Arts & Culture
Discover Downtown Edmonton’s vast arts scene with our guide to must-see art galleries, museums and performing arts.
Neon Sign Museum, 104 Street and 104 Avenue
Want to feel like you’re in Times Square? On the side of the east wall of the Telus building, you’ll see at least 20 neon signs that have been lovingly refurbished and glow as brightly as the night they were first installed. The Neon Sign Museum is sure to remind you of shops and brands long gone, such as Mike’s Newsstand and the Movie Studio. But, there are also a handful that make visitors reflect on how the city has handled social issues over the decade. The interpretative plaque for the Georgia Baths sign relates stories of gay men being targeted by the police.
McKay Avenue School, 10425 99 Avenue
Edmonton’s first public school, McKay Avenue School, was a one-room schoolhouse opened in 1881. That building is preserved on the site of what is now the Edmonton Public School Archives and Museum in McKay Avenue School. The museum houses school bells, exercise books, scientific equipment, globes and other school artifacts of days gone by. McKay Avenue School also housed the initial working sessions of the legislature in 1906 and 1907. Head to the second floor to see a recreated legislature. History buffs can search the archives. Last summer the site became home to a much-needed downtown playground.
The Royal Alberta Museum, 9810 103A Avenue
The Royal Alberta Museum is a bright, airy and open space that has more than 400,000 square feet worth of exhibits to see. The best place to start your visit is in the Human History Hall which celebrates the innovation, culture and resilience of Indigenous people. The kids will love the interactive play area, and then, to test your squeamishness, visit the famous Bug Room. Look for cockroaches longer than your finger, predatory beetles and the goliath bird-eating spider, a purple monster larger than your hand that will be stuff of your nightmares. Check out the nature dioramas in the second floor, along with everyone’s favourite — fossils and dinosaur bones. But there is whimsy to the museum, too — as it celebrates not only Alberta’s historical landmarks, but preserves some items for the sake of nostalgia, from pop cans to Oilers memorabilia to items that celebrate Albertans’ love of the pick-up truck.
Art Gallery of Alberta, 2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
If you’re standing in Churchill Square, you can’t miss the striking Art Gallery of Alberta, wrapped with silver ribbons representing the aurora borealis and the North Saskatchewan River. Since it opened in its new home in 2010, the AGA has hosted a number of major exhibitions – great collections from Degas, works from the Dutch masters and an Andy Warhol retrospective. Inside you’ll find a number of galleries spread over three floors. The BMO World of Creativity, located on the main floor, is an interactive spot for families to immerse themselves in art. Zip up to the third floor to see more experimental and modern shows, then venture onto the adjoining rooftop patio for a great Downtown view.
Latitude 53, 10242 106 Street
Latitude 53 is very focused on contemporary, Canadian artists who like to take risks. This gallery is a big advocate for local artists and feature exhibits that inspire and spark curiosity. The gallery is also one of Canada’s oldest artist-run centres dedicated to supporting artists.
The Alberta Craft Council, 10186 106 Street
The Alberta Craft Council promotes the work of artists and artisans throughout Alberta, and has galleries and adjoining shops in both Edmonton and Calgary. There are somewhere between 15-20 exhibitions a year, and the media can range from sculpture to glass to ceramics — and anything in between. Take home a one-ofa-kind item from the shop, which features the work from over 150 Alberta artists.
Borealis Gallery, 9820 107 Street
If you’re on the Alberta Legislature grounds, the Borealis Gallery is a great spot to visit that really doesn’t get the attention that it should. Admission is free, and the gallery features temporary exhibitions that highlight the province’s history. Because the gallery changes so often, it’s worth repeat visits. Past exhibitions have focused on residential schools, Alberta’s role in the First World War and the fur trade.
Ociciwan Contemporary Arts Collective, 9604 101A Ave
Since its formation years ago, the Ociciwan Contemporary Arts Collective has been homeless, this year it will open the doors in its new two-storey space located in the Quarters. Ociciwan is Edmonton’s first Indigenous run centre for contemporary art. Expect some good discussions to emerge from its innovative and experimental practices and research.
CO*LAB, Community Arts Laboratory, 9549 103 Ave
CO*LAB is an affordable, accessible and inclusive space that provides resources and exposure to the arts within the Boyle Street neighbourhood. Administered by Quarters Arts Society, CO*LAB is a citizen-led, community-run facility that features workshops, special events in the gallery and a performance hall. You can also rent an office or workshop studio for short- and long-term use.
Mitchell Art Gallery, 11110 104 Avenue
Located on the main floor of MacEwan University’s Allard Hall, Mitchell Art Gallery showcases the works of students from MacEwan’s arts program and also features standalone shows that are meant to start conversations about contemporary art. Past exhibitions have featured works based on motherhood, a focus on playful items and a short-film series curated by famed Edmonton filmmaker Trevor Anderson.
Citadel Theatre, 9828 101A Avenue
A fresh leadership team, including executive director Chantell Ghosh and artistic director Daryl Cloran, has breathed new life into Edmonton’s most famous theatrical institution. The Citadel has expanded its programming, and has made subtle changes, like allowing patrons to bring food and drink into the theatre — the sippy cups for adults are truly neat. Different theatres are located on the various levels of the Citadel complex; the main stage is home to the biggest productions, while smaller stages offer more intimate experiences with experimental theatre — and the Rice Theatre has tables for drinks and snacks. A night out seeing a big show, with the bright stage lights and top-end production, is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, 4 Sir Winston Churchill Square
He was on a reality show in the UK about musical prodigies when he was a teen. Now, Alexander Prior directs an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra that’s taking the stuffed shirt out of classical music. Whether it’s Mozart, or a contemporary composer, the Symphony is making itself accessible to a wider audience. As well, the Symphony has performed shows with pop culture in mind, including outdoor events celebrating the music of Disney movies, and shows at the Winspear hailing the music of Star Wars, Star Trek and Harry Potter.
Ballet Edmonton, 11110 104 Avenue
In 2018, the company moved into the Triffo Theatre, located at MacEwan University’s Allard Hall. Artistic Director Wen Wei Wang, who has danced and choreographed productions across Canada and China, is pushing the envelope with modern ballet that sure isn’t Swan Lake. Contemporary music and interpretive pieces make for conversation material over coffee.
Brian Webb Dance Company, 11110 104 Ave
Brian Webb is more than an artistic director or a choreographer. He’s an institution in this city, and has already been feted with an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. He’s danced in New York, then came back to Edmonton to create a contemporary dance company that challenges perceptions and embraces the human body.
Arts MacEwan University Theatre, 11110 104 Avenue
MacEwan University has a great arts program based at Allard Hall. The theatre students put on shows throughout the year, ranging from the deadly serious, such as The Crucible, to more whimsical efforts, like 9-to-5 and Legally Blonde. The shows display the range that the students possess, from big, splashy song and dance numbers, to tear-jerking monologues. Flex passes are available so you can enjoy the whole season.