Gallery 505 – grand opening tonight

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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.

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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.

One year anniversary of this blog, with review

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Today is the blog’s one year anniversary.

In my original post the discussion centred on digging out rocks from what was to become a new garden. I talked about hard work and finding interesting things amongst the rubble. So it seems appropriate that I revisit the same image from a year ago.

I closed out my first post with this:

That is one of the things I want to do with this blog – search amongst the rocky ground of our cultural landscape and find interesting things.

I think I have done that.

Now, a bit of history

The primary reason why I created this blog back then was that I had just applied for a job. In my mind, it had my name all over it. The only weakness that I perceived was that depending on who interviewed me, there possibly could be an assumption that my skill sets were focussed on the commercial gallery world only and not enough knowledge outside of that small word – whether this was correct or not.

However, I knew this assumption was wrong, as would anyone else who had dealt with, or talked with me previously to any extent. Those people would know that my interests are actually quite broad and encompassing.

Regardless, the end result was that I did not even receive acknowledgement of my application – much less an interview. Stuff happens and I am not complaining. However, my interest the subject carried the blog forward nevertheless and it still does.

I still don’t have that job in the arts community, but as seen here my interest still remains. Sometimes being an informed outsider is more interesting, because one can reflect my interests and as a result there is no axe to grind.

I will however continue to carry on with my blog when time allows, as I have done since that time.

* * *

As I look back on this past year there have been some very interesting developments in the cultural landscape in Calgary, not to mention exciting programming which various places have done that I am not even going to talk about.

Some of these things I talked about during the past year. Others I did not.

In some cases I now wish that I did.

Either way, I mention the interesting developments below, and depending on how things go for the upcoming year I may even talk about them this time around.

We have seen the following cultural items between August 2013 and August 2014 (and I am sure that I am missing something – probably significant. So forgive me in advance:

  • Of course it is necessary to mention (as it was the big story locally for the year) that during June 2013, many artists and arts organizations were affected by the flooding in the city. This time last year (two months after the fact) things were starting to get back to normal. I probably mentioned it before, I spent the month of July 2013 for the most part in High River helping those who live there, to get back on their feet again. This is something that is quite close to my heart as a result.
  • Calgary Opera started its initial summer outdoor opera festival in conjunction with East Village. It is called Opera in the Village.
  • A new arts facility opened in Forest Lawn last August. It is a partnership between Calgary Arts Development Authority and the International Avenue BRZ, which is called Art Box on 17E.
  • Beakerhead, after a soft opening and trial-run in 2012 and held its first full-scale event last September.
  • Nuit Blanche had its initial and highly successful iteration in September 2012. It was originally envisioned to be an annual event. However, for reasons unknown, this was changed to become a biennial event at some point during the spring or summer of 2013. To meet programming obligations that a few public galleries and organizations had made for the Nuit Blanche weekend in September 2013, a new festival was formed to fulfill these commitments called Intersite Visual Arts Festival.
  • In September to kick off Beakerhead, Calgary Mini Maker Faire had its first event
  • ArtWalk limped along to celebrate its 30th year. In this city that is quite an achievement. I made a post about it, but for whatever reason it was never published and has been saved as a draft only. I only realized this fact much after the fact. Maybe if and when my blog gets published, I will include it.
  • Also in September, the folks at cSpace Projects initiated a similar type of follow-on event to the highly successful Wreck City event held in the spring of 2013, calling upon many of the same people involved. This project they called Phantom Wing.
  • The New Gallery moved from its location in Art Central to its new location in the heart of Chinatown.
  • The old Seafood Market building which was a vacant building since 2004 was used as artist spaces for a two-year period between 2010 -2012. In the summer/fall of 2013 it was finally demolished at some unknown point. Although it was already scheduled for demolition, it probably was affected by the flood as many buildings in the area were. The demolition occurred to make way for a new condo development in the East Village.
  • A new public art gallery using a different model was introduced called the Art Forum Gallery Association. The two key personnel were previously closely affiliated with the Triangle Gallery of Visual Art and are doing what made that organization successful, keeping its costs down and its options open. One was a former president of the board, Michael Rae and the other was a former director, Jacek Malec.
  • The Blue Ring sculpture by inges idee was unveiled in the midst of the city election. Remarkably, it has remained a topic of discussion and occasional subject of a letter to the editor since that time. I guess in a way it will most likely bear a striking resemblance to the Peace Bridge situation. If I was to speculate, I would expect to soon see it in use in tourist advertising for the city, just like the Peace Bridge now is. Maybe that will be what it takes for it to grow on people, hearing how wonderful it is from people in other parts of the world.
  • Demolition began on the King Edward School to make way for the new arts incubator that cSpace is developing in the community of South Calgary.
  • The chapter at the Art Gallery of Calgary which involved the Valerie Cooper fiasco finally came to a close in November, when she was sentenced to a year in jail for her actions. What that means is with good behavior, she should be released at any time now, if not already.
  • Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both move out of the lower floor of Art Central. Both organizations now occupy separate spaces on the same floor of the Burns Building connected to the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts.
  • The Firefighters Museum of Calgary put its collection into storage in late 2013 and is available by appointment only until it reopens sometime in the next year or so in renovated premises.
  • For the second time in approximately a decade, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA); the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts (aka MOCA-Calgary); and the Art Gallery of Calgary (AGC) all tried to hookup and jump into bed with each other. This was something that they originally tried to do when I was sitting on the board of the Triangle. This time, unlike the previous occasion the result was a successful consummation and marriage. The new organization is now called Contemporary Calgary.
  • The former vacant building which at one time housed the former Calgary Planetarium; Calgary Science Centre; The Children’s Museum; and TELUS World of Science was put up out to tender by the City which owns it (or owned it), for use as a cultural or heritage space. The successful applicant was Creative Calgary.
  • The amazing sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim’s Device to Root Out Evil was quietly removed after the end of its five-year lease in January 2014. It was situated on the Dominion Bridge Building grounds with much fanfare during Jeff Spalding’s tenure as head of the Glenbow Museum during June 2008. This relocation to Calgary, was partly a direct result of NIMBYism and the surrounding controversy that occurred during its two and a half year residency near Coal Harbour in Vancouver. Of course this whole situation is highly ironic. I have confidence in how smart my readers are, so I don’t need to fully explain where the irony originates, however I find it peculiar that inges idee was commissioned and created a popular new sculpture in the general vicinity of Coal Harbour. It was installed about a year after the Oppenheim piece left for Calgary. This only further illustrates how fickle tastes can be when it comes to public art and how these tastes can vary widely from city to city.
  • In the absence of the Oppenheim piece at the Dominion Bridge compound, a new programming space called Passage was developed and has shown a rotating schedule of exhibitions, usually video, installation or sculpture. Having heard quite a bit about it before it was operational, I believe that it is exposed somewhat to the elements which limits the type of work that can be shown.
  • Stride Gallery which was deeply affected by the flood, spent most of the fall and winter temporarily sharing space with Truck Gallery. In the early part of 2014, they moved back to the space next door to where they used to be, on the other side of the railway tracks two blocks away from City Hall, on Macleod Trail.
  • Back in the summer of 2012 a new organization called Gorilla House Live Art held its first art battle. It continued hosting weekly art battles until around January when they were informed by their landlord that the building they occupied was destined to be converted into a sushi restaurant. Recently, the building was surrounded by metal protective fencing. Presumably this means some sort of development will be taking place soon. Whether the Gorilla House will be resurrected remains to be seen. If it does, I am sure I will write about it.
  • A small and ambitious pop-up gallery space was introduced into the community of Bridgeland called the Tiny Gallery in early 2014. It is unique for its use of a stand-alone gallery space that occupies the footprint of a postal box.
  • After years of uncertainty, the former York Hotel which was originally intended to be incorporated into a purpose-built cultural space, the façade of which was put into storage in 2008, was finally put on indefinite hold. In that news story, the space it was to occupy will now be used as an open plaza instead. Various anchor tenants were proposed for this space from the time it was originally proposed as part of The Bow development, most notably the Portrait Gallery of Canada. The Portrait Gallery, like the York Hotel, also was put into abeyance by the Federal Government which made the announcement via a news release issued late on Friday, Nov. 7, 2008.
  • The old King Edward Hotel (aka the King Eddie) had the sign and bricks removed from its site. Presumably, and it is my understanding that they will become part of the architectural design, once the exciting new National Music Centre building is built on its site and the site across the street. Both sides are doing structural work above grade.
  • Alberta College of Art and Design, after years of trying, finally received approval to offer its first graduate degree program, a Master of Fine Arts in Craft Media beginning in 2015.
  • After a couple years of consultation the #YYCArtPlan came to fruition which resulted in a new Public Art Policy and a document called Leading a Creative Life
  • The last tenant at Art Central finally left at the end of June. The building was closed probably around the time Stampede happened, which corresponds to the time when the announcement that the space would be redeveloped as the new Telus Sky building which was made during Stampede 2013.
  • The Calgary Centre for Performing Arts expanded the amount of display windows for the visual arts, creating new display windows for both the Alberta Craft Council and the University of Calgary. I hear a rumour from a usually reliable source that there might be another new window on the way. From past experience with all rumours, it usually best to wait until the announcement is made to know with certainty if the rumour is actually either truth or fabrication. If it is true, I am sure I will write about it.
  • Alberta Printmakers Society moved to a new location about a week ago. I plan to write something about this in the near future.

