Wreck City Demo Tape thoughts

Demo_Tape_sign_19_June_2015 (1024x768)

A week ago this past Friday (June 19), I attended the opening evening of the newly opened incarnation of Wreck City. I got there late as the last band was packing up. I was only able to see a few things that evening and had to return to see the remainder the following day. Sadly, even though I began writing this on the second day, this project called Demo Tape has now ended.

The last project that this curatorial team called Wreck City was involved with was entitled Phantom Wing. It occurred in the fall of 2013 and I have written at least one or two posts about it. If you are curious, follow the Phantom Wing link to the right.

Phantom Wing (from what I understand) was under the direction of cSPACE (working in collaboration with the curators of the successful original Wreck City project in Sunnyside). I have written a few things about it during the time that the project was running. It was coordinated to kick off the impending demolition stage of the new wing of the King Edward School that is intended to be an arts incubator.

About a month or two ago, the official sod turning event happened at the King Edward School. Two years later (after Phantom Wing), it would appear as if the King Edward School project has finally began the building stage process. As stated optimistically in the press release above, occupancy is scheduled for mid-2016. But given how long it has taken to get to this stage, and with some knowledge of how long construction projects often take, it is my speculation that occupancy will be more likely occur at some point during 2017. But since I am not involved in this project, it is possible that I could be wrong.

Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_site_19_June-2015_evening (1024x768)

After my little introductory diversion, the curators of Wreck City put the word out in January and in February that they were looking to resurrect the concept once again.

At that stage, they indicated that they were looking for space in the inner city communities. From what I understand there were a number of options that came as a result, which is not surprising given the rapid gentrification and upgrading of older communities in the city. Obviously given that this concept occurred – they found a suitable space.

This event was held in the former Penguin Car Wash overlooking the Elbow River between Fort Calgary and the Esker. It has a fantastic view of downtown Calgary and the mountains behind.

It also has a connection to an art mystery.

Specifically, this mystery involves a series of Rembrandt letters which prove that two recently purchased Rembrandt paintings were indeed forgeries and also involve a murder that was tied to an incident to obtain these letters. Of course, this whole Rembrandt story is a complete fabrication. But it was a small piece of the plot for the movie Silver Streak (1976) featuring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan and Richard Pryor.

The Penguin Car Wash connection takes place at the bottom of the small hill that the car wash is located upon. The CP railway bridge which crosses the Elbow River and is located directly below the carwash. See next photo, as it is quite possible that this scene was shot from this viewpoint (or nearby).

At the beginning of the third act of Silver Streak, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump from the train into the Elbow River below. I tried to find a clip of the scene, but could not track it down. I guess that means you will have to watch the whole movie instead. It is possible that the Penguin Car Wash is visible in the movie. However, it has been so long since I have seen it, I am uncertain whether it is visible or not.  Now I have to track down a copy and view it again as well.

C_P_Rail_bridge_over_Elbow_River_where_Gene_Wilder_and_Richard_Pryor_jumped_in_Silver_Streak_from_Penguin_Carwash_looking_toward_Fort_Calgary_2015_July_01 (1024x768)

After, yet another diversion, back to the Penguin Car Wash and Wreck City’s Demo Tape.

As stated earlier, I visited opening day toward the end of the night. The band that I heard while waiting for the freight train to pass, was already starting to pack up by the time I arrived. As a result, I only got to see some of the installations. However, I came back the following day when it was less busy and saw the remainder when there were less crowds.

It was interesting, however this version, did not have the same amount of buzz around it that I recall from the first iteration. Why that was, I am unsure. Maybe it was a bit more structured, formalized and probably a bit more thoughtful.

These are all good things, that are to be expected as an organization matures and changes.

Midway through the event, the organizers were forecasting that they would get 5000 attendees. Although the final numbers of those who attended have not been released, based on the following comments, a guesstimate can be made that probably somewhere between 2500 and 3000 people most likely attended. This is a solid attendance for an art event with little media support.

WreckCityUpdate21June2015

WreckCityUpdate24June2015

WreckCityUpdate26June2015

Of course this cannot compare with the approximately 8000+ that attended the original project. We can attribute this variance to any number of reasons, given that both took place over a similar time period. Some of these reasons are:

  • Public transit accessibility – original was two blocks from a C-Train platform vs. Demo Tape had little transit infrastructure nearby and about a kilometre away from the nearest C-Train platform.
  • Time of year – the original event occurred at the end of university/college school term (last week of April) vs. Demo Tape occurred at the end of primary school term and the beginning of summer holidays for many.
  • Cultural awareness – the original event ramped up in the fading days of the year-long Calgary 2012 event when awareness of cultural events was high (with Calgary 2012 receiving seed money and support from organizations such as the federal government’s Department of Heritage, Calgary Arts Development Authority, Calgary Stampede, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Parks and Recreation and others) vs. Demo Tape which depended upon the connection to Sled Island and Wreck City’s own base who attended previous events.
  • Number of artists – original had approximately 150 artists vs. Demo Tape which had approximately 50
  • Cohabitation – to my recollection the original had more cohabitation happening between artists in the same (this is probably the nature of the more intimate nature of the buildings used, where the spaces were smaller and artwork would cross over perceptually even though they were placed in separate spaces in each house) vs. Demo Tape where each artist had more distinctly separated physical spaces for their artwork and larger spaces in general.
  • Newness – the original concept had the perception that it was new (in some ways it was, and for many attendees it was definitely something new. In other important ways it was not. I state this because it was a derivation of a previous project one or more of the curators were involved with a project that occurred in 2011 a few blocks away from the original Wreck City project in the community of West Hillhurst) vs. Demo Tape being the third project by the Wreck City collective after a two-year hiatus.

Were these reasons enough to make a difference?

Maybe. Maybe not.

