Arts Commons

Arts Commons (Formerly EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts) is a multi-venue arts centre in downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada, located in the Olympic Plaza Cultural District.

Arts Commons
Registered Canadian charity
Founded1985 (1985)
Key people
Johann Zietsman (President & CEO)

Occupying a full city block, Arts Commons is a six level complex measuring over 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2).[1] It is one of the three largest arts centres in Canada.[1] In addition to a variety of performance spaces, Arts Commons also houses rehearsal halls, theatre workshops, offices, meeting rooms, a cafĂ©, and art works from community groups and galleries displayed throughout.


The oldest part of the city block that houses the Arts Commons is the Burns Building, named after noted Calgarian Pat Burns. Construction began in April 1912 and was completed at a cost of $350,000. In the late 1970s, the demolition of the Burns Building became a possibility, because it was on land needed for the construction of the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts. Demolition proposals were defeated by the Calgary City Council by one vote, and, along with the Calgary Public Building (built in 1930/31 at a cost of almost $2 million), the building was incorporated into the plan for the Arts Centre. In 1979, the Public Building was bought by the City of Calgary for $3.8 million and its upper floors are still occupied by City of Calgary offices.

The newly created Centre was officially opened on 14 September 1985 by the then Premier of Alberta Peter Lougheed. After a donation by EPCOR, an Edmonton, Alberta-based utilities company, the name was changed to the EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts on 1 May 2001.

On 17 December 2014, at the Annual General Meeting, it was publicly announced that the performing arts centre would be rebranded as Arts Commons, the name which represents "the Arts" and which expands the organization's offerings beyond the performing arts to a wider variety of arts and genres, given the organization's expansion beyond what is presented just on stage. "Commons" is derived from the old town square concept where ideas are shared, people from all walks of life gather, and different perspectives are welcomed.

Amenities offered

Almost 400,000 people attend 1800-plus performances and events each year at the Arts Commons.[1] Such events include live theatre, dance, spoken word and readings, children's events, experimental theatre, art exhibits, public forums, weddings, training sessions, meetings, arts education activities, sporting events and competition, award ceremonies and concerts ranging from symphonic music to jazz, folk, blues, world and rock.

Performance and other facilities

  • Jack Singer Concert Hall, with 1,800 seats, is the largest venue in the building. Suspended above the stage is a 185,000-pound laminated spruce-wood acoustical canopy, which can be raised or lowered to tune the hall according to the specific needs of each performer. Named for Jack Singer, the Concert Hall is the permanent home of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, which employs 65 full-time musicians, and the 6,040-pipe Carthy Organ.
  • Max Bell Theatre is a 750-seat theatre and is home to Theatre Calgary.
  • Martha Cohen Theatre is a 418-seat theatre and is home to Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP).
  • Big Secret Theatre is a 190-seat theatre and is home to One Yellow Rabbit.
  • Engineered Air Theatre is used for concerts, films, plays, weddings, receptions, and galas. Can seat up to 185 theatre-style.
  • Motel is a 50-seat black box, multi-purpose venue used for plays, experimental theatre and performance art and is home to Downstage.

Activities and performances

Arts Commons presents music programming, arts education (personal and professional development) and movies. Programs include the BD&P World Music Series, PCL Blues Series, TD Jazz Series, and Arts Learning projects (SummerACT, One Day Arts School and Artist in the Classroom). The Arts Commons facility also hosts the Gallery of Alberta Media Art (GAMA) a screen based media gallery in the +15 portion of the building.

Jordan Peterson Controversy

After the announcement of the University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson giving a lecture at Arts Commons was announced, several Calgarian art groups addressed an open letter[2] to the Arts Commons' Board of Directors on 24 July 2018. The letter demanded that the event be canceled, that they provide diversity training for their staff, and issue a public apology to the "2SLGBTQIA community".[3] It expressed the "deep shock and disappointment" that the artists and organizations signing the letter felt over Arts Commons' choice to host the speaker, who in the past has been criticized for his online and public arguments against government mandated speech laws[4] and his opposition to Bill C-16[5]. The letter was signed by staff of several small artist run centres, including Untitled Art Society, TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary, Stride Gallery, The New Gallery, other organizations such as the M:ST Performance Artist Festival Society and VOICESYYC, and over 1200 individual signatures[6]. A responding statement[7] written by the CEO of Arts Commons, Johann Zeitsman, expressed Arts Commons' support for free speech which meant, "not censoring someone because we don't agree with what they have to say." The event was not canceled and was held on 27 July 2018.

Censorship Controversy

In early September 2018, The New Gallery released a statement[8] on its website and Facebook page describing the circumstances of what it claimed to be censorship of a trans-identified artist currently exhibiting in a vitrine space located within the Arts Commons building and Calgary +15 Network. Within The New Gallery's statement, Arts Commons was described to have turned off the 3-channel video work being exhibited in the space with reasons cited by Arts Commons as the work containing swearing and nudity that had garnered complaints from concerned patrons. On 29 August 2018 Arts Commons sent The New Gallery a letter saying that the video work would have to be edited or remove the nudity and coarse language or that the artwork would be taken down[9]. In response, on 8 September 2018, The New Gallery provided an open-letter written by the exhibiting artist, B.G-Osborne, on their website. Within the letter Osborne states that they would not be editing the video work and that, "Rather than re-edit and censor my work to comfort certain viewers who are offended by the very banal acts of swearing and non-sexual nudity, I have decided to remove the piece from the space entirely." Osborne then goes on to describe the irony of an art work that uses the imagery of cisgender actors playing trans characters to criticize the offensive portrayal of trans people, being criticized as being offensive. Arts Commons owns the walk way space and vitrine spaces but each is individually curated by a different gallery or art organization. Arts Commons programming director Jennifer Johnson said in an emailed statement to CBC that, "While Arts Commons believes the piece, A Thousand Cuts, has merit, the language and images contained in the video and audio component are not a fit with our commitment to creating a public space for all."[10]

In 2006 Arts Commons, at the time the "EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts", also received criticism for censoring a transgender artist who was exhibiting in the same +15 walk way space but with another of Calgary's artist run centre galleries, TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary[6]. A temporary wall was installed throughout the length of the walk way that blocked the entire view of the vitrine space save for a smaller entrance that could be accessed on the opposite side of the walk way. This wall was installed without speaking to the artist, Edie Fake, or staff from TRUCK. The art work was titled, 'Gaylord Phoenix in the Flower Temple' and depicted a cartoon of a gender-fluid man, touching his genitals (drawn as a noodle with paisley patterns)[11].

See also


  1. "About EPCOR CENTRE". Archived from the original on 2004-12-26. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
  2. "Open Letter to Arts Commons re: Jordan Peterson". Google Docs. Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  3. 2SLGBTQIA = Two-Spirited, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual & Aromantic, Intersex, and beyond. See, for example: (NSRAP) A similar acronym 2SLGBTQQIA means Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning,intersex, and asexual.
  4. "'I decided a long time ago that I was going to pay for saying what I thought' | CBC Radio". CBC. Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  5. "New words trigger an abstract clash on campus: DiManno | The Star". Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  6. "Arts Commons accused of censorship for removing LGBTQ artist's work". CBC. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  7. "'We value diversity': Controversial professor will speak despite petition, says Arts Commons". Calgary Herald. 2018-07-26. Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  8. "A Thousand Cuts / The New Gallery". Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  9. "Calgary venue accused of censorship for removing transgender artist's work | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  10. "Calgary venue accused of censorship for removing transgender artist's work | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  11. "Arts Commons accused of censorship for removing LGBTQ artist's work". Retrieved 13 September 2018.

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