move came after formal harassment complaints were filed by CEO Janice Price against board chair Adam Waterous over the process of finding a new chief executive officer. It was the latest controversy for the centre. In 2021, the province removed Donna Kennedy-Glans from the board after senior leadership asked the province to rescind her position.

Keith Johnstone
Calgary theatre legend Keith Johnstone. Photo by Ted Jacob /Calgary Herald

Keith Johnstone (1933-2023)

While he may have officially been behind the scenes, few Calgarians had more of an impact on comedy in this country and beyond than Keith Johnstone. He died on March 11 at the age of 90. The Calgary-based instructor created Theatresports and was co-founder of the Loose Moose Theatre Company, a troupe that was a springboard for a number of Calgary-based actors, writers and comedians, including Kids in the Hall members Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney, FUBAR’s Dave Lawrence and Paul Spence, comedian and actor Andrew Phung, Working Mom’s star Ryan Belleville, Parks and Recreation writer and producer Norm Hiscock and actor-comedian Peter Oldring. Johnstone, who was born in England, had a reputation that went far beyond Calgary. In 1979, he wrote Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, which is still considered a bible for comedians and improv performers.

With files from Jessica Lee. 

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