Building a Creative City

Todd Hirsch, ATB's Chief Economist, discusses why it is important for our city to position Calgary’s arts organizations to lead nationally.


Creative Calgary sits down in the 17th Ave branch of ATB for a conversation with Todd Hirsch, the bank’s Chief Economist, to discuss why it is important for our city to position Calgary’s arts organizations to lead nationally, even in the face of unprecedented challenges such as decreased corporate sponsorship.


CC: Is Calgary a creative city? How does it compare with other creative cities?

TH: Since I moved to the city 28 years ago, Calgary has transformed in an amazing way. I wouldn’t have described it as creative in 1989. But I would describe it as a creative city today. That’s the only fair comparison you can make. It’s not fair to compare Calgary with San Francisco, Barcelona, Copenhagen ... or compared to Tulsa, where we’d be ahead. That’s not meaningful. Are we more creative than we were 20 years ago? Yes, we are.

I had a bit of an a-ha moment when I was in Copenhagen. I’m in the museum of architecture there. I pick up a beautiful book on world architecture in the gift store. Right in my view is Calgary’s Peace Bridge — in Bridges of the World. Very controversial when it was built - a waste of money some said. But here I am in Copenhagen. An ugly footbridge won’t put us on the cover of that book.


CC: Why is creativity important to a city like Calgary?

TH: A creative city affords citizens the chance to shock their perceptual systems to see different patterns, that’s how you become a creative person. And I think every Calgarian would like to say ‘I want to become a more creative person’ or for sure say ‘I’d like my kids to be creative’. What parent would want un-creative children? Calgary is now becoming a more interesting city — with the NMC, the Peace Bridge, CIFF, Pride celebrations, Sled Island, Folk Festival, theatre, opera … they draw people into the city.

I would argue as an economist that Calgary is now vying for the best and brightest talent - to choose the city for their start-up. We have to give people a heartfelt reason to come or to stay. What makes a software developer say ‘Calgary’s a cool place to be.’ If we don’t offer that adhesive, we’re going to lose talent.


CC: What’s the return when we invest in the arts?

TH: Some people will say that the arts is expendable. But it’s like the sweetness in the pie. You can bake a pie without sugar. But no one wants to eat it. And without arts you are leaving out the best part of the city. Art and culture is the reason why people will want to come here and want to stay.

This isn’t a left wing, right wing issue. We don’t know what art and culture is going to be mainstream in the future. One thing that an art historian would back me up on is that art and culture has always been central to a society that is going through change, morphing from one state to another, going between one model of society and another. It’s a disrupter. We’re in that space in Calgary right now. After three years of low oil prices, it means that we’re evolving.

Art and culture can help stimulate entrepreneurial thought and opportunities. Calgarians like to think of ourselves as practical, so we should look at the economic arguments. We are all problem-solvers. Exposing yourself to different art, trying one new thing every month — that’s what helps you solve big problems by changing perspectives.


CC: What should a taxpayer do?

TH: Encourage the candidates running for council to think about all the ways they can help the arts.  We need to pay more attention to arts across the board. Calgary needs to become an entrepreneurial city — and the arts help with that, where people get creative and build things from scratch. That's a public good.


Creative Calgary is a non-partisan group of citizens across sectors committed to working with Calgary’s City Council to ensure the City’s budget positions Calgary’s arts organizations to lead nationally. Creative Calgary is generously supported by the Calgary Foundation.

To add your voice, visit

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags