2013 Year in Review

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It is the time of year when one looks back upon and reviews the year that is coming to a close; looks forward to the year that is yet to come; and amend or make plans accordingly.

I know that this will show up on New Year’s Day.  This has more to do with the quirks of this website and when midnight happens at their end, not mine.  Regardless, I worked on this when I could not sleep last night and woke up in the middle of the night, and decided to make the best of it, and review what happened in the visual arts this past year in Calgary.  Unfortunately I had to rush off early this morning and although it was posted, something happened and I had to re-enter it when I got home tonight. 

 

Upon reflection, it was a very active year and a lot of stuff happened in Calgary.  I am sure I am probably missing something blatantly obvious, as is usually the case in these type of overviews.  Here are a few of the highlights in no particular order:

Calgary 2012

After numerous attempts by those involved to nab the title of Cultural Capital of Canada over the prior decade and subsequently losing to places such as Edmonton and others – Calgary finally grabbed the brass ring, an honour it shared with the Niagara Region.  The year-long celebration wrapped up in early 2013.  But not before the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage announced that this programme will end, and that there will be no further Cultural Capitals of Canada named.

This honour was to recognize the 100th anniversary of the (modern) Calgary Stampede; the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Public Library; the 100th anniversary of Calgary Parks and Recreation; the 100th anniversary of the Grand Theatre; the 100th anniversary of the Pumphouse (now a theatre) while recognizing the “western cultural heritage” and “world-class” statuses of these organizations. 

It should also be noted in this context, that 2012 was also the 100th anniversary of the first public museum and art gallery in Calgary which cooperated with, partnered and/or worked together with all these other noted organizations (and others) during the course of its short existence.  Ironically it also corresponded with the 100th anniversary of the first piece of publically situated sculpture.  I spent over two years of full-time, self-funded research on this museum, which closed after hobbling along for a few years prior, in 1927 (along with many, many other related organizations, places, people and venues that have continued the lineage to the present day) – which I still am funding out of my own pocketbook, and continue to do so when I have any available time to commit to this project.  This website, being a small public extension of those commitments I have made to myself.

For the closing party there was a celebration of the filming of the official “lip-dub” video worthy of including in a grandstand show which paid homage to The Stampeders 1971 classic song, Sweet City Woman (the link to the official video is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhJ585Exxao) which had only 29,950 viewers and the most recent comment was from 8 months ago when I checked earlier this morning, which reflects the reality that the entire festival was for the most part, largely forgettable – although some good outcomes definitely came from it.  But as a reminder, the nature of these type of events will always have a certain amount of hits and misses.  It is just the way it is.

InvestYYC

One of the potentially very interesting and dynamic outcomes of Calgary 2012 is InvestYYC.  The people from the Calgary area, seemingly express the desire to see arts organizations supported from their own constituencies and not the public purse; show self-reliance; self-sufficiency; and engage in creating their own funding, as would be expected from a small-c conservative, business-oriented city where many come as financial émigrés or “work-campers” who in turn never really create roots in the community.  This even though they may live here for an extended period of time (maybe even a full-career) or for a project and enjoy the benefits while still considering their home to be elsewhere. It is a work-camp ( a nice one, but a work camp nevertheless).  It all is a state of mind that a certain significant percentage will always have, due to the nature of the primary business in the city and the corporate environments of continual acquisitions, divestitures, mergers and project financing involved in extracting its resources and maximizing asset values. 

InvestYYC had an early buy-in from many people and some projects were very successfully funded.  However, when I checked the website earlier this morning there was only one project listed for the Calgary Wind Symphony.  It had only received $310 over the past two months with another four months left to go in the campaign.

#yycartsplan

Another beneficial outcome of Calgary 2012 is the #yycartsplan.  There were a number of information sessions and consultations undertaken during 2012 and 2013 which I was a participant in for some sessions.  An initial report was presented to a committee of City Council in early June for review and the process is now at stage three.  The amount of people attending in its support was such that the committee had to move from the small meeting room to the much larger City Council Chambers.  This showed how important this process is to those involved in the arts.  A further revision should be going to City Council in March 2014.

The Flood of 2013

A number of cultural venues such as Stride, Avalanche, the Public Library, some City infrastructure and public art and the Calgary Stampede were all affected significantly.  Outside the city the Museum of the Highwood in High River and the historic Medalta Studios in Medicine Hat also suffered significant damage.  In addition there were a few commercial galleries both in Calgary and elsewhere that suffered great losses too, some of which was not fully reported in the news media. 

I spent most of the month of July in the High River commercial zone wearing hazardous material suits and full-respirators, while working 12+ hour days, seven-days a week without a break during that time.  I helped businesses re-establish themselves from their devastation as quickly as possible while there.  Most of that time was spent either directly across the street from the Highwood or within a two block radius from it.  My heart was broken when I hear of the great losses they suffered, which I heard from those working there, which was only magnified by the devastation that I had seen with my own eyes in the projects I was working on.  Fortunately, unaffected cultural institutions sent professionals on secondment to help them out which I am sure was a great help and greatly appreciated I am sure.  Occasionally we would take breaks at similar times, so that I would get occasional updates as a result.  It was heart-breaking to hear of cultural legacies damaged by the destructive power of Mother Nature and how powerless we as individuals are against her fury when it is unleashed.

