A tale of two cities . . .

Galleria_Edmonton_from_Metro_2015_May_27

I had to visit Edmonton for the last couple days. While I was getting ready to return, I noticed and picked up one of the local free newspapers – the Edmonton Metro. The story on the front cover looked interesting and I wanted to read what it was all about.

Sure enough it was interesting.

It was interesting enough that the Edmonton Journal also picked up the story and ran it in the front section, if I recall correctly (although not on the front page).

Briefly, the Edmonton news relates to a billion-dollar project called The Galleria (not to be confused with the gift shop and gallery of sorts that shares the same name in Calgary). The Edmonton project yesterday received a city council investment of $7.5 million, not to mention another $50-million that was already raised privately prior to going to City Council. This new project will incorporate a new home for the University of Alberta Art and Design faculty, four new theatres and some mixed use development. It will be located adjoining the new Royal Alberta Museum that is currently under construction. You can read about it here.

Of course when I got back into Calgary, I got onto my computer to see what was going on in Calgary as well.

Imagine my surprise upon my return, to read a number of things going on at the Alberta College of Art and Design both yesterday and today as well. Of course, a certain amount of activity at educational institutions is to be expected as the school year has wound down and administration can focus on infrastructure projects, planning, etc. over the summer.

What is happening at the Alberta College of Art and Design that might relate to the project at the University of Alberta?

Gisele_Amantea_piece_installed_outside_Illingworth_Kerr_Gallery_at_opening_of_Oh_Canada_show_January_2015 (1024x768)

After my preamble, I will now turn over the significant majority of the remainder of this posting to two people. I do this because I was not privy to the discussions around this decision or the email that was sent out. . . and there is always more than one side to a story. Often reality is somewhere in the middle.

The first person that I want to turn the mike over to is a person by the name of Shauna Thompson. The name is familiar, but I don’t know her personally (or at least I don’t believe so). She posted something to the Alberta College of Art and Design facebook page yesterday and suggested that it could be broadcast widely. Her comments relate to an internal email that was circulated by ACAD to the ACAD community. I must assume that it was sent out yesterday. I can only rely upon the comments of someone else who received it however it came about whether it was direct or not. I understand there is some risk in this, because it may not be factually correct, however I will assume that she has some knowledge of what was included.

Without further ado, here is what Shauna Thompson wrote yesterday (May 26) at 16:24. Her full comments can be read here:

In an email sent to staff and students about “key” budget cuts and restructuring, ACAD administration revealed in a bullet point that IKG Director/Curator Wayne Baerwaldt will be “retiring” at the end of June and they have chosen NOT to fill this position.

ACAD claims that the gallery will not close, but instead “[o]ver the next few months we will work with internal groups on a new management model and plan of action aligned to serve the educational goals of students and faculty of the College within our new fiscal reality.” There has been no official press release that I know of; only this surreptitious, post-semester email.

I should state that I am editing along the way. However, I am trying to keep the integrity and intent of what she said as a whole without diminishing it. She continues:

The idea that a contemporary art gallery embedded within an art school should be required to prove why their existence is important is ludicrously out of touch. It’s telling that ACAD has effectively reduced Wayne, the IKG, and everything their presence has brought to the school — AND TO CALGARY — to a bullet point in a memo.

Thompson states a number of things that Illingworth Kerr Gallery does, and adds this:

These are things that we, as a community (and I mean within Calgary and beyond it), need to fight for.

There are a lot of questions that remain about the administration’s ultimate intent, but this is the kind of terrain we shouldn’t give up to disingenuous announcements about “new fiscal realties” (sic). There has been a lot of talk recently about the relevance of post-secondary arts institutions. What does it mean to the students and to the ecology of an art school to operate without a professional contemporary art gallery? What does it mean for an historically culturally isolated city like Calgary to have even less exposure to international contemporary art, artists, and ideas? What does it mean for all of us when a space for research, support, and presentation of visual art is carved up by administrators with barely a whimper? This isn’t the kind of thing we should let slide.

I will be the first to admit that I am certainly not in the loop about what is happening at ACAD and at the IKG. But I am definitely interested in what is going on there. Be that as it may, Thompson’s questions do have some validity as it relates to a public gallery that is embedded in any educational institution of merit.

Students need to be given access to original work as part of their program of study. How they do that, is something that I will not address, nor should I. Art cannot be learned in isolation, regardless of the fact that most art that is made is a product of predominantly solitary studio-based practice by the artist. If the instruction is focused on predominately contemporary practice, the gallery attached to the institution should also focus on contemporary practice and/or work that will inform contemporary art practice to encourage student growth. Galleries in an educational facility serve an important role that cannot be overemphasised.

The day after Thompson wrote her comments, Alberta College of Art and Design then issued a press release (May 27). I will now turn it over to their media specialist JoAnne Reynolds to say her bit about the same situation. In this case, I have included the media release in it’s entirety below, which can also be read here:

Wayne Baerwaldt, The Director of the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG), is retiring at the end of June. We are very grateful to Wayne for his close to a decade of service at ACAD, not just at the gallery, but also in his role as VP Research and Academic Affairs. He brought a discourse and variety to the College with gallery exhibitions that made an impact on the entire artistic community. His support and passion for students and education was certainly evident.

The IKG is not closing. We are fortunate to have such a space within our walls. It remains an important part of the student experience at the college and we are taking this opportunity to review the role it plays in our institution and how it can better serve our community without filling the director’s position.

