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.

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The Artist Ranch Project at the Calgary Stampede

 

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Today is Parade Friday, the official kick-off to the Calgary Stampede.

A couple nights ago, I attended the opening of the sneak preview of the Western Showcase at the Calgary Stampede. It is an annual tradition for me that I missed along with all Stampede related activities, last year due to my working in High River helping those affected by the flood.

Long ago, I was asked to serve on the selection jury for the Sales Salon booths for the 2003 Stampede edition. I remember this only because I a year that I moved my residence during the week of Stampede while working full-time, and was only able to attend one Stampede activity that year. The interesting takeaway from my jury involvement was that it gave me an interesting view into how the Western Showcase Committee operates and how they select their artists for the Sales Salon. This helped explain why many of the sales booths show predictably similar artists year after year with a only a few minor changes along the way. The net result however, is a slow migration that follows what their audience wants – or at least that is the theory.

The Stampede committee has obviously figured out the formula that their patrons are looking for – safe, depictive paintings of livestock and landscapes; realistic sculpture of animals; new aboriginal stone carvings; and safe non-representational painting. There is some interest in expanding this, but this is the core.

There is definitely no interest at all in printmaking. I understand why, but I think it is taking the easy way out. It is a form of artmaking and collecting that involves a fair amount of connoisseurship and discernment, not to mention the education required if one wants to be serious about it. Maybe in time they will eventually see the light, but it will be a while – I have a feeling.

I am uncertain, but I believe that there is only limited interest in photography. I find this rather odd, because there is a large annual Western Photo Gallery and Competition exhibition including photographers from around the world on the other side of the exhibition hall. These are for sale. Outside of this I do not recall seeing any photography in the booths. It is possible that no one has ever applied, which would explain this odd dichotomy. Given all this, it wouldn’t seem like a huge stretch to include photographers in the Sales Booths.

There appears to be a very limited interest in exploring craft as fine art. I also find this interesting and ironic because the Stampede has a very strong craft exhibition component. However, it is traditional craft that is exhibited and awards and ribbons are given for it every year. This is obviously a carry-over from the Stampede’s agricultural fair roots. This component probably was even included in the Calgary agricultural fairs that pre-dated the first modern Stampede in 1912. I want to talk a wee bit more about this later.

* * *

As an aside – I was talking to a random lady who was in the line-up beside me for some BBQ meatballs and veggie rolls at the event. From her I found out that the type of art on display is now described as “western values for her wall.” That had to be one of the funniest comments I heard all night. I had to refrain myself from bursting out laughing, since I had just met her and didn’t know how to take it when she said it.

“Western values” is a nebulous phrase that I keep hearing from both the marketing and media relations department at the Stampede. I have yet to figure out what it actually means, or if it is something akin to “world-class” – an overused and trite comment. Maybe that is what made the lady’s comment so funny. But I digress.

* * *

As usual, the most interesting thing for me is the Artist Ranch Project.

The Artist Ranch Project in a nutshell:

This is the sixth year of the project. I like to think of it as a wee, little, breath of fresh air and sunshine. This project occupies space right in the middle of the generally staid and conservative environment that is the rest of the show.

Each year a number of artists are selected. From the numbers in the last couple years, it would appear as if they have settled on five artists as being the magic number. Once the artists are selected, they spend a weekend on a working ranch.

While there, the artists find out the workings of the ranch and what the staff at the ranch does. Each year it is a different ranch (or at least it has been to date). They go in the fall – after the Stampede has been put to bed for the year and the ranchers are starting to think about bringing in the harvest, if the harvest is part of their operations. From talking to artists that have been involved, they bring various people to talk about what the ranch does and what the people who work there do. They spend a lot of time talking and relatively little amount of time out in the fields.

This makes sense especially from the perspective of someone that has never been on a ranch before. After this visit the artists have the better part of a year to absorb those conversations and develop artwork that relates to their experiences and how it will translate into their practice.

Often the artists selected are in early to middle stages of their careers. It is a great opportunity for the artists. It introduces them to a different audience and it also gently pushes the traditional Stampede art buyer to explore options outside of their own personal comfort zone. For breaking news, scroll to the bottom of this page.

