A tragic loss to Calgary’s arts community




A great loss to the cultural community in Calgary occurred yesterday near Regina.

Michael Green, one of the co-founders of One Yellow Rabbit, passed away in a tragic automobile accident. Three other people shared the same vehicle with Green, all of whom also tragically died as well. The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident also died as a result of the accident.

It is understood that the roads were very icy with drifting snow.

This is not just a loss for the Calgary and Southern Alberta arts communities, but also the theatre and aboriginal community in Regina. The others who also passed away in this accident are listed below:

  • Narcisse Blood was an elder from the Blood First Nation near Cardston. Blood was a teacher and filmmaker who taught at Red Crow Community College, University of Lethbridge and the Indigenous Studies program at the University of Calgary. Narcisse Blood was also involved with the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society.
  • Michelle Sereda, like Green, was a fixture in the Regina arts community. She was a faculty member in the University of Regina department of theatre and the artistic director of a troupe called Curtain Razors.
  • Lacy Morin-Desjarlais was a Saulteux artist who recently began teaching beginners powwow classes at the University of Regina Conservatory. Both Sereda and Morin-Desjarlais had recently worked together on a theatre project.

Michael Green as stated, was involved with One Yellow Rabbit. One Yellow Rabbit was a theatre group which shook up the established order of theatre and performance in the city when it was formed during the early 1980s. Recently, the 29th annual High Performance Rodeo Festival just ended. The Rodeo developed out of activities initiated by One Yellow Rabbit. He was the current artistic curator of the festival and helped shape its direction from the very beginning.

In the fall of 2011, Green took an 18-month leave of absence from OYR to assume the creative producer role for Calgary 2012.

During the Calgary 2012 festival, a new activity was developed to celebrate the signing of Treaty 7 at Blackfoot Crossing in 1877. The signing of this treaty allowed the development of much of southern Alberta and the newly formed society discusses its implications and consequences.

Although the organization’s initial activities have ended, the organization is now more formalized as the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society. In November 2014 the premiere of a Making Treaty 7 performance occurred. Green was a current member of the Making Treaty 7 board.

What makes this more tragic, is that it follows on the recent passing of Richard (Rico) McDowell who, like Green, was closely tied to One Yellow Rabbit. McDowell had roots in the local arts community dating back to the time he was very deeply involved with Ten Foot Henry’s. It was a legendary alternative performance space located on the west end of downtown Calgary between 1982 and 1985. Here, many punk rock bands performed at and it encouraged performative activities and other artistic endeavours at a time when there were few alternative venues located in the city.

It is a great loss to the communities spread across the prairies. I extend my condolences to each of their families. Their legacies will remain.


Collaboration in Calgary arts community (with a potential new participant)




Tomorrow, the trustees of the Tate Britain will announce the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize. One of the four nominees is Canadian-born printmaker – Ciara Phillips.

Normally, an event that is taking place half-way around the world would be a non-event for this blog. However, I believe it is timely for discussion in Calgary, regardless of whether she wins or not.

For those who do not know, I am a former gallerist that operated a member gallery of the Art Dealers Association of Canada which dealt primarily with printmaking and prints. As a result, I have a very deep appreciation and understanding of the printmaking process, even though I am not a printmaker myself. For whatever reason, the printmaking medium, gets very little respect and appreciation in the city. It has been that way for a very long time, which is surprising given the strong printmaking tradition in the city and that there is an amazing collection of block prints (in particular) which is housed at the Glenbow. This all is quite unfortunate situation that I can only hope will change in time.

Secretly, (well maybe not so secretly anymore) I am pulling for her to win. I do see that she probably is somewhat of a longshot, although definitely in the running. In the UK, there is an interesting phenomenon in that people make wagers, and bookies make books on the outcomes of major cultural prizes, along with the usual horse races, football games and boxing matches. The Turner Prize is no exception.

