Written by Dan Duguay & Derek Manns
In a recent blog, Chief Flaneuring Officer at Everyday Tourist, Richard White, mused about “crazy” ideas to make Calgary more interesting. One of his big crazy ideas that caught our eye was to activate the +15 walkway in Calgary’s downtown core, essentially turning the walkways into an entertainment hub.
We love the idea, in fact last year, before the pandemic, Stagehand was asked by Calgary Arts Development to fulfill a request. The request had three requirements: music, downtown, and winter. Downtown and music is easy to solve, but generally music doesn’t happen in winter in Calgary, unless it’s inside. Our solution was to figure out how to bring music to downtown indoor public places and the most obvious location to start was the +15 walkway.
This turned out to be easier said than done. To have music in the spaces between the buildings known as the +15s, a lot of red tape needed to be unravelled. There was permitting, liability insurance, security issues and traffic flow considerations. We found out that it’s illegal for an artist to accept tips (busk) in the +15’s and we discovered that the last time the city had made any changes to the rules, Trudeau was Prime Minister, but his first name was Pierre.
In doing the work of trying to get music into the walkways, we learned that some initial research had been done by the city, and 8 locations were identified as potentially viable to have live music performances. The challenge for us was to line up all the property management companies with the City’s roads department (the department in charge of the +15’s). There were discrepancies as to whether $5 million or $2 million was needed and we learned that the insurance companies would earn almost as much as the artists (are that many people really going to trip on guitar cords?). We were planning on collecting data via surveys from passers-by to see if they appreciated the initiative, tips would not be accepted, but an honorarium would have been paid. We were getting set to launch when along came the lockdown...
Richard White thinks it’s time for an update and we agree. With travel all but prohibited, we have all come to appreciate “local” and that includes local talent. In 2019, Stagehand worked with the Calgary Airport to help them host over 1600 performances by local musicians (here is another Blog by Richard about music at the airport). And make no mistake these are talented artists who regularly play local clubs like the Ironwood, and have also played in Nashville, recorded multiple albums and toured all over the world. Many people told us that the experience of having a live musician at YYC changed the entire feel of the space and created a lasting first impression (“I thought I landed in Nashville”). We could do the same in the +15! When the pandemic ends and people begin to head back downtown to their offices, we want to see artists dotting the +15’s, creating energy and excitement in those corridors. And if you happen to hear a talented local artist on your way to get a coffee and that provides the catalyst to tear yourself away from Netflix and head down to Music Mile on Friday night, even better!
New York City runs a program called Music Under New York that has 30 stages and over 300 partner musicians. We can do something similar in the +15’s maybe we call it “Music Over Calgary”. It would bring artists a much needed revenue stream and inject some culture into the downtown core. If Calgary wants to be a 4 season city, this is an innovative way to leverage some of the unique resources we have at our disposal. Let’s get crazy, let's do it!
P.S. If you are a company and would like to sponsor an initiative like this please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). We can help you get some visibility while putting money directly into the pockets of talented local artists.