How the Artist Ranch Project fits within the rest of the Western Showcase

In a way I see this Project as a bit of the future direction of the Sales Salon. I suspect that this is seen as being a development and training area of sorts. The parallel being contestants in smaller rodeos who after winning enough competitions finally have the chance to compete for the $1-million rodeo purse at the Stampede.

Periodically some of the artists return the following year with a booth or are included in the annual art auction. This year one of the participants in last year’s Project (Bernadette McCormack) was featured on the invitation for last night’s event. They selected a piece of hers that is included in the Art Auction that will happen next week. I also notice that Karen Scarlett has a booth this year. Similar situations to this have also occurred in years prior.

One of the criticisms of the Artist Ranch Project is that the artists selected are uneven in quality. This is not necessarily a bad thing and in the grand scheme of things is a relatively moot point. Some years the artists selected were (or are) stronger than might be the case in other years, or alternatively with other artists in the same year. This is to be expected in any group exhibition, a result of different stages of career, and a result of selection being based on an application-based process. The strength is in the collective impact, connections and development for all those involved.

From sources I believe are reliable, until now (2014) the artists have been selected through the Committee that is responsible for this project. This next year (2015) they brought in the first external jury members so that it is balanced between external and internal  jury members (3 external and 3 internal) to assist in the selection.

The addition of an external jury member(s) that is somehow involved in the art world should be a good thing. It should bring a perspective that may potentially be missing. Having a fresh voice also helps revitalise any process where the possibility of having stagnation and/or navel-gazing occurs. This is an excellent place to have it, just as they have been doing for some time in the sales salon and presumably in the art auction as well.

I mentioned that I want to talk further about craft as fine art in this context.

This iteration has work by Wanda Ellerbeck. Just as the other four artists involved, Ellerbeck has two-dimensional paintings on the wall. She unlike the others, is the only one with three-dimensional work on plinths. It is possible to see some of them in the picture below. These sculptural objects use cement and mixed media and incorporate found materials into them. These works are very strong and I am glad that she included them. I hope that she is able to place a number of them. It would send a message that there are collectors who appreciate non-traditional, craft-based work.

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This is a good example of where the Artist Ranch Project has an amazing opportunity to stretch the boundaries of the Western Showcase. This work ties in well with the long craft tradition that I mentioned previously.

In the past they showed some of Philip Bandura’s glass “bombs” (for lack of a better descriptor) with small vignettes including animals inside. I find these works quite fascinating and I am glad to see some have been selected for inclusion in the current Glenbow show of works from the Bee Kingdom.

Tim Belliveau like Philip is a member of the Bee Kingdom. I needed a refresher on what he included as it was so long ago, and I am glad that I met up with him at a Stampede Breakfast so he could refresh my memory. He informed me that he included some glass works and two-dimensional works. He also indicated that a yellow bull glass piece that was exhibited as part of the Ranch Project is also included in the current Bee Kingdom show at the Glenbow.

In 2012 they showed some jewelry by Shona Rae along with her paintings. These pieces of jewelry was a major project that I wrote a letter in support that incorporated things such as bone. It was challenging work that deserved to be shown in a gallery setting. Although I did not attend, last year, they also included Jill Nuckles whom I know from her fibre art that I have seen at the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton. Whether that was the work she included last year, I don’t know.

Because of the past selections, we can see that amongst the members of the committee there is definitely an awareness of craft-based fine art. It will be interesting to see if craft will be able to crack the Sales Salon in the future.

Maybe, and this is just a brain wave of a thought, an interesting way to do this might be to invite the Alberta Craft Council to work collaboratively with the Stampede. The purpose of this collaboration, would be to set up a curated booth of craft-based work from Alberta artisans. This could be a beneficial collaboration for both organizations. It would benefit the Alberta Craft Council by introducing a diverse selection of top of class artisans and artwork to the Calgary market and the world stage. It would benefit the Stampede by introducing a product with little risk that may satisfy a possible area of artmaking that they may have overlooked in the past with a Western geographical focus.