These will all be factors that the curators will need to figure out when they do their post-event analysis, debriefing and reporting (if they actually do that). Potentially, I am actually doing it for them (or at least giving the curators something to think about).

Audiences can be very fickle and it is hard to determine what the root cause is that will prompt attendance in one case and not the other.

Media

I also have to mention media. Even the news outlets, didn’t get behind this event like they did for the Sunnyside project. During the 10-day run of the project, I believe that only the Calgary Herald actually reported on the project. There also was an interview with a number of the curators on CJSW radio. Both happened on the first day and nothing else happened afterwards.

To be fair, there was certainly coverage leading up to the week leading up to the event, In addition, the media really helped put the word out about the collective’s search for space back in February.

Whatever happened, and why it was not covered as it was previously, I suppose will remain a mystery.

Of course, it is worth mentioning once again, that the visible absence of arts reporting through the vehicle of FastForward Weekly is still noticeable, especially for special events such as this.

This has subsequently made the act of talking about visual arts and exhibitions, somewhat like talking to an audience (that may or may not be there) in a steel drum. I have said it before. I will say it again. Local arts reporting is critically important for an artist’s career and development. It is the same reason why music reporting is important, why theatre coverage is important and sports coverage is important. At the end of the day, they all serve the same type of purpose – to a point.

But, I guess removing visual arts coverage entirely, and/or having said coverage take place from a different geographical location is all done in the name of progress and it is not my call to make. I just try to add my little bit from time to time – and when my own time allows this luxury (since I don’t get paid to write this blog).

The actual event

I must be honest. Although I went, my heart was not overly engaged. The first night I came immediately after work and spent more time talking to people I knew than looking at art. The second day I spent more time relaxing on site and talking to an art teacher who travelled by herself from Madison, Wisconsin to volunteer at the Demo Tape event. I feel bad, because I spent at least an hour or more talking to her – and now I have forgotten her name. She had never visited Canada before, but came with the intent to volunteer, see some scenery, but also to see the two performances of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a few other groups she wanted to see as part of Sled Island before heading back to Wisconsin. She was a very interesting person to talk to and it was a very enjoyable time.

Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_volunteer_and_Art_Trailer_20_June_2015 (1024x759)

There were a number of interesting projects, however overall it gave the appearance of a glorified art school project focusing on installation-based work.

This is understandable, due to the nature of the event. So this is not necessarily a criticism. The majority of work was slated to be destroyed along with the building at the end of the actual event. By that very nature, the works will have an unfinished and raw quality to them. As a result, it will rarely be like something one would see in a gallery setting.

That is both the blessing and curse of this type of event. Expectations potentially can be high, when they shouldn’t be. And the reverse is also true.

As mentioned previously, much of this show had much more conceptual bent than was the case with the two previous iterations – Wreck City (the original) and Phantom Wing. I am unsure why this is the case (and it is certainly not an issue), maybe it was partly curatorial; maybe it was the artist’s interests who applied; maybe it was the nature of a long lead time, with limited amount of time with access to the space; maybe it was just delivery (and how it was perceived); or maybe it was a combination thereof. In the end it doesn’t matter.

Peter_Redecopp_Wash_Out_Sign_for_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_at_Sunset (1024x768)

For me, some of the highlights of this event were (and there were certainly more):

J.D. Mersault’s installation/performance/story entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see http://fortyfourfragments.tumblr.com/).

At first I did not pay much attention to what was going on, when I saw the artist sitting at a desk writing, since it was the first piece I encountered upon entering the site and wanted to head straight in knowing that I only had a limited amount of time.

However, once I realized that this was part of the exhibition, and the more I looked at this work, and thought about it – the more I found it fascinating. It was a multi-disciplinary piece that was not static, but combined elements of durational performance, installation, memory, poetry and more. I was very intrigued by what he was attempting to do.

Obviously, what I encountered on the first night was a work in progress. What intrigued me was the dialogue that the artist had with two works that I was previously familiar with – 1.) John Scott’s piece Trans Am Apocalypse No. 2 (1993) which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada; and 2.) Joan Cardinal Schubert’s The Lesson (1989) which was first shown at Articule Gallery in Montreal.

In Cardinal-Schubert’s work (which was included in the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 1990s large group exhibition. In this Made in Calgary show it was recreated and incorporated as part of that exhibition a little over a year ago. In that installation Cardinal-Schubert installed school desks, chalk boards and other related ephemera as it talked about residential school for aboriginal students. There is an image to her work as installed at the Glenbow in 2014 here. Of course, this is timely given the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report. It however should be stated that Mersault’s work does not have the same political edge that Cardinal -Schubert’s has.

In John Scott’s piece, the artist transcribed and etched the complete Book of Revelations of St. John the Evangelist into the entire surface of a black Trans Am. In JD Mersault’s piece he was in the process of writing the contents of a new book onto a steel desk. This was intended to cover the surface of the desk in a manner similar to John Scott’s piece mentioned above. I am somewhat disappointed that it was only the top surface, and the not the entirety as in the case with Scott’s Trans Am. But I also understand, that it is a time-exhaustive process with only a limited amount of time – so I cannot be too disappointed. This work was being written during the duration of the Demo Tape event in his position as writer-in-residence – a piece entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see hotlink above) which he would like to publish at the end of the event. I am very intrigued and curious to see where this work will lead.

J_D_Mersault_writing_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_19_June_2015 (1024x768)

Palmer Olson’s installation My Favourite Buildings. Here the artist deconstructed the office space, catalogued the items; and packed it up. He then attached a packing slip with all the contents of the office listed; provided instructions and renderings, ready for reinstallation elsewhere.

The dialogue involved with this work engaged with the larger concept of gentrification; adaptive re-use of historical spaces; demolition of marginal space; sustainability; and other issues surrounding construction waste as a result of new development (in both greenfield and brownfield areas) which all adds to our landfills.

