October 18, 2018

Culture, Risk and Katarina Witt

By Stephen Hunt

Would a 2026 Games bid help or hurt Calgary’s arts community?

Councillor Druh Farrell, who’s against the bid, suggests that funding one might come at the expense of the other.

“We have so many fundamental organizations that provide incredible quality of life for Calgary and we’re talking about cutting them and at the same time we’re talking about the Olympics,” she said, in a CBC story on September 18.

“To put all of our hopes and dreams on one unicorn event — and in the meantime, we do nothing or we cut (funding to arts organizations) — doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “I mean, are we willing to let Heritage Park fall into disrepair? It’s a really important facility. We are hearing from Telus Spark. That’s a super important facility. So where do we go from here?”

No negative impact

Friday at the Centre for Newcomers, Patti Pon, the President and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, seemed to take the opposite point of view on a bid — namely, that it might well be a huge catalyst for bringing in funding and attention for Calgary’s arts community. “When CADA looked at the prospect (of an Olympic bid), we were very conscious that we didn’t want to see any negative impact on the city’s ability to fund us,” Pon said.

CADA, she said, looked into the perception held by some Vancouver arts organizations that they were negatively impacted by the 2010 Olympics — discovering that the data didn’t show that was the case.

“Operating funding did not go down,” she said. “Attendance did not go down.

“Some companies didn’t have as many people come to shows (during the Cultural Olympiad), possibly because of (added) competition,” she added, “But nothing changed in the lead up to the Games.”

Friday, Calgary 2026 culture and education representative Karen Ball echoed Pon’s perspective, that an Olympic bid could be as much of a catalyst for culture — and education — as it would be for sport.

“Like Patti Pon, I would not touch this (bid) with a 10-foot-pole if it negatively impacted our ability to fund the arts in this city,” she said.

Reaction from those in attendance was a combination of cautious optimism, high hopes — and a little bit of sober second thought, from those who have been through these conversations before.

“Your presentation was thorough and pretty compelling,” said one attendee, “but you only mentioned the word ‘risk’ once in it. I’m originally from Montreal. I lived through the Olympics there, and all the years it took to pay for them. I’m not an athlete or an artist. I’m just a Calgarian worried about, can we afford to do this?”

“And how much,” she added, “is it going to cost me?”

(According to the most recent comments from Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran, the cost would be around $1600 per Calgary household, spread over seven or eight years).

Afterward, Pon chatted with Calgary 2026 about the ongoing struggles of Calgary’s arts companies, which have been hit hard by the recession — and how many are barely hanging on for dear life.

It was suggested that it might be a bigger risk to the city’s arts community not to bid than it would be to bid.

“Well if not the Olympics,” she said, “then what are we (as an arts community) going to do then?”

Nothing but Flowers

Before he became a playwright, actor and the president of the Alberta Playwrights Network, Trevor Rueger was an 18-year-old delivery guy, whose family, in the mid-80’s, were the messengers for Safeway’s inter-office mail, back in the days before email.

Then when the Olympics happened, Safeway asked Rueger’s father if he could be the delivery mechanism for all the flowers Safeway sold during the Winter Olympics — and a lot of them ended up being handed to various medal winners.

All five Ruegers ended up working virtually around the clock during the ‘88 Olympics, delivering hundreds and hundreds of bouquets, many of them to euphoric medal winners, backstage at various Olympic venues, allowing not-very-athletic, artistic (besides playwriting, he’s a kick-ass drummer) teenage Trevor one of the cooler Olympic experiences an 18-year-old Calgarian could possibly hope to have.

Rueger’s indelible image from 1988?

“I got to deliver flowers,” he said, “to (Olympic figure skating champ) Katarina Witt!”

stephenbhunt@gmail.com

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