Challenging conventional wisdom

SunridgeMallBirds (1024x683)

It is usually a good thing when one figures that conventional wisdom must be true – and then in an unexpected moment this conventional wisdom is proven wrong.  It reminds us to always question one’s assumptions and that the search for knowledge should never end.

Today was one of those days.

The conventional wisdom.  Barbara Kwasny and Elaine Peake published a book in 1992 entitled A Second Look at Calgary’s Public Art.  In this book which contains 165 pieces of public art, there is little mention of any public art east of Centre Street north of the Bow River, or east of the Elbow River between the Bow and continues south along Macleod Trail from where they both meet near the Stampede Grounds.

There are three exceptions listed (which qualify as the term “little mention” as indicated above) – two of the three barely count if you know the area. They are:

  • two large sculptures and a small sculpture located at Deerfoot Mall,
  • The large Dinny the Dinosaur located on the zoo grounds, and;
  • a large installation dating from 1988 by Rick Silas entitled Out West located in Inglewood that has subsequently been removed from the location and it is believed was subsequently destroyed.

First a caveat.  Kwasny and Peake’s book focused on three-dimensional sculptural work, usually of a traditional material (i.e. bronze, wood or stone).   In the book, there was no mention of murals or two-dimensional work even if situated in a public place.  There were also gaps in terms of what they included and what they did not include.  In their defense, there will always be gaps no matter how thorough one tries to be in this type of endeavor.

I am also aware that the City as part of their 1% for public art program on large capital projects has subsequently situated new public art in this area during the past five to ten years.  As a result certain things have been added to the public art inventory since the book was published.

My big surprise.  I had a meeting to attend in the northeast earlier today.  I stopped in briefly to Sunridge Mall to pick up something I required for the meeting on the way.

I look up and what do I see?

A flock of geese (or maybe just birds that remind me of geese) suspended from the roof.

My mind immediately traveled to Eaton Centre, Toronto and the three-dimensional photographic flock of geese which occupy the Atrium.  They were created by the very influential Canadian artist, Michael Snow entitled Flight Stop, 1979 and are a major tourist attraction in their own right.  As I gazed upon the birds flying inside Sunridge Mall I could see the wind in the mall moving them slightly which was obviously the artist’s intent.

Now I was curious about who made these flying birds as there was no signage visible.  I made my way to the administration office to find out more.  I met with two lovely women – the receptionist and another woman called in from one of the offices nearby.

The outcome of our conversation.  There have been a number of management and ownership changes over the years since the mall was built in 1984 (for comparison Eaton Centre was built in 1978/79).  The receptionist was able to tell us that she remembers them from when she first worked at the mall.  She could place that time, to when she was pregnant approximately 20 years ago.  As a result, the two women came to a decision that they most likely have been there since the mall opened.  Based on that conversation, I would also tend to agree with them.  Although I still know nothing more about these birds than I did yesterday.

The mystery still remains.  Who created these works?  What are they called?  When were they made?  How did they end up there?

My request for help.  My hope is that some architect, builder, artist, contractor or person with information to share will help me figure out the answer to these questions above.  If you know, please send me a message.  I would very much like to talk to you.

Advertisements

A new twist to the music business in Canada

Musicians1938 (1024x766)

An article in this morning’s Calgary Herald about live music, government policy and the unintended effects of legislation and government policy prompted me to write once again.  The news story can be found here (see http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainment/fees+international+touring+musicians+threaten+smaller/8842759/story.html).

What is the story about?

Briefly the story is about small local businesses which book live music acts as part of their ongoing businesses.  These are venues which will occasionally (or regularly) book live music acts from outside the Canadian borders, but whose primary business is not music (i.e. bars, clubs, coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, music retailers, etc.).  According to the article each venue must pay a $275 per person application fee for all persons connected to the band and a $150 work permit fee for each person approved for a temporary work permit.  In this story those interviewed expressed concern that this new legislation will affect their businesses.

On the surface the new fees may not seem like a lot.  Let’s create a very simplistic model to use for economic comparisons to see if this is true or not.

