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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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.

New art installed on the 5th Avenue SW underpass

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Recently I wrote about the Burns Visual Arts Society and their 35th anniversary.

As I was doing preparatory research for what I wrote, I encountered a news story that talked about the Neilson Building, and the space crisis for a number of arts organizations that were evicted to accommodate new buildings in 1996. One of those organizations mentioned was The New Gallery which returned back to its original home it had 20 years prior. The building they returned to was a small two-story commercial building facing 9th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets, directly behind what was once Penny Lane Mall. If I was to guess it stood about where the East Lobby for the Eighth Avenue Place now is. Long story short, they stayed at that location for approximately 10 years. Most of those years I served as the treasurer for TNG. In turn as is often expected in Calgary for arts organizations, the building sold and they once again were evicted. It is all in the name of progress. It is the reality more often than not and just the way it is.

TNG has in turn occupied three different spaces, each time moving for the same reason significant renovations planned for each of the buildings they occupied – first it was Eau Claire Market (they had two different spaces there); then it was Art Central and now they are in Chinatown.

In addition Penny Lane Mall at various times housed commercial galleries, art exhibitions, pop-up galleries and artist studios over the years. In some ways it was a bit of a dead mall, but that was what sometimes made it possible for these organizations to survive. Underutilized commercial or retail spaces are an important part of the ecology for visual artists and arts organizations.

* * *

After my circuitous and rambling pre-amble . . .

The building that rose from the rubble of these two buildings (and others), is now known as Eighth Avenue Place.

There is a bit of an acknowledgement of the history of what once stood on the footprint of the current building location. It is a nice touch. Sadly so much of the knowledge of our city’s built history has been lost over the years. It is found on the +15 level near where SQ Commons once stood. It was in the midst of where the Art Forum Gallery Association‘s initial show which featured a retrospective exhibition of work by Alberta College of Art and Design instructor Dave Casey, the opening of which was held in October 2013.

It is a very interesting building with intriguing architecture. It is more unique than most in the city. I have intended to write about it for quite some time. I just have never got around to it.

A few days ago (Monday, September 22), I noticed that workmen with masonry drills and scissor lifts were installing large illustrated signs on the cement walls on the 5th Street SW underpass – a place where there has never been any signage or artwork previously (except for maybe the occasional piece of graffiti). This underpass is below the railway tracks between 9th and 10th Avenues. I continued on my merry way, but noticed artwork had been installed upon the large plywood or MDF panels, similar to what was done on the construction hoarding when the west tower of Eighth Avenue Place was being built last year.

At the time I thought the use of artwork on the construction hoarding to be a great way to promote Alberta artists and artworks.

I still do.

Of course this was rather fascinating for me to see, as only a month or two ago I wrote about the temporary chalk figures installed in conjunction with Beakerhead on the 4th Street underpass (on the other side of the block). They were  there earlier this week, but have subsequently been painted over by Friday evening, September 26.

Recently, like within the year type of recent, the West Tower to the two tower Eighth Avenue Place was being built. The exterior construction of the second tower is now complete and the new portion of the complex is in the process of being populated with new office workers.

One of the interesting things that the building ownership group did when constructing the second tower was install construction hoarding around the site. That in itself is not all that interesting, but rather what they did with it was. As described in a small double-fold brochure produced by Hines Canada Management Co., ULC (I would assume was produced primarily for tenants) entitled Images of the Alberta Landscape: Sustainability, Art and Architecture, the area is described as follows:

Beginning on Eighth Avenue, following south on Fifth Street and then east along the busy downtown thoroughfare of Ninth Avenue, a continuous stream of art images engage the eye. Enlarged and reproduced on the construction hoarding at Eighth Avenue Place, this outdoor display of original works of Alberta art is a first for the city. A unique affirmation of Eighth Avenue Place’s commitment to Canadian art.