 

* * *

Below is a list of the artists involved in the Artist Ranch Project and the ranches that they visited:

 

2009 (The Calgary Stampede Ranch)

Lisa Brawn

Errol Lee Fullen

Audrey Mabee

Lori Sobkowich

 

2010 (The A7 Ranch)

Tim Belliveau

Michael Markowsky

Herb Sellin

 

2011 (The Homeplace Ranch)

Phillip Bandura

Eveline Kolijn

Joanne McDonald

Adele Woolsey

 

2012 (Bar U Ranch)

Dave Casey

Penny Chase

Jill Hobson

Shona Rae

Adrian Stinson

 

2013 (Scott Ranch)

Bernadette McCormack

Jill Nuckles

Pascale Ouellet

Karen Scarlett

Tharrie Zietsman

 

2014 (OH Ranch)

Danielle Bartlette

Wanda Ellerbeck

Sheila Kernan

K. Neil Swanson

David Zimmerman

 

Breaking News:

Although it has not been officially announced by the Stampede, the results of the 2015 jury deliberations are out on the World Wide Web for anyone to view. I have been aware of the results for approximately one month now. Congratulations to these artists, some of whom I know personally and/or have had professional dealings with in the past.

 

2015 (Soft announcement was made in early to mid-June 2014)

Billie-Rae Busby

Patti Emerson

Denise Lemaster

Greg Pyra

Carl White

Belinda Fireman (first replacement should one of the selected artists be unable to participate)

 

 

State of the Craft – Part 1

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Last month a new gallery space opened. This in itself is not all that newsworthy, but still worthy of mention nonetheless. This one was interesting only because of how it opened, its location, and the perceived focus of the space.

The gallery?

LoveCraft Gallery.

This all crossed my radar screen before it opened, most likely around the time it launched its fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. This campaign was intended to help with start-up costs and to facilitate fixturing of the company’s newly occupied space, in a newly built building.

I will get back to LoveCraft Gallery later (once I got there I realized it will be in a new article because of the length), as what I want to write about is not entirely about them. Their opening did however provide the motivation to write about something larger that I have been intending to write about for quite some time – craft.

* * *

During the past five to ten years – and maybe it is just me – there seems to be an increased awareness of craft in the city. Craft has been an integral part of the curriculum at the Alberta College of Art and Design since it opened for full-time instruction in 1927 while it was still a department at the old Provincial Institute of Technology and Art – now more commonly known as SAIT Polytechnic.

When we look back the Alberta College of Art and Design has consistently had a lot of strength in their craft-based programs. This is no doubt partly a result of having great early departmental chairs and instructors in the ceramics program who helped set it up for success – people like Luke Lindoe, Marion Nicoll, Katie Ohe and Walt Drohan. It was also a similar situation in the glass program which Norm Faulkner started at ACAD during the 1970s and this very stable ground has enabled the program there to be recognized as one of the best in Canada. I could continue with the fibre program, jewelry and others. Needless to say ACAD in particular has been very important in this whole area of craft in Calgary and area. Other institutions have played a role in city, but certainly not to the same extent.

We can see here that craft as an artform has deep roots in the city, going back entire careers for some that are now retired and in other cases even deceased. Some of these significant craft-based initiatives in the past, in no particular order are:

  • The magazine Artichoke which was active in (if memory serves me correct) the 1980s to 2000s period. It was primarily focused on fine art, but regularly celebrated craft in an art context.
  • During the 1988 Olympics, the Petro-Canada Art Gallery (yes, there was a corporate art gallery with scheduled exhibitions and curatorial staff in what is now called Suncor Plaza) in conjunction with the Olympic Arts Festival hosted an exhibition entitled Restless Legacies: Contemporary Craft Practice in Canada with a 100-page catalogue containing annotated essays and colour illustrations.
  • At one time there was a very serious attempt to create a public gallery focused on craft in the city that came very close to happening (something I am sure I will talk about in a different setting at some point in the future).
  • The Triangle Gallery (later MOCA Calgary and now Contemporary Calgary – or more specifically C2) often would show craft especially during the directorship of Jacek Malec.
  • For a very long time (probably 30 years or more) there was an artist-run cooperative at the base of the Calgary Tower in Palliser Square that regularly showed ceramics in particular – the Centennial Gallery. Their gallery was visible across the street from the 9th Avenue entrance of the Glenbow Museum. I believe that the cooperative running it closed a number of years ago, probably around the time of the redevelopment of Palliser Square. It was notable for giving some visual artists their first show or sales at emerging stages of their careers, in conjunction with the regularly available craft-based work which was their primary focus. On Edit  and Erratum(2014 June 20) I must apologize for this oversight – the Centennial Art Gallery is very much operational and is still located at the base of the Calgary Tower. It appears to have moved locations to a less visible space in Palliser Square during the renovations mentioned above. This is where my comments derived. My apologies. Their address is Suite 153, 115 – 9 Avenue SE and they are open from Monday to Saturday)
  • The Calgary Allied Arts Centre housed a large Luke Lindoe ceramic which was commissioned by the Canada Council in celebration of the Centre’s grand opening and resided inside the main lobby along with a large Sèvres Porcelain Vase on loan from a private collection. They also had an active teaching program in craft especially for children during the time it was operational mostly during the 1960s on 9th Avenue SW.
  • I would be remiss if I did not mention Audrey Mabee. She along with her business partner Betty Anne Graves during the mid-1970s opened a fine art shop called The Croft. It was located on 8th Street across from Mount Royal Village which focused exclusively on craft-based work, mostly featuring local artists with a focus on hand-crafted ceramics. It was within viewing distance to many of the leading commercial galleries during that period which also were located across from Tomkins Park and Mount Royal Village on 17th Avenue SW. She successfully continued that business until the late 1990s or early 2000s when it was sold to another party. A few years later the premises were expanded while keeping the focus on craft, when the new owners moved the business to the Mission area along 4th Street SW somewhere near 20th Street. I would assume they moved it probably around the time when the character of 17th Avenue as a gallery row had dramatically changed partly due to redevelopment. The Croft has subsequently closed, but was definitely influential in raising awareness of craft in the city. Audrey Mabee later was named an interim president of the Alberta College of Art and Design. She along with her son Rob Mabee started ArtSpace in the Crossroads Market probably a year or two after she sold The Croft. There were a number of independent small boutiques and galleries in ArtSpace, a number of which featured craft-based work as well. Around the time that the ascendancy of ArtSpace had passed, Rob Mabee moved on to Art Central working initially as the leasing manager charged with filling the newly-restored building. Around that same time Audrey opened a small studio for a few years and in time Rob opened Axis Gallery which focused on contemporary art. The gallery also would periodically show some craft, notably Bee Kingdom and a ceramist who created small human figures.
  • Talking about 17th Avenue and commercial galleries, there also was a small house that operated as a gallery on the other end of the strip from The Croft for about five years called Gallery San Chun. The couple who owned it were recent immigrants from Korea. She was a printmaker. They were a lovely couple. I believe her name was Mee and I forget his. They would often show ceramics and other craft-based work from Korea where there is a proud tradition of craft as art in conjunction with printmaking. They were very supportive of the local community and often would give recent graduates in printmaking their first commercial show. They in turn moved to the Lower BC Mainland when they closed the gallery around the same time as the character of 17th Avenue had changed for galleries. A couple years later in Art Central another Korean lady (I should know it, but forget her name) operated a small little shop called The Korean Gallery. She also had training in Korea and she brought in outstanding Korean ceramics. She also featured a young artist Diana Un-Jin Cho whose work referenced traditional fibre art from Korea. I championed her work, even though I never dealt with her, and was responsible for placing a large piece of hers into the Civic Art Collection.
  • A commercial gallery and bookstore called the Guild Gallery of Artists and Authors operated by a single dentist, Dr. Max Lipkind, who recently passed away and his long-time assistant. It was located on the main floor of what is now the downtown campus of the University of Calgary. It regularly featured ceramics and if I remember correctly glass as well. These craft-based works were shown in the context of an amazing and eccentric mix of artworks ranging from Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso graphics, to Elke Sommer paintings, to works by Jean-Paul Riopelle. He had a most interesting and wide selection of art with a focus on international graphics and mid-century art if I remember correctly. Much of the art and artists he handled I have long-ago forgotten. It was a gallery that was unlike any other gallery in the city. He needs to be mentioned, even though his gallery certainly was not highly influential in the traditional sense. He and his assistant both had a common man’s touch and made the work that they presented, accessible. In some odd and unusual ways, I probably could credit him and his gallery at least to an extent for introducing me to art in a professional setting, while I was still a young teenager. He would always find time to say hi and answer questions whenever I would stop in to look at and purchase comic books and make the visit to the gallery portion of his shop.
  • Art Central also housed a significant number of small businesses that presented craft. In some ways this was Art Central’s legacy. The size of the shops lent themselves more to smaller works and the lack of storage space in the building, meant most of the inventory had to be on display. It was probably for this reason a number of craft producers and businesses used the space as a retail or business incubator. There were many shops that showed craft,
    • some of which are still operational (such as Influx Gallery and depending on how one defines craft it could even include Studio Intent and others dealing primarily in fashion); and
    • others which are not operational (such as Dashwood Galleries, Collage Gallery, If Looks Could Kill Art Studio, Glass Cube Contemporary Art Space, The Korean Gallery, Interiors in Balance and Nova Scotia Crystal); and
    • there are also others whose current status is uncertain (such as Rox Gems and UP Studio).
    • Of course, it goes without saying that I am certain there are many others whom I have forgotten, and from those that I have mentioned many have moved on to other projects and quite possibly are still producing.
  • I am sure that I could continue with many, many more examples.