It is an interesting dialogue to have in the city with all the rapid gentrification (although not to the same extent as was happening even a year ago); and the generally prevailing concept that new is better than old, bigger is better than small.

This dialogue is an important one to have and it lends itself well to this type of project.

Palmer_Olson_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_Instruction_Guide (1024x794)

Palmer_Olson_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_Packing_Slip_detail (1024x768)

Lane Shordee’s and Desiree Nault’s installation With Sprinkles.

This installation which was located directly beside Palmer Olson’s was a two part installation. I hate to use the word beautiful (and maybe even a bit magical), but sometimes these terms fit.

One of the rooms, presumably an office space of some sort was enclosed and it was possible to only look into it. Above this room was a windmill made from materials salvaged from the car wash. Using this windmill, 24 kg of iridescent confetti was ground up and passed through a hand-made sieve and allowed to descent into the room below like snow. Presumably through wind-currents in the room it created this magical space that had a sense of otherworldliness, but yet at the same time was very familiar. Because the photo was taken quite early on the iridescence is not as visible as it would be toward the end of the 10 days.

When I visited the space earlier today to get a photo of the CP Rail bridge, the windmill was still operational. It is visible in a photo that I took on opening day and have placed near the top of this posting. It is somewhat easy to overlook, but you can see it in the image with bicycles in the front and the building behind. It is on top of the building to the left of the sign that states “The Club is Open”

Install_Detail_Lane_Shordee_Desiree_Naught_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_20_June_2015 (1024x768)

Lane and Desiree’s installation tied in well with another magical space created by Ben Nixon and Rachelle Quinn entitled Perhaps this Sound.

I was fortunate enough to have been asked to leave (along with everyone else at closing time on opening night) as I was just entering the room where this installation was located. I say fortunate, because had I actually visited it, I might otherwise have missed what made the space interesting.

The following day, on Saturday, I was the only one in that room.

As a result, I was able to interact with the keyboard that was part of the installation and play around with it without feeling pressure to move on. The interactive element, and there were other installations that were interactive and interesting such as The Cave were interesting as well, but in that case, I encountered it with lots of people around. Perhaps the Sound installation appealed to me on a more personal level and the other may have been different if I was the only one there. With the immersive music; the ability to control lights and sounds (somewhat, even though the outcomes may be unpredictable); and the immersive nature of the space with multiple senses being activated was a very enjoyable diversion and short-term escape that I enjoyed.

Install_Detail_Ben_Nixon_Rochelle_Quinn_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_20_June_2015 (1024x754)

Overall, this iteration was different, and had a more thoughtful feel to it, than was my recollection and perception of the previous two iterations.

* * *

Now that the space is vacant, what is the plan moving forward?

This is something that has not really been talked about to the best of my knowledge.

From sources that I believe to be knowledgeable, the space is slated to be demolished (which is probably common knowledge given the nature of the project).

This is being done to make way for a new residential complex. Unlike most recent constructions of late, this will be built as a rental property. This is potentially an interesting location for a new residential development as recent news has had a fair amount of conversation about the new LRT Green Line expansion.

This all gets back to my initial comments about Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak in a round-about way. Let me explain.

Recently, the federal government made a $2.6 billion announcement of new federal infrastructure funds for transit infrastructure in Toronto made by the current Prime Minister in Toronto, the day before Wreck City Demo Tape opened. No doubt, as the journalists who penned the Globe and Mail story intoned in the opening paragraph, this was timed to create warm fuzzy feelings amongst the voting electorate in the critically important Toronto battleground for the upcoming federal election in mid-October. Cynically, but also recognizing the nature of electoral politics (it is a fair assumption, that each party running wants to form government, or at least that is the theory. Otherwise, why would they run?). To do so they will each make announcements to entice voters to vote for them. Because of that, I am sure there will be further announcements in the near future that will be equally as transparent.

Currently there are 23 ridings which are currently split almost evenly in terms of representation between the three major federal parties (9 CON, 7 NDP, 7 LPC). From what  read as well, the polling for the GTA is very, very tight with only a few percentage points between each party. With the new electoral district redistribution the city of Toronto will get two new ridings (and the province of Ontario as a whole will get half of the 30 new seats), it will make Toronto that much more important, for any political party that wants to form the next government, but I digress. As someone who is very interested in the political process (not so much party politics), and given these facts, to my mind, it made perfect sense that the current government made this new funding announcement in Toronto.

Of course, this prompted Calgary to also get on track (I know, I know – bad pun) to immediately seek it’s share of the newly announced federal transit infrastructure funding for the Green Line expansion and the Green Line North (aka North Central LRT) which is part of the 30-year plan RouteAhead project.

If this expansion moves forward, it will be adjoining or certainly within close proximity to this new residential development. I say this, as my understanding is that the Green Line is proposed to follow (at least in the inner city portion) the current CP Rail line which is located only a few metres from the Demo Tape site (a jumping off site, if you will pardon the lame joke that references the Silver Streak movie).

Of course this new redevelopment may potentially reduce the current view of the downtown core from the Esker Foundation space. This is interesting given the recent Calgary Herald story earlier this month, which talks about the purchase of the former Farmer Jones auto dealership which was located across the side street from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker to save the view from the gallery.

It is probably doubtful as I have included an image from beside the CP Rail bridge (the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump off site) which shows the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker (the four story building that the rail beside the tracks points to in this photo) and the Demo Tape space (Penguin Car Wash site) to the right of the two trees in the photo below. And ironically the jump-off point is right in the middle of the two.

As with all new higher density developments, it will be interesting to see how the new development changes the nature of the communities of Inglewood and Ramsay.

