As local arts institutions go, the fact that the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) is one of the younger kids on the block may come as a surprise.
This year marks the EAC's 25th anniversary — the same year the Fringe celebrates 40 years, the Citadel Theatre turns 56, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is now over 100. It's celebrating with a city-wide scavenger hunt that encourages citizens to interact with local art every day, be it by seeking out public sculptures, checking out albums by homegrown talent, or sharing thoughts about prolific arts producers online.
"We hope that people come to realize that their city is alive with arts and culture, whether it's neighbourhood concerts and parades, or public art pieces at their closest transit station," the EAC's executive director Sanjay Shahani told Taproot.
"We've had some fantastic thoughts shared with us so far – one person said they've been attending the Fringe for 40 years, and someone else had just moved to Edmonton and was volunteering at their first Fringe."
A sampling of the prizes from the I heART Edmonton scavenger hunt, featuring wares from the city's artists and cultural institutions. (Edmonton Arts Council)
The EAC was initiated by a task force led by freshly re-elected Mayor Jan Reimer and built through a community process that saw collaboration with the professional arts sector as well as smaller organizations, festivals, amateur artists, and the business sector.
"Since the founding of the EAC in 1996, we have grown from managing only a small budget to supporting more than 180 arts organizations and 300 individual artists with $11 million in grants," Shahani said. "Today, not only do we manage many grant programs every year, but (also) Tix on the Square, Churchill Square community programming, artist residency programs, the poet laureate program, and much more."
Looking to the EAC's next 25 years, Shahani cites the current Connections & Exchanges 10-year plan as its guiding strategy.
"It is artist-driven and community-based, and engagement is at the core of what we do as an organization, so we are excited to see where the changing needs of our city's arts community take us," he said.
At a time when arts organizations are in need of strong institutional leadership, Shahani assures that EAC is ready for the next challenge, too. The organization is currently working with a stakeholder group led by Calgary's Stone-Olafson on a series of surveys and workshops assessing evolving comfort levels with returns to in-person participation in the arts.
"Although our arts community is resilient, we know that recovery from COVID-19 will be difficult," Shahani says. "We are excited to see seasons being announced and events taking place again, but there are still a lot of unknowns, and we will have to wait and see how the community and arts organizations adapt to this ever-changing situation."