Looking back to Burns Visual Arts Society 15th anniversary

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Infrequently, I venture into my personal archives held in my home, which contain significant amounts of documents, ephemera and research materials which have been collected for a major research project. These boxes predominantly relate to the visual arts in Calgary (and to a lesser extent Alberta and elsewhere).

Today was one of those days.

In my spelunking, I came across an interesting document which corresponds with the 15th anniversary celebration of the Burns Visual Arts Society. This document stated that there was an open studio and reception that I am sure that I attended. It was held on Saturday, 24 September 1994 at their old address in 4th and 5th floors of the Neilson Block on Stephen Avenue Walk (the building is now incorporated into the Hyatt and the Telus Convention Centre façade) across from the Glenbow.

No doubt this open house was also held in conjunction with the annual ArtWalk and/or ArtWeek festivals. I am not sure if ArtWeek had begun by 1994, or whether it was still part of the ArtWalk festival and had not yet been calved off to create its own separate organization. Regardless, it is a moot point. Sadly, when I look at both festivals, they are at best, merely a shadow of their former selves in terms of community engagement, involvement and programming. On that note, I made an off-the-cuff assumption that ArtWalk was dead to a former colleague who works in one of the commercial galleries last fall, and I was corrected. ArtWalk it is not. dead However, we both agreed that it is treading water – badly – and might need a set of paddles from a defibrillator to get going again. But I digress.

Last September, in 2014, the BVAS held an exhibition across the way from its present location to celebrate its 35th anniversary. I wrote something about both the exhibition and BVAS at that time. I believe that I may have mentioned some former members of the Society that were not previously known, if not here, definitely in person.

This is an interesting document (see detail photo above), as it gives a snapshot of who maintained studios in the BVAS space approximately 20 years ago.

As I have done before, this may help the BVAS create a better history of the organization, with members that were not previously known.

Fortunately this document has a listing of all the members who were part of the Society at that time. Unfortunately, only the last name is listed, so there will be a certain amount of speculation on my part as to who these members were. Some I can be quite certain about; some I can speculate on (in some cases with reasonable certainty and others without); and some I will not know at all. Fortunately BVAS has a listing of some former members on their website, This helped in some cases, and if the artist is listed there, I will place an asterisk beside their name.

Please note, there may be mistakes as there was no punctuation to separate the names, so I have had to speculate in a few cases. Also note, I have listed the names in the order they are placed on the card, which is not always in alphabetical order.

 

So without further ado, here are the 104 former members, who presumably maintained a studio in the space at that time:

  • Billie AVERY *
  • Jill ARMSTRONG *
  • ATTOE
  • (Thayre?) ANGLISS
  • Kevin BAER *
  • Dawn BRAWLEY *
  • Tivador BOTE *
  • BALTGALIS (might this be Karen BALTGAILIS?)
  • BAXTER (might this be Louise Chance BAXTER?)
  • BEST
  • Martin BENNET(T) *
  • (Susan and/or Kim?) BRUCE *
  • CASTEL
  • BAJAC
  • Mary CARWARDINE *
  • David CHENEY *
  • (David and/or Elizabeth) CLARK *
  • Quentin CARON (?)
  • Richard COLE *
  • Brian COOLEY *
  • Laurel CORMACK *
  • Jody CORNER *
  • DEMOOY (is this Caroline DeMOBY who is listed on BVAS site?) *
  • Mark DICEY *
  • Laura DICKSON *
  • Irene DUFTY (should this read DUFFY?) *
  • Yolanda (Van) DYCK *
  • Almut DALE *
  • Greg EDMONSON *
  • Kyra FISHER *
  • Doug FARRIES *
  • FAIR
  • Suzanne FRANKS *
  • Paul GARNET (should the name read GARNETT?)
  • Bill GARDNER *
  • Vera GREENWOOD *
  • Wayne GILES *
  • GRAF
  • Myrna HARVEY *
  • HADDON
  • Geoffrey HUNTER *
  • Nelson HENDRIKS *
  • Helen HADALA
  • Brian HOHNER *
  • HOWIE
  • HUNTING
  • Peter IVENS *
  • Isabelle (Hunt-)JOHNSON *
  • Mark JOSLIN *
  • JOHNSON
  • Sarah JOHN *
  • Lorna KINSELLA *
  • Pam KING *
  • Ron KANASHIRO *
  • KENNEDY
  • Don KOTTMANN *
  • Paul KUHN (?)
  • Kathy LESON *
  • Katherine LAKEMAN *
  • Laura MILLARD *
  • Rob MILTHORP *
  • Ron MOPPETT *
  • MUNRO
  • McCLURE
  • Mychael MAIER *
  • MECHAN (should this read Brian MEEHAN?) *
  • David MORE *
  • McKAE (should this have read Geoff McKAY?) *
  • Sharon NEUFELD *
  • Arthur NISHAMURA *
  • Bruce PUHACH *
  • Evan PENNY *
  • Laura POPE (?)
  • Leslie PINTER *
  • PATTERSON
  • PRIEL
  • REES
  • MANRENSA
  • Debra RUSHFELD *
  • Elsbeth RODGER *
  • Bill RODGERS *
  • Rob RENPENNING *
  • Sandra SAWATSKY *
  • Noboru SAWAI *
  • Helen SEBELIUS
  • Jeffrey SPALDING
  • Maeve SPAIN *
  • SILVA
  • Morgan(?) SMITH *
  • Peter STINSON *
  • Janine SAMUELSON *
  • SAHULD
  • Robert STOWELL *
  • Gary TUCKER (?)
  • Jim TINIOS *
  • Bev TOSH *
  • WILSON
  • Norman WHITE *
  • Louise WILLIAMSON *
  • Candice WEIR *
  • Tim WESTBURY (?)
  • WOODLOCK (might this be Carole WOODLOCK?)
  • Elmer XAVIER *
  • Robin YAGER (note correct spelling) *

