When people outside of Alberta think about arts and culture in Canada, Calgary usually isn’t the first city that comes to mind. We’re often seen as lesser than other Canadian artistic hotbeds like Vancouver and Montreal, while our local identity is unwillingly shifted towards either sports or oil and gas.
But those in Calgary know that such a distinction is absurd. The city’s local arts scene is thriving, with homegrown acts of all varieties gaining attention both outside of the city and at our growing list of local festivals. Calgary is set to see that cultural momentum hit a new level this summer when the 45th annual Juno Awards arrive at the Saddledome on April 3.
The Juno Awards — which celebrate successes in Canadian entertainment — hold an interesting place in the music industry. Most Calgarians, even those who identify as music-lovers, don’t put too much stock in the awards. But the Junos’ significance lies in much more than the one-night awards ceremony.
For a city with an arts scene starving for more national recognition, the Junos will bring a much-needed spotlight to Calgary, highlighting the city’s endless list of local venues while putting local talent front and centre. But it won’t be the awards ceremony that does this. Instead, the 10 accompanying events that make up ‘JUNO Week’ will highlight Calgary’s best. This includes JUNOfest, a three-day event that will see over 150 artists perform at 20 venues around Calgary.
The weekend begins with the JUNOfest Indigenous Showcase on March 31, featuring 2015 Polaris Music Prize-winner Buffy Sainte-Marie, before spreading throughout the city to feature the other 100-plus artists — a third of whom are from Calgary. Whether you value the Junos as a measure of artistic merit or not, there’s no denying that having the event in Calgary will be invaluable.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. With the national spotlight on Calgary, Canadian music-lovers will not only see our best venues and songwriters, but also the arrival of our new National Music Centre — a $191-million, 160,000 square-foot behemoth that will house the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame — which is set to open its doors this summer.
The local entertainment-focused buzz brought on by JUNO Week will also feed interest in the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this summer.
Even those entirely unconcerned with Calgary’s arts scene should be thankful that Tourism Calgary managed to bring the Juno Awards back to our city. The previous Calgarian iteration in 2008 managed to generate an economic impact of $11.3 million, providing a significant boost to local hotels, restaurants and a host of other industries.
As Calgary continues to struggle with our economic downturn, the Juno Awards will provide a shot of relief to local businesses, bringing the city back to the spotlight and showing Calgarians just how much of an impact local arts and culture can have. Watch the Juno Awards on April 3 and celebrate Canadian talent. Or don’t. But either way, stop and look around when JUNO Week comes to town, and take a moment to understand what it means for our city.
As Calgarians, we’ve been through our fair share of hard time as of late. But this April, we’ll finally have a chance to come out the other side, dust ourselves off and shine on a national stage.
Sonny Sachdeva, Gauntlet Editorial Board