Design Talks Institute (d.talks)

we serve these populations

  • aging population
  • children and youth
  • immigrant newcomers
  • indigenous communities
  • women

A high school student attended an informal d.talks conversation on “borders” held in a gallery. As others attending this conversation shared personal interpretations of a border and experiences on how borders affected them, he listened intently. Near the end of the discussion, he spoke about the limited transportation options in his neighbourhood. He doesn’t drive and he wanted a walkable neighbourhood. Was this design? He hadn’t realized it was until now, he said. But it certainly makes a difference in his life.

While “borders” wasn’t a topic that sought answers to public transit, the topic precipitated a conversation amongst strangers that was meaningful enough for the student to make a connection with design’s effect upon his life.

d.talks challenges designers to embrace the responsibility for shaping the city with more equity, inclusion, sensitivity, and care for the environment. What economies are linked to design? What barriers might a traditional market focus impose on the city? What did the urban renewal—clearing the land in order to situate this new building—have to do with visions for the city at that time? And, what histories should we know about the land that took place generations before the arrival of settlers?

While we work to celebrate good design, we are focused on design’s agency and its responsibility to listen and learn from others that hold different worldviews than their own. We research critical questions and exhibit and host platforms for public conversation that draw upon multiple perspectives.

Our vision is that creative practitioners—artists, makers, architects and designers—have the tools to respond to the complexity of the built environment with both reflection and critical insight.

And in the process, we envision that the public—particularly those that aren’t designers themselves—feel connected to design in a way that is meaningful for them, and that encourages Calgarians to be more engaged in shaping their neighbourhood and city, together.

Over the past seven years, d.talks has produced:

  • 167 hours of public programming exploring questions of affordability, inclusive mobility, the social and cultural impacts of design and creating a sense of belonging.
  • 192 days of exhibitions in galleries and unusual spaces like commercial office lobbies and Light Rail Transit platform windows.
  • 34 emerging and established authors published.
  • 22 artist concepts explored through exhibition and discussion that explore alternative futures of design’s role in shaping collective well-being.
  • Public Discussions: these are conversations about the design of our surroundings. We research topics like affordable housing, what access means, the civic role of public art. We use installations and film screenings to explore ideas. We invite speakers whose stories often fall under the radar, so that we may bring broader perspectives forward. As we have moved our discussions online as a result of COVID-19, the conversation remains provocative, where a question is as important as an answer.
  • WriteON: an annual writing workshop supporting emerging writers in critical thinking around art and architecture. Writers work with workshop leaders and mentors that are leading curators and critical thinkers across North America. An emphasis on building a peer support network connects writers from different seasons with local editors and publishers, fostering a critical writing culture concerned with design in the city.
  • FOLD: the d.talks online publication ( that explores the role of design in the built environment. FOLD creates a space for sharing ideas on art, architecture and design with a general public audience that reside in Canada and beyond. This platform supports emerging writers and publishes reviews, critical essays, articles exploring the social effects of policy, and graphic essays featuring photography, illustrations and maps.
  • Ideas Workshops: periodically we place a call for ideas that seeks imaginative and visionary thinking around a particular design challenge. The call results in public exhibitions and discussions.  Topics of our calls have posed the question of how to adaptively reuse a building, how to improve a “lost space” and most recently how to improve the human connection to movement in the city in order to make the city more inclusive and accessible for all.
  • PLACEHOLDER: sometimes smaller groups become a safer space to invite civic conversation, particularly when sharing among strangers. Our unconventional book club produced in collaboration with Esker Foundation started in 2016 and ran periodically prior to the pandemic.  Themes such as “translation”, “borders” and “sovereignty” are based on the ideas currently exhibited at the gallery. Participants are invited to bring a book, a poem or an object that articulates the theme.

The discussion events are produced with a combination of donations, organizational and in-kind support. We rely on individual donations and organizations to support the workshops, pilot projects and research that goes into producing provocative and civic discourse. You can support the artists editing, writing and producing the online publication FOLD. Together these initiatives form a means for convening conversation and a public forum for individuals to connect with their city in a meaningful way.  Your donation ensures that d.talks programs are open, free of charge and accessible to all Calgarians. Details on making a donation are here.

Do you like to roll up your sleeves and be a part of something larger? Become an Individual Member and join us in building stronger community together. Fuel d.talks conversation in Calgary and make connections with people making stuff happen. Continue the conversation at behind-the-scenes experiences. Individual Memberships start at $100 and can be found here.

Contribute your energy and skills to building conversations that are the fuel of change. Help us to produce an event, research a topic or write a review for FOLD. To inquire about committee openings, please contact us here. You can also subscribe to our free notice of our events.



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Design Talks

Managing Director


More Info

Charity Number: #81456972RR0001

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