Valerie Cooper and the Art Gallery of Calgary

The Art Gallery of Calgary finally received closure to its year-long drama that affected the institution deeply, when former president and CEO Valerie Cooper was sentenced to jail for malfeasance and fraud this past November.

Planetarium

Back in April, the city invited tenders for cultural and/or heritage uses for the Planetarium that was vacated by the Science Centre and the Children’s Museum a few years ago with the opening of what is now known as Telus Spark.  A number of proposals were put together and submitted.  To date there has been no announcement yet of the successful project or projects that will be located on that site.  No doubt the flood slowed down the selection process somewhat, as it was temporarily used as an emergency shelter while remedial work was made to their affected premises.  Although I would think that the social agency is probably able to use its former premises by now, it is certainly possible that it may still be in use for this emergency purpose.

As a fan of the Brutalist style of architecture, I am pleased to know that this unique landmark building which defines the skyline from the west end of downtown, will most likely not be torn down in the foreseeable future (which in Calgary as it relates to older architecture, in itself is a win).  The same fate may or may not be said for the old Calgary Board of Education Building or the former Calgary Catholic School Board Building located across the street from each other on the other end of downtown.  We will see what time will bring, along with the desires of the new landlords of the two school buildings.

Public Art

Reading front-page stories about art and hearing controversy about public art makes me happy.  This year it happened during the midst of an election.  I would rather hear people talking about public art than not.  At least when they are talking it is connecting with its audience on a deep, visceral level.  This is what art should do.

I would rather have art that people hate, and have them express that opinion, than have banal and uninteresting work that is safe on all levels and not worthy of any further mention.  To those that sat on the selection jury for the Travelling Light piece (a.k.a. the Blue Ring) – thank you for being brave and selecting it.

Academic Institutions

Near the end of the academic year a student in his final year at Alberta College of Art and Design killed a live chicken in the cafeteria as part of a final critique.  It was shocking to some students, which is understandable.  Since this happened in an art college, normally that would be the end of the situation and life would go on.  However, this time it elicited commentary on local media and got picked up on the newswires and as a result got much wider news coverage than normal.

The resulting furore over this incident resulted in a full-tenured professor and head of the department being dismissed.  Of course this only resulted in a stronger reaction and a more prolonged coverage of this story.  Long story short, the professor got his job back about a month later.

Around the same time, provincial budget cuts come into effect and Mount Royal College and the University of Calgary, along with the University of Alberta and to a lesser extent ACAD all had their budgets cut.  I am greatly simplifying things, I am quite aware, but it generally was a situation where the departments that were affected the most ended up being in the arts.  This of course, prompts the question what role if any does a liberal-arts education play in developing a well-rounded student educational experience?  Should we be focusing exclusively on developing “worker-bees” whose learned skillsets are already obsolete by the time they graduate, or do we want to have students who have the ability to think independently and develop a habit of continual learning at a time when technology and change is increasing at phenomenal rates of speed?  One must ask, how many career paths will those entering undergraduate programs now have in their lifetimes?  Guaranteed, it will be more than those who are the administrators, decision makers and professors at those same institutions.

Art Central and Telus Sky

A new landmark building will soon emerge on our skyline.  It looks like it will be a very interesting building.  If the press reports are correct there will also be a gallery space located somewhere inside.  Hopefully it will happen on a faster schedule than the York Hotel.  The York is still a fenced off gravel expanse which people cannot even access, which is located above an underground parking garage across the street from Art Central.  Although there was certainly talk about developing the York as a cultural space at one time prior tot he building coming down, this is not the context for a further discussion about that.  Regardless, this vacant wasteland (for lack of a better descriptor) has laid vacant for at least the past three years.  Even the construction hoarding facing alongside the 7th Avenue transit corridor still remains from when the structure was still a big hole in the ground dating back to 2007 or 2008.

One thing I do know, is that Telus in the past, has shown that it was extremely supportive of the visual arts in Calgary – case in point, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA).  Because of this history and how everything ended up between the two parties, I will definitely be interested and curious to see what comes of this new space.  To the best of my knowledge what form this proposed space will take has not been defined – which in itself, could be a very good thing.

Merger of MOCA, IMCA and AGC to form Contemporary Calgary

I have written at length about this recent merger, and I must leave for work soon, so will not re-invent the wheel by writing about it again.  Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this all pans out in the New Year.

Wreck City and Phantom Wing

Developing audiences is one of the most important things that those involved in the various arts communities can do, in this notoriously difficult city as it relates especially to the visual arts.  Both projects succeeded in introducing new audiences to the visual arts with minimal commitment.   Both projects introduced new audiences and can only be thought of in successful terms as it relates to public engagement.  I wish I had more time to talk further about this, but I don’t.  I have to run.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks New Space

Last night there was an event celebrating the 30+ years of DJD at their old space near where Truck and Stride are now located.  In the last couple weeks, City Council approved a new space for them.  I wish them success in the new space at the Kahanoff Centre as well. 

 

To all those in the arts community in Calgary, and those that are also interested in the visual arts – I send my best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.  May this be your best year ever.

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