View_looking_east_above_Elbow_River_toward_Esker_Foundation_and_Penguin_Car_Wash_01_July_2015 (1024x768)

* * *

24 July 2015 @ 12:45MDT edit:

Further to my comments above regarding the GreenLine LRT and RouteAhead expansion, I read with interest that there was a Federal government announcement made this morning with regards tot his project. According to this posting made earlier this morning in the City of Calgary’s news blog, this announcement is the “single largest infrastructure investment in Alberta’s history.” This project will run from the as yet undeveloped community of Keystone Hills in the far north end of the city through to Seton in the deep south which is still undergoing development surrounding the newly established South Calgary medical centre.

Advertisements

My proposal for a new non-profit organization

FFWD_End_of_19_years_2015_Feb_20

I must be fired up as I have written over 5000 words today on a day when I really don’t have time to spend on this type of activity.

However, I got a bit long-winded and spent more time on this than I originally planned. Understand that this is still a thought in process. There still needs to be refinement in my thought process.

Let’s consider this posting to be a first draft in an ongoing discussion in which I would like to be involved.

Here goes part two, the continuation of my previous post about Councillor Peter Demong’s proposal for public art in Calgary that goes to City Council tomorrow morning. If possible please attend. Artsvote YYC has got on board to pack the Council Chambers with supporters. Here is more information about that.

The issue I want to address here, came in the news on Friday morning.

If the reader is involved in the arts community in Calgary, they are mostly aware of the new by now. For those that aren’t, the corporate parent of Calgary’s FastForward Weekly, which currently is the city’s only free weekly newspaper which covers arts, music and entertainment news, announced that they will be ceasing operations in two weeks. In other words there will only be two more issues published. Here is the news.

Sadly, this continues a long tradition of other failed attempts at creating some form of arts journalism in the city. If anything it has been spotty. Other attempts such as the Vancouver-based Georgia Straight’s attempt to bring arts coverage and an alternative viewpoint to Calgary in a similarly called publication called the Calgary Straight. It died in the early-2000s.

For a good discussion and personal observations about this issue, Calgary playright and journalist Eugene Stickland yesterday wrote his own personal history of arts journalism in Calgary. It is well worth a read.

At one point, the Calgary Herald used to have good coverage. Then all the jobs got offloaded to other parts of the country and arts coverage as a general rule, just doesn’t happen, unless it is kind of a big deal.

The Albertan also had good arts coverage. In fact, in some ways, the Albertan at one point, used to have much better coverage than the Herald. Then it was purchased by the Sun and changed its name. The arts coverage from that publication has never been the same since.

I realize that the idea of paper news publications generally are going the way of the dodo bird. Everything is moving toward online content. That is the future.

It is the reality of the situation, like it or not.

However, it is not the same as a physical piece of paper, and never will be.

Maybe I am sentimental that way.

Online content goes away. Online content also has selective memory, and stories disappear into the ether when websites get updated, companies close and the content no longer serves the needs or desires of the content provider.

People like myself provide content. Our knowledge and expertise generally is not valued. By that I mean, I get nothing for writing this post. My knowledge is significant, but if I was to financially depend on what I have received from writing in the past (and I have been published on both broadsheet and glossy publications) I would be on the street and homeless – long, long ago and maybe even panhandling for spare change and food. That is how well freelance writing in the visual arts pays.

Regardless, arts journalism is important.

Artist’s careers depend upon receiving feedback and criticism from knowledgeable people, critics and fellow artists. It is through criticism that one’s career and practice is refined and growth occurs.

* * *

I have read feedback with regards to the ongoing operation of Calgary’s FastForward. I have read suggestions about what to do. Some of the ideas floated are:

  • That Calgary Arts Development Authority take over operations of the publication;
  • That the publication go online with only listings provided;
  • Someone local purchase the paper and continue operations;
  • Change operations to be a pay-publication (instead of free);
  • I am sure that there are other ideas as well.

I find it a good thing that options for survival are being discussed at this stage. This shows that there is a definite need and desire for this type of publication.

Most major cities has something like this type of publication. People visiting from elsewhere need some form of go to place to find information about what to do and where to go. It is difficult to find this type of information if a visitor is on a stop-over but wants to know about an interesting restaurant, a play, a concert, a dance performance or art exhibition or any other activity while they are in town.

If they don’t know the websites or the concierge is not aware of which website is best, they will be unsatisfied with their visit. As much as websites are great in one respect, they are not always as easy to navigate or find on the web. A different situation would be where the concierge says to the hotel client in response to a question about what is going on the city, “check in and I will run across the street and pick up a copy of the weekly publication for you.” The cost is nothing and everyone ends up being happy. It is all there.

Something like this newspaper is to the obvious benefit of organizations such as Calgary Economic Development; Tourism Calgary; Calgary Arts Development; and we might as well throw this one out there too – the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. For that matter many of the Business Revitalization Zones also would benefit by having this publication available – think of all the restaurants and nightclubs that have live music which get reviewed.

The idea that Calgary Arts Development take it over does have some merit. However, it is not without its challenges, like many things in life.

Case in point, my job (or current lack thereof).

With regards to CADA taking FFWD over. I want to say this very, very delicately. In fact, I almost hesitate to say this because what I have to say should be common sense. If, (and understand this is a very big IF), this was to happen, there is the potential for problems to come from this. This issue would need to be addressed before that was to happen (or, in the event it is considered whether it should happen).

Here is a potential scenario that would need to be addressed first. I am sure that there are other potential scenarios and variants that would relate, just as it would with any other potential umbrella organization that I have mentioned above.

As we know CADA provides funding to various arts organizations and individuals. Let’s use this as an example. A writer (it could be anyone) who works for this granting agency pens a story in this publication that is either a review or publicity piece for an organization/artist/troupe or whatever. The organization written about also receives grants and/or funding from the funding body that the writer works for. Here we can see that the potential is very real that a perception could be created of bias and favouritism toward either organization. Whether this perception is true or not – is a completely moot point.

As an outsider, I would suggest that this is not the place where any rational person or organization would want to place themselves in. Or at the very minimum, they should think long and hard before taking this step.