The framework.  Fire code for the venue that we will use for comparison purposes indicates it will hold 150 people.  The band that is being booked has four musicians and a sound person, all originating from a different country.  Assume that all applicants were approved. This would mean that the bar (we will use this as an example, because it is easily understood) must pay $2125 in fees before the band even gets on the stage, for their one night gig.  Let’s say the band is just starting to receive critical notice, so travelling to build an audience is a very good idea and it also works for both parties.  Because of that, the band charges an appearance fee of $3000 (or alternatively $600 per person connected to the band).  Although I have no idea what numbers are like in this business, this would seem as if it should be reasonable.  I base this on the fact that the band will need to pay for hotels, equipment, traveling costs, management, taxes, food and drinks on the road, along with the apartment/condo/house that each person maintains at their home base out of this amount and that they will not play every single night so it will need to compensate accordingly.  Based on this model, the total direct costs that the bar owners must pay for the band to perform in their venue is now $5125 each night.

The simplistic business economics of the framework as described above.

As a private business, the bar can do one of two things – they can charge a cover/ticket price, or they can pay the direct costs themselves while not charging a cover.  There are of course advantages and disadvantages to both.

First scenario.  The bar with a stated capacity of 150 the promoter must sell ALL 150 of the tickets or charge a cover fee of $35.00 per person to see this band on a strictly cost recovery basis without allowing for less than a full house.  This would be compared to having to charge $15 with no additional charges or fees, prior to the new fee structure which was introduced by the new legislation.  The bar then can take the full amount of the bar sales in both cases to cover their own operating costs.

Either way, the conclusion in this scenario is that the concert attendees bear 100% of the performance costs, unless it is less successful than planned, which is not factored into this scenario.

Second scenario.  In both cases, the operator charges a cover of let’s say $10 per person expecting some will leave early and others will take their place.  Let’s say they have anticipated based on previous shows and the popularity of the bar, that there will be a lineup to get in, so they can plan for over-capacity numbers.  Here are the numbers that we will work with pre- and post- legislation

  • 200 people attend;
  • each person pays $10 to enter a 150 person venue during the course of the night;
  • while there, each person buys five drinks each at $5.00 per drink.

Using gross numbers (before any operating costs are removed) what this means is the operator receives $2000 as cover charge/ticket price and receives $5000 bar sales for a grand total of $7000 that night.

Pre- new legislation economics in this scenario.  The venue booking this act must still pay the act $3000 which means that the venue’s margin to work with for operating costs (to cover staffing, lease, alcohol and power) that night is $4000.  This means that most likely the ownership group probably will get something out of this – depending on what their operating costs are.  It was probably a reasonable business decision to book this act.

Post- new legislation economics in this scenario.  After paying the act which performed $5125 which leaves $1875 net to pay the operating costs.  To me as a former business owner this seems like an amount could potentially be too narrow to work with to allow a profit given what probable operating costs are.  It might be leaving too little margin for error here.  The ownership group might have think twice in the future, just in case a bad storm happens or a competing act is announced for the same night reaching the same demographics.

Net margin to the operator (before operating costs) in the second scenario is $4000 vs. $1875

Third scenario.  The numbers using the same formula as the second scenario with a slight change

  • 200 people attend;
  • NO cover/ticket sales;
  • while there each person buys five drinks at $5.00 per drink.

Using gross numbers again the operator takes in $5000 in bar sales.  The band requires either $3000 or $5125 just to go on the stage as described above.

Pre-legislation economics in this scenario – the operator might be able to cover the operating costs with the $2000 net after paying out the band.  Based on my limited knowledge of this business, it probably would be a slim margin night, maybe not even enough to cover the costs.

Post-legislation economics in this scenario – before getting on stage the numbers are already negative.  There is no money left to pay for operating costs.  The business will now go bankrupt if this continues in this manner, unless they have extremely deep pockets and a dedicated ownership group that is willing to bankroll it regardless of what it makes.

Net margin to the operator (before operating costs) in this scenario is $2000 vs. definitely negative income.

What does this mean to the Calgary live music scene?

It probably means (based on economics alone) that many of those bands from other countries will rarely come to the smaller venues.  The exception will be if it is a big-name touring stadium act that people don’t mind paying significant amounts to see perform in huge venues and then buy merchandise after the show is over as well.  There is enough margin in these mega-shows that an additional $3000 (or whatever) is not going to mean a huge difference to the bottom line.  It is the smaller shows that will be affected most.

It also means that the smaller venues will find it more difficult to draw acts to fill their venues because the local acts are ones that they have seen more than a few times before.  So unless these local acts have a large following one will see drift in terms of “bums in the seats” (to use a theatre term).  The potential outcome of this might also be that we will see the closure of some smaller venues which were marginal for whatever reason as the economics no longer make sense to stay open for business.