World-class exhibits will continue to be curated. We have a very robust visiting artist program at the college and the gallery is steadily becoming a destination for incredible art in Calgary. To that end, an internal committee formed (including faculty, staff, students and alumni) and we will create a new operating plan in the next few months.

The quality of the programming will be unaffected. ACAD’s goal is to make it even more inclusive and representative of the variety of programs at the college to help us thrive and support future academic growth.

The IKG is an essential part of the experience at ACAD and there are different ways to structure the curation of the gallery. We have listed three key positions that we hope to put in place by this Fall below:

1. A Curatorial structure overseen by a faculty member appointment assisted by an internal exhibit committee.

2. We will fill a current administrative vacancy to support gallery operations and coordinate visiting artists, scholars and speakers.

3. The Gallery Technician will remain an integral part of the gallery.

Creativity matters now more than ever. We are embarking on a sustainability process to generate ideas and solutions that supports our school, our community and our world. Like most post-secondary institutions, especially those with less than 4,000 students, ensuring the longevity of the college is our top priority.

It is an exciting time at ACAD right now as we are embarking on a visioning process that collectively students, faculty and staff can reimagine… rethink…and redesign how ACAD will look for the next 90 years and beyond.

So there you have it.

From the opening part of the press release, it would appear as if the future plans for the gallery are already in place.

This makes the final two paragraphs somewhat intriguing, especially given the use of the root word “embark” or as used in both paragraphs, “embarking”. If I understand the term correctly it means something to the effect of – to board something (especially as it relates to a plane or boat); to begin, or; to start a new course. I am going to make an assumption that in this case, the third meaning is the intent as used.

I can’t argue with the sentiment of the first paragraph with the highlighted talking point beginning with “creativity matters now more than ever.” In this section it talks about sustainability. Financial stability is necessary for any institution, business or person if they want to survive, no matter how large or small their financial resources are. However, I do find it surprising that a small part of the budget, (the Illingworth Kerr Gallery) as presented here, it would appear to be a mainsail, or at the minimum a jib, of the boat (ACAD) that is being embarked. From what little I know about budgets, it would be a fair assumption to assume that teaching staffing for a degree-granting institution as a whole, should be substantially higher than operations of a small gallery with a staff of less than five (I am assuming), even if staffing is included as a direct cost of its operations.

Of course, I don’t know what was all included in the first email that prompted Thompson’s comments. However being aware of corporate speak, it would seem fair that that there is significantly more financial austerity planned from ACAD, given that she mentioned the Illingworth Kerr Gallery/Wayne Baerwaldt situation as a bullet point amongst other “new fiscal realities.” If so, then the final paragraph may make more sense and it makes me wonder why there was not another press release issued to talk about those items as well.

To my mind, based on the comments made at the beginning of the press release and the course of action suggested in the remainder of the press release, it would be a logical progression that the decision has already been made.

It would also seem like another logical conclusion that there is no “embarking” that needs to take place. If this assumption is true, it then makes me curious about the remainder of the last paragraph and prompts me to ask the question – how involved in the visioning process were the students, faculty and/or staff in this decision? It is something that I have no answer to. Maybe it was done, maybe it was not.

I also have one concern about the future stated plans of IKG as outlined in the press release. It is based strictly on my own observations and experiences, and this could be an exception (there always is one). My concern is that artistic direction by committee typically is much more challenging and problematic than not. As a general rule, it makes programming much more unfocused, inconsistent and uneven as a result. Some would even suggest the result often is mediocrity.

This prompts another curiosity of mine relating to the paragraph with the talking point “The quality of the programming will be unaffected”. It is a question about what was meant by the use of the word “inclusive”. At an educational institution of higher learning in the visual arts, is “inclusive” programming (however that is defined) something that should be aspired to? Or should programming be made so that students can see current work by artists producing at the top of their game; work that may be controversial with the intent of stirring creative juices amongst student (an example would be a work by Chris Burden that was made at ACAD in the 1970s that resulted in bringing out the fire department and made the local news); and/or works from the collection that show significant works that show how we got to where we are now?

Regardless, I can foresee that there is a high likelihood that the issue of artistic programming by committee will need to be addressed at some point, whether during the time of this administration, or next.

No doubt this is a complicated matter, with few simplistic answers.

This brings me full circle, back to the Galleria in Edmonton.

The two cities are approximately 300 km from each other, both within the same provincial jurisdiction. However, the focus between the two projects spearheaded by academic institutions (presumably both facing similar fiscal realities) couldn’t be more different. We see one project has a focus on expansion of a visual arts program with a substantial buy-in from the community at large; whereas the other project seemingly has a contraction of a visual arts program with an unknown quantity of buy-in from the community. My question is, why the disconnect between the two?

It will be interesting to see where these two projects end up. I will definitely be watching both projects with interest.

Yarn-bombed house in Sunnyside

Yarn_Bombing_project_832_10_Ave_NW_Calgary_May_24_2015

I know that I have been somewhat negligent about posting new stories on this blog, since March. It has certainly not been for lack of ideas of things to write about.

During a six-week portion of that two or three month period, I had a very time sensitive contract with very long hours required. Usually what that meant is that I would wake up, go to work shortly after the sun was up, come home after dark and go to sleep (repeating daily).

So now I have time to write once again – sorta.

The project I want to write about tonight, is something that I mentioned last summer (August 12). In that post, I indicated that this project was to take place last September. It did not occur. However, it was not forgotten, only the timeline moved and came together later. This is what I stated about this project at that time:

An organization I have written about in the past, This is My City Art Society is partnering with the Calgary Homeless Foundation to create an art event. Together they are trying to draw attention to this issue and as part of this, they are going to yarn-bomb the recently purchased house slated for demolition, which is located in a prominent NW location during September.

