Indy Inspires: Calgary Awaits

by Rachel Gertz

Day 232

Writing this after three hours of driving today, three yesterday, six hours the day before, six before that, four a lifetime ago. The brain has a bit of tunnel vision. Apologies.

A little over a week ago, Torrey showed us Indianapolis in all its unfettered glory. He also inspired us to try to build a stronger creative community in Calgary. A generous thank you to our un-lemming leader!

It all started when we met him at SXSW. If you’ll recall, Torrey was the one allowing Travis to draw a giant Unicat on his neck. He kept insisting that we come and visit him in Indy, so we made good on that request. And we’re pretty thrilled with the outcome. 

Indy, for those of you new to its raw artistic and cultural charm, houses the Indy 500. Indy has alluring creative work spaces. Indy likes to play. It has a creative community worth its weight in gold.

Indy got us thinking. 

Right away, we noticed the painted crosswalks, the cultural trail created from old railway lines, and the finest cuisine you can shake a stick at (what does that expression even mean?). Torrey dined us at two notable places: Chatham Tap Restaurant and Pub, and Brugge, a classy little micro brewery that incidentally serves the best Belgian style mussels and cheeses you’ll have the luxury of dropping on your taste buds. 

Then Torrey presented his studio to us. Holy helluva space! Stunning projects smiled at us and creative juice dripped out of the neatest studio crevices. It was like witnessing Kool-Aid Man jump through the wall and yell, “OHH YEA.” Now that’s design inspiration! 

So, Trav and I have a bad habit of taking design notes across the country and then plotting devious ways to transplant them into something meaningful back home. The ideas have been percolating, and after visiting Indy, they’re spilling over. Now why on earth would we want to lick and stick changes to our little homegrown city? Because Calgary, Alberta, Canada is an oil town. It has the personality of a white bread sandwich. In fact, Calgary is the reason (the biggest one) that we decided to leave. Our dear friends and family made it tricky. But Calgary itself kicked us on the way out with a snow storm in October. PS, if you’ve never wikapedia-ed your city, do it. The ‘objective’ ramblings you read about your city’s tourist attractions and industry may be surprising.

Not to spew forth another rant, but here’s another rant. Calgary pits itself against its own citizens, passing itself off as a refined specimen, when really it’s a rude and red-collar (i.e. redneck and white collar mix) checkers match. The average Calgarian has a lawn tractor, drinks Canadian (beer), and works at BP. Yup, it’s true. The Kool-Aid Man does not roundhouse kick the walls of Calgary, if I may be so bold. 

The whole mash-up of white sunglasses, terrible customer service, and the Stampede also leaves us feeling a little underwhelmed.

And there’s more. Calgary has a mightier-than-thou complex which gets to be redundant when you’ve lived there as long as we have. I think the whole “best place to live” vote in 2007 went to its head. In actual fact, Calgary has a number of things making it bleed out from the knees: 


A fractured creative community. This death gauntlet of Calgary kills so many unique attempts at creating a force to be reckoned with. It’s not just us thinking the worst. Others are seeing this, too.

—But Torrey, don’t worry. It’s still awesome and you should still come to visit!

Anyway, before you think we’re assholes and have retained zero loyalty to Calgary, read this: 

A. We’re coming back. For six months. To umm, test the waters. 

B. We know Calgary has a heart, albeit dipped in oil, but at least its well lubricated and she’s ready to kick it into high gear. Der, that sounded extremely red-collar. Sorry. 

To explain why it’s not all bad, I have to explain why it is bad. I have to draw you a little diagram of our current creative community: Lots of extremely talented and comical people. Lots of potential venues, lots of creative events even. Except the agencies work their creatives to the bone, the designers are scowling at other designers, the actors are laughing at the dorkestras (aka multiple instrument bands). The hipsters are taking over, and even though deep down, we’re all a little hipster, we seem to hate the proverbial archetype with his thin-tired bicycle and expensive keffiyehs. Then there’s the folks that are completely out of date. They think creativity is something you do in kindergarten that involves gluing popsicle sticks to pipe cleaners. These people are usually dressed in suits and make six figure incomes (yet they support the Epcor Centre for the Arts and Talisman Centre). All this, not to mention the fact that many Calgary locals prefer to watch TV during weeknights, rather than meet up with other locals to support community events. 

So you can see, Calgary is fragmented. 

But in case you thought this was going to be a verbal shit-slurp, demonizing the Calgary that Travis and I grew up in, you’re only half right. We have great people. We do. These resilient, innovative, crazy peeps make us want to be a part of Calgary’s core strengthening exercises. They make us want to join volunteer networks and start a creative print making studio and save all the orphans and lost puppies of the world. 

Or get someone else to…. (Lemmings, all of us)

We’re home for six months. In that time, we need to affirm that there is still hope for us living in a place that favours the Wildrose Alliance party and will soon be drinking the sludge run-off from the oil sands development. We’ll have to see if we can contentedly share the birthplace of our dear robotic prime minister, Mr. Harper. We’ll have to see if we can outrun the Calgary Death Gauntlet.

To balance out the soothsaying above, here’s some of the good things going on in Calgary right now. The people behind these initiatives give us hope for a creative, connected Calgary. Thank you!

On that note, we’re driving our slovenly asses into Calgary tomorrow afternoon and looking forward to meeting up with the people that make Calgary worth going back to. You know who you are. 

PPS —If we’re wrong about this fracture and you want to whine in protest, we invite our fellow Calgarians to step up and tell us. Prove to us there’s a strong, unified community that is capable of standing on its own two legs in Calgary. We’ll back down if you’re right. 

If not, let’s do something about it, shall we? 

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