Art Central / Telus Sky next steps

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Recently as I walked along the C-Train platform adjoining Art Central and the Len Weary Building, I noticed a building permit sign out front.  Here it is.

Information extracted from the sign would indicate that the re-development is covered under Bylaw# 5D2014 and those who might be affected should make written submission to the City Clerk’s office by no later than 2014 January 02.  This will be followed by a hearing in City Council chambers on 2014 January 13.

Of course this makes me wonder, whatever will happen to the W.H. Cushing Workplace School located in the Len Weary Building? Where will the children go? And, where will the school re-locate?

This development, as expected, appears to be moving forward.

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Mergers and acquisitions in the visual arts

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Something big happened this past Tuesday. The press release went out today.

More information will be coming soon.

Well, actually it all probably went down in late September, but the AGMs from three different organizations which all happened this past Tuesday, only confirmed hearsay that I first heard on September 26. Because it was not corroborated, I chose to not share it (as I do with most uncorroborated news) until today when the news was finally announced.

Briefly the news is that the voting members of the Art Gallery of Calgary; the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – Calgary; and the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA) all voted to merge and form a new organization under the name Contemporary Calgary. Developments are anticipated to take place between now and the end of the year – only a few weeks away.

I could write a book on these three organizations and the interesting dynamics in the visual arts organizations that have existed, formed or had a brief moment in the sun during the past 40 or so years since the earliest organization was formed.

This is why.

I have conducted significant self-funded research over the past two years on this topic and covering the timeframe since 1911 to present day. This research was prompted by my curiosity about the first museum which housed an art exhibition to open in 1912 and the events, organizations and people that happened or were involved since. I thought it would be an appropriate and timely topic to properly research, with intent to publish a fully annotated publication containing original research to celebrate this historical cultural benchmark in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, the Calgary Public Library and Calgary 2012. This news release only serves to prove that I was correct in its timeliness and significance. It would still be nice to receive funding so that I can finish my research. But I digress.

The first of these three organizations formed was the Muttart Art Gallery which later became known as the Art Gallery of Calgary, a name change occurred when they moved to their present location in the early 2000s. The gallery began around 1975 (a significant year in the City of Calgary) and was housed in the Memorial Park Library for around 25 years. It has suffered because of some unfortunate news relating to a former director that is currently serving time in jail. However, the staff have been very hard-working, provide good programming and have tried to rise above the controversy. I believe they have done very well under the circumstances.

The Calgary Contemporary Arts Society was formed and took over the prow of City Hall shortly after the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics had ended where they occupied a space vacated by Olympics volunteers. CCAS was more commonly known as the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts, until their name change about two years ago when it became known as the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – Calgary. They have done amazing things with very little money and staff. For the most part they have had new programing almost every single month with only two or three staff during that whole time. As a former gallerist – just that alone is an amazing achievement.

The last organization the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA) has only had a few exhibitions in its existence since it was formed around 1992. These few exhibits if memory serves me correct happened shortly after the turn of the millennium, usually around the ArtWeek/ArtWalk weekends in mid- to late-September. Regardless of this shallow exhibition history, the organization itself has always had grand ambitions, well-connected patrons and connections. They unfortunately were never able to realize their ambition to create a stand-alone arts facility on their own.

This is not the first time where some of these organizations have tried to merge and create a more dynamic presence to facilitate a dedicated arts facility for the city.

It is interesting to see that former Calgary Arts Development Authority President and CEO – Terry Rock, who stepped down this past June, has been named the Interim Managing Director of the newly formed Contemporary Calgary.

Watch for more news in the next short while about the old Science Centre/Planetarium. This past May there was a call for Expressions of Interest by heritage and cultural groups for this facility. It is my understanding that the three organizations submitted a cooperative bid for the planetarium.

Unfortunately the flood happened this past June and Alpha House which houses homeless people and those dealing with addictions was flooded. Since the Planetarium was vacant, it was used for that purpose since. I believe that Alpha House has been fully remediated since the flood and as far as I know has received clearance and is able to be occupied as a residence now.

The park surrounding the Planetarium would make a beautiful sculpture garden. If this joint proposal from Contemporary Calgary is successful for this space, it would be interesting to see if that also happens.

I extend my best wishes to Terry Rock and all those involved in seeing this project move forward.

Controversy, blue rings and moving forward

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The Blue Ring (pictured above a.k.a. Travelling Light) is shaping up to be the public art story of the year in Calgary.  With only a few short weeks left in the year, it would seem unlikely something else will overshadow it.

So what is the big deal this time around?

Tomorrow morning, according to an article in the Calgary Sun this past Thursday, a proposal will be brought to City Council by Councillor Shane Keating, et al in the form of Notice of Motion 2013-34.

Councillor Keating (along with Councillors Evan Wooley, Druh Farrell, Peter Demong, Joe Magliocca, Richard Pootmans and Mayor Naheed Nenshi) who all signed the notice of motion, propose to “increase (citizen) participation in the process of selecting public art.”