The wrapping of this house in a giant quilt, is meant to symbolize the warmth and comfort of a home.

In my absence, the yarn-bombing project moved forward and is located at 832 – 10 Street NW (at the bottom of the hill below SAIT and Alberta College of Art and Design, and across the street from Riley Park).

The organizers also involved the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer’s Market. Obviously, a number of knitted or crocheted items were collected at the sale this past week. I am sure that there were other methods of collecting items to wrap the house as well, probably some of which were collected last summer as mentioned in my initial post.

I have no idea, and I could be corrected on this, but I would assume that they would still be very interested in collecting more items for the house. I am sure if someone deposited more squares on the porch of the house, It would be my assumption that the items would eventually find a way onto the side of the building.

Yarn_Bombed_Stairs_at_832_10_Street_NW_Calgary_May_24_2015

Fortunately I have a few friends who have posted photos about the project on my personal facebook. They volunteered to help install quilts onto the house today. The photo at the top came courtesy of one of these people – Georgie. This lovely detail of a stairway (see above) came from yet another – Angela.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation issued a press release about this projecta couple weeks ago. In it they indicted what their plans are for this space, which reads as follows:

CHF has purchased a home that has been slated for demolition; in its place, a brand new, fully accessible apartment building will be built and become home for 25 Calgarians exiting homelessness. . .

Construction of Aurora on the Park was made possible through funding from the Government of Alberta, and local Calgary Home Builder, StreetSide Developments: A Qualico Company, as part of the RESOLVE Campaign

This project involves This is My City Art Society, which is a relatively new organization (formed as one of the legacies of Calgary 2012). The organization serves an often neglected demographic in the city is stated on their website (which is linked above):

This is My City Art Society (TMC) believes that the creative voice of every citizen has value and that we are all richer for having listened.

The work that TMC does not only enriches the lives of the disenfranchised people in its programs, it opens the door for dialogue among all citizens. It builds bridges so that stereotypes can be broken down and common values can be clearly seen and celebrated.

This is My City is a volunteer-run, nonprofit society that brings opportunities for positive creative expression into the lives of some of Calgary’s most marginalized citizens: the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Professional artist-mentors bring their skills and love of art into the shelters and service agencies year-round and connect with individuals to make music, theatre, and visual art together.

As mentioned in the press release, there will be a public event on June 9th at the wrapped house (which when I say this and I know it is a diversion, I can’t help but think of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1971-1995) because the concept is similar, although the execution is much different. I suspect however, that this June 9th event will be mostly designed for the media to announce the newly built project which will be called Aurora on the Park, located on the yarn-bombing site.

The address is 832 – 10 Street NW.

* * *

Ironically, and I am going to go on a bit of a detour before I close, this location is probably a block (maybe two) away from the former Wreck City location which occured around this time in 2013, just before the flood. Those that attended the original Wreck City, may recall that one of the artists also quilted a portion of one of the house exteriors. If I recall correctly, the artist then was Suzen Green who also draped the Mario Armengal figures in Mummer’s costumes, which are/were located on the former Calgary Board of Education grounds downtown. In that way these two project relate somewhat, in a rather circuitous route.

I hear through the grapevine that Wreck City after months of attempting to find a location for a reincarnated version of that project, has indeed found a new location about a block and a half away from the Esker Foundation. This event will take place next month, between June 19 – 28. I am sure that we will hear more about it in the near future. Meanwhile, here is a news story that talks more about what their initial plans are for the old Penguin Car Wash overlooking the city and the Elbow River in Inglewood/Ramsay.

Pi Day Exhibition at John Snow House

Pi_Fresh_Berry_Pie

There are very few constants in the world today. One of them is pure math.

Today marks the once a century Pi Day.

Notwithstanding the conventions of dating protocol, starting with the largest number and working progressively smaller, Pi Day is a bit of an anomaly. However for this sake, and I am probably not alone in this regard – I will celebrate month/day/year for warm pie!!

This all is preamble to talk about an exhibition of craft-based work.

Like math, craft is another constant.

What is produced may change, but many of the building blocks of craft practice will remain. So in that respect it is like pure math, whereby new things are built, but the fundamental principles remain.

From talking to one of my neighbours a few weeks (maybe a month) ago, she let me know about a group exhibition that will be held for one night only at John Snow House.

Pi Party front (1)

Tonight the exhibition begins at 6:00pm at John Snow House.

I understand that there probably will be pie tonight, for those that attend, if they so desire.

I don’t know if I asked, but if I recall the conversation correctly that it may be some sort of craft based exhibition. It is also possible that it is a student exhibition from the craft media program at Alberta College of Art and Design.

I do know that the John Snow House also hosts periodic Craft Nights, where artists who work in craft-based media work on projects while also networking and probably a bit of drinking as well. It all seems very civilized. One day I will actually attend. It may also tie in with that as well.

PiParty Handbill back (1)

I am going from memory here, so I could be corrected on this. For a while John Snow House was used as a residence for some of the recipients of the Markin-Flanagan Fellowship Writer-in-Residence program at the University of Calgary. I believe now it is simply called the Distinguished Writers Program.

More memory here, sometime around 2007ish (maybe?) John Snow House made some sort of relationship with The New Gallery. I was on the TNG Board at the time it happened. Since then it has been an adjunct space for The New Gallery.

