For the past two weeks I have had a place in Art Central.
As my time draws to a close at Art Central, I think back on many memories both positive and negative.
Every day, almost every second person who comes to visit me asks the same question, or a variation on the theme, “What is happening to this building? Why is it so dead? Where have all the art galleries gone?”
It is such a far cry from what it used to be. Art Central officially opened on a First Thursday in November 2004 to great hope and anticipation as you can see by the FastForward Weekly article below. Now, almost ten years later, it is trying to slink off to the corner and die a lonely death, hoping no one will notice.
I remember one of the first dates that I had with a former girlfriend, it must have been around January or February 2006, we came to Art Central for a First Thursday. It was a perfect date, she had never been to a gallery before and I was very involved in galleries. There were so many people, live music, entertainment, wine and more. She loved it, and she wanted to come back again the following First Thursday with her friends.
Art Central was the place to be on a First Thursday. That was back in the days when 100s of people would be out for the evening. The party started after work and it probably didn’t completely wind down until sometime after 10:00.
As David Neill said when he visited a few days ago, those first three years were good years for the building. After 2008 it started its slow decline. Now it is hanging on by a thread. Soon the lights will be turned off.
I have two days left in my lease – unless I am able to get an extension for a few more days to finish wrapping things up.
Now I am the last standing art gallery in the building.
It is surprising really. Ironic too. I would have never guessed that. If someone was to say that to me even a few months ago I would have laughed at them, shaken my head and told them there is no way this would happen.
I think of all the people that have been in this building over the years. There have been a lot of interesting artists, boutiques and shops. It was an incubator for creative businesses and artistic practice, often in the early stages of their development. I often wonder whatever happened to all of those who passed through and where they are now.
In fact I think that it would be an interesting tribute to list all those involved and what happened to them. The Art Central building was a small snapshot of a certain aspect of Calgary cultural history that for the most part slipped under the radar screen for many, for whatever reason.
Even looking at the list of original tenants in the Autumn 2004 guide, it is interesting seeing those names. Of the 14 tenants listed in the original guide, approximately half had left the building three years later. Only one (possibly two) remained until 2013. The others either closed, moved away, sold the business or operated out of their home studio. No matter how one looks at it, few renewed their lease. Here is the list of those originally listed in 2004:
- Influx Jewellery Gallery – the four original partners transferred ownership around 2011 when the partnership could not continue. The business is still doing business with a storefront location in Inglewood.
- Be-Art Gallery – closed in 2007 when the owner decided to focus exclusively on her clothing boutique located on the main floor, although she still continued to display a few pieces of art in the boutique.
- Dashwood Galleries – left around 2007
- Quab Gallery – left around 2007
- Flat Frames and Jet Prints – left around 2006
- Ted Smith Picture Framing – left around 2012
- 3 Corners of the Square – left around 2005 or 2006
- Chester Lees Studio – left around 2008 or 2009 to work from a home studio
- UP Studio – left around 2013 (one of the last to leave) to work out of their home studio
- Mary Pat Studio & Boutique – left around 2012
- Randy Hanoski – left around 2006
- The Palette Coffeehouse – closed around 2009, maybe 2010 and re-opened as DeVille a few months later. It is still located in the building.
- The Siding Café – closed around 2011 and re-opened as Colonial where it is still occupying the building.
- Art Central Studio Prize – continued to be given to an ACAD graduate until around 2010 (or more likely until the building was sold in 2011) when it was discontinued
During the last two weeks that I have been in this space, every single day, people want to know what is happening.
Here is the answer.
Art Central and the adjoining Colonel Walker Park are slated to be demolished, to make way for the new 58 or 59-storey Telus Sky building (there are two different numbers out there). Personally I would be more inclined to believe the 59-storey number. It will be a mixed use building with retail, office and residential components.
At this early stage, I think it is quite an attractive building, but I am also quite certain that others will disagree with me. An illustration of what it is supposed to look like is below.
Why do so many people not know about the changes?
The announcement was made at a time when many in the city were preoccupied with other things – myself included. The date – July 4, 2013 – two weeks to the day after the flood and one week, plus a day before the Stampede began. It probably got buried in the news.
I am sure this is part of the main reason why.
Because this is an arts focused blog, I must mention the fact that the new development is proposed to house 420 sq. metres (approximately 4500 sq. ft.) of cultural space which will be accessed from the +15 level. In addition those behind the new development have “committed to $1.3 million dollars of publicly accessible art located at the 7 Avenue SW and Centre Street intersection and along the C-Train platform façade.”
Yesterday I was talking to the security guard and it appears as if next month (May 2014) will be the final month for everyone in the building. All six tenants that remain will be leaving sometime soon. He didn’t know dates.
I am sure in due course I will have more to say.