As can be seen above, this was an exciting year for the arts in Calgary.

Palais_Idéal_May_2014_from_Wikipedia

To return to the concept of building a rocky environment – just as I dicussed a year ago.

In that regard, I am reminded of the French postman, Ferdinand Cheval [1836-1924] who spent thirty-three years building Le Palais idéal in Hauterives.

He is someone I feel a special affinity to in this regard. His work was championed by the Surrealists more or less after he had died. I hope that is not the case with me. I hope that my passion and building in the arts community will be recognized while I can feel appreciated and that my work was worth all the trouble.

Cheval built a beautiful naïve palace one stone at a time. Every day for thirty-three years, he brought home at least one stone that he found in his day to day work.

In time his pockets were not enough to carry what he found. So he brought a basket to carry the stones.

When that was not enough, he used a wheelbarrow.

It is my hope that this blog will be like that beautiful structure Le Palais idéal.

The gallery with no name

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Yesterday (March 26) as I walked down the Stephen Avenue mall I noticed a significant change in the visual arts landscape.

What I noticed was that the Art Gallery of Calgary sign affixed to the front of the building it has occupied since 1999, had been removed – and there was no new sign to replace it. Or anything to identify that it is still a gallery.

This evening, when I stopped by on the way home after work, there still was no new signage. Here is how it looked a few months ago before the signage was removed (from a previous post).

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Although I understand why this was an inevitable event, especially with the Contemporary Calgary merger. It is however a sad day in the history of the Art Gallery of Calgary. The AGC has had a long history as a grassroots organization dating back to the late 1970s. It not only occupied this location for over ten years, but also for a number of years prior to its move, it operated as a gallery on the top floor of the Memorial Park Library under the name of the Muttart Public Art Gallery.

Nevertheless, it is still a sad day. I am sure that new directions will be taken as the new management takes over. I am sure that the successful planetarium bid by Creative Calgary as announced earlier this month, will change the culture of the organization somewhat. I am also sure that there may be some staff changes and/or cuts made as a result as well.

I can only wish success to the new organization – in whatever form the organization may take. I look forward to seeing what the future will bring.

 

Glenbow Museum and patriotic Canadian art

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Tonight one of the local commercial galleries (Roberto Ostberg Gallery) opened a show called Oh Canada.  It was a group show of about 30 Calgary artists who were invited by the director of the gallery to submit. Most of the artists invited, did submit and are being shown. In talking to the gallery director last night and a couple artists involved, it features a wide selection of art ranging from photos of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France which is located on Canadian soil; to an installation of a Canadian living room with Canadian items such as toboggans, toques, flags and a TV hooked up to live coverage of the Olympics; to a painting of a sultry Rob Ford wearing his crown of office, white boxer shorts and black socks posing on a chaise lounge looking like a sexy seductress and everything else in between. This last piece just sounds wrong, and it may very well be. It also hearkens to the Stephen Harper nude portrait that was in the news a few times last year. Because of the notoriety which has recently surrounded Rob Ford right now and the Harper piece I want to see it, just for that experience alone. Having said that, it is quite possible that I may have to wash my eyes out with bleach afterwards – but that is the risk I must take.

