Jasmine Palardy decided to launch a new festival last year after realizing that Calgarians needed an outlet that allows them to reimagine the city's downtown spaces.
"About a year ago … I was standing in the middle of downtown Toronto with Thom Mahler, the director of the Calgary Downtown Strategy, and Mark Garner, the new executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association. We were talking about the future of Calgary downtown," Palardy said in an interview on The Calgary Eyeopener.
"I said to both of them … are we letting the community kind of talk about and experiment with the potential visions of the future they'd like to see in our urban core?"
One thing led to another and, before she knew it, Palardy was toying with the idea of launching a new festival dedicated to reinventing popular downtown spaces.
The LobbyFest, in collaboration with several innovators and some of the most well-known buildings in the heart of the city, transforms lobbies into interactive spaces that allow participants to visualize the future of downtown areas and voice their opinions.
"[We] need to have … really important conversations around what we want in the future of our downtown as a community, as people who are building businesses, as people who are learning and growing, as people who are new to Calgary or have been here, you know, for multiple generations," Palardy said.
"LobbyFest is really meant in this first year to invite the community and to define what they want in the near future of downtown."
LISTEN | Jasmine Palardy talks about LobbyFest:
She added that the festival isn't restricted to those living and working in downtown locations. It's an inclusive event that is meant for attendees from different backgrounds and communities.
"I want people to feel like, even if they work and live in the farthest reaches of the suburbs, that downtown matters to them," she said. "I want them to feel welcome to come here and explore the lobbies and have their say."
The festival is taking place across several locations, including Bow Valley Square, Telus Sky, Brookfield Place, the Ampersand, the Grand Theatre, and the Alcove Centre for the Arts.
Pedestrians on Stephen Ave. will also be able to spot a giant LED screen with "AI-generated visions of the future of the downtown Calgary skyline," according to Palardy.
What do the events look like, though? Well, there's a huge variety to pick from. For instance, attendees can check out an installation in Brookfield Place called "How to Delight Strangers," that focuses on the importance of building human connections.
Every participating lobby at LobbyFest is interactive and equipped with installations. (Submitted by Jasmine Palardy)
The workshop hopes to take down barriers and encourage participants to interact with each other through collaboration, group projects, and brainstorming sessions.
Meanwhile, at Telus Sky, visitors can participate in engaging discussions in a setting that's larger than life.
"We've got this kind of pop-up living room in the sky and it's a place for big conversations where everyone is welcome to come and add their take on everything from the future of housing, which is an incredibly important theme that we're looking at in Calgary this week, all the way to a future of a smart city, to a future of climate-resilient city," Palardy said.
"Each of these lobbies not only has an installation, but they're all interactive, asking us to participate in bringing our ideas for us."
Change is the only constant when it comes to occupying downtown spaces, according to Sabrina Sullivan, the Urban Futures Lab manager at LobbyFest.
"The area of transition will be a constant, and so just … by people engaging in these workshops, it's an opportunity for them to build a practice or a ritual to prepare themselves for that constant change," she said.
Her advice for participants is straightforward: come with an open mind and share your perspective. Don't be afraid to open up.
She's excited about a special event that's scheduled for Friday — at the wrap party, giant balloons will be popped to reveal messages from scores of Calgarians about their thoughts on the future of downtown Calgary.
Participants are encouraged to voice their opinions on the future of downtown spaces at LobbyFest. (Submitted by Jasmine Palardy)
'It sparks good ideas'
Claire Bennett, a participant at LobbyFest, said that she decided to explore the event based on a friend's recommendation. She thinks that events like these can go a long way in taking things forward and promoting collaboration among members of the community.
"I think it sparks good ideas. I think it brings together a bunch of folks who are from very different backgrounds," she said.
"I think that people feeling like they have a voice and that they can speak to other people about these issues also makes them feel empowered. It also weirdly makes them feel heard."
While some events require participants to register in advance, many of them are free to attend and open to all.
"We encourage people to come and wander around," Palardy said.
"You know, these lobbies need to be community public spaces and places where our ideas and ambitions can kind of come to life."