If someone can fill in the blanks, I am sure either the BVAS and/or myself would be very appreciative of this information.

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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.

Yup, it is Still Burning

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Last night, I attended the opening of the 35th anniversary show of the Burn’s Visual Arts Society (BVAS) exhibition held at Passage. The space where it was held, literally is as described, a passage between two buildings in the old Dominion Bridge building complex in Ramsay.

This is an event that I have looked forward to for about a month, when I first heard that it was in the works.

Whenever I have been able, I have made best efforts to attend the Burns open house. It only happens once a year, and more often than not I usually had to work which always made it difficult to attend.

This year the open house will be next weekend. That is the weekend which corresponds with Alberta Culture Days and ArtWalk (which amazingly within the last year has come back from the nearly dead). The same can’t be said for ArtCity, which went from a yearly event, to a biennial event, until last I heard it was registering a flatline.

The Burns Visual Arts Society has an interesting story. It is a story few know about.

The organization should be known more as many of the past members of the Society have gone on to great artistic success both here and elsewhere. As you can see by the incomplete list of past members below there have been some important artists who had studios in the BVAS that achieved a certain level of critical success such as Martin Bennett, Dennis Burton, Mark Dicey, Greg Edmonson, Marjan Eggermont, Marianne Gerlinger, Mark Joslin, Ron Moppet, Arthur Nishimura, Evan Penny, Bill Rodgers, Noboru Sawai, Jeff Spalding, Bev Tosh and Peter von Tiesenhausen.

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I must admit there is not much available to work with in terms of public information about the Burns Visual Arts Society. In some ways this is to be expected as most visual artists quietly produce work in the confines of their studios – with little fanfare. It is a solitary career for the most part.

When there is information, it is usually in conjunction with the individual artist’s work being produced, sometimes years after the fact when an exhibition is mounted and the artist acknowledges the contribution that the society did to enable and provide a supportive environment to create the work. Even then there is little discussion about the place where the art was produced, but rather about the artist him or herself. Fortunately, I have an amazing library as it relates to art from the region and have worked in the business and attended numerous exhibitions and networked with artists and administrators with amazing regularity in Calgary for a very, very long time. . .

This is a milestone exhibition.

The BVAS has reached it 35 year anniversary. From what one of the didactic panels stated, the BVAS is “Canada’s oldest continual art studio cooperative.”

This is something definitely worth celebrating.

This fact alone shows how difficult it is to keep an organization such as this going. It is an amazing feat that this cooperative society has survived this long in Calgary.

No doubt it also speaks to the 175+ artists who been involved in the organization over the past 35 years. The numbers alone would indicate that each artist stays for over five years on average. Some have stayed longer. Artists such as Bev Tosh, Louise Williamson and Cecelia Gossen have maintained studios at BVAS for substantial periods of time and in so doing have been the glue that holds the organization and in so doing have provided the stability allowing the organization to flourish.

So a catalogue is definitely in order and is available from BVAS for $20.

I am glad to see that it happened. And in colour too.

I must hand it to curator Colleen Sharpe who wrote an essay for the catalogue. In talking to her last night she indicated that the catalogue was only put together in two weeks. From the significant amount of research I have done in this area over the past couple years, I know this for a factas I have stated above, there is not much material to work with to create a history for BVAS. So as a result, she must be commended that she was able to create as much as she did.