When I checked a few minutes ago the average odds at the time of retrieval, the consensus order of payout (or from most-likely to least-likely) as determined by a survey of various bookies, is as follows:

  • Duncan Campbell is the favourite, a win would payout £7 for every £4 bet (1.75x);
  • A Ciara Phillips win would payout £11 for every £4 bet (2.75x);
  • A James Richards win would payout £3 for every £1 bet (3.0x);
  • A Tris Vonna-Mitchell win would payout £7 for every £2 bet (3.5x).

If only people cared that much on the visual arts in this city that they would bet on and for artists. If we did, we would probably have a civic art gallery and actually support the visual arts and its artists – but I digress.

Getting back to business.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for an exhibition that she held during 2013 at The Showroom, London that ended one year ago today (November 30). The exhibition was described as follows, and I will quote at length (there is substantially more, if you feel so inclined) to help put this posting into context for those in Calgary who may not click on the hotlink and to understand the timeliness. Here is what The Showroom had to say about this exhibition:

Workshop (2010–ongoing) is a new installation made up of multiple screenprints on newsprint and large-scale works on cotton. This new work sets an attitude for a two-month temporary print studio that will take place in the gallery over the course of the exhibition.

Throughout October and November (2013) Phillips will be collaborating with invited artists, designers, and local women’s groups (many of whom have ongoing relationships with The Showroom) to produce new screenprints. Guests will bring their different knowledge and experiences of working collectively to the Workshop, whose structure is open for development as the project progresses. These new collaborations will initiate conversations and actions that aren’t contained within specific disciplines of art, community action, design or activism. By making prints in these new collaborative groupings, Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas and generating discussions around experimental and wider uses of print.

We know that Ciara Phillips showed in Calgary previously and I was fortunate enough to have seen the group show which she was included in, during the summer of 2013 at the short-lived Haight Gallery (which has subsequently closed, probably right after the group show ended). The photo above was from that show, and the same exhibition was also shown in January 2014 at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 – an artist run centre.

Now to get to the core of the matter.

Why is this relevant to Calgary?

As seen above, we know that Ciara Phillips has shown in Calgary. We also know that there is a significant artistic exchange that occurs between Glasgow (where she currently lives) and Calgary. I could easily rattle off a good sampling of names without too much difficulty.

We also have seen a significant increase in collaboration in the city’s institutional culture. Here are some examples:

  • Earlier this year it was announced that Calgary will host the MassMOCA produced Oh, Canada show which will open in January 2015. This will be a collaborative exhibition spread between Glenbow, Esker, Nickle, and the Illingworth Kerr galleries.
  • Not so long ago Contemporary Calgary co-hosted a portion of the Made in Calgary: The 1990s show and the Nickle currently is co-hosting the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 2000s show.
  • We can also reference the initial Nuit Blanche show in 2012 where they informally collaborated with MOCA Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary).
  • Then there was the partnership between the Calgary Stampede and MOCA Calgary for a 1912/2012 focused show during the summer of 2012.
  • We can also talk about the long-standing (maybe 15-20 year long) relationship between the Centre for Performing Arts and mostly artist run centres in the six +15 window spaces which has recently been expanded to also include the Alberta Craft Council, Tiny Gallery and the University of Calgary. There may be more in the works as I see construction happening in the same general area.

Even other organizations outside of the visual arts like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is getting in on the act with a performance which involved students in the MADT program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in their performance last night of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila.

Beakerhead is yet another fine example where it was set up to explore where collaboration can exist between the engineering and science communities with the visual arts.

I know that I have only touched upon a few partnerships, but as seen above it is an increasingly important part of the cultural landscape that is developing in the city for various reasons. It is probably a good thing.

In a recent interview in the Ottawa Citizen where she is quoted as saying, “I think it (the Turner Prize) has drawn a lot more attention to my work, and there have been some really nice outcomes of that, especially invitations to make future exhibitions in Sweden and Canada.” This was also repeated a few days later (earlier this week) in a recent interview with Canadian Art magazine.

Alberta Printmakers Society is one such organization that could potentially host this show in their new facility. Although, having said that, I would think the gallery space might be a bit on the small side.

