End of the road for the Ant Hill — building

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Today it finally started.

Demolition began on the old Ant Hill Fabric building. Prior to being the Ant Hill Fabric building, long ago in the 1950s it was a Safeway store (the largest one north of the river).

The roots of the building’s demise have been percolating away for most of the past decade. It was just a matter of time.

In 2004 the building on 10th Street near 2nd Avenue NW was sold to the Calgary Parking Authority. Approximately a year later during the summer of 2006 the owners of the neighbouring Lido Café, the Calgary Parking Authority and a couple developers talked about a new 12-storey mixed use development (retail, office and residential) that they were planning. It was to be substantially larger in footprint than the current project. Originally this was planned to cross over the back alley to 9A Street to include the area where the newly-built condo (seen in the background of the photo below to the left) which adjoins the C-Train tracks. As part of this project, it was also planned to include an extra three floors of underground short-term parking for the neighbourhood.

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Obviously, that deal fell through. Most likely the 2008 worldwide economic slowdown caused by the sub-prime mortgage crisis contributed, like other development projects in the city at that time.

It was described in a FastForward Weekly article written in late 2010, “(the building) has mostly been a shell (since 2004), except for an occasional art market”.

Referenced in the FFWD article mentioned above, in 2008 the space was leased out to a group called Market Collective for their initial sale. They continued to call this home for their bi-monthly (if I remember correctly) weekend long pop-up sales. The vendors that showed there were a mixed-bag of artists, craftspersons, artisans and small boutique owners. During the sale often there were musicians who would perform as well. It was an interesting event and brought a lot of people to the community that otherwise potentially may not have come otherwise.

This was Market Collective’s home for its sales until November 2012.

At that time, the newspapers and social media were aflutter with news that the pre-Christmas sale was cancelled. There was a lot of back and forth that happened at that time. Solutions were offered for the sale including the use of an underground parkade at City Hall and other sites as well. In the end they moved to a vacant auto dealership building in Forest Lawn. This place which they occupied for a few sales. They have had a number of different locations for the sale since that time.

Outside of the Market Collective, there were other arts related uses contemplated or considered for this space – some of which I was party to and others which I was not.

It had the potential to be a very interesting space for the visual arts. For whatever reason it never really delivered, except as a selling venue for some artisans and a graffiti wall for others (see photo below taken yesterday, or Sunday).

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The Ant Hill building will soon fade from sight and our collective memories, just as the Carpenter’s Hall and the Arusha Centre across 10th Street from the Ant Hill building have done. Those buildings are now levelled within the past week or so. Both the Carpenter’s Hall and the Arusha Centre also played a role as venues or part of a support network for art and music events in the city over the decades.

We know that both projects will be condo developments – The Lido (the Anthill site0 and Kensington (the Carpenter’s Union Hall and Arusha Centre site). Soon we will be seeing what the future of these two sites will look like.

* * *

Addendum (2014 October 23)

Earlier today I was in the area and noticed that the entire Ant Hill Fabrics Building has been leveled. Now all that needs to be done is to remove the remainder of the building demolition refuse and start digging.

Also today I talked to an artist who reminded me that on the Carpenter’s Union Hall and Arusha site was another building. In that building was a couple short-lived galleries. He had his first show in one of the galleries. I will call them parallel galleries and there have been a few of these type of spaces around. They are very hard to define. I never did figure out who owned or operated them, even though I attended a number of openings at both spaces. These two spaces were called Resolution Gallery (the gallery that was in the location for the longest amount of time) and another short-term gallery called White Lodge Art Gallery. I failed to mention these two galleries previously as there was no construction hoarding surrounding these two buildings, right up to the time that the buildings were demolished.

I would like to hear from someone involved with these two galleries. Please use the contact page to get in touch. Thanks.

A new gallery space in Bridgeland/Riverside

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Something I have been meaning to write about for a while is the new exhibition space in Riverside/Bridgeland. It is a short walk outside of the downtown core. This gallery is unique as it is located on property connected to a private residence while facing the sidewalk and street.

It is a unique and interesting way to introduce art to a broader audience that may never look at art otherwise.

In addition to that, the house also has a Little Free Library located only a couple feet away from the gallery. The first Little Free Library was installed only a couple years ago in Calgary and you can read more about it here. It was developed in Wisconsin during 2009 and has grown rapidly with an estimated 15,000 libraries worldwide. There is also a map of current locations in Calgary here. I am very fond of the Little Free Library project as well, and I am sure I will write about it further sometime soon.

The library and the gallery are good compliments to each other – not to mention the piece of public art outside the front door and the mural on the fence, as seen in the photo below.

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I met up with the owner of the house two nights ago at a reception, and was reminded that I said I would write something about it about a month ago. 

When we first talked about the space, it was recently built and still vacant. They were waiting to have the first artist show there. From what I understand there was some initial casual discussion about possibly coordinating with the Tiny Gallery for programming, which was never formalized. The two galleries are geographically close to each other, although the layout of the two spaces are completely different. In addition the Tiny Gallery is attached to commercial spaces in the community high street, whereas this space is located on a strictly residential street (albeit well used). They are not connected, but there is definite affinities with each other. It would appear as if this space is coordinating its programming alone.

