Arts | Arts
Community Connections | Citizen Engagement

Design Talks Institute (d.talks)

Design decisions affect how we live in the city. Design can influence civic life and how we connect with others who are unlike us. For this reason, we connect people to the design and livability of their surroundings.

Our Story

Why We Exist

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 piped up to say that he thought it was wrong that there were 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.

The light bulb moment this student encountered was due to the format of the conversation in a face-to-face setting. Borders might have been an intriguing topic, but it wasn’t a topic that sought answers to public transit. Instead, it was the evolution of this specific conversation on this day in this place that was meaningful enough for the student to make a connection with design’s effect on his life.

Our Impact

What We Do

The spaces we live in have a direct impact on the quality of our lives, on the type and quantity of activities we do, and on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Over the past five years, d.talks has produced 73 hours of public programming and 167 days of exhibitions in galleries, commercial office lobbies and Light Rail Transit platform windows.  While this has taken a great deal of “elbow grease”, we couldn’t have done it alone. Last year, over 3,800 volunteer hours went into producing our events, a writing workshop, and developing our new online publication called FOLD.

An average of 1,000 Calgarians attend our programs each year. We’ve featured on average 20 presenters annually through our public events, with 17% of the presenters visiting from outside of Alberta: from Los Angeles, Berlin, Toronto, New York, Montreal, Halifax, Norway and Minneapolis. The breadth of visiting presenters exposes our audience to visual, cultural and social ideas that influence the design of cities across the globe.

Our programming has explored questions of affordability, mobility, social and cultural impacts of design, and heritage considerations. One fifth of our presenters have been artists and critical writers, but we’ve also featured a pastor who spoke about community-building, parkour performers who brought a new lens to the accessibility of public spaces, and a lawyer who shared a perspective on adventure playgrounds balancing risk with regulation.

Research tells us that individuals attending an arts experience are three times more likely to attend community meetings and more inclined to vote. Our city will change whether we like it or not. How we adapt to change is only limited by the range of our vision. It’s people power that transforms a place.

Our Programs

How We Do It

  • Discussion Events: we want to bring to the forefront conversations and thinking about the design of our surroundings. If we don’t talk about them they may be ignored or not deemed as important. Through a combination of topic research expressed through an installation, a film or introductory idea, invited experts to instigate a conversation and audience questions—a public forum is created for the exploration of the topic. Topics range from affordable housing, to what density looks like, to the civic role of public art. It is in this room of 200-300 Calgarians that a question is as important as an answer.


  • Ideas Workshops: periodically we place a call for ideas that seeks imaginative and visionary thinking around a particular design challenge. We’ve invited responses to the adaptive reuse of a heritage building (or a building that isn’t old enough to be considered “heritage” but that represents significance in some way) and shared these ideas with the public through a discussion event and a gallery exhibition. We collaboratively-produced a call for ideas about remnant pieces of land scattered through-out the city. Called Lost Spaces, the ideas came from over 40 countries considering an idea for a particular “lost space” in Calgary. The short listed ideas were exhibited nearly 100 days in three different locations.


  • FOLD: is our online publication launched in June, 2017 that continues the conversation between our discussion events. Edited and produced by a team of volunteers, it features book and exhibition reviews, articles exploring the social effects of policy, and graphic essays featuring photography, illustrations and maps. (


  • PLACEHOLDER: is an intimate discussion, an unconventional book club produced in collaboration with Esker Foundation. Themes such as “translation”, “borders” and “protection” are based on the ideas currently exhibited in the Esker. Participants are invited to bring a book, a poem or an object that articulates the theme.


  • Write On: we launched a critical writing workshop in September, 2018. Artists, architects and burgeoning writers from Edmonton, Lethbridge and Calgary are participating in three workshops led by a different art or architecture critic as well as a mentorship program. The workshop resulted from a pilot the year prior that invited early and mid-career writers to break from traditional “review” or “critique” structure and look at new models that ask; can a critical perspective fit into 140 characters?

Our Requests

What You Can Do

We have a challenge match to continue our writing workshop for a second year. This program gives an intimate group of professional and aspiring writers an opportunity to develop and produce a piece of critical writing about the urban form. Artists, architects and designers from across the province come together to hone their craft. Your contribution helps to support:

  • travel to bring visiting critics to Calgary
  • honorariums for workshop leaders and mentors
  • emerging writers bursaries

To contribute the the matching campaign and receive a tax receipt for your donation, find the campaign here.


The discussion events are produced with a combination of donations, organizational and in-kind support. Individual tickets cover on average 10% of the attendee cost per seat. We rely on individual donations and organizations to support the workshops, pilot projects. 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.  Details on making a donation are here.


An individual membership is like being a friend: you’re closer to the work that we do. You’ll receive advance notice of our events and receive an invitation to an annual Member’s Reception where we share what’s on the horizon and special programming where members meet other members. You’ll also receive complimentary tickets to our events. Individual Memberships start at $100 and can be found here.


College and university students attend d.talks events to learn and network with professionals. You can help make it more affordable for students to participate with a student sponsorship of $50 for a year that makes it possible for students to attend all year long at a discounted price of $6. Support a student 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.




Stay Connected


amery Calvelli

Design Talks


Charitable Number: 81456972RR0001

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