Closed doors have never interfered with Cynthia Klaassen’s innate curiosity. Accompanying her opera singer parents to rehearsals growing up in Hamilton, she and her sister amused themselves exploring every nook and cranny of the various concert halls.
“We’d often go running around backstage and under the stage,” she says, “so I always liked exploring new spaces and kind of forbidden places that maybe we shouldn’t have been running around.”
As an adult in Toronto, Klaassen was naturally drawn to a program that not only tolerated but encouraged this kind of exploration: Doors Open, an annual weekend that offered behind-the-scenes access to dozens of the city’s cultural, religious and civic sites. It was Klaasen’s favourite event in Toronto, and when she moved to Calgary in the mid-2000s, she anticipated — wrongly, as it turned out — she’d have the same opportunity here.
“I wanted to go to Doors Open and I found out there really isn’t one,” she says.
Thanks in part to Klaassen’s efforts, however, now there is. Doors Open YYC is offering Calgarians the chance to “do YYC naked,” with 35 sites slated to “reveal parts of themselves to the public that they’ve never shared before.”
Some of these parts have actually been shared before — Calgary held Doors Open weekends in 2003 and 2004. But Klaassen, the Doors Open Calgary Association’s president, says that the revamped version will showcase Calgary’s future as well as its past, whereas the previous events emphasized heritage buildings.
Highlights of old Calgary, such as the Deane House, the Lougheed House and the Alberta Ballet Company’s Nat Christie Centre, will all be on display. But so will high-tech facilities such as the Pine Creek Wastewater Facility — granting public access for the first time ever — and the University of Calgary’s new Energy Environment Experiential Learning building.
“There’s going to be something for everybody, definitely,” says Klaassen.
Another difference about this year’s Doors Open, she notes, is that participants will enjoy more than just free admission, with many of the venues offering guided tours and demonstrations. Klaassen’s looking forward to the “Secret Underground Tour” of the Talisman Centre’s subterranean passages. But despite its intriguing name, the tour will touch on less dramatic-sounding topics such as filtration systems and piping schematics.
“There’s also a very strong educational component to the event as well,” says Klaassen. “Of course, we’re not going to tell people they’re learning something, it’s more really the cool, fun aspect that we’re going after first.”
But the benefits of Doors Open, Klaassen believes, extend both ways. It’s a great public relations opportunity for participating venues, she says, a view seconded by Beth Gignac of the City of Calgary’s arts and culture department. (The city runs 10 of the featured venues.)
“We really see Doors Open as a great way for us to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accessibility,” she says. “And we receive many, many requests from Calgarians to get in behind the scenes, see how the transit centre works and that kind of thing, and this really gives us an opportunity to do that in collaboration with a citizen-led event.”
Klaassen is already looking ahead to next year’s event, and says additional venues have expressed interest in participating. In the future, she anticipates, there may be enough sites for Doors Open to offer themed programming, such as focusing on houses of worship, like other cities have done. But for now, she simply hopes opening doors will also open minds.
“I think our main objective is for people to say, ‘Hmm, aha, I did not know that,’ as they go around visiting the various sites — for everybody to learn something new.”