Having said that, and I will nip this comment in the bud. I expect that someone will draw attention to another publication which if memory serves me correct, was called Bridges. It was the Alberta Foundation for the Arts official publication that was published over something like a decade (or maybe even longer) during the Lougheed era, possibly even into the Getty era (if I recall correctly). It is important to note that this publication was produced during the pre-internet age, as this has some bearing on this topic. It also served as a form of information dissemination for the AFA including information about grants, programs, travelling exhibitions and new acquisitions. To my mind, this was a different situation entirely.

I am of the opinion that all is not lost.

We know that there is obvious benefit to having a publication such as this in the city.

So I have a proposal to make. Here it is:

In this city, I am sure that there is someone or even a corporate partner with enough resources to underwrite the direct costs of a month or two of weekly publications. This part is a safety net until a more permanent solution is made.

That is step one.

To do that, we need someone to step up. Someone who believes in the need. I would do it myself if I had the resources behind me and had regular income for my daily living expenses.

A free publication is necessary. It reduces barriers to entry for the information provided. It may only be a small barrier, but it is a barrier nevertheless.

The second step of my proposal would be to create a new co-operative, non-profit society with the express purpose of publishing this newspaper.

Given the economic benefits which flow to member groups of the organizations mentioned above Calgary Economic Development, Tourism Calgary, Calgary Arts Development and the Chamber of Commerce (not to mention some of the BRZs) – I would propose that each of these organizations set aside funding for the newspaper’s first year of operations. Additional funding from this should be set up to create a small endowment for challenging economic times (such as we have now with the price of oil) and create a sustainable future for the organization.

Funding from these partners will also facilitate the creation of this new non-profit, cooperative parent organization for this publication. This then becomes a made-in-Calgary solution, with the beneficiaries being our local community and small, independent businesses and arts organizations.

Once the initial funding partners are on side, I would then propose that the non-profit, cooperative society be governed by a board of directors.

One thing that this organization would need to do is provide non-biased journalistic integrity.

One of the criticisms that I have heard is FFWD as it currently operates has a political agenda. I suspect that some are making this into more of an issue than what it should be, and engaging in trollish behavior.

Personally, I believe that alternate political voices are necessary in a fully-functioning democracy. This is exactly as would be the case with various types of art-forms and disciplines. Some prefer the theatre, some prefer the opera. It is a matter of personal preference. However, I would be inclined to state that in an entertainment-focused journal, any discussions (not just politics) should be balanced and respecting of all views, whether they are shared or not. Alternate viewpoints are necessary. Because of the nature of this type of vehicle, an organization such as this must engage and create a dialogue with, both majority AND minority voices. I believe that this is understood by most who read this publication.

Because of that, I would encourage the initial funders to step back and allow the organization to function in a non-biased and an environment with integrity and minimal agendas. With the initial funders at the table there will always be a perception (whether that perception is valid or not) that there is an agenda that this news and entertainment organ has. However in a cooperative, non-profit society they would have access to the decisions of the board and receive financial reporting, annual reports and statements from the society, depending on the bylaws and/or articles of incorporation and what they state.

I think this could work.

I really do.

I would be willing to throw my hat into the ring to see it happen and to be part of the process. Whether I want to be part of it down the road, is another issue.

This is something that I believe in and want to see happen.

Yet another public art situation in Calgary

Inspector_Clouseau (1024x768)

Photo above: Councillor Peter Demong inspecting the fine print on his forthcoming Notice of Motion. Here he is checking to make sure that the use of the word “that” is used correctly in the second to last paragraph in his Notice of Motion NM2015-03, while neglecting to look at other large ticket items in the 2015 city budget.

There are days where it is disheartening to be either working in or closely affiliated with the visual arts in Calgary.

The last two days of this past week have been those type of days.

Sometimes, I wonder why I still live in the city and have not decamped for places unknown. An example would be other cities that place a higher value on cultural activities.

I have two stories that I plan to post today. Both are long reads.

This is the first.

There is a proud tradition (unfortunate is probably more like it) of the diaspora of Calgary artists and arts professionals who leave the city to go elsewhere, although that net migration out of the city has been in abeyance during recent years. It may however, begin once again. This opinion piece that was in Calgary’s FastForward Weekly that was published last November entitled Calgary Doesn’t Care About You which sums it up quite well. But I digress.

Yesterday all three newspapers (Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and the Metro) and each of the primary local TV stations with evening news coverage (CBC, CTV and Global) all had stories about a proposal made by Councillor Peter Demong.

Briefly, his proposal is to de-fund all public art projects that are tied to capital and infrastructure projects in the city. In addition to this, Demong’s notice of motion also calls for the termination of the Public Art Board for an indefinite period of time. Also he proposes that any unspent monies to be returned so that it can be reassigned for other capital projects (i.e. roads, transit, buildings, etc.).

This notice of motion is scheduled to be put forward and debated at the next City Council meeting to be held this Monday morning (February 23) at 9:30AM. His proposal will be agenda item 9.1.1.

DemongNoticeOfMotion2015Feb11

Here is the notice of motion (NM2015-03) as seen in the image above, which also has been transcribed in its entirety below:

RE: PUBLIC ART FUNDING

COUNCILLOR PETER DEMONG

WHEREAS the current state of the Alberta economy has been impacted by the low world price for oil

AND WHEREAS the Federal and Provincial Governments have indicated there might be funding delays and shortfalls which may force them to consider restricting funding for capital projects until the economy recovers

AND WHEREAS every day we are informed of more and more corporate cutbacks and employee layoffs;

AND WHEREAS according to the Public Art Policy up to $4 million from any single capital project can be allocated to public art;

AND WHERAS it behooves us as The City to show our citizens some restraint in how we allocate scarce resources in times of economic stress;

AND WHEREAS it is only prudent to conserve capital cash when times of economic uncertainty are apparent;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that all funding intended for public art be suspended for 2015 and any unused portions from previous years be returned for reallocation;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that all funds not expended by public art during this time frame be tabulated and that Administration return to Council with recommendations for projects that could be funded with this revenue;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that Council should review funding status for public art no sooner that (sic) January 2016;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED; that the service provided by the Public Art Board be temporarily suspended until further notice.