From a personal observation, A/P has become much more active recently and has shown a willingness to program potentially controversial exhibitions such as the recent Joscelyn Gardner show which ended yesterday, entitled bringing down the flowers. . . I attended the opening of Gardner’s show this past October 24th and had a good discussion with her while I was there. It was my intention to write something about it, but due to other more pressing circumstances, I was unable to find the time to do so. It was a very strong show and it dealt with issues that should have a higher visibility and dialogue in this country. Certainly, more so than what is currently the case. I may still, even though it is too late to see the show at the Artist Proof Gallery.

Given this as background, and understand that this is complete and unsubstantiated speculation as an outsider, does that mean we may potentially see Caira Phillip’s Workshop (2010 – ongoing) make an appearance in Calgary in the near future?

Maybe there is a partnership with A/P and another organization such as the Esker, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, the Banff Centre or potentially Contemporary Calgary or the Glenbow in the works?

Let’s hope so.

*  *  *

December 1, 2014 edit

I checked the news to find out who won the Turner Prize this year. The winner was Duncan Campbell. It is not surprising given that the film he was nominated for was previously shown at the most recent Venice Biennale.

It doesn’t change anything about collaboration, which was the primary focus of this posting. Of course that possibility of a Canadian show for Ciara Phillips is still out there and I think that it would be awesome if it took place in Calgary.

Social Justice Art in Calgary



Steven Cottingham‘s show entitled I’ve Committed Sins No God Could Forgive ended on Sunday, September 28, 2014.

I could have written about this during the midst of the exhibition. I chose not too as the second part of the exhibition will take place today. It is this part that I find most interesting.

As you can see from the photo above, the window exhibition is quite simple containing a wooden pallet; two cardboard boxes; six glass vases and spray-painted(?) text. It is the text that gives the key to the second stage of the exhibition. It reads as follows:

On September 30 I will use the entirety of my artist  fee to have flowers (white lilies) delivered to employees of Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

I suspect many have walked past this exhibition and not given it a second glance.

In many ways this blog post is primarily geared toward the average employee of three significant corporate entities with Canadian and/or International headquarters located in the city – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil. If one looks at the picture above, it will become self-evident why.

* * *

Steven Cottingham is a Calgary artist. He is a relatively recent graduate from the Alberta College of Art and Design. He is also very involved in the Calgary visual art community. He is also writing a book about art and love, which reflects his artistic practice.

Truck, is the gallery that selected the proposal that Cottingham presented for their programming. Because Truck is an artist-run centre, the work is not for sale. This is typical for most public galleries in Canada (and often elsewhere as well). To compensate the artist for the work that they have done, public galleries pay an artist fee. Usually the base amount (some will pay more) has been determined by an organization called CARFAC (which means Canadian Artist Representation and the French equivalent).

This is different from how a commercial gallery works. In a commercial gallery payment usually comes as a result of the sale of the artwork. There are some exceptions, but usually the amount is determined as agreed under contract between the artist and the gallery.

* * *

Cottingham will receive his fee, which was agreed in advance under contract.

Unlike most artists who would typically pay bills (or whatever is their current priority), Cottingham has chosen to disperse this payment in the form of a gift. This gift will be a white lily to random employees of the three companies mentioned above – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

Why is Cottingham doing this?

No doubt, this will be the question around the water cooler at these three companies.

I will attempt to explain.

This is an act of social justice art.

This will of course prompt the question, “what is social justice art?”

Lee Bell and Desai Dipti simply defined it as follows:

Social justice art “encompasses a wide range of visual and performing art that aim to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate individuals to promote social change.” (Note 1)

As it relates to this show, a key might be found in recent newspaper article from St. John, NB which relates to a recent solo exhibition of Cottingham’s work which was held in Freedericton, NB. There Cottingham has stated that he finds “it . . . increasingly necessary . . . to use art as a way of bringing attention to these areas of inequality, and even discrimination sometimes.” (Note 2)

Of course this leads to the next question, “what type of social change is Cottingham trying to effect?”

First I would like to put some background to this question, before addressing it later.