Nevertheless, the home has an interesting history. John Snow was primarily a printmaker. His medium of choice was lithography and he produced lithographs between the early 1950s to the 1990s. He also periodically produced block prints, especially in the late 1940s, that in my opinion are very strong. He also did paintings and sculptures as well. I have sold many works of his and had visited him in this house when he was still living there. He took a bad fall and had to move to a seniors residence for the last few years of his life. He worked professionally as a banker, but he was very involved in the arts community. His wife Kay was a librarian.

John Snow moved in the same circle as Max Bates and Illingworth Kerr (who lived around the corner from John Snow). Max Bates as an architect designed an addition to the house. Also in the basement is the large lithographic press that he salvaged and one which most of his prints were pulled (along with other artists).

With all that history. I am glad that the house has been saved and put to a use that recognizes the buildings history and occupants.

* * *

Postscript (2015 March 15)

I attended the event last night. Unlike yesterday when I initially wrote this, I can speak more intelligently about the show. It is a required project that students in the FINA 450 class at Alberta College of Art and Design must do. What this involves is all aspects of the exhibition from planning, finding the space, right through to execution of the exhibition, and everything required in between.

These are students in their final year from all disciplines. My perception that it would have a craft element was influenced by the knowledge of the program that the neighbour who told me about the show is in. Because I previously knew about the craft nights, I assumed that they may have been related.

It was an interesting show as most student shows are. The quality is uneven and that is the way it should be. Each artist brings one or more pieces that is representative of their individual practice to the group show. The works on view ranged from traditional painting to installation. From video work to fibre. It ran the whole gamut of disciplines. But they did a good job.

I had a long conversation with one artist in particular and I want to talk further about her work.

It is not as much about her work as it is about context. She introduced herself when we were standing beside each other in the smoking room (in the garden). Later in the evening we met up with each other and talked further. The artist is Michelle Smyth, and it was interesting hearing where her work came from and what she was trying to achieve.

I did not have my cell phone with me or a camera, so I could not take a photo of the work. Maybe it is just as well.

Memory is a wonderful thing.

The work was an installation. One of the elements was a old weathered, child-sized, rocking Adirondack rocking chair. Beside it were other objects such as a couple stretched canvases that in the words of the artist Michelle, were “meant to serve as a welcome to the house.”

As I mentioned above, the gallery I worked at used to represent John Snow. I have sold well in excess of a hundred pieces of John Snow’s works beginning when he was still living.

Because of that, I am going to go on a bit of a detour to explain why this was a well-conceived piece for the exhibition and space.

Long ago in one of my first jobs, I used to work with a guy by the name of Gordon. He and his wife Janet (I think it was more her idea than it was his) hosted an annual Christmas party. They split up (as many do) and I have never heard from him again. But I stayed in touch with Janet. She continued to invite me to her annual Christmas party.

Janet lived across the street from John Snow. The site where she lived has subsequently been torn down and is now an apartment-style condo complex.

John Snow was elderly and before he moved into the nursing home, he would attend Janet’s party as well. As a result, I got to know in a social context outside of a strictly business context. Janet and her neighbours looked out for John Snow, as he lived alone after his wife Kay passed away.

Long story short, at one of these parties I found out that in the summer months when the weather was nice he would often sit for extended periods on the covered porch of his house. He was very friendly and would wave to those who walked past and generally kept an eye on the neighbours, just as the neighbours did for him.

This brings me back to the installation.

Although this work was not a site-specific artwork, it does share an awareness of site-specificity in its placement – even if it was entirely clairvoyant in doing so. The elements used (a dried flower, canvases, the chair) channeled the spirit of John Snow and his artwork, even though I am almost certain it was not done with an awareness of John Snow.

I think he would have approved.

Oh, Canada exhibition opening tomorrow at four Calgary venues

Oh Canada Calgary invite

This weekend is a big one for the visual arts in Calgary.

There are lots of things going on.

Three big things are happening – 1.) the beginning of Exposure (the month of photography); 2.) the catalogue launch for the Calgary Biennial; and, 3.) the Mass MoCA originated travelling show “Oh, Canada” will also launch.

It is the third item that I want to talk about today.

In 2012, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) hosted what was probably the largest exhibition of contemporary art held outside of the country’s borders in a show called “Oh, Canada.”

O'Kanada 1982 Catalogue Berlin

Of course in this context, those with a long enough view on major exhibitions of contemporary Canadian art will find it rather intriguing to know that in 1982 there was a similarly ambitious, very large survey exhibition held at the Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, Germany. Ironically, it also was called “O’Kanada”. Somewhere in cold storage, I have a large 500 page doorstopper of a catalogue produced for that show. The big difference between the two exhibitions is that the German show discussed a much broader “cultural” context for the arts in Canada, than it would appear that this one does. The 1982 show talked about many things such as dance, theatre, music, architecture and of course the visual arts; whereas the Mass MoCA show has focused on the visual arts.

Regardless, this is probably the largest single visual art exhibition to be held in the city – ever.

That makes it, kind of a big deal.

Of course, any show that is this ambitious and of this nature, should have controversy and/or criticism.

This is as it should be.

If there is none, the show is probably forgettable.

As expected, there will always be the usual questions of why one artist was included, and another not. It is the nature of this type of large survey exhibition. Someone who should be included, almost always gets missed. Because of that, these type of comments are standard fair and are hardly worth mentioning.

However, a statement I have recently read, is a variation on this theme. I only mention it (and it is certainly not a criticism), because it brings into focus why these type of shows are important. They are important if for no other reason, than to get people talking.

