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Paul Brandt’s Legacy: Love, Music and Creating Change

By KYLEE PEDERSEN

Photo by Kylee Pedersen.

 

The first time Paul Brandt saw Liz — his wife — in 1995, he knew he wanted to marry her. She was singing at Calgary’s Centre Street Church that fall; he attended the service with his parents and couldn’t stop thinking of her his whole flight back to Nashville.

When Christmas Eve rolled around, Brandt was back at the church, but this time he was on stage singing. At the end of his set he saw Liz slip out the back of the church, so he unplugged his guitar and ran down the aisle, catching her just before she got outside to get her number.

When I asked him how he knew she was the one, he said, “I just did.”

Incredulous as it may seem, that innate gut feeling has forecasted much of Brandt’s life. The Calgary-born, Airdrie-raised musician doesn’t sit on the fence mulling things over — he’s either in or he’s out.

Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre (NMC), is hosting a new temporary exhibit, The Paul Brandt Legacy Collection: YYC to BNA, which is infused with that spirit. It doesn’t beat around the bush or gloss over details; it’s an intense close-up of not only the accomplished musician behind the songs that paint a picture of Western Canadian experience, but the philanthropist behind the musician.

The first pieces in the exhibit that Brandt points out are two intricate drawings, hanging one above another. He explains they were gifted to him and Liz on a recent trip to Iqaluit, where they were filming a documentary for the CBC to commemorate the Arctic Winter Games.

“My wife and I have travelled all over the world to a lot of really unique places through humanitarian work, and we get to go to places nobody gets to, but we both agree that our richest cultural experience was right here in Canada in Iqaluit.”

The exchange that he had with the Iqaluit artist got him thinking about the struggles faced by Canada’s Indigenous communities, and he started thinking about how he could use his platform to be an alley for Indigenous communities. That was the spark for the launch of the #NotInMyCity campaign, a movement which seeks to raise awareness about child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, which is also showcased in the exhibit at the NMC.

“While Indigenous people make up only four per cent of our national population, they make-up over 50 per cent of our human trafficking victims,” Brandt says. “So you hear about missing and murdered Indigenous women and there is a huge connection between what’s going on there and trafficking.”

Photo by Kylee Pedersen.

Near the Iqaluit drawings, a #NotInMyCity banner hangs on the wall — a canary yellow rose on a black background, created by Calgary designer Paul Hardy.

Brandt says the main goals of the movement are to shine a light on human trafficking in his home province and to create a conversation that includes victims’ voices. During the next #NotInMyCity event (which is taking place on June 20 at the Deane House), the Calgary Tower and Reconciliation Bridge will light up in the bright yellow colour of the campaign.

Perhaps one of the reasons the exhibit so strongly represents Brandt’s passions, is the three years of hard work put into it by Mount Royal University (MRU) students who archived, organized and implemented the entire installation.

“When I first met Paul I felt like I almost knew him better than he knew himself because I had gone through everything,” says Jordan Piraux, who archived all of the material that Brandt loaned to MRU as part of his Storyteller in Residence Position. An alumni of MRU himself, Brandt has worked on several projects with students enrolled in the entrepreneurship, social innovation and marketing streams. For this particular assignment, students were tasked with dissecting the Paul Brandt brand and creating an entrepreneurial or social project from it.

The collection does devote half of its space to Brandt’s music career and his artistic process. There are unrecorded songs scribbled onto airplane sickness bags and framed photos of him winning his first Calgary Stampede talent show in a shirt his mother sewed for him, which brings to mind Garth Brooks. It quickly becomes clear, however, that being a musician is only part of Paul’s life. He is just as equally dedicated to the social causes he’s passionate about.

While the word legacy doesn’t quite sit well with him, Brandt sees the collection as a platform he can use to make change: “It’s about using [the Paul Brandt brand] as a billboard to raise awareness for these types of issues. Yeah, I want to entertain and have fun when we are on stage, but if it’s not being used to do something that’s going to make the world better, it doesn’t really have a lot of meaning to me.”

As for the creation of the exhibit, Brandt took to its inception the philosophy he takes to everything: “Before I create anything, whether it’s a campaign like this or a song, the question I ask is, ‘Does the world need this?’ I think the world needs this and I’m excited to be working on it.”

The Paul Brandt Legacy Collection: YYC to BNA exhibit will be at the NMC until Dec. 31, 2018.

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