Because of all these things, it is not surprising that there is an awareness of craft in the city. There is a great tradition here.

* * *

This leads us to the present day. What is happening right now as I write this?

There still is a large selection of opportunities to purchase, exhibit or sell craft-based work. A number of art galleries have shown the willingness to crossover, and as seen in this article, craft-based work and ceramics in particular are noticeably present at the current iteration of the international art fair, Art Basel which opened within the last day or two.

Currently the Esker Gallery in its Project Room is featuring Yvonne Mullock. I am a big fan of hers and I find that she is doing some quite interesting things. I note with interest that the Art Gallery of Alberta earlier today announced a listing of 42 artists for the 2015 Alberta Biennial and see that her name is on this list. So therefore congratulations are in order. Getting back to the Esker Project Room, I had the dubious honour of being the “first male hooker” in her current project (or maybe there is no honour involved, because my wee contribution is probably the worst crafted part of the whole hooked rug, and as a result it is just dubiousness instead). Here she is working in conjunction with members of the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts and guests who like myself may take a stab at hooking an enormous (30” x 120”) hooked rug. This work entitled Hit and Miss which they are currently working on is a large rug that will eventually be located at the front door to the Esker Foundation. A photo (see below) that I appropriated from Yvonne’s facebook page earlier today shows it in a state of partial or near completion.

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Also on exhibit at the Glenbow is a mini-retrospective of the Bee Kingdom group of glass artists curated by Mary-Beth Laviolette. It was a good choice on the Glenbow’s part in selecting the curator, as Mary-Beth has had a long interest in craft-based work. I also have a significant interest in this group as I proposed a successful acquisition of five pieces from the collective (one piece from each individual and a collaborative Mythopoet work) for the Civic Art Collection Committee when I was the Chair of that committee. I hear through the grapevine that one of their Mythopoet pieces from that acquisition, is currently residing in the office of the Mayor. There is an interesting backstory to this work as the Mayor was in the Bee Kingdom Studio when this work was being produced. I have forgotten the specific details, but I am sure that if someone was to ask, Mayor Nenshi would be able to complete the story and the circumstances why he was there.

As for the Glenbow show, if I was to express a criticism, it would be that there was no mention of the fourth member of the Bee Kingdom collective – Kai Georg Scholefield. Although he was only a member for a couple years between 2011 and 2013, it is unfortunate that there was no mention of him in the didactic panels or the simple inclusion of one their Mythopoet pieces from that period (the one in the Civic Art Collection would have worked). In my opinion, he did a lot for the group, more than he is probably given credit for including his time as the director of the short-lived Glass Cube Contemporary Art Space that pre-dated his involvement as the fourth member. I am sure that there was a valid reason for this oversight, but it is unfortunate nevertheless. The show is well worth seeing and it is up for the remainder of the summer.