This statement came from a person that I know who expressed a concern that this show was curated by,

“an American (who) is surveying Canada . . .

and (she was) not really . . . immersed in the subtleties of our unique cultural identity over decades. . .

(and is) without (full) understanding (of) the nuances of our particular art scene . . .”

It is a comment that on a certain level has an element of validity as most criticisms do.

In response to this I wanted to revisit comments made by the Canadian historian Ramsay Cook (not to be confused with Gordon Ramsay, the cook).

Ramsay Cook, the eminent retired professor of history at York University and general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography had a research interest in Nationalism. As an extension of this he also talked about Regionalism, Canadian Identity, Pluralism and Patriotism.

Together these topics seem to be of interest to current affairs and the person’s comment which were made above. This especially is the case when we consider that as a country we recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812; the 100th anniversary of beginning of WWI; and soon we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

These big round number events help define our collective Canadian identity, or in the words of Ramsay Cook the “contemplation of the Canadian navel”. How we react (in part) to these events, will help define how we view ourselves; and how others view us as a collective society.

As a result this is a timely exhibition as we start gearing up for the next big round number event – the sesquicentennial in 2017.

Shortly after the other really big round number event (the 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967) the University of Toronto Press published Ramsay Cook’s book entitled, The Maple Leaf Forever: Essays on Nationalism and Politics in Canada in 1971. One of the essays included in this publication was entitled “Nationalism in Canada” where Cook argued, “that Canada is far from a homogeneous country. Nationalism by nature tends strongly to centralism and uniformity: Canada is by nature federal, sectional and pluralist”.

In this exhibition we will see that Ramsay Cook’s statement is still valid and true.

All four venues that are collectively hosting the Oh, Canada exhibition (Glenbow Museum, Esker Foundation, Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD, and Nickle Galleries at the U of C) will be opening tomorrow (Saturday, January 31, 2015).

I understand that there will be an Oh, Canada bus which will transport people to each of the venues, starting at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary.

There will be a large amount of things happening in conjunction with this show and the Glenbow has created a micro-website which is dedicated to this exhibition. In this website, one will find a large amount of information about special events that will occur during the course of the show, both at the participating institutions and elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing the show.

Gallery 505 – grand opening tonight

Marion_Nicoll_painting_One_Year_at_Gallery_505_on_2014_November_21 (1024x768)

Discretely placed into the lobby of a small, mid-century, low-rise brick office tower is a new public gallery.

The grand opening will take place this evening (January 22nd), between 5:00-7:00 pm in the lobby of 505 – 8 Avenue SW.

Having said that, this space has been used for this gallery purpose since mid-November 2014. I understand that the exhibitions will rotate on a three month cycle in the future like many public galleries. The location of this space is directly across the street from Holt Renfrew, between Eight Avenue Place and Barcelona Tavern (where the former restaurant Belgo used to be) which is right next door in the same building.

This is the first such “public” gallery that has opened in the city in a long time.

There is nothing to adequately compare this new space to. It does share some similarities to the most recent “public” gallery that has opened in the city – the Esker Foundation. However, on a different level the model between the two, is certainly much different.

Calgary Allied Arts Foundation

In this case the organization behind this new space is a local foundation that began in 1946 at the end of World War II, under a different but related name. It is now operating as it has since the summer of 1959 as the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation.

The Calgary Allied Arts Foundation’s influence in the city has been profound.

  • Full disclosure here: I have been a past board member of this organization. I also co-curated an exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Calgary (now known as Contemporary Calgary) in 2009 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary. In addition, I was the motivating factor for a new endowment created for the 50th anniversary (called the “Calgary Allied Arts Foundation Civic Art Collection Fund”) which is administered and can be funded through the Calgary Foundation using this page, searching the drop-down menu of all funds for the fund name mentioned above. As a result of the extensive original research I did for the 50th Anniversary show (which in hindsight, I now recognize as not being entirely correct), I saw the necessity of further research and reminded the board of this fact, at numerous times when deemed appropriate at subsequent board meetings. At these times I suggested that a history of this organization should be created. I probably did this often enough that they got tired of hearing that it needed to be done, but in the end it finally stuck. This little fact resulting from my initial research for the AGC show was not fully correct, which led me to personally engage in a significant never-ending rabbit hole of research on Calgary arts organizations that I began in 2011 after my gallery closed. This research is still ongoing on a nearly full-time basis, if and when my sporadic work commitments allow.
  • As a result and for obvious reasons, I am not going to talk much about the organization as a written history is currently being researched, produced and written and should be available near the end of this year.

Notwithstanding my previous comments, CAAF is a volunteer driven organization that I am a huge fan of.

At this time it is entirely funded by generous benefactors who over the past 50+ years have created endowments that allow the foundation to operate. These endowments allow the organization to create value in the community by encouraging those who work in the visual arts through various initiatives that they have undertaken over the years. These initiatives have included things such as funding purchases of public art; purchasing and donating artworks to the Civic Art Collection; establishing artist residencies; funding cultural initiatives such as ArtWeek and ArtWalk; engaging in advisory roles; and much more. As expected with a volunteer board, these initiatives reflect the interests of the board members who are predominately visual arts practitioners and reflect the political and artistic climate of the times.

Needless to say, the Foundation has been around for a very long time. However, for a number of reasons which I could go into at great length, in recent history, it generally keeps a very low profile. This is very unfortunate as it should be known much more than it currently is.