Having worked with Colleen before, I knew that the show would be well-curated before I even got there. Colleen does a good job in what she does. I am one of her biggest fans – maybe even her biggest.

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History

What is stated below is a bit more history on the Burns Visual Arts Society.

This is all primarily new information and is not in the essay.

On Thursday, December 28th, 1978, midway between Christmas and New Years Eve, the tenants in the Burns Building were evicted by the landlord and told to vacate their spaces by January 31st, 1979.

This was not surprising news as only a month earlier, the Globe and Mail reported `that “the city is assembling the four city blocks, bounded by 7th and 9th avenues and 1st and 3rd streets SE, to hold a new city hall, a centre for the performing arts, and possibly some commercial development.” This area incorporates the geographical area incorporating what is now known as Olympic Plaza, the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts and City Hall.

In 1979, building permits were forecast at the end of January to be $1.3-billion. The city was in the midst of the great boom that ended in 1980-81.

The Burns Building was in a seedy area at the time. Across the street also facing Macleod Trail stood the Queen’s Hotel along with neighbouring Alexandra Hotel which were part of what was a seedy part of town, what was once called Whiskey Row. Both of these hotels were subsequently demolished to make way for the new City Hall Building and the Centre For Performing Arts. Initially, this was all part of Mayor Ross Alger’s planned $234-million Civic Centre project and was the subject of a November 29, 1979 plebiscite to approve the project. That first project was defeated by 1841 votes. This controversial project, of course, was partly responsible for bringing former CTV News, City Hall reporter, Ralph Klein to the mayoral seat in 1980. The end result was that the project still went ahead a couple years later, only that it changed somewhat.

This all was background.

There were a number of artists who maintained studios in the Burns Building.

The Burns Visual Arts Society was formed as a result of the December 1978 eviction with artist Bill Rodgers acting as spokesman for the group. The City at that time was largely unsympathetic to the artist`s plight as evidenced by Alderman Barb Scott‘s comments where she bluntly stated that the Burns Building was private property and the artists should not come to the City for help with relocation. However in Barb Scott’s defence, she did indicate that with little more than 30-days notice “there (was) no need (to) vacat(e) for several months”.

It was in this context that artists such as Evan Penny, Laura Pope, Wayne Giles, Bill Rodgers and others established the Burns Visual Arts Society as a cooperative in 1979 – 35 years ago.

Ironically, as a side note, and this more of a happenstance than anything else, earlier this year Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both relocated to the Burns Building. So the arts now live again in the Burns Building as this has almost come full circle.

The next home for the BVAS was on the fourth and fifth floor of the five-storey Neilson Block located at 118 – 8 Avenue SE just over a block away from its former home. During that time, the Neilson Block definitely was a visual arts friendly building. The Off Centre Centre (now known as The New Gallery) was also located in this building on the third floor for a number of years. Also there was a hair salon (the name of which I forget) on the second floor that also regularly featured artists and openings.

This building with its close proximity across the pedestrian mall from the Glenbow Museum, was operated as normal until it was sold in 1995 with plans for redevelopment were announced. This resulted in changes starting to happen. The society remained there until they were forced to relocate in 1998 as a result of the new Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Hotel construction and redevelopment which affected the entire block that the Neilson Block stood on. The building façade has been retained and incorporated into the design of the new part of what was then known as the Calgary Convention Centre.

It was at this time that the BVAS moved to its present location 828 – 24 Avenue SE in the community of Ramsay, where it is still located. It is situated almost directly across the street from where the art space Passage, where the exhibition Still Burning is hosted, on the site of the old Dominion Bridge Building.

This site where the exhibition is held is notable for being the site where Dennis Oppenheim‘s controversial sculpture Device to Root Out Evil was located between 2008 until it was quietly removed in January of this year at the end of its five-year lease. In addition, it is notable for housing a number of artist studios, production shops and was the original home of NewZones, a commercial gallery, before they moved to their present location on 11th Avenue SW.

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Overall this is a good show. It is well worth a visit.

I am glad to see that they acknowledged the current 20 members of the Studio Collective. They also tipped a hat and acknowledged the contributions and memory of former members who are no longer involved or have passed away. They did this by including a major dress piece by long-term member Elizabeth Clark who passed away suddenly on March 10, 2008 as a gesture of tribute and by including recent studio artist Graham Page who also passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer this past summer on July 6, 2014.

Make sure you include a visit as part of the East Side Studio Crawl which was initiated by a couple of BVAS members Cecelia Gossen and Celia Meade in 2003 which was based loosely on a similar successful initiative that was held in Vancouver around the time that it was established. This event will take place this weekend on September 20.