This gallery is very new, and was probably installed near the end of summer. Because of that I am uncertain if there has been a name attached to the space or whether it is just there.

Currently there is a landscape painting by local artist Mark Vázquez-Mackay in the small exhibition space. From what I understand from the owner, the next scheduled artist to be featured in this space will be Lane Shordee. Some may remember him as being one of the artists who was involved in a water installation in the courtyard at Phantom Wing. Before that he had a large installation in a greenhouse at Wreck City. I am uncertain when the new show will be installed, but I am sure it will be coming soon.

It will be interesting to see what Lane Shordee will create for the space.

The gallery can be viewed at 732 McDougall Road NE.

* * *

Addendum (2014 October 21)

I received an email from the owner of the property earlier today. In this email the following was stated:

The blog looks great. We are calling it the Tiny satellite gallery. I’m going to curate the space and Tiny gallery will help promote it. Lane’s show will have its opening Friday November 7th from 4-6.

Hope to see you there,

85th Anniversary of Persons Case decision

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Today (October 18) marks the 85th anniversary of a decision made by the Judicial Committee of the Imperial Privy Council. This case was an appeal of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Henrietta Muir Edwards and others (Appeal No. 121 of 1928) v The Attorney General of Canada (Canada) [1929] UKPC 86 (18 October 1929).

We know this case more commonly as The Persons Case.

The case revolved around definition of a specific word found in Part 4.1 (The Senate) of the British North America Act, 1867 (and in particular section 24 of Part 4.1) which reads as follows:

24. The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen’s Name, by instrument of the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate; and, subject to the Provisions of this Act, every Person so summoned shall become and be a member of the Senate and a Senator.

In greatly simplified terms, the question as I understand it, that was resolved was “should women be considered persons as defined by the British North American Act; and, can they be named to the Senate?”

I want to keep this short as I really don’t have time to write much. There is a fair bit of preamble, which makes fascinating reading in itself, (or at least I find it fascinating reading) as there are a number of arcane references dating from Roman second century law and a comment stating that “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours”. At the end it is stated that,

their Lordships have come to the conclusion that the word “persons” in section 24 includes members both of the male and female sex and that, therefore, the question propounded by the Governor-General must be asked in the affirmative and that women are eligible to be summoned to and become Members of the Senate of Canada, and they will humbly advise is Majesty accordingly.

It is because of this, that this anniversary and the celebration was held this afternoon beside the large sculpture located at the west end of Olympic Plaza.

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Because this blog is about art in Calgary, I would like to talk further about the sculpture.

Beginning around 1996, this sculpture is a result of a multi-year process to secure the location; raise the approximately $750,000 required for the two Calgary and Ottawa sculptures; and to secure an appropriate artist to do the sculpture. This was all coordinated and done under the auspices of the Famous 5 Foundation and subsequently is part of the Civic Art Collection.

Three artists were short-listed for this commission. They were Mary-Ann Liu (from Mission, BC), Barbara Paterson (from Edmonton), and Helen Grainger Young (from Winnipeg). The selected artist was Barbara Paterson.

It was officially unveiled by then Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and then Premier Ralph Klein on October 18, 1999 with approximately 2000 people in attendance. A second casting of this piece was unveiled one year later on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Since the time that it was unveiled it is a popular place for tourists and locals alike to take photos. As seen in the out-stretched fingers from one of the hands, the patina has been worn down from regular contact and touch (as seen in the detail photo below). It would not also surprise me if some of the other parts of the sculpture are also burnished from regular contact as well.

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Representational monuments which recognize important historical figures and local narratives can be a significant component of any city’s public art experience. Having a monument at street level, in an active walking area of the city, helps remind us that through the efforts of these five women, opportunities available for all women who came after were significantly advanced. They also all called Calgary their home.

That is something worth celebrating.

The House Coffee Sanctuary and artist groups

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Earlier today I was in the community of Kensington. I stopped in to attend an exhibition opening at The House Coffee Sanctuary.

I periodically stop in at The House for a coffee and pastry as I like to support small independent businesses if I am able. As a previous small business owner, I find that they are the lifeblood of our communities and that they usually reinvest into the communities where they are based, more than do most of the larger multi-national companies. Whenever I do stop in for a coffee, I have always noticed art on the wall. Like many other independent coffee shops and restaurants they feature art to decorate the space and “provide publicity” to artists.

As a former gallerist, I am of two minds about this practice. Others are as well I am very certain, probably for other reasons. I have provided art to these type of places (coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) and have had the art stolen off the wall. As a result, I have had to purchase the stolen art using funds out of my own pocket. Let’s just say that, “once burned, twice shy” would help explain my feelings toward these type of venues as an art exhibition space. It is hard enough to make a living in the arts as it is, I don’t need the additional stresses of financial success (or failure) that comes as a result of someone else’s whims or desires. I am not a big fan as a result. But that is my own personal experience and not everyone else’s. If it works for others – that is great.

