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Online conference features international delegates lobbying to make Calgary, Edmonton ‘music cities’


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Thirty-five speakers from 15 countries will converge at a virtual conference next week to help make the case that Calgary and Edmonton be transformed into “music cities.”

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The original plan was to fly the international delegates into Alberta for the province’s first Music Cities Convention. But having already cancelled the event in the fall due to COVID-19, the decision was made to go fully virtual. Panels and talks will be streamed from various venues in Calgary and Edmonton with international speakers joining remotely. Alongside a large contingent of local speakers will be a wide range of global delegates; everyone from Felix Barros, president of Music Tech Association in Chile, to Leah Flanagan, manager of National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Music Office in Australia, to Maria Rut Reynisdottir, head of Reykjavik’s cultural office in Iceland.

The main thrust of the talks will be to show the economic and cultural benefits that music can play in the evolution of municipalities. Discussions will include how music can diversify city economies, music and technology, music as therapy, the role of music in supporting diversity and inclusion, incentive programs for musicians, the “nighttime economy” and the general economic impact that music can have on a city.

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Andrew Mosker, who is co-founder and chair of West Anthem and the founding president and CEO of the National Music Centre, says the target audience is a wide swath of “influencers” in Calgary, Edmonton and other communities.

“Civic leaders at every level, from officials to politicians in any municipality of the province, to real estate developers and anyone who oversees land or buildings and is looking at creative ways that music can play a role in a given development or the rejuvenation of a development,” he says. “Small business owners as well, who are part of a district like along the Music Mile that aren’t a restaurant or venue, to help them see that being in a business improvement district or a neighbourhood that has live music or music retail is a huge advantage to creating vibrancy in a neighbourhood. Leaders of community associations or districts, executive directors and staff members from downtown associations, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. Anyone involved in placemaking, business revitalization or business improvement and community planning, in general, is the audience.”

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Dubbed Scaling Up Music Cities: Cultivating the Future of Alberta, this is the first time the annual conference has been based in Canada. It is hosted by Alberta Music, the National Music Centre and West Anthem, a volunteer committee founded in 2014 made up of representatives who work full time in the Alberta music industry.

 The event follows the October 2020 release of The Music Ecosystem Study, which was conducted by a U.K-based organization that has prepared similar reports for Nashville, Toronto, Vancouver, Lafayette, La., and London, England.

A number of the international delegates will represent cities from around the world that have adopted a music-city approach.

“It’s not just Nashville and Austin, which is where everybody goes for comparables,” Mosker says. “They exist all over the world: in Australia, in South America, in Europe. There are things that municipalities can do to look at music as a priority and as a placemaking strategy to create vibrancy. If you look at some of the subjects that are part of the panel discussions, these are subjects that are really close to where Alberta is right now in terms of its own evolution as a province. For example, we have a panel about diversifying the economy, in this case through music. The conversation about diversifying the Alberta economy has been going on since I’ve lived here. Who needs to hear that? Music can help diversify the economy and that’s not a conversation we’ve had a lot. As long as I’ve lived here, it’s been other conversations about economic diversity.”

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While plans to celebrate Alberta’s music during the convention had to be scaled back after it went online, there will be live and streamed performances from venues such as Calgary’s King Eddy and Edmonton’s Starlite Room featuring artists such as Sargeant X Comrade, T. Buckley, Amy Nelson, Shaela Miller, K-Riz, Fox Opera and Samantha Savage Smith.

Meanwhile, musicians and music professionals will be able to access tickets to events at a discount.

Mosker says the music city proposal fits nicely into a broader discussion as the province continues to go through “a significant, fundamental change in its identity as a place.”

“It’s discussions from people who live here and see a future that is more inclusive, more diverse in its economy and what that offers to future of downtowns, which have both been very challenged in the last few years,” he says. “What does the revitalization of downtowns look like and what role do music and the arts in general play?

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“Having been here for over 20 years, I haven’t seen the kind of attention that is being paid to the topic of music now in the past. In the past when the economy was good and oil was flowing and downtown was busy, it was harder to get the influencers’ attention around diversifying the economy. But this prolonged period over COVID, and even prior to COVID, with Calgary’s downtown having significant economic challenges, there’s a conversation around the ideas that are out there and can help redefine our future. This idea of music and music cities is an idea that more people are asking questions about.”

The Music Cities Convention takes place on Feb. 10 and 11. Visit www.musiccitiesevents.com/schedule-alberta

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