What is the significance of the white lily?

There seems to be no consistent meaning for the white lily. However, it is imbued with significant religious meaning, consistently. Teleflora states that white lilies signify chastity and virtue. (Note 3) This website then goes to state that they are a “symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity and her role of Queen of the Angels “. Although it is not stated, surprisingly, other websites frequently mention that white lilies are often associated with Easter which makes sense given the significance stated in relationship to the Virgin Mary in the website.

In a Swerve article this past weekend, Cottingham is reported to have stated that he interprets white lilies as an “empathetic . . . flower of both sympathy and apology.” (Note 4) As a result, this additional interpretation must also be taken into consideration as well.

Why these three companies?

Outside of what was stated at the top, all I have to work with in this regard is what was stated in the Swerve article. Here, Cottingham stated what was stated at the top and continued by saying these three companies are, “companies that I know at least a couple of my friends (which) are employed (at).” (Note 5)

What is the social justice message intended?

In the Swerve article, Cottingham states, “I wanted to start a conversation about the fact that, on one hand, this economy necessitates certain activities that may or may not be morally sound and are definitely controversial and may be shortsighted” (Note 6)

He then follows on to mention three specifics in passing within the same paragraph:

  • Economic self-sufficiency;
  • Destruction of the land; and,
  • Ignoring rights of First Nation peoples

It is safe to assume that this is based on both personal and larger-scale economics and resource development.

This action would appear to be simply about economic disparity and/or resource development. This is an issue that requires further discussion, as we increasingly see in the news of the day.

Social justice art is a form of contemporary art that I suspect we will be seeing more of in the city during the next year. What form that will take, I am uncertain.

Historically, the arts (not all, but certainly the avant-garde) in its many forms (from theatre and dance to the visual arts) holds an important place at the table as artists and their work engage with politics, social justice or change and other issues. These works have not always been popular at the time they were first produced, but over time in some cases have become iconic works in due course (think Picasso‘s Guernica). I am intrigued to see what potentially may be in the works.



  1. Bell, Lee; Desai Dipti, “Imagining Otherwise: Connecting the Arts and Social Justice to Envision an Act for Change: Special Issue Introduction”. Equity and Excellence in Education 44:3 (August 10, 2011): 287–295
  2. MacNeill, Jon, “Exhibition casts light on social injustices,” [St. John, NB] Here, June 5, 2014, A26.
  3. Teleflora, “Lily: The meaning & significance of lily”, accessed September 28, 2014, http://www.teleflora.com/about-flowers/lily.asp
  4. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham” [Calgary Herald] Swerve, September 26, 2014, 30
  5. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”
  6. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”

Rumble House new location

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Earlier this month I posted some erroneous news about the Gorilla House and Rumble House in amongst some factually correct information.

In my previous post, I was upfront about my speculation regarding their new location. Today I received confirmation that my source was wrong.

This post is therefore to correct that erroneous information.

I don’t feel particularly bad about the fact that I was wrong. Maybe I should, but I don’t given the circumstances. In it inevitable that things like this will happen for time to time. It is obvious now, that I was not alone in being mistaken.

In the Fall 2014 edition of Stephen magazine (the one that is currently available) there is a double page spread on pages 32-33, showing photos of members of the Gorilla House/Rumble House team in the “5,500 square feet of unused space in front of the Day’s Inn on Macleod Trail.” The remainder of the article leaves an impression that this was going to be their new home.

I understand the nature of lease negotiations all too well. From recent personal experience, I had an extended conversation for over a month with a landlord about occupying and leasing a vacant commercial space for the entire two summer months. The day before I was prepared to move and a couple days before I had targeted as the first date of active operations from our very first conversation in May, the deal fell apart – suddenly.

I have previously written for different publications. From that experience, I know that glossy magazines usually require a longer and sometimes significant lead time prior to publication. Glossy magazines don’t have the quick turn-around that a blog or newspaper has.

