Arts and culture are front and centre in this bustling metropolis: you’ll find a vibrant music, theatre and dance scene, all bolstered by a cultural commitment that comes with a capital ‘C’ – appropriate for a city that’s also the provincial capital.

And it’s no coincidence that Edmonton was named as a cultural capital of Canada in 2007. But more on that later.

Renowned as Canada’s festival city with more than 30 annual festive extravaganzas that are not to be missed – the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Servus Heritage Festival, the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival and the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival are just four must-sees to consider – Edmonton rolls out the red carpet when it comes to the arts.

The Downtown Arts District, in the heart of Edmonton’s urban core, is where you’ll find one of the strongest focal points on the arts and it’s a great spot for tourists to embark on this cultural adventure.

Sir Winston Churchill Square anchors the Downtown Arts District, and in 2004 it was redeveloped into a cultural centrepiece. Now it’s a prime entertainment destination for more than one million visitors annually, hosting a variety of events and festivals throughout the year. It is also home to Tix On The Square, a one-stop shop for Edmonton’s top entertainment tickets.

But the square is just the beginning for arts devotees. On its exterior boundaries you’ll find an unparalleled collection of world-class cultural venues such as the Francis Winspear Centre for Music, the Citadel Theatre, and the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Home to the largest concert organ in Canada, the Winspear is a state-of-the-art orchestral hall that hosts a multitude of musical events ranging from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to entertainment superstars. Its acoustics are among the finest in the world. The Citadel Theatre, meanwhile, a premiere venue for stage productions in Western Canada, is a hot choice for theatre lovers with its five performance venues.

However, the Art Gallery of Alberta is the jewel of the downtown arts sector. Designed by Randall Stout Architects Inc. of Los Angeles, the building itself is a work of art, while this new 80,000 square foot art facility is a premiere presentation venue for international, Canadian and First Nations masterpieces.

The Downtown Arts District also has something for literary lovers as well. It is home to The Stanley A. Milner Library, the main branch of the Edmonton Public Library. All this, though, is just one part of the magical edge that makes the city one of Canada’s top arts and culture destinations.

Perhaps the best way to get a handle of what Edmonton has to offer is to divide the city into a serious of cultural districts.

Art lovers will want to venture to the 124th Street area, a short distance away from the core. Home to the twice yearly Gallery Walk, which was the first of its kind in Canada, you’ll find several member galleries within nine blocks of each other. There are also another 50 galleries in the greater Edmonton region, so art fans will have plenty to draw upon when visiting the city.

Old Strathcona, a focal point for Edmonton nightlife, is also a great place to catch a good share of the city’s cultural offerings. Eight theatre companies can be found in this historic district, including the Walterdale Playhouse, which is Western Canada’s longest running amateur theatre group.

All told, Edmonton is home to 20 theatre companies and dozens of acting co-ops. Alternative, collective, community based, improvisation and dinner theatre are just part of what a theatre aficionado will find here.

Not far from old Strathcona is the University area, where more than 36,000 students attend the University of Alberta. This encompasses two more cultural backdrops, the recently renovated Northern Jubilee Auditorium and the Timms Centre for the Arts.

Both Alberta Ballet and Edmonton Opera call the Jubilee their home, producing full slates of top tier cultural productions each year. Established in 1963, Edmonton Opera is a regional opera company recognized as a leader in the production and promotion of innovative, challenging and audience-driven opera – it’s also where Beverly Sills made her Canadian operatic debut in the Edmonton Opera performance of LUCIA di LAMMERMOOR.

Alberta Ballet, which prides itself on presenting ballet like you’ve never seen it before, continues to thrill audiences having recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as a performing troupe.

Dancers also strut their stuff courtesy of the Brian Webb Dance Company, which presents Edmonton's only complete season of contemporary dance. Recognized as the largest dance season west of Toronto, their performances are held citywide.

Lastly, but hardly least, there’s the Royal Alberta Museum, just a short hop, skip and not too many steps away from the 124th Street area. This provincial museum, documenting 12,000 years of human occupation of the province, is in the process of putting forward its own expansion plan that will significantly enhance the visitor experience.

As for the icing on the cultural cake, an increased emphasis on arts and culture came into play in 2007 and continues on. Designated Canada’s cultural capital – for cities with a population above 125,000 people – Edmonton is further strengthening its cultural ties. A variety of projects have been unveiled including a year-long poetry festival, and an increased emphasis on visual and media arts productions and exhibits by local artists.

Capitalizing on Culture

Visitors to Edmonton – those that took in a cultural event provided by the 126 arts and culture organizations – spent an estimated $146.7 million while in the city during 2005. From 1999 through 2005, the city, through the Edmonton Arts Council, increased its direct investment in the arts and festivals from $1.65 million to $2.76 million. Between 1999 and 2005:
  • The number of active arts and festival organizations in Edmonton grew from 101 to 126.
  • The number of patrons attending events produced by the organizations grew from 2.7 million to 3.9 million.
  • The sector’s economic impact on the region grew from an estimated $82.5 million to $123.7 million.