Together they propose that (City) “Administration be directed to undertake a review of the (Public Art) Policy”, including (as stated in NM 2013-34):

  • developing options for a sliding scale of percentage funding based on the amount of capital budget for projects, including consideration of placing a maximum dollar amount for any capital project;
  • developing options for greater public participation including but not limited to changing the composition of project selection juries, the method of selection of the project jury, as well as increasing opportunities for input by the general public into the selection process for the public art;
  • developing a strategy to help build local capacity of artists to compete for public art projects locally, nationally and internationally;
  • amending the Policy for greater flexibility in the use of a portion of Public Art funding for the restoration and/or enhancement of on-site heritage assets;
  • amending the Policy for greater flexibility in incorporating public art as functional components of the infrastructure; and
  • developing a strategy for pooling of funds in locations with a high public benefit or for long term creation of large iconic or monumental pieces at key locations within the city;

What does this mean?

1.)    There is some feedback going to the Councillor’s offices from voters that the “Policy” as it now stands is deficient and needs to be reviewed (and/or updated);

2.)    Alternatively, there is the possibility that those involved in the process of administrating the “Policy” are constrained by rules in the Policy as it now stands and notice weaknesses and challenges that should be amended ten-years after the “Policy” was enacted by a previous Council in 2004;

3.)    Or in the further alternative – both.

One of the more controversial proposals is to increase citizen involvement in selecting artwork, as stated in the Calgary Sun and also mentioned in the Notice of Motion.

As someone who has worked in the field and having dealt often with average citizens and their connection to art – I am of two minds on this topic.  I see merits of increased involvement from the citizenry, but also see merits in not doing this as well.

Let me explain why.

1.)    By increasing citizen involvement in the selection (which may or may not include the potential for a plebiscite) process:

  1. PRO: The citizenry should not complain that they are not involved in the selection of major public artworks;
  2. CON: The City probably will end up getting “art selected by committee” which is a most-definite and sure way to select forgettable, average or below-average art that does not stand the test of time;

2.)    By keeping the status quo or involving only those who are artists, arts professionals (i.e. curators, administrators, instructors, dealers and other related professionals) and/or interested and involved citizens in the selection process:

  1. PRO: Depending on the jury selected for each proposal the probable outcomes will most likely be stronger on average, and potentially more controversial as a result;
  2. CON: There is the potential to have continued negative press with charges of “wasting of public money, etc.”

On average, I would tend to fall on the side of option two, where increased or continued arts-aware selection committee members are convened to select further artworks as part of the Public Art process.

Consistently, I would rather have strong artworks that create controversy, than average artworks that create none.

There are a number of obvious parallels between the “Blue Ring” story and the controversy surrounding the purchase of the seminal American artist Barnet Newman’s painting Voice of Fire which was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1990.  The controversy was enormous.  In fact it is still very much alive in some quarters nearly 25 years later which speaks to the controversy that raged in 1990.  Regardless of that fact, it is my opinion that was a very good acquisition made by the NGC.  If anything the controversy surrounding the Voice of Fire only added to the previously existing national importance of this work.

Controversy is not a significant problem in my books as it relates to visual art.  I welcome controversy.

All great artworks and movements have had controversy attached to it at some point.  It is the controversy that engages, reflects undercurrents and discussions that the artworks talks about, and adds value to the artwork and the movements they are part of.

Thank you to the citizens of Calgary for making Travelling Light (or more colloquially known as the Blue Ring) the subject of controversy.  I still have yet to see the artwork, but will in due course. Like the Peace Bridge, it has become something we can be (or will be) proud of and something that adds to the fabric of what makes this such a great city.

So City Councillors discuss this all you want, but please do not make artwork selection a plebiscite issue.

The Parks and Recreation, Public Art Programme professionals are doing their part, the Calgary Arts Development Authority staff and the volunteer citizens on the Public Art Board, along with all the other arts organizations (MOCA, AGC, Glenbow, IMCA, Contemporary Calgary, TNG, Truck, Stride, IKG, Nickle, Esker, Untitled, cSPACE, National Music Centre, Alberta Craft Council, Epcor Centre and the many others including the commercial galleries, festivals, theatres, dance companies, artist cooperatives and underground collectives, etc.) are all trying to make this a great city as it relates to the arts.  It is an amazingly vibrant community that many don’t appreciate.  This is not an easy city to be a successful visual artist in.  They are doing the best they can, with the resources that they are given.  Please don’t make it more difficult than it has to be.

Shiny Xmas Balls at The Bow

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Earlier this morning, I passed through the Foster + Partners designed Bow Building.

Like many other office and commercial buildings around the city, the building owners and/or managers are redecorating their lobbies with a festive touch for the holiday season.