I read news from yesterday that Rumble House has signed a lease for a space on 8th Avenue SW, near Mewata Armories, Millennium Park, Kerby Centre and the old Science Centre/Planetarium. Ironically I passed their new location last week (before they put up the current for lease sign). I was thinking to myself as I did that, that the space Rumble House has leased looked vacant and I was also thinking that it potentially could be a good space for a gallery.

The new location will be at 1136 – 8 Avenue SW.

It most recently was used as a retail space for a store that sold classical music recordings, called Classics Plus. Prior to that if memory serves me correct, it was an English Fish and Chips shop for quite some time. Classics Plus has been located there or next door in the building to the east (a two story, plus basement mid-century building) that once housed Virginia Christopher Gallery, three or four moves before the gallery closed a few years ago. That building next door also housed artist studios, the short-lived Deacon-Ulrich Gallery and long-term tenant Fine Art Framers. As seen from the tenants it once housed, the building next door was definitely an arts friendly building at one point in time and from what I understand it has subsequently been sold.

From the news that was released from Rumble House yesterday, it appears as if they intend to open during October. No date has been set.

It is my opinion that this will be a much better location for Rumble House than the Day’s Inn location.

I wish them success here. I will definitely stop in and visit, once they are up and running.


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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

This all was background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



One year anniversary of this blog, with review

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Today is the blog’s one year anniversary.

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

I closed out my first post with this:

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

I think I have done that.

Now, a bit of history

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

In some cases I now wish that I did.

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

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

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

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


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.


Observations on three different heritage hotels

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It is midway through Historic Calgary Week which includes the Century Homes Project. It is an interesting way to draw attention to historical issues in a city that has a love affair with tearing older buildings down and replacing them with newly built buildings. Rarely are the old buildings incorporated into the new design. However, that is another issue for another day.

With that in mind, the Calgary Herald ran a story today that talks about the Cecil Hotel, Stephen Avenue Mall, Penny Lane Mall, the Barron Building and many other older and newer buildings and trying balance demands for the new with voices trying keep the old. It is not an easy thing to do, in a city that is rapidly growing with constant demands for space.

I will try to keep this short.

At the same time I want to talk about three old hotels – The Cecil, The King Eddy and the York Hotel.

The rationale?

All three buildings that were built in the early part of the 20th century; are located east of Centre Street; have recently been in the news; were all owned by the City at one time in their existence; and have been floated as being appropriate venues for cultural spaces at some point after the residents had left (or were in the process of leaving).

The Cecil

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A long time ago, when I used to own a gallery and was tied into a five-year lease, I was approached by someone who talked at great length, complete with architectural drawings and conceptual ideas about how the Cecil should be rebranded as a cultural space/boutique/art space with studios above. It was similar to the Art Central concept with the exception that it quite possibly was a contemplated as a live/work concept. This is my memory talking here.

I have no documentation about this. I could not find mention of it in the online newspaper site I visited. My memory also is that the concept never lasted very long. However, it stuck in my mind as it happened around the time the landlord I was renting from at my residence, was talking about selling and I was considering my options. Now, I am very interested to see the architectural renderings again or to find out more about the concept. I am putting this out into the internet world, in the hopes that someone has this information, and/or is willing to talk more about it. Please visit my contact me page if you are that person or persons.

Notwithstanding this concept, the Cecil has had various uses in a cultural capacity over the years. Most recently a movie called Three Colours & a Canvas, 2014 was released within the last few months. It was filmed predominantly at the Cecil. The use of the Cecil as a backdrop for advertising photography, movies and photographic stills is common. The building has a grittiness and contrasts that works well in these contexts.

This is evident in a photo-essay which the Calgary-based photographer George Webber did for the February 27th issue of Swerve magazine in 2009. It documented the last days of the Cecil, and the introduction said:

On Friday, Feb. 13, the residents of the Cecil Hotel packed up and left. And then there were none–except a photographer and his camera.