What to do about it?

One of the most effective ways is to express their concern to their local MP as the legislation affecting this issue immigration and temporary foreign workers.  When communicating with your MP, also communicate with the Minister of Employment and Social Development – Jason Kenney whose portfolio this falls under.  When you are at it, one might as well communicate with the opposition critics whose portfolios incorporate this file– John McCallum (Liberal); Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe (NDP) and Maria Mourani (Bloc Quebecois).

Or alternatively one can sign the online petition that was started today as a result of the Herald article.  You can find it here – see https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/canadian-government-to-charge-international-touring-artists-425-per-band-member-per-performance-in-canada-previously-a-1-time-150-fee

Art Box on 17E

ArtBox (1024x683)

If one looks at a map of Calgary which is populated with cultural amenities marked on it, one fact will be readily noticeable.  There are significantly less spaces for the arts on the east side of Deerfoot Trail, as compared to the rest of the city.  Of course this information can get blurred somewhat if one uses a broader definition of the word cultural to incorporate things outside of the arts.

This past week there has been a fair number of stories in the press about Forest Lawn.  As long as I have lived in Calgary, I have noticed it is a community that has a strong sense of pride, but it also deals with some challenges as well.  It is a blue-collar community with all the strengths normally connected to that type of neighbourhood – hard-working, stand-up, straight-forward, no BS, tell it like it is community.  Although I have never lived there, I must admit there is a lot to be said for these qualities which can sometimes be referred to as grittiness.

Author Candace Bushnell once commented about the gritty roots of New York City this way, “the city was different back then—poor and crumbling—kept alive only by the gritty determination and steely cynicism of its occupants. But underneath the dirt was the apple-cheeked optimism of possibility.”  This could also be applied to our city if one looks back with a long enough vantage point.

Two community organizations that are trying to change this disparity in cultural amenities on the east side of Deerfoot, combined with their “apple-cheeked optimism of possibilit(ies)”, are the International Avenue BRZ along with the International Avenue Arts Centre.

If one travels down 17th Avenue it is possible to see the various murals championing the cultural heritage of the community.  Also the BRZ came to the rescue of Market Collective not long ago helping them find a temporary space in the community with short-notice.

This past August 1st the International Avenue BRZ and the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA) together, hosted an open house to unveil a new arts facility.  It is called Art Box on 17E.  I attended this opening and was happy to see the newly appointed President & CEO of CADA, Patti Pon make her first official appearance there on the same day she stepped into her new role.

Like the Seafood Market in East Village a few years back, this space is a short-term space available for a year and a half.

Some of the ideas that are currently achieving traction in cultural thinking are the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement; the use of pop-up spaces; and creative placemaking as an agent of change in urban planning (see http://www.83degreesmedia.com/features/place073013.aspx).  All of these ideas are present in the Art Box on 17E project.

As the facility is still in its early stages, it will be interesting to see how this facility evolves and what type of projects take advantage of the space made available.  At the unveiling an announcement was made that in cooperation with Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre, there will be multiple performances of I-Robot Theatre in that space during the Beakerhead Festival which occurs middle of September 2013.  The space, with its high ceilings and large footprint, lends itself to theatre, dance and rehearsals.  In addition there are smaller spaces upstairs which could be used for various purposes such as studios, offices and the like.

It is always interesting to see these projects develop and change in response to demand and interest.  I wish them well and am interested to follow what will happen there.  Knowing some of those involved, I am sure something interesting will come from it.

Who IS the real Macoco?

Macoco (1024x683)

I unabashedly wear my heart on my sleeve with pride when it comes to opera.  I love it.

There is something about all the entanglements, drama, tragedies, betrayals, music, sets, the languages and how it all comes together that I enjoy.  I must admit there are some performances that I enjoy more than others – but that is to be expected.  I have been looking forward to this first Opera in the Village since last summer when I first heard about it when I was out for a walk with a neighbour.  We happened upon a live operatic performance on the RiverWalk where it was mentioned this new opera festival was planned this summer.  I have been interested since then.

Thursday, a friend from out of town was here on business.  After her meetings, we met up and had drinks on the patio in the sun at Diner Deluxe.  We then went for a walk along the river to attend the evening performance of Arias in the Afternoon in East Village.  While there we heard a well-put together hour-long, narrated collection of works from three separate operas.  It was interesting to see the performance, as many of them I had seen them on Stephen Avenue Mall during a lunch hour earlier this month promoting the Cowtown Opera Company.

