Socially Engaged Artists as Change-makers

Responsible Disruption

Since early 2020, The Social Impact Lab has produced a biweekly series of live virtual discussions with prominent experts –Responsible Disruption - about the innovation and change they see in their fields. Two years later, we boast an impressive collection of local thought leader ship on topics from Food Systems to Inclusivity in Design. Check out our YouTube channel for past episodes!

Feedback about the series has been excellent, pulling positive comments about everything from content to quality of speakers. Our highest goal for these episodes is to bring multiple perspectives to relevant dialogue and allow local experts to drive the conversation in a way that brings education and awareness to the local community.

At the beginning of 2022, we asked ourselves if we could expand these episodes in a valuable way. We had heard from some of our regular watchers that once the episode wrapped, they found themselves wondering how to get involved and how the local community may push the needle on these issues.

Our team took these comments seriously and considered what an expanded Responsible Disruption episode could look like. How could we turn an hour-long Zoom cast into something the local community could connect with more deeply and tangibly?

Jump to May 2022 and the launch of Creative Constellations: SociallyEngaged Arts Event Series!

Artist Kalum Dan painting a mural at the Arts Expo


Back to our initial question – in which spaces do you find these disruptors at the forefront of social change?

Many groups work in these spaces, including those social sector organizations working with intentionality in the systems change space, like The Social Impact Lab and other Social Innovation organizations. The folk sat the Lab and J5 Design Studios (our partner in crime, whose mission is Creating a Kinder, More Beautiful Future) pair J5’s human centred design methodology and United Way of Calgary and Area’s connection to the community to cultivate innovation and growth in the social sector in Calgary.

Artists, however, have always been the vanguard of social change. Social issues are often complex and multifaceted, involving multiple interconnected systems. Artists have always played a role by sitting in these spaces and helping us make sense of the complexity, bravely standing and fighting at the forefront of social causes.

Creative Constellations

In recognition of the role the Arts play in social change, the Responsible Disruption team ran an event series to explore the overlap between the socially engaged art sphere and the social innovation sphere - two ecosystems which share similar social ambitions, and a common language yet are rarely intertwined locally in meaningful ways.

With a focus on education, awareness-building, community-building, and inspiring action, we started producing what would be the Lab’s first step into the local Arts world.

Our intention for this series was to seek out, strengthen, and facilitate touchpoints between these two worlds, push a narrative of shared space and language, and create those intangible ripples that come from communication and connection between thinkers and doers. Our aim was also to put love and resources behind appreciating and shining a light on local Artists and Arts organizations who spend their lives working toward a better world.

Wakefield Brewster presenting at the Storytelling Salon

What we did

Not only was the series of events a blast, but they also pulled participants through a narrative arc of awareness, education, and action. This allowed them to be introduced to the topic, learn, and then move into a space where they could connect and engage.

All events were designed and run in partnership with local organizations, including collaboration from cSpace Projects, Trico Changemakers Studio, Arts Commons, and The Alcove Centre for the Arts.

Main events included:

1.     Scavenger Hunt – a free 2 hour scavenger hunt that introduced participants to the work of local Artists and Arts organizations across downtown Calgary.

2.     Storytelling Salon – a night of tea, scones, and entertainment, bringing together local Artists to showcase their work and speak out on issues that matter most.

3.    Responsible Disruption Episode – bringing local experts together to examine the world of socially engaged Art and social innovation, the spaces where they intersect, and the power of this connection to create lasting change.

4.    Arts Expo - a full afternoon, expo-style event hosted at Espresso Café in Kensington, designed asa celebration of Art, creativity, and social disruption. Participants enjoyed workshops, a comedy show, watched a local Indigenous muralist painting live, viewed works from local Artists, and were able to interact with local Arts and change-making organizations.

“A marriage between the healing of my soul through Art and the healing of my humanity through social justice. I hadn’t experienced both at the same time and I was left feeling elated, hopeful, and amped for change.” – Adrian R.

All these exciting events were underscored by genuine exploration of the powerful potential of including the Artistic process in change-making. The value for the local Arts community through this series was to strengthen cross-sector touchpoints with the hope of creating new ideas, projects, relationships, and funding sources.

Attendees at the Art Expo

What we learned

The Calgary Arts landscape is a very large and complex, highly interconnected ecosystem stewarded by a wealth of creative, caring, and insightful people. Within this wealth of people sits the possibility of creating a better Calgary.

Why is supporting Artists and integrating the Artistic process into spaces where it is not traditionally found so important to the advancement of Calgary? Simply put, we free ourselves from assumptions and barriers through the Artistic process. The status quo for most represents stability, but long term, it means stagnation in a constantly changing world. We require those creative souls embedded in the spaces where true change-making is needed. 

We require what Jenna Stanton of the Alberta Craft Council calls ‘Creative Insolence,’ by normalizing embedding those who will question our systems into the institutions that uphold them. We need to create the space for those who look outside of what exists and bring the mentality – if we can make it better, let’s make it better. According to Jenna, the craft world is all about pushing things to failure and learning, which is why crafters are so attuned to innovative work. We need to get away from “that’s not the way we do things here.’’