When this first went up probably about two years ago I was very excited to see some familiar works, some of which I had handled in a gallery sales situation previously. One of the works (a Helen Mackie print) I had even used for the print invitation to a solo exhibition of her work. It was truly a wonderful thing that the property owners (presumably) and/or property managers did to draw awareness to Alberta art. It is my wish that more situations would continue. The visual arts is a very challenging place to gain traction and positive awareness in this city. So any little piece of assistance, however small it may be, is greatly appreciated – not that I am working in that field anymore. This of course relates directly to my previous comment. In all there probably was somewhere in the range of 50-100 images used, with a template of the artists, titles and acknowledgement of collection (if applicable) found on each wall for reference.

The choice of selecting Alberta landscape based art was spot on, as it lent itself to the architecture of the building which features an irregular roofline on each of the two towers. This no doubt was meant to mirror the physical attributes of mountain peaks in an architectural manner. The external architecture and the external design of the construction hoarding worked well together.

I am uncertain exactly when this happened, but if memory serves me correct, the hoarding was removed at some point in the last couple months (maybe around Stampede?). I thought I had photos of the installation. After review, apparently I do not, nor could I find photos online. I would have been nice to have this for comparison purposes.

This rambling conversation leads me to the current installation on the 5th Street SW underpass.

As I looked at the works, I noticed a strong resemblance to those that I recall seeing on the Eighth Avenue Place construction hoarding last winter. In fact as seen in the photo below, four of the sixteen works are illustrated in the small brochure I have in my possession – Annora Brown, E.J. Hughes, Ron Moppett, and Walter J. Phillips.

8th_Avenue_Place_Images_of_the_Alberta_Landscape_brochure_2013 (1024x785)

This leads me to believe that those involved in putting up the construction hoarding at Eight Avenue Place, somehow must be involved in this as well. It would sense as it is practically across the street from where these images once stood.

My curiosity is, what is the connection?

There is a new development called Place Ten which is located between the 4th and 5th Street SW underpasses, facing 10th Avenue (as seen in the picture below with the base of Eighth Avenue Place the primary building complex directly behind the construction site. That would make this new construction site as being bounded by two sets of artwork- the Beakerhead art on one side and the Eighth Avenue Place art on the other.

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Is this the connection? Are both projects owned by the same ownership group?

The 16 artworks by 14 artists whose work is reproduced on the signage placed on the 5th Street SW underpass are:

  • Barbara Ballachey [1945 – ] Butte Two, 1981 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Annora Brown [1899 – 1987] Foothills Village, n.d. oil on canvas (Glenbow Museum, Calgary)
  • Michael Cameron [1955 – ] Searching for Elvis, 2012 oil on canvas (Elevation Gallery, Canmore)
  • O.N. (Rick) de Grandmaison [1932 – 1985] Grey Road, 1983 oil on canvas board (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Dulcie Foo Fat [1946 – ] Lake O’Hara Shoreline, 2006 (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Roland Gissing [1895 – 1967] Clouds over the Prairie near Cardston, circa 1925 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Edward J. (E.J.) Hughes [1913 – 2007] Calgary, Alberta, 1955 watercolour on paper (Glenbow Museum, Calgary)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Ranch Below Yellow Hills, 1971 oil on canvas board (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Turner Valley Nocturne, 1986 oil on canvas (Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Young Antelope, n.d. linocut on paper (Edge Gallery, Canmore)
  • Janet Mitchell [1912 – 1998] People of the Street #24, 1971 watercolour on paper (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Ron Moppett [1945 – ] MoonWaterTree, 2010 alkyd, oil on linen and wood (TrepanierBaer Gallery)
  • Walter J. Phillips [1884 – 1963] Mountain Torrent, 1926 colour woodblock on paper (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • John Snow [1911 – 2004] Near Bragg Creek, 1979 stone lithograph on paper (Collector’s Gallery, Calgary)
  • Jack (J.B.) Taylor [1917 – 1970] Lake McArthur No. 7, 1963 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Doug Williamson [1974 –] Not by Our Wisdom, 2011 oil on linen (Edge Gallery, Canmore)

These type of selections always will involve a certain amount of second guessing. It is the nature of a curatorial project such as this, and is as predictable as death and taxes. The questions almost always are: 1.) why did they include these artists, and 2.) who did they miss?