Gallery 505

There is an interesting dialogue at play with this newly formed gallery, that has some interesting roots. It is this, that I would prefer to talk about at this time.

As anyone in the city who has turned on the TV news lately, or talked to anyone working in the oil patch downtown, or read a news headline in the recent months would know, it is obvious that things could be economically better in the city. The headlines are stating things such as this one from the Calgary Herald “Oil services giant Baker Hughes to lay off 7000 workers“; this one from the Globe and Mail “Alberta’s oil woes: typical downturn or end of an era?“. Both of these headlines give a clue as to others.

So reading that a corporation (in Calgary) is willing to underwrite the long-term costs of a new public art gallery at this time is very, very encouraging indeed.

In the distant past, there is a bit of a tradition in Calgary that is being resurrected by this initiative. It is one that I am pleased to see.

Long ago, we had companies such as Shell Canada, Petro-Canada and Gulf Canada Resources, all of whom had dedicated art gallery spaces available to both employees and the public alike. These galleries were all housed within their corporate offices. Other companies such as Esso Resources or Norcen Energy Resources (a company which gifted the large Bill McElcheran sculpture of the standing businessmen standing on Stephen Avenue Mall outside of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the citizens of the City of Calgary in 1981) had full-time staff to manage their collections and produced catalogues of their collections. These gallery spaces were staffed with curators and other related professionals (if required), catalogues were produced, and exhibitions mounted.

Of course these days are long past.

The physical shells of these spaces often still are visible and unless one knows what to look for and has a long enough memory of where they were located, most would not even know what once was located in those spaces. These spaces that once were, have been converted to other uses like office space, etc. and more often than not the collections have been sold or substantially diminished. So seeing art in public spaces like what is found at the neighbouring building to the one that houses Gallery 505Eighth Avenue Place, warms my heart, just a wee little bit every time I wander through the lobby.

This leads me to the single work that is shown above – a large, mature-period, four panel painting by Marion Nicoll entitled One Year, 1971. This was a gift of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation to the City of Calgary Civic Art Collection two years after it was created in 1973.

The selection of a major work by Marion Nicoll [1909-1985] is a very appropriate choice for the inaugural exhibition in this space.

Having this work and a gallery for CAAF located in the lobby of a mid-century office tower that probably dates to around the same time as the Foundation was formed, is only further icing on the cake.

The selection of this work recognizes her important contribution to the city of Calgary; the visual arts in the surrounding region; and her contributions in the field of education and arts development at the Alberta College of Art and Design and elsewhere in the city. It also recognizes the important financial contribution that both she and her husband Jim Nicoll (also an artist) made to the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation.

As mentioned above, the endowment as bequeathed by Jim and Marion Nicoll provides a significant portion of the operating income for the Foundation.

There is a lot of information about Marion Nicoll available. She stands tall in the art history in the province of Alberta. However, for brevity, I will just touch on a few highlights of her career:

  • She was one of the first students to study at what is now known as the Alberta College of Art and Design graduating in 1933;
  • One of her instructors was J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald (a very influential artist and member of the Painters 11, who is usually connected to Toronto and occasionally Vancouver, and a recent subject of a recent solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery). Jock Macdonald during his one year head of ACAD (or whatever his position was called at the time) was instrumental in helping set a new course for Marion Nicoll. He did this through the introduction of “automatic drawing”. It is from that body of work which she continued throughout her life, usually on a small scale on paper, that her mature work found its voice;
  • Marion Nicoll also probably was the first female instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design. Certainly, without dispute she set the groundwork for future female instructors at the College. Her influence at ACAD where she taught for her entire career, cannot be understated; and,
  • Recognizing her contributions, the Alberta College of Art and Design named the student gallery at the school in her name and honour.

This work is a good example of her paintings that she was doing at the mature period after she had retired from active teaching in 1966. From sources that I believe dependable, it is my understanding that this work has been predominately in storage for the significant majority of the time that it has been housed in the Civic Art Collection. Surprisingly, it was not included in the major retrospective at the Nickle Arts Museum a year or two ago. No doubt this is partly due to its size and the difficulty in finding a space that can adequately display it to best advantage. Now that it has been put on display, I would think it will be more likely that it will now find itself a new home.

Personally, I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the donor of the space where we can see works that might otherwise be hidden from view. I look forward to seeing more in this space in the years to come.

Collaboration in Calgary arts community (with a potential new participant)

 

 

Ciara_Phillips_Haight_Gallery_WE_2013

Tomorrow, the trustees of the Tate Britain will announce the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize. One of the four nominees is Canadian-born printmaker – Ciara Phillips.

Normally, an event that is taking place half-way around the world would be a non-event for this blog. However, I believe it is timely for discussion in Calgary, regardless of whether she wins or not.

For those who do not know, I am a former gallerist that operated a member gallery of the Art Dealers Association of Canada which dealt primarily with printmaking and prints. As a result, I have a very deep appreciation and understanding of the printmaking process, even though I am not a printmaker myself. For whatever reason, the printmaking medium, gets very little respect and appreciation in the city. It has been that way for a very long time, which is surprising given the strong printmaking tradition in the city and that there is an amazing collection of block prints (in particular) which is housed at the Glenbow. This all is quite unfortunate situation that I can only hope will change in time.

Secretly, (well maybe not so secretly anymore) I am pulling for her to win. I do see that she probably is somewhat of a longshot, although definitely in the running. In the UK, there is an interesting phenomenon in that people make wagers, and bookies make books on the outcomes of major cultural prizes, along with the usual horse races, football games and boxing matches. The Turner Prize is no exception.

