I am such a big fan of Calgary, Alberta!
The city has an incredible energy that you’ll feel as soon as you arrive.
Their downtown is utterly lively. The VIBE! The food. The restaurants. The nightlife.
The arts and culture!
While I love visiting Calgary simply to eat around town (seriously, so many good places to eat, if your trip was entirely about the food you wouldn’t be disappointed), I’m also a big fan of + enjoy taking in the city’s arts and culture experiences.
From visiting public art, snapping photos at Instagrammable Walls (murals!), planning trips around festivals and exploring arts and culture centres and attractions, Calgary is absolutely a destination for arts lovers and those eager to soak up some culture.
On my recent Sept 2023 trip, I basically ate, took in an arts and culture experience, ate, did some more arts and culture activities, ate… you get the pattern lol.
For this blog post I’ve partnered with Tourism Calgary to highlight a few arts and culture experiences in the city of Calgary, Alberta that you’ll want to include in your itinerary!
I’ve also noted where we ate during this trip if you want to replicate the trip down to the dishes.
Note: all opinions are my own!
Explore Calgary Arts & Culture: Five Experiences For Your Calgary Itinerary
Experiences listed in alphabetical order.
Beakerhead is Calgary’s must-experience arts, science and engineering festival and 2023 was its 10-year anniversary—that’s 10 years of weird (and wonder!)
I’ve wanted to check out Beakerhead since it first began but never timed my Calgary visits quite right to line up with the festival—until this fall! Don’t make the same mistake I did and make sure you plan your Calgary trip for Beakerhead, which occurs mid-September annually.
There are giant, interactive art installations, dance parties, a mini Burning Man, funky art exhibits, and just really cool vibes. Seriously, the coolest vibes.
As all of the experiences are themed around science and engineering—you’re very likely to learn something interesting and new, in addition to getting some awesome photo ops. For instance, when I went, the bubbles featured in BODY, one of the art installations , were meant to represent “blood bubbles” in your body.
BODY “combines sculpture, lighting, special effects, sound, and fire to portray human biology.” Art inspired by anatomical science! That sort of sums up what Beakerhead is all about, lol.
The FREE festival programming also occurs over the weekend so you have lots of time to check out different things, at different locations, and still explore other places, art, and food during your Calgary trip.
This is just one (really great) example of an arts and culture festival you can experience in Calgary, Alberta. Sled Island is also a popular arts and music festival that occurs in the city each June, CALGARY EXPO celebrates all things pop culture each April, the Calgary International Film Festival runs each fall, and lots more. Check the links below to plan your arts festival visit!
An arts-focused trip to Calgary is not complete without a visit to Contemporary Calgary, the city’s art gallery dedicated to modern and contemporary art works from local, national and international artists, along with arts programming—workshops, panels, films and more.
The gallery itself used to be a planetarium (and still includes a big domed ceiling theatre space that is used for different events), built in a Brutalist style and unique structure that is unique to the city.
During our Sept 2023 visit, the gallery was actually hosting Beakerhead art and activations (super fun!). We also got to take in Carol Sawyer’s The Natalie Brettschneider Archive exhibit —a series of photographs, texts and musical recitals that constructed the life and work of a fictional historical performance artist. It was really interesting (and the photos + accompanying text really told a compelling story).
“Brettschneider is a stand-in for all of the female artists who have slipped through the gaps of history only to languish in obscurity, gain notoriety as models or muses of more famous male artists, or perhaps, like Claude Cahun, be ‘rediscovered.'”
Contemporary Calgary also offers FREE guided tours daily of current exhibitions (included with admission). Upcoming exhibits are announced a few months in advance to help plan your trip!
Instagrammable Walls (Murals)
Calgary, Alberta is home to too many Instagrammable Walls to count! This is what I call cute, interesting, beautiful walls that compel you to snap a photo. They might be coloured walls or textured walls. More often than not they’re murals! And you’ve got an endless list to check out in Calgary, many created as part of the city’s annual BUMP Beltline Urban Mural Project.
BUMP is Calgary’s street art festival. While it started in the Beltline community back in 2017, it has since grown to become a city-side street art movement. BUMP says the following about public art, and I wholeheartedly agree:
“Public art enriches communities, creates beautiful and captivating places, provokes conversation and adds beauty to the every day,”
Since 2017, BUMP has led to nearly 300 public art installations.
I capture just a bit of those pieces in my Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Calgary blog post (needs an update lol), and am excited to share a few I visited during my recent Sept 2023 visit.
I love to browse the murals online first and then select my favourites to check out during a visit, but I also just love walking around downtown Calgary and seeing what murals I happen to stumble upon. You really can’t walk too far in the city’s core without running into a mural!
Below are just a few BUMP murals we checked out during our fall 2023 visit:
- “Euphoria” by Seeroro (625 11 Ave. SW)
- “Inspired by manipulation of fabric” by Hanna Reimer (739 11 Ave. SW)
- “Nocturne of Other Lands” by Anais Lera (1328 17 Ave. SW)
- “Montage” by Dinho Bento (607 10 Ave. SW)
- And one of my favourite Calgary murals from previous BUMP festival’s is “All Together” by Mono Sourcil (119 12 Ave. SW)
- Check out my Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Calgary (needs an update)
As I wrote in this guest blog for the Edmonton Arts Council, I love public art because so often it surprises and delights. Art is an opportunity to bring an unexpected moment to someone’s day — or it’s something that provides familiar comfort and contemplation. When you walk down the street and catch an art piece in the corner of your eye. When you step into a south side community centre and smile at a sculpture. When you cross a bridge that overlooks the river and see paintings crossing along the bridge with you. Art makes our neighbourhoods better and our lives richer. Exploring and experiencing art is one of my favourite things to do—wherever I am.
