With over 70 festivals, dozens of art galleries, year-round live theatre, and a never ending lineup of emerging artists and musicians, Edmonton’s art and cultural scene isn’t just thriving — it’s booming. From grassroots organizations to newly renovated landmarks, you don’t have to look very hard to find a plethora of exhibitions, performances, and events throughout the city.
For instance, did you know that downtown Edmonton is home to the largest museum in western Canada? Last October the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) re-opened their doors after moving to a new 419,000 square foot facility, and the response from the city has been very positive.
“In 2014 and 2015, the Royal Alberta Museum welcomed 154,000 visitors annually. Since re-opening, over 244,000 people have visited the new space,” says Shelley Grollmuss, vice president of industry development at Travel Alberta.
Throughout the museum’s expansive permanent galleries, which feature engaging exhibitions complemented by internationally touring features, over 2.4 million stories are waiting to be heard, including the largest touring collection of Viking material in the world.
The Vikings: Beyond the Legend is a joint venture between and produced by the National Museum of Denmark and MuseumsPartner in Austria, and the first international exhibition to be showcased at the RAM. With over 650 objects dating from the 9th to 10th century, including unique artifacts like “Thor’s hammer,” Edmontonians and visitors can spend hours learning about the evolution of Vikings as skilled artisans, farmers, traders, and explorers and how they changed the course of history. Guests also have the opportunity to learn about Viking culture, society, and technology through striking multimedia and 11 immersive and interactive displays. You can test your ability to maintain the rowing cadence of a Viking ship with an augmented reality experience, handle a precise replica of a Viking age sword, learn about the rune alphabet, and more before the exhibit closes on October 20, 2019.
Grollmuss says historical sites and cultural landmarks like the Royal Alberta Museum have a huge cultural and financial impact on both Edmonton’s urban and rural communities.
“Attractions and events definitely improve Alberta’s reputation as a fabulous place to visit, but they also provide community members and visitors with a better quality of life.”
A study by the Department of Canadian Heritage confirmed that there is indeed a correlation among social, physical, mental, and economic wellbeing and arts and culture. The benefits include
improved economic performance; enhanced opportunities for creativity and innovation; enriched quality of life, health and well-being; urban revitalization; greater community cohesion and civic participation; a deeper appreciation for diversity; improved community safety and social behaviour in youth at risk; opportunities for cognitive growth, learning and skills development; and more reflective and engaged citizens.
Another cultural landmark residing in the city is the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), which also underwent major renovations from 2007 to 2010. The 85,000 square foot gallery, designed by Randall Stout, is a world-class centre for regional, national, and international art and education. With over three floors of exhibition space, a 150-seat theatre, an award winning restaurant, and the Singhmar Centre for Art Education, it’s no surprise that the gallery is visited by over 100,000 people every year. In 2018, the AGA welcomed 128,616 visitors, which is an increase of more than 16,000 people from 2017’s total.
Through the support of the City of Edmonton, the AGA offers several access initiatives including free admission for minors, Alberta students, and an all access evening with free admission for all every Thursday evening.
“We also host several free admission community days such as National Indigenous People’s Day, Canada Day, and Family Day,” explains Melanie Houley, head of marketing, communications, and development. “This enables us to provide an accessible space for all visitors to engage with the AGA, and be enriched by and support local, national, and international artists.”
As part of the AGA’s work to increase attendance and accessibility, the gallery adjusted their membership categories on June 1st of this year to better reflect guests’ needs, desired experiences, and to better align with market pricing.
Nestled on 64 hectares of wooded parkland along Edmonton’s River Valley is one of the largest living history museums in Canada. Fort Edmonton Park, which sits on Treaty 6 territory, is currently in the midst of a $165 million enhancement project, which includes a new entry and admissions area complete with gender-neutral washrooms, a cafe, and gift shop. Other parts of the project include an expansion of the midway with a larger Ferris wheel, more games, a maze, and an event tent for weddings and birthdays. Plus, there’s a hotel expansion, a new steam train maintenance facility, and a complete replacement and upgrade to underground utilities. Perhaps the crown jewel of the project though is the new Indigenous Peoples Experience.
Fort Edmonton Park Management is also working closely with its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) partners, the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and Métis Nation of Alberta, along with many additional Indigenous communities to create the Indigenous Peoples Experience — a signature exhibit focused on the cultural heritage of First Nations and Métis peoples in and around Edmonton.
“The exhibit will host different Indigenous narratives that tell the story of Edmonton before colonization. We all have a lot to learn from these narratives, which will include the history of Métis scrip, residential schools, and the Indian Act,” Doris Gladue, managing director of Indigenous relations, explains. The new Indigenous Peoples Experience is about affirming and recognizing the diversity of these narratives in the most authentic and respectful way, which honours Indigenous ways of knowing and being.”
Not only is the Indigenous Peoples Experience a critical component in Alberta’s journey of reconciliation, Grollmuss says that more and more people are interested in engaging with this part of Edmonton’s history.
“At least one in three travellers are interested in learning about Indigenous cultures and participating in authentic cultural events. This is now a $166 million industry with over 125 Indigenous-owned businesses.”
Both Edmontonians and visitors can explore all of the new developments at Fort Edmonton Park by May 2021.
There is no shortage of ways to feel enriched in Edmonton thanks to world-class arts and culture facilities and initiatives. Engage in the attractions that tourists travel from all over the world to see. We are very fortunate to have this level of an arts and culture scene right in our own backyard.