When I checked a few minutes ago the average odds at the time of retrieval, the consensus order of payout (or from most-likely to least-likely) as determined by a survey of various bookies, is as follows:

  • Duncan Campbell is the favourite, a win would payout £7 for every £4 bet (1.75x);
  • A Ciara Phillips win would payout £11 for every £4 bet (2.75x);
  • A James Richards win would payout £3 for every £1 bet (3.0x);
  • A Tris Vonna-Mitchell win would payout £7 for every £2 bet (3.5x).

If only people cared that much on the visual arts in this city that they would bet on and for artists. If we did, we would probably have a civic art gallery and actually support the visual arts and its artists – but I digress.

Getting back to business.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for an exhibition that she held during 2013 at The Showroom, London that ended one year ago today (November 30). The exhibition was described as follows, and I will quote at length (there is substantially more, if you feel so inclined) to help put this posting into context for those in Calgary who may not click on the hotlink and to understand the timeliness. Here is what The Showroom had to say about this exhibition:

Workshop (2010–ongoing) is a new installation made up of multiple screenprints on newsprint and large-scale works on cotton. This new work sets an attitude for a two-month temporary print studio that will take place in the gallery over the course of the exhibition.

Throughout October and November (2013) Phillips will be collaborating with invited artists, designers, and local women’s groups (many of whom have ongoing relationships with The Showroom) to produce new screenprints. Guests will bring their different knowledge and experiences of working collectively to the Workshop, whose structure is open for development as the project progresses. These new collaborations will initiate conversations and actions that aren’t contained within specific disciplines of art, community action, design or activism. By making prints in these new collaborative groupings, Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas and generating discussions around experimental and wider uses of print.

We know that Ciara Phillips showed in Calgary previously and I was fortunate enough to have seen the group show which she was included in, during the summer of 2013 at the short-lived Haight Gallery (which has subsequently closed, probably right after the group show ended). The photo above was from that show, and the same exhibition was also shown in January 2014 at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 – an artist run centre.

Now to get to the core of the matter.

Why is this relevant to Calgary?

As seen above, we know that Ciara Phillips has shown in Calgary. We also know that there is a significant artistic exchange that occurs between Glasgow (where she currently lives) and Calgary. I could easily rattle off a good sampling of names without too much difficulty.

We also have seen a significant increase in collaboration in the city’s institutional culture. Here are some examples:

  • Earlier this year it was announced that Calgary will host the MassMOCA produced Oh, Canada show which will open in January 2015. This will be a collaborative exhibition spread between Glenbow, Esker, Nickle, and the Illingworth Kerr galleries.
  • Not so long ago Contemporary Calgary co-hosted a portion of the Made in Calgary: The 1990s show and the Nickle currently is co-hosting the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 2000s show.
  • We can also reference the initial Nuit Blanche show in 2012 where they informally collaborated with MOCA Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary).
  • Then there was the partnership between the Calgary Stampede and MOCA Calgary for a 1912/2012 focused show during the summer of 2012.
  • We can also talk about the long-standing (maybe 15-20 year long) relationship between the Centre for Performing Arts and mostly artist run centres in the six +15 window spaces which has recently been expanded to also include the Alberta Craft Council, Tiny Gallery and the University of Calgary. There may be more in the works as I see construction happening in the same general area.

Even other organizations outside of the visual arts like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is getting in on the act with a performance which involved students in the MADT program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in their performance last night of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila.

Beakerhead is yet another fine example where it was set up to explore where collaboration can exist between the engineering and science communities with the visual arts.

I know that I have only touched upon a few partnerships, but as seen above it is an increasingly important part of the cultural landscape that is developing in the city for various reasons. It is probably a good thing.

In a recent interview in the Ottawa Citizen where she is quoted as saying, “I think it (the Turner Prize) has drawn a lot more attention to my work, and there have been some really nice outcomes of that, especially invitations to make future exhibitions in Sweden and Canada.” This was also repeated a few days later (earlier this week) in a recent interview with Canadian Art magazine.

Alberta Printmakers Society is one such organization that could potentially host this show in their new facility. Although, having said that, I would think the gallery space might be a bit on the small side.

From a personal observation, A/P has become much more active recently and has shown a willingness to program potentially controversial exhibitions such as the recent Joscelyn Gardner show which ended yesterday, entitled bringing down the flowers. . . I attended the opening of Gardner’s show this past October 24th and had a good discussion with her while I was there. It was my intention to write something about it, but due to other more pressing circumstances, I was unable to find the time to do so. It was a very strong show and it dealt with issues that should have a higher visibility and dialogue in this country. Certainly, more so than what is currently the case. I may still, even though it is too late to see the show at the Artist Proof Gallery.

Given this as background, and understand that this is complete and unsubstantiated speculation as an outsider, does that mean we may potentially see Caira Phillip’s Workshop (2010 – ongoing) make an appearance in Calgary in the near future?

Maybe there is a partnership with A/P and another organization such as the Esker, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, the Banff Centre or potentially Contemporary Calgary or the Glenbow in the works?

Let’s hope so.

*  *  *

December 1, 2014 edit

I checked the news to find out who won the Turner Prize this year. The winner was Duncan Campbell. It is not surprising given that the film he was nominated for was previously shown at the most recent Venice Biennale.

It doesn’t change anything about collaboration, which was the primary focus of this posting. Of course that possibility of a Canadian show for Ciara Phillips is still out there and I think that it would be awesome if it took place in Calgary.