Last night (Friday) I was excited to see the movie The Pirate, 1948 starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly which was projected onto the side of the Simmon’s Building after the scheduled Gilbert and Sullivan performance of the Pirates of Penzance had ended. I had never seen the movie before, so was looking forward to it –especially since the music was written by the great American composer of musicals – Cole Porter (who wrote Kiss Me, Kate which was written the same year this movie was produced).

The night before, my friend and I talked to one of the volunteers and they suggested that we should bring a collapsible chair and I am glad that I did.

Like a good opera – this movie had its twists and turns in the plot.

Briefly the plot centred around a trio of people – the village girl, Manuela (played by Judy Garland); the town Mayor, Don Pedro (played by Walter Slezak) whom she is betrothed to marry; and a travelling circus actor, Serafin (played by Gene Kelly).  Manuela had a deep crush on the villainous and infamous pirate “Mack the Black” Macoco.  Both Don Pedro and Serafin at various times throughout the movie, make claims that each of them was the real Macoco.  To find out who is the real Macoco, like a good opera, one must wait to the end to find out.

Tonight the movie will be The Princess Bride, 1987 which has been described as a “classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather)” – based on William Goldman’s novel of the same name.  It stars Peter Falk as the narrator/grandfather; Robin Wright as Buttercup; Cary Elwes as Westley; and Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck.  Like the movie last night there are parallels between the twists and turns of opera; and the central role of literature and the written word.  It should be a beautiful night to sit under the stars and watch a movie.

The performance starts at around 10:45pm, and I would suggest bringing a folding chair if possible, although there is some seating available.

My thanks to Calgary Opera for including this type of programming in the festival.  For a full list of programmes that are available during the remainder of the weekend visit http://www.calgaryopera.com/arghh

A pleasurable gardening moment

FlowerStudio (1024x683)

I always like finding situations where people do something worthy of note.

I also enjoy gardening.  And, I also enjoy the visual arts.

So, when I found myself in the community of Hounsfield Heights a day or two ago and saw this, I knew I had to take a photo of it.  I have no idea who created this lovely recreation of an artist’s studio in their garden. I just think it is something more interesting than the usual.

To this lovely anonymous person(s) who was(were) responsible for making this happen – thank you.

Wreck City update

WreckCityAug2013 (1024x683)

Last night was the final walk-through for a new large-scale arts project forming on the horizon – Phantom Wing.

Phantom Wing is a project that was initiated earlier this month by cSPACE projects – the good folks connected to the Calgary Arts Development Authority that are developing the 100-year old King Edward School into an arts incubator scheduled to open sometime in 2014.  The Phantom Wing project incorporates a physical space slated for demolition.  It is large addition to the King Edward School built in 1967 including the library, approximately ten classrooms and offices, all enveloping a small private open-air courtyard.

cSPACE contacted the people who put together the Wreck City project to coordinate this project as well.  Calls for submissions will be accepted until the 26th with the event to take place around the time of year that ArtWalk has traditionally taken place – the official dates for Phantom Wing are September 24-28.

This prompted me to make a visit to the Wreck City location, since both projects involve physical built spaces slated for demolition.

After the Wreck City event ended, very little has been heard from or about it.  Wreck City was an event held between April 19-27, 2013 and because of the nature of the project this is not surprising.  Once the project is over, and outside of an annotation in a peer-reviewed history paper or a line entry on a curriculum vitae for those artists involved – most people will forget the event even existed.  This is unfortunate, but more often than not – a reality.

Approximately 80-90 artists/performers/arts practitioners of various stripes converted nine residences (and/or other built spaces attached to the properties) out of a row of eleven old homes, that were slated for demolition – into temporary exhibition spaces and performance venues.  These eleven houses or small apartment blocks, dated mostly from the early 1900s, were all located along one street facing the base of McHugh Bluffs in Sunnyside, close to the C-Train station.  It is a bit of an awkward place to find when driving, as there is only one way in and the same way out.  This makes for a quiet location with a small park across the street.

No doubt, this quiet location close to amenities was appealing to a developer. In the typical Calgary way of progress, the developer purchased all the properties and is looking to build a new beige four-storey, 115 unit, residential condo project scheduled for occupancy in fall 2015.

So what has happened since then?