In one of the news stories covering this news item, Calgary Metro News “Council to vote on ‘suspending’ public art funds ” fellow Councillor Brian Pincott is quoted as saying:

“This is a yearly assault on the Public Art Program and the assault has been unrelenting through good times and bad times,” he said. “To say now we’re tight on money is facile and simplistic.”

Pincott also said Demong’s motion would amount to “killing” the Public Art Program.

“Let’s not fool ourselves,” he said. “If this passes, it’s not coming back.”

Sadly, this statement is most likely true.

Background information

One only has to look at the evidence that this program has been fighting an uphill battle since it became policy in 2003 after years of community consultation and further community consultation when the program was re-evaluated in 2013 as well. As an example I will only reference recent activity, because I don’t have the time or inclination to go back any further.

In 2012, (see Calgary Herald, 2012 March 24, “How a bridge divided a city” page B1) we find that controversy over the Peace Bridge saw that the public art component connected to the bridge was cancelled. From this same article we have this quote, comparing two infrastructure projects happening at approximately the same time:

Road projects hardly ever got the same pushback, said transportation GM Mac Logan, noting the $70-million price tag for the 4th Street S.E. underpass.

I think it’s just the mindset,” he said. “Fourth Street carries cars. And a delay to a car to sit and wait through two lights is seen as a big deal. But a pedestrian that has to walk an extra kilometre is not important. Weird.”

Later that year after at least a month or two of debate (Calgary Herald, 2012 September 25, “West LRT art faces $3.5M cap” page B3) we read that:

. . . managers never set aside the funding in the west LRT budget, (and) transportation officials have pulled together $3.5 million in public art money from other projects for the LRT’s beautification.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Someone supposedly FORGOT to include an automatic 1% budget line into a major infrastructure project. Not that the 1% for public art has EVER been fully used. But I digress.

Then in December 2013, a result of the Giant Blue Ring project being installed near Airport and Deerfoot Trails around election time (fall 2013) the public art budget was put up for further discussion again. The proposal was to cut the budget. After six months of going through the process, the Calgary Herald (2014 May 27, “Council criticized for trimming art budget” page A6) once again reported:

Calgary’s new public art policy will cut $188,000 out of the roughly $5-million annual art budget, though councillors came close to stripping even more from the controversial beautification program.

The revised policy provides one per cent of budgets for art for projects up to $50 million, and half a percentage point for any expenses above that level. Chu, wary of spending tax dollars on art, proposed the threshold at $25 million.

So yes, Councillor Brian Pincott is absolutely correct – this IS a yearly assault on the Public Art Program, through good times and bad.

* * *

Now for my editorial on the public art issue.

The whole concept of cutting visual arts, public art, the creative industries and innovation is incredibly short-sighted and misinformed.

I am not alone. As stated in the Globe and Mail, Calgary’s Todd Hirsch wrote:

We have to stop thinking about arts and culture as simply nice-to-haves. They are just as important as well-maintained roads and bridges. By giving us the chance to stimulate our minds with new ideas and experiences, they give us the opportunity to become more creative. Arts and culture are infrastructure for the mind.

The world has changed. No longer is the North American economy driven by manufacturing. Increasingly, as a general population, we are increasingly working in knowledge-based, creative and/or service industries.

Ironically, art making is still involves the manufacturing process. As any standard economic text will state, it is manufacturing which is the true wealth creator. It is through manufacturing that economic value is created from raw materials and value add is provided. As very good example of this, the Blue Ring involved a significant local manufacturing component, in fact it can be stated with a fair bit of certainty that a significant portion of the expenditure for this work stayed in the local community. This reality, is contrary to the fabricated claims made by the trolls who populate comment boards on newspaper stories that still have nothing better to do than talk negatively about this piece two years later.

Here are a few reasons why this Notice of Motion is short-sighted

As the saying goes, “no one ever visited Paris, to see the parking garages”. Travel is an important business, especially with visitors from around the world who pass through our city every day en route to the scenic beauty of the nearby Rocky Mountains and the panoramic views just a short distance away.

A significant amount of travellers do engage in what is known as “cultural tourism.” A recent study (November 2012) commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council found the following results:

  • tourists who participated in arts and culture activities represent over one fifth of the 42.8 million overnight trips to Ontario in 2010 (22%)
  • Arts and culture tourists outspent typical overnight tourists in Ontario at a rate of almost two-to-one. On average, they spent $667.00 per trip in Ontario, compared to $374.00 spent by the typical overnight tourist.
  • At $1.7 billion in taxes, all levels of government benefited from spending by arts and culture tourists in Ontario during 2010. Of the $1.7 billion, approximately $1.0 billion were federal government taxes, a further $0.7 billion were provincial taxes and $11.0 million were municipal taxes.

Cutting funding to this important segment of the tourist market would appear to be one of ignorance of the facts shown above.

In the 2013 Otis Report on the Creative Economy – a study of economic impact of the creative community in California (the new report will be released in the next couple weeks) we find key findings, such as:

  • In the Los Angeles/Orange County region during 2012, the creative industries accounted for 10.4% of the gross regional product (or an economic contribution of $80-billion). The creative industries had a total impact of $140-billion of economic activity and tax revenues of $6.9-billion.
  • 1 in 7 (13.8%) of all workers (direct, indirect and induced) are employed in the creative industries in Los Angeles/Orange County; and 9.7% are employed in the creative industries in the state of California.

As seen, there is a lot of potential here.