Opening at the same time as the Oh Canada show, the Glenbow Museum and the new Contemporary Calgary (located at the former Art Gallery of Calgary location) both unveiled their multi-venue Made in Calgary: The 1990s show curated by Nancy Tousley which I have mentioned a couple times this past week or two.

I attended the Glenbow and Contemporary Calgary shows tonight. It was interesting to revisit some of the approximately 100 pieces that I have not seen since the 1990s when they were originally shown. As expected with Nancy Tousley who was the long-time arts writer for the Herald covering that decade and more, it was a well-curated show. It contained well-selected and representational pieces from artists who made a significant impact in the city during that time.

This all brings me to the Glenbow.

Two days ago, Donna Livingstone the current president of the Glenbow announced that changes are coming to the Glenbow. One of the comments in the press release was that “moving forward Glenbow will position itself as a “new kind of art museum”.” It also made the observation that the Glenbow will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016.

In the lobby at the Glenbow today, I noticed that all four floors in the architectural drawings on display contained images of art on the wall – and no visible museum artefacts.  This will be a significant change if this is the case.

For much of the past decade (or more), especially prior to Jeff Spalding’s approximately one-year tenure as president of the Glenbow – art was rarely seen – especially from the permanent collection. This, even though the press release astutely states that the Glenbow has the largest art collection in terms of numbers west of Toronto (approximately 33,000 items). The foresight of Glenbow founder, Eric Harvie and his enthusiastic exhortation “to collect like drunken sailors” probably had a lot to do with this fact.

It is interesting in this context to note that the Luxton Museum in Banff which was at one time connected to the Glenbow (and may still be affiliated, even if loosely) had a fire yesterday. To what extent the fire affected the collection is currently unknown. The Luxton houses a large collection of First Nations artefacts. During the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics a major exhibition of First Nations art in a show called The Spirit Sings with many important pieces originating from the Glenbow. Some of those pieces may have been relocated in the past 26 years to the Luxton.  No doubt more information on the fire will be forthcoming in the near future as press reports start appearing, probably on Monday or Tuesday.

This little diversion brings me back to the Oh Canada show

Of course I am now talking about the other Oh Canada show. This one recently ended at Mass MOCA.  It was the largest Canadian group art show of contemporary art held outside of the country’s borders in recent memory. It featured mostly artists that are not well-recognized internationally, but should be. Included in the show was the recently announced representatives for Canada to the Venice Biennale – the artist group BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière) who ironically also showed at Calgary’s Nuit Blanche in September 2012.

Curiously, the other big Canadian contemporary art exhibition with a big, thick catalogue, that was shown in an international setting in little more distant memory was held at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin during 1982/83 and ironically was also called O’Kanada. For some reason I sense a trend here.  Maybe the next one will be a variation on the theme as well – but I digress.

What does this have to do with the Glenbow?

About ten days ago, the Globe and Mail announced that the Mass MOCA show Oh Canada will be coming to Canada.  It would seem that arts writers in Toronto are the only ones on the ball, because one of the venues is going to be the Glenbow. For some reason, this story has not been picked up locally, which is kind of odd as it is a pretty big deal and the news has been out for at least a week. The dates have even been set. It will be opening at the Glenbow about a year from now on January 31, 2015 as reported from Toronto.

The other big related story is that the Glenbow will be partnering with the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design; the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary; and the Esker Foundation to present this very ambitious and large show.

This, in itself shows that the Glenbow is quite serious about raising its art profile. As a friend and appreciator of the visual arts, it is definitely welcome.  This is also evident with the next big travelling exhibition and summer blockbuster Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery which will be opening around the May long-weekend.

Interestingly, the partnership with ACAD et al, combined with Glenbow’s recent partnership with Contemporary Calgary (which also was formed through the merger of the Art Gallery of Calgary; the Museum of Contemporary Art – Calgary; and the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art) to present Made in Calgary: The 1990s shows a change at the Glenbow in terms of relationships with other local institutions. This has been happening elsewhere in the visual arts locally for the past couple of years, so it is nice to see more of it.

It will be interesting to see where this new direction may end up and what changes may come as a result.

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.

Mergers and acquisitions in the visual arts

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

More information will be coming soon.

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

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

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

This is why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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