All the eleven buildings have been razed and the debris removed.  There are a few divots left in the ground, where homes once stood and the grass has been allowed to grow.  There is a construction fence surrounding the site and beyond that, the developer is probably waiting for enough deposits to come in so that they can start building.

It is now a quiet memorial to what once was.

More questions than answers

UofCMotto (1024x683)

I see the Edmonton Journal picked up a story yesterday that surfaced during the middle of last week. First a bit of background. The current dean of the arts department Lesley Cormack sent a memo informing faculty that “effective immediately, I am asking (the registrar) to begin suspending admission to the following (20) programs or concentrations” in the humanities. She then went on to request that “arguments against these recommended suspensions should be made, in writing, to the Dean, by September 3rd.” See the full memorandum here http://artssquared.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/memorandum-from-dean-of-arts-16aug2013.pdf

Then according to the article covering the same story in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal – see http://www.edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/Simons+Between+rock+arts+place+Proposed+program+cuts/8808713/story.html we read the following:
“The timing is far from ideal. Classes start in less than a month.
And many academics and university administrators — including, as it happens, the dean of arts herself — are on vacation. The situation leaves professors scrambling. Incoming and returning students wondering whether the courses and programs in which they’ve enrolled will have any future or if they should change majors now, before they end up headed down a dead-end road.”

Seriously? The Dean drops this bomb and then goes on vacation? But I digress.

Nor am I am not even going to touch on the recent news as of late yesterday afternoon that the province is investigating the University of Alberta finances as per the attached update from the chair of the Board of Governors http://www.ualbertablog.ca/2013/08/board-chair-cip-response-received-key.html as it is an administrative matter and not germane to my comments.

* * * * *

This situation is somewhat reminiscent of the highly publicized local situation that elicited front page coverage in Calgary for a while.  It also is an issue that both Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary had to deal with, just after the school term ended this past spring. Both universities (as did other local educational institutions) took the budget cuts announced by the province on the chin. Which programmes were the losers? One could probably figure that out by doing a simple online search – but similar to what is happening at the University of Alberta now, it largely was the humanities and arts.

Clearly there are issues that need to be addressed. Hard decisions must also be made. There are no easy solutions.

Having said that, this prompts the question, why does it appear that the arts and humanities typically are the first programs to get axed when funding cuts are announced? Are they extraneous programs that should only be funded when times are good?

The follow-on question is – at the undergraduate level should students be more interested in getting a liberal arts education or a technical education?

The American Council for Education wrote about this matter just last year (see http://www.acenet.edu/the-presidency/columns-and-features/Pages/Myth-A-Liberal-Arts-Education-Is-Becoming-Irrelevant.aspx). Here Clare T. Christ, president of Smith College in Northampton, MA states:
“Yet, judging the value of a liberal arts education, even with a purely economic calculus, shows it to be more relevant than ever before. It is no longer news that career trajectories are varied and multiple; that our professional pursuits have distinct chapters over the course of our lives; and that, especially for women, the ability to step off and back on the career track during childbearing years is critical to advancement. Flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, and strong communication skills (particularly writing) are at the core of liberal arts education and critical to success today and in the future. It’s not surprising that a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that more than three-quarters of employers would recommend an education with this emphasis to a young person they know.”

Also this past Spring the American Academy of Arts and Sciences wrote a report entitled The Heart of the Matter (as found here http://www.humanitiescommission.org/_pdf/hss_report.pdf). In this report they set forth three goals.
1. Educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in a twenty-first-century democracy;
2. Foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong;
3. Equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

Just today in the Washington Post an article was publishing about the importance of changing the current vogue of a STEM-based educational stream that has been popular since the 1990s into a more balanced STEAM-based educational stream instead – see the story http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/therootdc/the-smartest-summer-ever-full-steam-ahead/2013/08/21/8c5399ac-0a63-11e3-8974-f97ab3b3c677_story.html

We must ask both ourselves as taxpayers and voters a few questions – do we want technical universities that teach its students to do skills, or do we want our students to be capable of thinking, creativity and communicating information in a world that is rapidly changing? Where the skills one learns early in one’s career are not the same that they will use when they retire? What skill sets will still remain relevant during that timeframe? And, is cutting these programs now something we will regret doing in a few years?

To borrow from the paragraph copied above in the Edmonton Journal – which educational stream is the “real” dead-end road? The “liberal arts” or a technical education.