I could go on about the local economy, but I know that the Calgary Economic Authority has done a 97-page study about this issue in 2010. As a City Councillor, this study should be on your bookshelf for reference. If you haven’t read it, I would suggest reading Richard White’s synopsis in the Calgary Herald seen here.

Public art serves an important function.

It is NOT a luxury.

It feeds our souls. In times of economic hardship and difficulties, art is what helps bring meaning and a reminder that there is beauty in spite of all the ugliness that surrounds us.

It is okay if you don’t get it, or it is not your thing. Not everyone is going to like the same type of art. That is the beauty of it. One person likes western art with cowboys riding horses and the next person likes non-representational art and the next likes new media art or sculpture. I have worked in the business for over a decade and have visited hundreds of people’s homes and offices to view (and sometimes install) art since I began working in the field long, long ago – back when dinosaurs still ruled the earth.

Is one person’s aesthetic better than the next?

Maybe, maybe not.

Either way, on a strictly personal level, if the person who lives with the work, actually likes it, and it gives them pleasure – what does it matter?

However, as the analogy goes, why would someone purchase a home and not bother to plant any flowers or plants in the garden?

* * *

My action item for the reader.

I would like to see the Council Chambers filled with supporters of the Public Art Program this Monday morning. I would like to see something like what was done when the Public Art Policy was presented to City Council in the spring of 2013, just before the flood.

If you can’t make it, then at least contact your Councillor and let them know how you feel. Calgary Arts Development Authority yesterday published a letter that the CADA Board Chair, Dean Prodon, wrote to members of the City Council. It is available here. You can use this letter as a template to let them know your feelings about this Notice of Motion.

Postscript edit: (2015 February 22 @16:36)

I see that my proposal that I first made on someone’s facebook posting a few days ago, is now gaining traction. I just received notice that ArtsVote YYC has just issued a call to action. They also want to do the same thing as I have proposed. Here is their call to action.

Finally, the last word comes from the Giant Blue Ring itself!! (2015 February 22 @23:07)

Giant_Blue_Ring_Comments_2015_Feb_22

New cultural facility in Mayland Heights

Evergreen_Community_Spaces_new_location_in_Mayland_Heights_from_Oct_2014 (1024x683)

Today a gym (Fitness Plus) in the community of Mayland Heights has an auction selling all of its exercise equipment located there. According to the sign on the door, they closed this location on October 5 due to their inability to “maintain the financial viability of (its) north location”.

Why is this arts related news, you may ask?

It is not.

However, what is news and relevant, is that the new occupant of the space will be Evergreen Theatre which I believe is currently located on the former CFB Calgary base. I know from the news that area will be undergoing redevelopment in the near future.

Some time ago, probably around the time that ArtBOX on 17E opened in the summer of 2013 and potentially in conjunction with a discussion of public art as well, I mentioned the fact of the paucity of dedicated art spaces located east of Deerfoot Trail.

I find this a rather fascinating observation. Here is why.

In the 2014 City Census , as seen here, it shows that 1,195,194 residents of all ages who live in the City boundaries. It also shows that there are currently 14 electoral wards for the office of Councillor officially representing those approximately 1.2 million people.

In those 14 wards, it would appear as if five wards are largely located east of Deerfoot (wards 3, 5, 9, 10 and 12). I can already hear it. I know what is going to happen is that someone will take exception to my choices of wards (especially with regards to ward 9). I am okay with that, because I see from the map on page 28 of the link provided above that there is no indication of major thoroughfares on it and where population actually resides. Ward 9 goes to the eastern city limits, but I also know that the Councillor is also considered to represent the inner-city by some. It is a moot point. I have probably erred somewhat. As a result I had to guess based on an approximate speculation of where Deerfoot is located on this map.

If I use the wards indicated above (3, 5, 9, 10 and 12) and add up the population in those wards as indicated on the map located on page 28, I see that approximately 442,479 people reside east of Deerfoot. That represents 37.02% of all residents of the city.

This is a significant amount of people, no matter how you cut it. From the following link we can see that a similar percentage of the popular vote (39.6%) was all that was required to bring the federal Conservative Party of Canada to a majority government in the last election in May 2011.

The question follows.

Given that this geographical area represents nearly 40% of the City population – why is it that this area has been so severely misrepresented with art spaces, for so long?

Regardless of whether you the reader, like my choice of electoral ward selection, it is nevertheless a valid question to ask.

I need to also state in all fairness, that Calgary Arts Development is aware of this deficit and has started to take steps to introduce cultural equity into places where none currently exist. One of those attempts is the ArtBOX on 17E project that is a limited time project in partnership with the International Avenue BRZ. So at least there are some attempts being made to try and rectify this oversight. Yet another cultural space is the long-overdue, but recently announced Calgary Film Studio that had the sod-turning yesterday (October 31) that will be located in the Great Plains Industrial area.

Evergreen_Community_Spaces_new_location_signage (1024x683)

From what I understand the new Evergreen Theatre space will open in early 2016. I also understand that some of their space will be available to be sublet or for special events. This should help alleviate somewhat the demand for cultural space east of the Deerfoot (even if it is within view of, and a short walk away from Deerfoot Trail).

Having this space here makes me happy. 

Bear with me as indulge myself on this circuitous detour to explain why. I will attempt to be short and unfortunately it might be even sickly sweet. It is possible that the dry heaves may occur.

 A_junior_high_school_crush

At the risk of dating myself and because it is my blog I can do things like this. I once had a junior high school crush on a girl. I know, I know, I am sure that I am probably the only one that ever had something like that happen to them during junior high when the hormones were rushing. This is the only picture I have of her which was taken from a larger group photo as you can see from the buttons on the person standing behind her. She used to live on the street directly above this new art space. Around the same time, I also remember riding an inner tube with friends (who knows, maybe she joined us, stranger things have happened) down the hill behind this space and probably right through the middle of the space that Evergreen will soon occupy. I am sure that I did this at least a couple times when it was covered with snow. I have always wondered whatever happened to her as I don’t recall hearing anything about her after the time that this photo above was originally taken. I guess it will always remain one of those great mysteries in life.