Sadly, there is a communication gap in Calgary between those who administer our systems and those in the Arts world who have spent a lifetime tuning their minds to the nuance and complexity required to understand problems holistically and push us toward positive change.

According to Melanee Murray-Hunt, Calgary actor, writer, filmmaker, and producer, we are creative beings born into a society that educates away from creativity. What would the world look like, if instead of being taught how to exist within the current system, we were taught to play, sit in ideas, and work with our bodies and our minds… what if standard practice was to foster original thought and Artistic expression in children? Who could we be?

“In Silicon Valley, you’d always have Artists and engineers working together. They didn’t feel different. We need to do that here!” – Jasmine Palardy, Founding Director of Beakerhead, an organization with a mandate to globally advance education at the crossroads of Art, science and engineering through year-round educational programs and an annual September festival in Calgary.

We are at a pivotal point in human history. We require those empathetic thinkers sitting in our systems and reporting back. If we do this correctly, what role may Artists have in re authoring the world? We are in a time of focusing on inequities, a climate crisis, and exponentially advancing technological growth. How can we use Art to meet the moment?

Embedding Artistic process into change-making

So, what would it take to embed the Artistic process into the change-making system?

It would take a paradigm shift in how we view Art and Artists, how we resource projects, and a shift from short to long-term thinking, in which we measure impact by less immediate metrics. This is a cultural shift that must happen in social, corporate, and government sectors, and requires an investment of resources of time, space, finances, and people – both ‘artist’ and ‘non-artist.’

We often associate Art with what we call ‘high Art,’ Art created by those who have achieved a level of notoriety, that lives in museums, concert halls, and on theatre screens. Defining the value of Art this way not only steers us from appreciating all the beautiful Art being created around us, but smacks of a colonial past. The realization that is required here is that Artistic mediums are a language for expressing ideas about the world, and the real value is in the passion and insight of the person creating within that medium. To that end, part of this paradigm shift must be recognition of the inherent wisdom in valuing Art created within community to inform its development.

Many organizations want to work with Artists, but because policy and science live in the world of certainty and Art lives in a world of curiosity, spending time and resources on Artistic exploration… sitting in problems… playing… is often seen as wasteful. Inan environment where you are questioned constantly and expected to give defined answers, anything with a sense of ‘frivolity’ is seen as the wrong method, even when the ‘frivolity’ may be the process to the best way forward.

Vicki Stroich, whose professional journey has transitioned from Theatre to social sector leadership, says that once she admitted to her Arts past, it was amazing to see the amount of people who began bringing their Art form to the workplace. Artistic pursuit generally lives ‘off the side of the desk’ for those who engage in artistic practice outside their professional lives. Not only is there a need for the Artistic process in the workplace, but as it turns out, there are already untapped Artists hidden among us.

Athena Cooper from Tilted Windmills showcasing a few of her paintings

A Love Letter to Calgary Arts

“The Social Impact Lab is a way to deepen connection and tangibly generation intersection between Artists and community. It’s a way for us, as Artists, to be seen beyond those who are drawn to the Arts and to further instigate curiosity of the creativity and humanity that lives within us all.  Working and collaborating with the Social Impact Lab made my views of this city and its folk much more expansive.”  - Lisa LaTouche


The work has already begun. According to Judith Marcuse, the Co-Founder and Director of the International Centre of Art for Social Change, “There is a new openness to that kind of integration in some sectors in Canada. The door is opening in health and wellbeing…” and many other sectors.

For this movement to progress, we require understanding of the value Art brings to the change-making process. We need resources to bring Artists into the fold. And we require organizations and spaces like Calgary’s cSpace Projects, that foster collisions between people working in different sectors.

We ask that those organizations who haven’t yet found their way to including the artistic process in their work reach out to local Arts organizations and ask where missions align, whether bringing creative problem-solving and strategic directions into your organization or taking steps on your ESG journey.

Artistic pursuit is the birthright of every person alive. The usefulness of fostering Artistic expression goes far beyond the aesthetic. Join us in continuing the work of Creative Constellations Social Engaged Arts Series and push for inclusion and resourcing of Artists as a regular part of Calgary change-making. Artists have always striven to make the world a more beautiful place. Let’s show our support with our actions.


Consider this a love letter from The Social Impact Lab to the Calgary Arts community. We see and appreciate you for who you are and the work you do! We value your contributions. We speak the same language, share the same missions, and are excited for the journey ahead!


Mentioned in this article:

The Social Impact Lab YouTube channelJ5 Design Studios, cSpace Projects, Trico Changemaker Studio, Arts Commons, The Alcove Centre for the Arts, Jenna Stanton –Alberta Craft Council, Melanee Murray-Hunt - Calgary actor, writer, filmmaker, and producer, Jasmine Palardy –The Good Future Co. & Future Fit Cities, Vicki Stroich – Caravan Farm Theatre, and Judith Marcuse -International Centre of Art for Social Change.