While I am talking about the Bee Kingdom I should also plug another thing that is coming up very soon – in fact later today. It is an artist’s talk that they will be conducting at the Water Centre (625 – 25 Avenue SE) between 7:00 and 9:00pm. This talk is a result of a residency as connected to the UEP (the City of Calgary’s Department of Utilities & Environmental Protection) that that the three Bees (Philip Bandura, Tim Belliveau and Ryan Marsh Fairweather) are currently in the midst of. They spent most of their time connected to a couple water treatment plants. This artist talk is sponsored by WATERSHED+ in cooperation with the Public Art Program. It will be interesting to see and hear what came as a result of this project. I am definitely looking forward to it.

The UEP is amazing for what they are doing with artists and public art. One may recall the summer of 2010 when the UEP sponsored a summer-long public arts festival entitled the Celebration of the Bow River. What was particularly memorable for many was the warm summer evening when giant orbs of light were released from Edworthy Park to float down the river to Prince’s Island Lagoon. It was a magical public art event enjoyed by people of all ages which was created by Laurent Louyer and Creatmosphere. There also was a big launch of 100 small wooden boats containing mud from various parts of the Bow River and were released early one Saturday morning from Fish Creek Park designed to track water currents south and east of the city. This project was coordinated by Peter Von Tiesenhausen. This whole summer of art events won a major award for one of the best public art projects in North America that year. It was a very proud moment for our Public Art Program (and rightfully so). But once again, I digress.

Of course, we read in the articles and watch or listen to the news coverage about the one-year anniversary of last year’s flood which is coming up tomorrow. The almost non-stop rain for the past week or so has only helped feed the news. Just as it was the case last year, Sled Island is gearing up for its annual event. Although Sled Island has always had a focus of some sort on the visual arts, this year they have expanded that even further and have curated programming.

Last year Sled Island teamed up with Etsy and held a juried exhibition was hosted by MOCA Calgary where they featured the work of Bryce Evans in a project called The One Project—an online collaborative project founded by Evans to inspire people out of depression and into their dreams. The work included conceptual, abstract, and experimental subject matter with a focus on driving positive social change in the world.

I attended the opening the night that the flood happened. Since MOCA Calgary was in the flood zone, this show got very little press. This is completely understandable. It is possible that it may have only been available to view for that one night only, because of where MOCA was located and how long that area was evacuated – even though MOCA was not affected. I attended that opening and while there a friend texted me to inform me that my home was in the evacuation zone. I had been at work all day, and went directly to the opening, so was completely oblivious to what was going on outside of work. When I received the news, I had resigned myself to the fact that my home was probably under water – and there was nothing I could do about it – so I drank wine instead. As expected, I received an evacuation order on the way home. It was an interesting show and I had a great conversation with one of the Etsy staffers who flew out from Toronto for the opening. But I digress.

This year, just as was the case last year, Sled Island is teaming up with the Victoria Park BRZ to present another outdoor iteration of PARKSale this weekend in the Haultain Park. Last year this sale was cancelled due to the flood which had the area under water and was rescheduled during mid-August 2013 once the flood waters had subsided and life was starting to return to normal. The photo below is not particularly good, but it is one that I took at that sale. PARKSale is one of the regularly scheduled projects of PARK (Promoting Artists | Redefining Kulture) an organization that has been active as a non-profit organization focused on local artists, presenting sustainable and recycled fashion in a low-impact environment since 2011 (and possibly earlier).

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This year as they attempted to do last year, but was cancelled by the flood, Sled Island is also teaming up with East Village and the Hi-Fi Club to present another iteration of Market Collective. This iteration will be a mini-market and take place on the Riverwalk in conjunction with what is advertised as a Sled Island Block Party. Market Collective began in 2008 and of all the pop-up markets it has probably had the most number of locations where it has presented its periodical weekend long events. It is probably also the largest market in terms of vendors. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of the mini-fair as I don’t believe it was rescheduled last year (although it is possible). This event will also take place on the same weekend as the PARKSale. It is possible to make the trek from one venue to the other.

