What a humbling and earth shattering experience the last few weeks has been. The APN offices and myself remained outside of the flood zone and while Michelle Kneale was also safe from the flooding, the power to her apartment building needed to be shut off for a number of days in a row and she was evacuated from downtown. Compared to the devastating losses suffered by others we experienced what could only be called a “minor inconvenience”.
I just got off the phone with a member playwright who also resided out of the worst hit areas and we were both reflecting on the wave of feelings and emotions we went through in the early days of the emergency. We both were struck with feelings of helplessness and anxiety, as we knew that our city was being devastated and there was nothing we could do. Sitting at my home, looking at dry pavement knowing that 12 blocks away basements were being flooded, homes destroyed and lives were being drastically changed left me feeling guilty for being spared.
In the days that followed when people were able to move about the city and begin to provide assistance I was humbled by two things; the resilience of our city and the selfless spirit of Albertans. You have all heard stories of volunteerism and charity but I want to relate a personal account that made me really take stock of things. My wife Shari and I went into one of the worst hit areas to assist a colleague who was in one of the worst hit areas of town. I spent three hours in the basement assisting in pulling out furniture, carpet and personal belongings that had been destroyed beyond recognition. Someone was trying to lift a dresser and asked for help. I introduced myself to him and he told me his name was Joe. We couldn’t lift the dresser so pulled out the drawers to lighten the load when we discovered water in the top drawer. Joe, others, and myself continued pulling out the detritus overfilling two industrial refuse bins. When the final task of removing the carpet was completed, there was nothing left for us to do. Joe and I stood around drinking water and I asked him how he knew the homeowner. Was he related? A neighbour? A friend? Joe said, “I don’t know them. Could you introduce me? I know a couple of great contractors who might be able to help them rebuild.” I introduced Joe to the homeowners; he gave them a couple of phone numbers, grabbed his tools and walked across the street to see if they needed a hand.
While the clean up and restoration continues we are able to see the physical damages wrought by the flooding. But there are going to be intangible consequences brought about by this disaster that will continue to have a long lasting effect on Albertans and the Alberta arts community. There will be loss of revenues brought about by program cancellations, loss of venues and declining ticket sales as our audiences have been economically impacted as well. One has to expect that private sector and donor funding will also be impacted as many of our great corporate citizens and philanthropists devote resources to much needed flood relief. Arts organizations whose resources were already stretched to capacity will need to reallocate resources to simply get back to business. Those that suffered physical losses or damage are the organizations that are most in need of assistance but in the longer term, even those not-for-profits that were not directly affected will feel an indirect effect. The landscape has changed both literally and figuratively and will remain altered for many years to come.
As the immediacy of the events, like the flood waters, recede into memory, there will continue to be a need in this city and southern Alberta and we artists will be there to help by doing the what we do best, entertaining. Art provides us with the opportunity to escape, to reflect and to provide a voice to thoughts we are incapable of expressing. It gives us a place to commune and share and during the months and ahead, hopefully a place where you can leave the struggle behind for a few hours of unbridled enjoyment. You can’t spell “cathartic” without “art” which is why southern Alberta needs artists now more than ever. We will continue to support in whatever way we can and hope that eventually you can support in any way you can.
For more information on Calgary Arts Flood Rebuild, go to
P.S. Our thoughts and hearts go out to the citizens of High River as they begin the long process of recovery.
Also another thank you and shout out to all of the first responders, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Calgary City Council and anyone else who worked tirelessly and put their lives at risk in the early stages of the emergency.