* * *

This is something that I have wanted to write about for some time. The whole concept of small artist groups who rarely, if ever, get any mention.

The exhibition I attended today featured members of one of these groups, The Emmaus Fine Art Group.

Chances are most readers of my blog will not know who these members are. That is understandable as there are many societies or artist groups such as this in the city. There is a long tradition of arts organizations such as this which pre-date the first museum that showed art in the city. As a result, these type of groups are part of my research focus.

Some groups are more well- known than others – groups such as the Alberta Society of Artists, the Canadian Federation of Artists, Burns Visual Arts Society, Untitled Art Society, Alberta Printmakers Society, Bee Kingdom . . . the list goes on, and on. Other groups slip under the radar screen for most that are interested in the visual arts, for various reasons. It is certainly not because they are any less worthy.

What are artist societies?

  • These groups can be a very small group of artists or they can be quite large;
  • They can offer free membership or paid;
  • They may provide studio space – or not;
  • A group could be as simple as a few retirees or stay at home moms who paint. They may form a group out of a need, or an excuse to get out of the house, meet their friends for coffee or a glass of wine, and talk about their work, or paint en plain air as a group;
  • They may meet once a week, once a month, once a year or not at all except for board elections;
  • Alternatively, a group could be a formalized society with its own bylaws, non-profit status and space;
  • The group can take whatever form that they choose, and for whatever reason that makes sense to its members.

Regardless of how they are formed or operate, they are all community-building initiatives. They also serve a number of positive purposes such as:

  • Providing a support mechanism for what is usually a solitary pursuit (producing visual art and/or craft-based work);
  • Provide exhibition opportunities that may not otherwise occur;
  • Provide a reason to produce work;
  • Provide a social network with like-minded individuals.

Locally there has been a strong tradition of artist groups, as seen in the example of both the Calgary Allied Arts Centre and the Muttart Public Art Gallery. Unfortunately both of these organizations are no longer with us, but their legacy does continue in the form of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation and the Art Gallery of Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary) even that history is no longer relevant to current operations.

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Getting back to the Emmaus Fine Art Group (see photo above). I had the opportunity to find out more about this group with one of the longest standing members of the group, this afternoon – Sharon Graham. She probably has the highest artistic profile of all the members that were included in the current exhibition. Many of her drawings of suspects in court proceedings have been reproduced in newspapers over the years. If memory serves me correct, she also previously exhibited at Art is Vital when they were once located on the second floor of Eau Claire Market, quite a number of years ago.

She helped me with a bit of the history of this group. The House Coffee Sanctuary is where they most frequently exhibit. They have had a loose association with the coffee shop since shortly after it opened for business.

The thing that ties this group together is that members of the group have religious beliefs. All members (from what I understand) self-identify as being Christian.

I have often wondered why this coffee shop is considered a non-profit. So tonight I investigated this claim. From their website, I read that the coffee shop, “was opened by First Alliance Church in November, 2001.”

Knowing this, it then makes sense why the Emmaus group would show in this venue. There is a mutual support network (or a natural synergy) occurring between the two groups – the church/coffee shop; the artists; and/or the artist society or group.

The church (speaking broadly as a much larger institution of individual localized churches, groups, educational institutions and other related religious communities) has long been associated with visual artists and the arts. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic Church and one has to only think of the Sistine Chapel and the masterworks found there and elsewhere in their churches to understand how true this statement is. However, to my mind, the Protestant faiths as a general rule, tend not to be as supportive of the visual arts. Rarely does one see much religious art in Protestant churches, except for some sects as seen in their stained glass windows. This is particularly true, especially as it relates to religious art.

Why is this?

If I was to speculate, this probably has something to do with Martin Luther, John Calvin (especially) and the Protestant Reformation; and how religious thought and practice has developed over the subsequent 600 years.

We know that at the time of the Reformation, a new Northern Renaissance in painting took root in what was predominately Protestant countries or areas such as Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Great Britain. This resulted in a demand for paintings that tended more to the secular, taking the form of portraits; history painting; still lifes; and genre paintings. This work from that period, celebrated the agenda of the Protestant movement. Over time, this presumably developed into a fear of idolatry and as interpreted in Protestant faiths that fine art generally is a distraction to religious devotion.

I have attempted to simplify a very complex relationship in religious thought. I have tried to be as respectful of those with different religious belief systems in my simplified interpretation. For those that might feel it is not correct, as the reader interprets it, I apologize in advance.

Nevertheless, given the framework of this exhibition, and the concept of community development in the arts, it is an interesting question and interpretation to ponder.

Regardless of this, I think that this is a good example of how one develops community in the visual arts. It also shows how multiple groups can facilitate artistic growth and career development. This is a necessary ingredient in achieving success as an artist. Generally, an artist’s career does not develop in isolation, even though their practice usually is a solitary pursuit.