Question: What does the economy have to do with ballet?
Answer: almost everything!
Last night, at the inaugural iF event of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the worlds of business and art collided in an amazing display of a city and a province that is starting to “get it.”
This was no typical downtown Calgary business event. Sure, there were plenty of suits and ties in the audience (although the gala invitation suggested guests to “be creative” with their attire). But forget the boring business speeches. The artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, Jean Grand-Maître, was the guest speaker. Exerts of the Alberta Ballet’s current production, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, were performed. And dozens of aspiring young dancers pirouetted throughout the ballroom of the Hyatt Hotel to deliver the first course.
This is yet another example of how Alberta is changing—and changing in a good way.
Arts and culture are increasingly seen as an integral part of a growing, dynamic, global city. And while last night’s event was held in Calgary, it could just as easily have been in downtown Edmonton. (In fact, the capital city is arguably further ahead on the arts and culture scene, with its new Art Gallery of Alberta and its dozens of arts and performance festivals throughout the summer.)
But what really made the iF event at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce unique is that it wasn’t a pitch for supporting the arts. It wasn’t a fundraiser for the Alberta Ballet. It wasn’t a lobby effort asking corporate sponsors for more cash. It was an event with a simple message: arts are every bit as vital to a city as is a dynamic economy. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand.
In his speech to the Chamber audience, Jean Grand-Maître drew parallels between Calgary and some older cities. “In Florence, Italy, the people didn’t just build their city. They believed in their city.” Grand-Maître urged those at the dinner to be part of something beyond themselves—part of something bigger. “It adds dimension to your life!”
In no small part, this is the role of the arts and culture in our society: helping people connect with others, with their community, and with parts of themselves that they may be discovering for the first time. It is, essentially, being part of something bigger. "Embracing arts will help the city move into a 21st century vision of Calgary in the international community.”
At this point, many readers may dismiss the whole event as just another artsy love-in—fine for those that are interested in ballet, but not for them. “Give me hockey and a fridge full of beer!” is not an uncommon sentiment. But the sports fan and the ballet enthusiast have more in common than may first meet the eye. Both are looking for meaning and the pursuit of excellence in a common, community experience (even if the hockey fan may not express it that way). Both are pursuing culture.
Adam Legge, the President of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, gets it. In his wrap-up words towards the end the evening, he observed that the role of the city is not to simply provide arts (or sports, or commerce), and certainly not just to pay for it. Rather, the role of a city—a GREAT city—is to provide a setting in which all things possible. A great city is one in which the pursuit of excellence—in art, sport, health care, transportation, caring for the vulnerable, and YES, in business—is made possible. But it’s up to the citizens of the great city to make them happen.
Arts and culture, then, have much more in common with business. Both are pursuing excellence. And both are essential in Alberta if the province is to grow into its potential for the 21st century. This is not about nice-to-haves. It’s not about special interests. And it’s not a nasty, greedy fight about how tax dollars should (or shouldn’t) be spent.
In closing, Jean Grand-Maître asked: “How can each of us use our talents to make the city a better place to live?” The arts and culture are a building block in that pursuit. And regardless of whether it’s in the ballet studio, the sports arena, or the downtown boardroom—we’re all asked to participate in building cities and communities of excellence!