* * *

The above has been an overview of some of the notable organizations that helped set the current craft-based organizations up for success. I also included the current projects that are happening right now, mostly because of timeliness.

I had to break this blog post into two, because otherwise it would be far too confusing. Part two will talk about the various venues, markets and spaces that act as incubators, facilitators and organizational structures for craft in Calgary.

 

Tiny Gallery in Bridgeland

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Last night I happened to be passing through the community of Bridgeland. As I was going my way, I passed the Bridgeland Grocery and saw the sign affixed to the side of their building which read “shocking and scandalous images. See inside for details.”

I then remembered that a few weeks (maybe a month) ago there was a story in Fast Forward that talked about the Tiny Gallery. It is a stand-alone art space that occupies the small courtyard beside the store.

You can see the “gallery” in the picture above. It is the tall wooden structure to the left of the sign. The small exhibition space is inside the Plexiglas box at eye level.

It is a great concept. Bring art to the average person, in surprising, but accessible places or spaces.

The gallery is viewable 24 hours a day.

I stopped to take a look at the new show. This is the third show for the Tiny Gallery. Each of the three shows the gallery has hosted, featured a different member of the three-member (and briefly for about a year or two, a four-member) artist collective, Bee Kingdom. This time the artist featured is Philip Bandura.

This show is somewhat timely.

During the past few months there has been much press dedicated to the Sochi Olympics and LGBT issues in Russia. Much of the timeliness of this controversy has already worn off, as the 2014 Winter Olympics has ended.

In this context, the work of Philip Bandura continues that discussion in this small exhibition.

Freedomco is a vehicle that Philip Bandura has used over the past few years in his own work. Briefly Freedomco often deals with LGBT issues in an art context.

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The artist has stated the following about the Freedomco body of work, and then goes on to talk specifically about this work Gay be Gone Russian Gold:

Freedomco is a fictitious company that I created to parody promotions of “freedom” and “security” in a variety of ways. As such, the work often deals with how I interpret my experiences as a gay man in contemporary western culture. It is my intention that these works are seen as humorous and that humor will act as a vehicle to address the seriousness of the underlying content. The fundamental goal is to facilitate dialog between queer and straight communities alike.

“Gay be Gone Russian Gold” was created in response to the recent anti-gay laws in Russia. The tonic would fulfil the dream of the Russian government of “curing” being gay. It is one of a number of tonics Freedomco makes, and the second in the Gay be Gone series.

These works often contain an installation-based product (for lack of a better word) and is often conceptually-based. Periodically there is a performative element relating to the work. Whether that is necessary can be debated, but it does serve to give context, especially for those who are not immersed in the art community who attend the show. So I get it.

In a previous exhibition that I attended a couple years ago Philip exhibited a large work that he created entitled A Better Way to Bomb, 2011. I had a photo of it on a memory card inserted into a camera that someone felt that they needed more than I. As a result I have to use a photo from the Bee Kingdom.

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It was quite an interesting piece and it is part of the roots where this work in the Tiny Gallery comes from. You can see more from Freedomco here. The piece above played off a proposed harebrained idea by the US Military to create a “gay bomb.” It is actually rather humorous. If one feels inclined, you can read more about this project here.

This piece in the Tiny Gallery continues that discussion. Here bottles are used. I would assume that they potentially could be Russian liqueur or vodka bottles. This small venue is a fantastic place to exhibit this work as it does create an interesting dialogue with average people on the street.

The space lends itself well to small sculptural work and glass. I would assume with the hot afternoon sun during the summer, the temperature inside the Plexiglas box could probably get quite high. As a result it would not be conducive to works on paper, encaustic or those works containing fugitive colours and paints.

It is nice to see these type of alternative spaces being used for art exhibitions. I also applaud the people behind Tiny Gallery for being willing to engage in potentially challenging subject matter.