The Cecil was also the subject of an art exhibition called This is My Cecil which was held in the Ledge Gallery at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts. This was done in conjunction with This is My City Festival. The organizer of this exhibition Tomas Jonsson and his objectives for this show were described in a May 2010 story in the Herald as:

With his interactive project, Jonsson wants to make the negative view or “narrative” of the Cecil more “complex” by looking at other points of view, and at some of the rich-versus-poor backstories and business-versus-human dimensions of urban development.

Somewhere I believe I have a small publication produced for this show.

The King Eddy


This once seedy hotel (just as the Cecil was) used to have a pub in the basement where a virtual who’s who of blues musicians would perform over many years. It was known as the Home of the Blues – with good reason. Legendary acts such as Buddy Guy played there.

In August 2004, the King Eddy (or more formally the King Edward) was condemned with the Calgary Health Region citing, “dangerous level(s) of mould, not enough toilets and unsanitary conditions.” Like the Cecil it sat vacant and unused for four years before a proposal by Cantos Music Foundation (now the National Music Centre) was accepted in May 2008 to allow for redevelopment as a museum/music centre. This project is well underway as seen by the photo below that I took in early July of this year.

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I am sure I will write more about this project as time progresses.

The York Hotel


Sometime between October 2005 when City Council approved the sale of the York Hotel and June 2007 when demolition began on the hotel – the low-income residents who occupied this previously seedy hotel had to move out. This hotel however probably was a step up from the other two mentioned above. This is probably due to the fact that when the city purchased it in 1990 they converted it from a hotel to an assisted living facility.

On a side note, only because it relates to the seediness of the York Hotel, a long time ago I had a job in the former Petro-Canada Tower. One hot summer day I looked out my office window and saw a stripper sunning herself with the tiger she used in her routine on the second floor balcony above the retail frontage on 7th Avenue. As I recall, this prompted an impromptu 5-minute meeting to be called amongst the guys on my floor to discuss this unusual event. But I digress.

This property was linked to construction of The Bow and as the picture above shows, this new development contained a smaller tower that incorporated the concrete Art Deco friezes which were custom-built on location circa 1930 at the York Hotel and were unique in North America. There were two locations that this was done – Calgary and Hollywood. As seen in the original building above and the architectural rendering below, these friezes were to be incorporated into the new building. I would have to do some research and I don’t feel like doing it today, as it is an obscure fact, but I believe the Hollywood and Calgary friezes were both done by the same person whom I believe was somehow a relative to the original owner of the York. This of course is from memory, so I could be corrected on this.


The building was carefully demolished and the bricks and friezes were put into storage as the intent was to reconstruct the building, retaining the two sides which faced Centre Street and 7th Avenue SE. The new building as illustrated in the rendering above was to be used as a cultural facility. In fact as I recall, this was a condition that allowed for the increased density and height of The Bow. As you can also see in this photo it was directly across the street from Art Central (the building on the left with the red vertical sign). This was intended to help solidify what was hoped to be a cultural zone, which was at that time called the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, and now is nothing more than an historical footnote.

Sadly, the worldwide economy went into a significant economic slide in 2008 which resulted in a refinancing in 2009 and the news as found in the Herald in April 2009 which stated:

The south block of The Bow skyscraper project, which was to house office, retail and cultural space, has been “deferred” due to the challenging economic times and construction for the time being will be stopped at grade level.

In February of this year, a front page story in the City section of the Herald stated this in the opening paragraph:

A second, smaller tower proposed as part of The Bow office development downtown will not go ahead. Instead, the property’s owners . . . will build a public plaza at the site of the old York Hotel.


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As seen in the photo above that I took the week before Stampede workers are progressing on this new development as announced. The site where these workers are working, is indeed the site where the York Hotel once stood. It is still in progress and I am surprised that it has not been completed considering how fast they were putting that part down in late June. But, like all construction projects in this city, it seems that everything takes longer than one would originally expect.

This York Hotel project was immensely interesting. I plan to write about this, but probably not in this format. I am sure it will be heavily documented. If you have more info that might be of interest before it is tossed, please contact me.


The use of one of the three hotels as a cultural space is well on its way. The outcomes for the other two are still very much up in the air. Only time will tell if something ever comes from either one of them in this regard.