As a result, I will try to keep my comments in this regard to a minimum.

  1. Of course the most obvious question is why was Illingworth Kerr selected three times and someone like Marion Nicoll whose work is included in the brochure photo I have included above, not included at all?
  2. The other interesting question is why was E.J. Hughes included? E.J. Hughes hardly can be called an Alberta artist. He had very little connection to Alberta outside of a short training period on one of the military bases, prior to being dispatched to serve overseas with the Princess Patricia’s (or the PPCLI) during WWII. Having said this, I am of the opinion that he is definitely an important artist worthy of inclusion in a Canadian landscape survey show.

An aside regarding the Hughes watercolour

I have often wondered and this is probably a rhetorical question more than anything else.

  • Was this painting produced as a result of Hughes potentially being on holidays in Calgary during 1955?
  • If so, did he attend the internationally travelling exhibition put together by Seagram’s entitled Views of Canada when it was on display at the old Calgary Allied Arts Centre (just down the street from where it is currently installed) in 1955?
  • I wonder this, because A.C. Leighton (another Alberta artist who should be included) painted a very similar view of the Calgary skyline dated 1951 which is in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal. Recently many of the works were brought out of storage and re-circulated a few years ago. One of the stops in this most recent tour, was the Kamloops Art Gallery in which they illustrated the Leighton painting in this essay. As one can see from the two photos I have placed below for comparison purposes they are both taken from almost the exact same viewpoint on Rotary Park at the top of the Centre Street Bridge.

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(The Hughes watercolour above)

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(the Leighton painting above)

Notwithstanding my comments about Hughes stated above, the work shows how others from elsewhere have interpreted the Alberta landscape.

Summary:

This situation was relatively common from the pre-Confederation era with early explorer/artists such as Paul Kane and William G.R. Hind (along with often forgotten anonymous aboriginal artists who produced petroglyphs and carved effigies found at places such as Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and other traditional Native hunting grounds) until about the 1960s or 1970s when the provincial art scene could be considered to have begun its “coming of age” as evidenced by the Made in Calgary series of exhibitions hosted by the Glenbow – the final installment “the 2000s” which opened half the show last night at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary and the main portion of the show which opens tomorrow at the Glenbow.

It could be argued that half the artists featured came from elsewhere (Foo Fat, Gissing, Hughes, Kerr, Moppett, Phillips and Taylor). This has not stopped their impact upon the art history of the province. This is evident from the place both Kerr and Phillips have, since both artists have public galleries named after them at the Alberta College of Art and Design (Kerr) or the Banff Centre (Phillips), recognizing their individual significant contributions to the province.

* * *

Addendum and Correction (2014 October 11)

In the body of this posting I indicated uncertainty about how these works ended up on the wall of the underpass. Quite by accident, when I was looking for something else, I stumbled upon something that helped solve this for me.

The mystery has been solved.

In a news release issued by the City on September 23, it was reported that this is part of the City of Calgary’s Underpass Enhancement Program which is a component of the Calgary Centre City Plan (2007). Elsewhere, it was disclosed that:

In early 2014, the Eighth Avenue Place Ownership Group offered the City of Calgary the gift of a number of graphic art panels that previously adorned the construction hoarding on their site.

In the news release from September 23, it is stated that this was done for the following reason(s):

The Centre City Underpass Enhancement Program is being implemented to achieve one of the objectives of the Centre City Plan: to make the Centre City a ‘walkable place that is safe, secure, accessible, legible, interesting and enjoyable for pedestrians’.

I believe that it does do this. It is also increases awareness and introduces an educational component regarding art from the region in a public setting. This is an important thing that is necessary to grow cultural awareness of the visual arts in the city.

For that I applaud this initiative.

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.

BVAS_Still_Burning_invite_Sept_2014

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.

Passage_Gallery_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Still_Burning_exhibition_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

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.