Calgary leaders hope for good things from new culture minister

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As Alberta’s newest premier, Alison Redford struck a chord with constituent voters with her pledge to change health care and education.

Less well known, but still as important, is her stance on arts and culture in Alberta.

In a campaign video interview posted on YouTube, she said: “What I want culture to be in Alberta is something that every child can understand. We’ve got to bring arts and culture back into the curriculum in school, so people understand that it’s connected to everything we do in our life.”

Heather Klimchuk, the newly appointed minister of Alberta Culture and Community Services (formerly Culture and Community Spirit), has said she will be working very closely with Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of education, to make Redford’s dream for the arts community in Alberta a reality.

“I’m in the process now of reaching out to my colleagues — all the ministries — and working together to make sure that arts and culture is a value in everything that we do,” Klimchuk said.

She said it’s important to create partnerships within the ministries because of how many areas of people’s lives this sector affects, citing as an example the evidence that hospital patients recuperate faster if there are crafts in the room.

“What I’m really good at is bringing people together and collaborating and encouraging people to look outside the box and think, ‘Wow, I didn’t think of that,’” Klimchuk said. “I plan to be touring all over Alberta these next few months and meeting with people and hearing what’s on people’s minds.”

swear in

Heather Klimchuk (right), minister of Alberta Culture and Community Services, is sworn in at Government House in Edmonton Oct. 12 as Premier Alison Redford looks on.
Photo courtesy of: Government of Alberta
Klimchuk, former minister of Service Alberta, is only the second minister to ever head this portfolio. She replaces Lindsay Blackett, whom she says really got the ball rolling as the first governmental representative for the arts community.

Blackett’s contributions to the arts community in Alberta are particularly notable because of the community’s previously low profile on government agendas. Until former premier’s Ed Stelmach’s tenure, very little attention from the provincial government had been given to the arts and culture community in Alberta, said Bob McPhee, general director and CEO of Calgary Opera.

He said that former premier Ralph Klein didn’t participate as a consumer or an advocate of the arts during his time in office. It was a rough 10 years during Klein’s time in office, he said.

Kirstin Evenden, president and CEO of the Glenbow Museum, said that Stemach’s appointment of Blackett gave a distinct voice to culture at the cabinet table. Blackett implemented the province’s “Spirit of Alberta” cultural policy, established Alberta Arts Days, and was a very visual participant of the Alberta arts community.

Jennifer Faulkner, Alberta Ballet‘s associate executive director, said that Blackett was “a real champion for us.”

“He was very enthusiastic, he made a point of coming to our performances, and so I think he worked really hard to try and serve the arts in our province,” she said.

“We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Minister Klimchuk, but I’m hoping she will be able to do the same. I don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t be a champion.”

Tom McCabe, president of Theatre Calgary, said: “I don’t know Heather that well, although I have corresponded with her since she’s gotten posted to this position. I happen to believe that she is a supporter of culture — she’s been involved in cultural activities in her career — and she’s going to meet with me in due course.”

Evenden said she is excited about Klimchuk’s appointment because “change is always an opportunity to discuss what still remains to be done to evolve the cultural sector in Alberta.”


“When I was at Service Alberta I was looking for things that were meaningful and real and actually doing something.”
— Minister Heather Klimchuk

March 3, 2008: Elected to her first term as a member of the Legislative Assembly for Edmonton-Glenora.

March 13, 2008: Appointed minister of Service Alberta.

2008: Banned gift-card expiry dates.

2010: Established rules limiting how much Alberta payday-loan companies can charge consumers.

2011: Established rules that allow Alberta government to license and set standards for home inspectors.

Oct. 12, 2011: Appointed minister of Alberta Culture and Community Services.

On Nov. 3, Premier Redford presented Klimchuk with her mandate letter, which outlined a specific objective that Klimchuk was asked to deliver as minister of culture and community services.

The mandate, published on the ministry’s website, stated that Klimchuk must work to “convene a forum with arts and culture partners to make recommendations on cost-effective initiatives that promote the sustainability and long-term growth of the sector.”

To help accomplish their mandates, the premier has encouraged Klimchuk and her fellow ministers to work together before a forum at the planned summit on culture in February. In the developmental stages right now, this forum will seek to bring invited delegates of the arts and culture community together to have a conversation about how they can work to make the sector sustainable.

Klimchuk said moving towards the summit, it’s important that she gets input about the arts community from regular people and from passionate defenders of the arts. She said she wants people to come away from the summit excited about the future of the arts community in Calgary.

“Great civilizations and great societies are often remembered through history by their arts and culture,” said Faulkner of Alberta Ballet, when asked why it’s important that people are involved in the arts. “That is the cultural record. That is the historical record.

“Arts provide transformative experiences — they are a safe place for society to examine itself and move itself forward. It’s really important that children be engaged in it early on through the school system so it becomes an integral part of their lives. And for artists, this is a force for good in the community.”

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