There’s a whole lot of reasons to love public art and when I visit a place, experiencing that place’s public art is always top of my to-do list. Below are just a few public art pieces in Calgary you should see for yourself!
- Chinook Arc by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock (Barb Scott Park)
- Device to Root Out Evil by Dennis Oppenheim (712 5 St. SE)
- Starting Fourth by Garry Jones (17th Ave & 4th St.)
- Wonderland by Jaume Plensa (510 Centre St. SE)
- Wishing Well by Living Lenses – Louise Bertelsen and Po Shu Wang (950 McPherson Square NE)
- Bonus: while not “public art”—I absolutely LOVE the Campfire & Night Sky art installation at CrossIron Mills just outside of Calgary! We end up at the mall a lot for electric charging and the different themed sections and accompanying art/installations are fun to check out!
Want to plan your public art stops in advance of your visit!?!
Did you know: Canada’s most comprehensive music collection is located right in Calgary, Alberta, at Studio Bell: Home of the National Music Centre.
In downtown Calgary you’ll find a performance hall, recording facility, broadcast studio, live music venue, and museum, all in one. Studio Bell is the first facility of its kind in North America.
For arts and culture (and music!!) lovers, Studio Bell is a must-stop.
It’s a 160,000 square foot building (the architecture itself is worth checking out alone!), housing a collection of more than 2,000 pieces that spans over 450 years of music history and innovation.
Permanent exhibits include a Music Mosaic (dedicated to artists and innovators who make up the musical mosaic of Canada), the Power of Music (sing along in vocal booths and see how music moves your body, brain and soul), and Making Music (you can figure that out lol), and more!
The Canadian Music Hall of Fame‘s permanent home is also inside Studio Bell! There are plaques of over 50 legendary Canadian inducted artists plus musical artifacts, memorabilia, and more.
There are also Feature Exhibits, including a really cool Music & Wellness one that examines the power of music on mental and physical health, covering Music & Healing, Music & Support, Music & Culture and Music & Memory. This exhibit is located in one of the largest galleries at Studio Bell and is super interesting. There’s also a Feature Exhibit titled Speak Up! which showcases Indigenous artists who have made a social impact on music in Canada. And some temporary exhibits including Randy Bachman: Every Guitar Tells a Story (at Studio Bell until Feb 2024—and includes areas where you can learn how to play guitar!)
Often, music events are held at Studio Bell too! So depending on when you visit Calgary, be sure to check the event calendar and see if there’s a show, tour, or workshop you want to catch!!
This place is packed with so many things to see (and do! Love the interactivity of so many of the exhibits). And it’s quite close to the river in the East Village, and really not that far from Chinatown too, if you wanted to plan a park and walk / explore scenario.
So those are just a few suggestions for how to experience arts and culture in the City of Calgary, Alberta. If you’re like me, you want to fill your travel days with memorable experiences in between really good food—and you want to capture memories through arts, culture and adventure. Calgary is just teeming with all of these things.
If you’re curious about where we ate during this recent Calgary trip (finding sustenance between all the art!), here are a few spots to consider (in alphabetical order)!
I’ve also included some additional spots I enjoyed from previous Calgary trips and below you can find some blog posts / more recommendations from even older Calgary visits!
- 1st Street Market (Food Hall & Bar)
- Alberta Food Tours in Calgary
- Ami Tea (Chinatown)
- CHARCUT Roast House
- Cold Garden Beverage Company
- Fortuna’s Row
- Lulu Bar
- Polar Bear Kitchen (Chinatown)
- Rainbow Bakery (Chinatown)
- Rau Bistro
- Royal Tea House (4th St.)
- Roy’s Korean Kitchen
- Ten Foot Henry
- The Beltliner
- The Moon Tea House
- To Me Vietnamese Sub
- Village Ice Cream
Enjoy exploring arts and culture in Calgary, Alberta! I know I did!!!
Below are some older Calgary blog posts I’ve done that might be worth checking out too:
- Instagrammable Calgary: The Upside Down Church in East Village (2020)
- Instagrammable Calgary: PARK PARK in Inglewood, Calgary (2020)
- Explore Alberta: A Weekend in Calgary (What to Do + Eat) (2019)
- Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Calgary (2017 / last updated 2020)
- Travel: Weekend Eats in Calgary (2017)
- Travel Calgary: Shopping Deal + Eats + Where to Stay (2018)
- What to Do in Calgary in the Summer (Travel Alberta) (2019)
- Explore Alberta: Where to Eat in Calgary( 2016)
- 48 Hours in Calgary (2016)
Note: my September 2023 visit to Calgary was sponsored. Experiences were hosted by Tourism Calgary. This does not impact opinions or views stated in this post—I love exploring Alberta, and I really, really love exploring Calgary food, arts and culture!
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