Visiting the space when I took these photos brought back these remote and distant memories that I rarely think about anymore. It made me happy for that reason.

Fond memories as I travel down that dusty nostalgic lane.

Back to business now. 

I wish those involved at the Evergreen Theatre much success in their new location.

 

Yup, it is Still Burning

Dominion_Bridge_Passage_opening_for_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

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.

Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_list_of_members_since_1979 (1024x683)

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.

 

One year anniversary of this blog, with review

Surprises_found_when_digging_in_the_garden_18_August_2013 (1024x683)

Today is the blog’s one year anniversary.

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

I closed out my first post with this:

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

I think I have done that.

Now, a bit of history

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

In some cases I now wish that I did.

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

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

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

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

Palais_Idéal_May_2014_from_Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

When that was not enough, he used a wheelbarrow.

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

Situations are changing, but we still need the cash

AndyWarhol1962DollarBillSeries

 

Within this past week a number of news stories have crossed my desk which show that all is not well in the arts and culture area (oops, I mean cultural sector – no forget that, let`s call it cultural industries).

Regardless, it is something that is certainly not new by any stretch of the imagination for those involved actively, but at least there seems to be some awareness of it on a larger scale – or maybe that is just wishful thinking.

I don`t have much time today so will only touch on a few things, more in passing.

 

1. The issue of corporate culture and economics with the arts world.

This morning in the Globe and Mail there is an article written by Thomas Hodd which talks about the corporatization of the arts world. The author teaches literature at the university level and also sits on various arts organizational boards – so as one would expect, he talks about language. He also brings up this “situation whereby artists and cultural organizations are now being forced by governments to conform to the language and approach of corporatism if they want to get funding.”

This appears to be a continuation of comments made in mid-October 2012 in the (St. John, NB) Telegraph-Journal where Hodd stated in an editorial, that “Economics should not be a driving force in decisions regarding matters of culture. Economics serves to provide us with the means by which to live while culture gives us a reason to live in the first place.”

2. The issue of social media

A British organization called One Further just published a study last week entitled “Facebook Survey for Arts and Culture Organisations” which can be accessed here. It is a 16-page document that as a result of a statement issued by Facebook in 2013 which “lead to some consternation among arts and culture organisations. . . (namely) If fewer people are reading their updates then are they worth posting? Should they pay Facebook to push their updates into more News Feeds via the Promoted Posts feature? Can nonprofit organisations afford to do that? Is it worth continuing with Facebook at all?”

This led One Further to conduct a survey of 48 organizations in Europe and North America during a two-week period in June 2014. The results are found in the report linked above. It is well worth the read for any arts administrator whose duties involve social media.

3. The issue of public art.

This past May, City Council bowed to public pressure to a point, resulting from the Blue Ring controversy which with terrible timing was installed right in the middle of the last city election campaign. I am quite certain that this probably of little help to the whole issue of developing a new YYC Arts Plan that was already well underway by that time. The end result was rejigging the formulas for the 1% for art program and a few other tweaks. As explained above, this issue was scheduled before the election, for discussion this year on the 10-year anniversary of the Public Art Program. Notwithstanding this situation, public art is something that must be considered.

I see that the Vancouver City Council will be discussing at their City Council meeting today, some significant changes to their public art program in its first significant overhaul in 30 years. As quoted in the Vancouver Sun story that ran a few days ago, “the changes, proposed in a report going to council on Wednesday, come as the publicly funded side of the city’s program is faltering under a lack of capital and an aging body of works in need of maintenance. The city’s cultural spaces management is eyeing taking more from developers to help grow the existing program and to also create a superfund for a new class of projects on city land.”

Of course this issue of an “aging body of works in need of maintenance” speaks to the issue of the original 98-year old lions that once stood on the Centre Street Bridge; and what to do with them now.

One may recall, a few years back the lions were a front page story in the Calgary Herald (February 21, 2012) and created quite a stir when they were observed in a warehouse yard covered by a tarp (ironically across the street from the Calgary Herald offices). At the time of the 2012 story, they were exposed to the elements after being removed from the bridge in 1999 and replaced with replica copies a year or two later.

Once again, the lions are back in the news again along with a series of subsequent letters to the editor. The verdict in the most recent news is that their future is now uncertain once again and that they may be too fragile to move – which more or less repeats what was originally stated in February 2012. However it has been floated as a potential addition to public art located the West LRT line a few times – so one never really knows for sure until a final decision has been made on that, probably sometime next year (2015).

The city actively solicited an opportunity to provide feedback about the lions. For these comments to be included in the written feedback for the Request for Proposals (RFP) relating to public art projects involving the West LRT and the lions, the form had to be filled out by July 21 (two days ago). That webpage is still active – for how long I don’t know and cannot predict. However, if you want to provide your feedback and have not done so already follow this link.

4. The issue of declining revenues for artists

This one is more about music than fine art although a case can be certainly made for the transference between the two. In a recent story in salon.com the issue is brought up about how streaming music is adding to the frustration from musicians outside of the mainstream. Specifically mentioned are the two genres, classical and jazz. This article sites ” low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing.”

Added to this could be a discussion about changes at the CBC, where it is becoming more like every other top 40 (or top 100) radio stations on the dial (notwithstanding their on-air advertisements which would seem to indicate otherwise), and becoming less easily distinguishable as a unique view on Canadian culture and content. That discussion however is for another day. To be frank, it will probably will never be covered by me, however I am sure it has been well covered by others.

 

This all plays back to the first comment about corporatization and how funding (however it comes) is affecting arts organizations and changing the cultural landscape.

If anything, I would propose that this is more of an entry point for further discussion and dialogue.