Social Justice Art in Calgary

 

Steven_Cottingham_Truck_Window_at_Epcor_Centre_August_to_September_2014

Steven Cottingham‘s show entitled I’ve Committed Sins No God Could Forgive ended on Sunday, September 28, 2014.

I could have written about this during the midst of the exhibition. I chose not too as the second part of the exhibition will take place today. It is this part that I find most interesting.

As you can see from the photo above, the window exhibition is quite simple containing a wooden pallet; two cardboard boxes; six glass vases and spray-painted(?) text. It is the text that gives the key to the second stage of the exhibition. It reads as follows:

On September 30 I will use the entirety of my artist  fee to have flowers (white lilies) delivered to employees of Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

I suspect many have walked past this exhibition and not given it a second glance.

In many ways this blog post is primarily geared toward the average employee of three significant corporate entities with Canadian and/or International headquarters located in the city – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil. If one looks at the picture above, it will become self-evident why.

* * *

Steven Cottingham is a Calgary artist. He is a relatively recent graduate from the Alberta College of Art and Design. He is also very involved in the Calgary visual art community. He is also writing a book about art and love, which reflects his artistic practice.

Truck, is the gallery that selected the proposal that Cottingham presented for their programming. Because Truck is an artist-run centre, the work is not for sale. This is typical for most public galleries in Canada (and often elsewhere as well). To compensate the artist for the work that they have done, public galleries pay an artist fee. Usually the base amount (some will pay more) has been determined by an organization called CARFAC (which means Canadian Artist Representation and the French equivalent).

This is different from how a commercial gallery works. In a commercial gallery payment usually comes as a result of the sale of the artwork. There are some exceptions, but usually the amount is determined as agreed under contract between the artist and the gallery.

* * *

Cottingham will receive his fee, which was agreed in advance under contract.

Unlike most artists who would typically pay bills (or whatever is their current priority), Cottingham has chosen to disperse this payment in the form of a gift. This gift will be a white lily to random employees of the three companies mentioned above – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

Why is Cottingham doing this?

No doubt, this will be the question around the water cooler at these three companies.

I will attempt to explain.

This is an act of social justice art.

This will of course prompt the question, “what is social justice art?”

Lee Bell and Desai Dipti simply defined it as follows:

Social justice art “encompasses a wide range of visual and performing art that aim to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate individuals to promote social change.” (Note 1)

As it relates to this show, a key might be found in recent newspaper article from St. John, NB which relates to a recent solo exhibition of Cottingham’s work which was held in Freedericton, NB. There Cottingham has stated that he finds “it . . . increasingly necessary . . . to use art as a way of bringing attention to these areas of inequality, and even discrimination sometimes.” (Note 2)

Of course this leads to the next question, “what type of social change is Cottingham trying to effect?”

First I would like to put some background to this question, before addressing it later.

What is the significance of the white lily?

There seems to be no consistent meaning for the white lily. However, it is imbued with significant religious meaning, consistently. Teleflora states that white lilies signify chastity and virtue. (Note 3) This website then goes to state that they are a “symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity and her role of Queen of the Angels “. Although it is not stated, surprisingly, other websites frequently mention that white lilies are often associated with Easter which makes sense given the significance stated in relationship to the Virgin Mary in the website.

In a Swerve article this past weekend, Cottingham is reported to have stated that he interprets white lilies as an “empathetic . . . flower of both sympathy and apology.” (Note 4) As a result, this additional interpretation must also be taken into consideration as well.

Why these three companies?

Outside of what was stated at the top, all I have to work with in this regard is what was stated in the Swerve article. Here, Cottingham stated what was stated at the top and continued by saying these three companies are, “companies that I know at least a couple of my friends (which) are employed (at).” (Note 5)

What is the social justice message intended?

In the Swerve article, Cottingham states, “I wanted to start a conversation about the fact that, on one hand, this economy necessitates certain activities that may or may not be morally sound and are definitely controversial and may be shortsighted” (Note 6)

He then follows on to mention three specifics in passing within the same paragraph:

  • Economic self-sufficiency;
  • Destruction of the land; and,
  • Ignoring rights of First Nation peoples

It is safe to assume that this is based on both personal and larger-scale economics and resource development.

This action would appear to be simply about economic disparity and/or resource development. This is an issue that requires further discussion, as we increasingly see in the news of the day.

Social justice art is a form of contemporary art that I suspect we will be seeing more of in the city during the next year. What form that will take, I am uncertain.

Historically, the arts (not all, but certainly the avant-garde) in its many forms (from theatre and dance to the visual arts) holds an important place at the table as artists and their work engage with politics, social justice or change and other issues. These works have not always been popular at the time they were first produced, but over time in some cases have become iconic works in due course (think Picasso‘s Guernica). I am intrigued to see what potentially may be in the works.

 

Notes:

  1. Bell, Lee; Desai Dipti, “Imagining Otherwise: Connecting the Arts and Social Justice to Envision an Act for Change: Special Issue Introduction”. Equity and Excellence in Education 44:3 (August 10, 2011): 287–295
  2. MacNeill, Jon, “Exhibition casts light on social injustices,” [St. John, NB] Here, June 5, 2014, A26.
  3. Teleflora, “Lily: The meaning & significance of lily”, accessed September 28, 2014, http://www.teleflora.com/about-flowers/lily.asp
  4. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham” [Calgary Herald] Swerve, September 26, 2014, 30
  5. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”
  6. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”