With the vaulted lobby they have installed a series of shiny Christmas balls that ascend out of the ground on the west end of the lobby (not shown in this picture) up and around the curve of the building.  This gives a visual impression of balls reaching up to the top of the building from the interior space.

It is nice to see that whomever was responsible for this design, has used the interior building space creatively.

Solar Flare now installed on Stephen Avenue Mall

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Two nights ago (on December 10th) I posted about Solar Flare and the installation process.  Once again tonight I walked past the Solar Flare installation and it is now fully installed and complete.

As suspected it is quite beautiful, especially in the night sky, as expected.

I have one criticism.

It is not about the work itself, nor is it about the location.  Rather my criticism is that the sculpture is suspended quite a bit above the roadway.  I understand the rationale for why it suspended where it is and I have no issue with it.  So in the grand scheme of things it is a very minor criticism.  It is placed probably about five or six metres above street level so that emergency vehicles can pass below without obstacle.

However, because of this, and from my observation in the few minutes I was there earlier tonight, most people who walk or drive under it will probably be completely oblivious and not even aware that it is there unless someone mentions it.  However, they should be aware as there are motion sensors attached to the sculpture which facilitate movement in the work itself.  Pay attention to this next time you see it.

This post is yet another public service to make a reminder to visit it.

Solar Flare Installation Stephen Avenue Walk

Solar-Flare-Installation-Stephen-Avenue-Walk-Dec-10-2013 (683x1024) Tonight I was walking downtown along Stephen Avenue Mall in front of the Art Gallery of Calgary quite late. It was fortuitous timing as three artists (Caitlind r.c. Brown, Lane Shordee and Ivan Ostapenko) were in the midst of installing the new Solar Flare light installation, which was commissioned by the Calgary Downtown BRZ.  Moments after I arrived, they wheeled away the lift.  Fortunately, I was able to get in a few pictures of the installation when the new installation was not fully installed and before they moved the lift to park it one of which I used above. The Roots The roots of this solar-powered installation were formed during the first Calgary Nuit Blanche which occurred during Calgary 2012 and was originally proposed as an annual event.  Now it appears to be a biannual event as it did not happen this past year and was replaced the newly formed Intersite Visual Arts Festival that occurred on the same weekend as Nuit Blanche should have happened.  All this contains some speculation on my part, so here goes.  No doubt this happened (in part) so that public institutions which must plan their programming far in advance could fulfill their obligations to the contracted artists during what they previously expected would be the weekend of Nuit Blanche .  But I digress. During the 2012 Nuit Blanche event one of the most interesting events was an installation that contained both burnt-out and live incandescent light bulbs.  These bulbs were all connected to hanging pulls that turned the lights on and off.  It was in the form of a large cloud and it magical.  People loved it and it became an internet sensation – and rightfully so.  From my recollection when I attended the night of Nuit Blanche, it could best be described as enchanting. The images spread quickly.  In fact, months later there was a show at an art gallery in Moscow of a new version of this cloud that no doubt came partly as a result of images that were picked up off the internet.  This new work was constructed in Russia.  A number of months later a smaller commission was completed at what I believe is a gay bar or club in Chicago.  As was the case in Russia and Calgary, this newly formed cloud (truth be told – clouds, as there were more than one cloud installed in this club) also met with success. Phantom Wing Fast forward to the recent Phantom Wing project at cSPACE King Edward School.  The artists involved with the Nuit Blanche Cloud also formed the Phantom Wing signage for that event as well.  The signage subsequently also was modified somewhat and used for the Phantom Wing website. Once the Phantom Wing project had barely wrapped up, they were off to recover the Russian cloud and then re-install it in the heart of Prague, Czech Republic alongside the Vlatava river.  This was for an event similar to Nuit Blanche and probably was as captivating as it was at each other location it has been shown at. Sometimes the history behind something is important.  This is one of those cases.  It is very interesting seeing where this light installation by Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett came from as it might otherwise be easily missed due to the location and the temporary nature of its installation during the next few months. Events There also will be an artist talk with Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett which will take place at the Art Gallery of Calgary on Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 6:00pm. Smart move on the part of the Calgary Downtown BRZ on commissioning this work.  If you are downtown at some point between now and early February check it out.

Stephen Avenue Walk beautification

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One of the things I like a lot is how the city beautifies Stephen Avenue Mall and other select other areas around the city.  A couple nights ago I was leaving the Performing Arts Centre and saw this which has been out there since before the snow fell.

It is little touches like this that makes the city beautiful.

Reading that statement I just wrote makes me wonder if this would meet with Thomas Mawson’s plans for the city from long, long ago.

Expect to see a new light installation on the Stephen Avenue Walk that was planned to be up and installed last night, just outside of the Art Gallery of Calgary.  This should be an interesting light installation entitled Solar Flare which I will plan to write about when fully installed, once the extreme cold weather warms up sometime during the next week.