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.

New Edward Gallery inaugural exhibition

New_Edward_Gallery_exhibition_install_opening_night_2014_Dec_22

It is Christmas Day and I am home alone, missing my family, whom I haven’t seen in about a year. But I will soon.

So I figure I might as well pass the time writing something.

A few days ago I attended the inaugural exhibition of the New Edward Gallery which was held in an empty, basement apartment suite that is maybe 400 sq. ft.  in size. It was a three-day show that would rarely elicit mention in a written publication of any sort.

The show that was curated (I am assuming) contained an interesting accretion of works by various artists that I know are active in the community (even if it is marginally the case, due to work or family commitments). They are active either as participants or producing artists, but are definitely not “art-stars”. This should not be taken as a slight. For the most part these artists produce work that rarely gets past the gatekeepers that operate the commercial and publicly-funded institutional galleries.

The work that I saw at the inaugural show held at the New Edward Gallery reflected the pluralism that is not only the current art world, but our society at large. The work ranged from traditional figurative nudes, drawings, assemblages, sculpture, photo-based work and installation. This three-day exhibition (which has now ended) serves an important purpose – giving the opportunity for artists to produce work and present it to viewers who may not ever have the opportunity to visit the artist’s studio.

* * * 

As a society, no longer are we satisfied with the hegemony that comes with officially-sanctioned leadership that dictates what is important and what we should view. With increasing data mining, computer analytics, predictive choices in our TV viewing and internet surfing; combined with what we watch; and with whom we interact online – it is not surprising that individualism and pluralism is the new societal norm.

This fact of pluralism and individuality is surprising in the current art world on a certain level. This given the preponderance of the generally cheery content-free, powder-coated and mirrored surfaces that more often than not caters to the global collecting class, corporatization of art, and the art fairs that the collectors attend, from whence the “art-stars” are made.

* * *

There is a long tradition in the city of Calgary that the opening of this gallery recalls and reintroduces.

During the course of my multi-year research on visual art-based institutional culture in Calgary, I have found that there are numerous spaces and DIY initiatives that have operated in a similar manner since the 1970s (and probably earlier). It is certainly not a new idea that an artist operate outside of the conventions of officialdom to present their own work and/or their associates that they feel is worthy of merit.

One only has to look to the example of Gustave Courbet in conjunction with his refusal to participate in the French state-sponsored and sanctioned Exposition Universelle in 1855. In response to this exhibition he produced a show of his work in a tent on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Courbet, although influential was not alone. We also know that Jacques-Louis David self-produced a show of his work in 1799, as well. Others have done this as well, ranging from the Russian Futurists in 1915 in Petrograd to Damien Hirst in London, 1988 along with many, MANY more including our own Wreck City “artist-curators” in 2013.

The concept of artist-curators and alternative art spaces will probably not end soon in Calgary. Of this I can be relatively certain.

Unless local viewers are particularly active in the community or personal friends with some of these artists that showed at the New Edward Gallery between the opening on December 22 and the end of the exhibition run on Christmas Eve, most would never know who these artists are. Each of these artists could be seen at an art exhibition opening; or quietly serving one’s morning coffee; working the cash register at a retail store; occupying yet another faceless cubicle in an office; or as a labourer on a worksite, but yet their practice still continues. This show is evidence of it.

In the interim I will continue to keep my eyes open for more of these type of activities and document them as best I can to compliment my larger research project.

If you as a reader have had a similar type of exhibition space in the past (or plan one in the future). Please send me a message. Or if you have research material such as printed invitations or exhibition lists, etc. to these type of spaces in Calgary, I want to know more.

End of the road for the Ant Hill — building

Ant_Hill_Building_first_day_of_external_demolition_2014_October_20 (1024x683)

Today it finally started.

Demolition began on the old Ant Hill Fabric building. Prior to being the Ant Hill Fabric building, long ago in the 1950s it was a Safeway store (the largest one north of the river).

The roots of the building’s demise have been percolating away for most of the past decade. It was just a matter of time.

In 2004 the building on 10th Street near 2nd Avenue NW was sold to the Calgary Parking Authority. Approximately a year later during the summer of 2006 the owners of the neighbouring Lido Café, the Calgary Parking Authority and a couple developers talked about a new 12-storey mixed use development (retail, office and residential) that they were planning. It was to be substantially larger in footprint than the current project. Originally this was planned to cross over the back alley to 9A Street to include the area where the newly-built condo (seen in the background of the photo below to the left) which adjoins the C-Train tracks. As part of this project, it was also planned to include an extra three floors of underground short-term parking for the neighbourhood.

Ant_Hill_building_first_day_of_demolition_from_2nd_Avenue_NW_2014_October_20 (1024x683)

Obviously, that deal fell through. Most likely the 2008 worldwide economic slowdown caused by the sub-prime mortgage crisis contributed, like other development projects in the city at that time.

It was described in a FastForward Weekly article written in late 2010, “(the building) has mostly been a shell (since 2004), except for an occasional art market”.

Referenced in the FFWD article mentioned above, in 2008 the space was leased out to a group called Market Collective for their initial sale. They continued to call this home for their bi-monthly (if I remember correctly) weekend long pop-up sales. The vendors that showed there were a mixed-bag of artists, craftspersons, artisans and small boutique owners. During the sale often there were musicians who would perform as well. It was an interesting event and brought a lot of people to the community that otherwise potentially may not have come otherwise.

This was Market Collective’s home for its sales until November 2012.

At that time, the newspapers and social media were aflutter with news that the pre-Christmas sale was cancelled. There was a lot of back and forth that happened at that time. Solutions were offered for the sale including the use of an underground parkade at City Hall and other sites as well. In the end they moved to a vacant auto dealership building in Forest Lawn. This place which they occupied for a few sales. They have had a number of different locations for the sale since that time.

Outside of the Market Collective, there were other arts related uses contemplated or considered for this space – some of which I was party to and others which I was not.

It had the potential to be a very interesting space for the visual arts. For whatever reason it never really delivered, except as a selling venue for some artisans and a graffiti wall for others (see photo below taken yesterday, or Sunday).

Ant_Hill_Fabric_building_Calgary_with_graffiti_last_day_before_demolition_2014_October_19 (1024x683)

The Ant Hill building will soon fade from sight and our collective memories, just as the Carpenter’s Hall and the Arusha Centre across 10th Street from the Ant Hill building have done. Those buildings are now levelled within the past week or so. Both the Carpenter’s Hall and the Arusha Centre also played a role as venues or part of a support network for art and music events in the city over the decades.

We know that both projects will be condo developments – The Lido (the Anthill site0 and Kensington (the Carpenter’s Union Hall and Arusha Centre site). Soon we will be seeing what the future of these two sites will look like.

* * *

Addendum (2014 October 23)

Earlier today I was in the area and noticed that the entire Ant Hill Fabrics Building has been leveled. Now all that needs to be done is to remove the remainder of the building demolition refuse and start digging.

Also today I talked to an artist who reminded me that on the Carpenter’s Union Hall and Arusha site was another building. In that building was a couple short-lived galleries. He had his first show in one of the galleries. I will call them parallel galleries and there have been a few of these type of spaces around. They are very hard to define. I never did figure out who owned or operated them, even though I attended a number of openings at both spaces. These two spaces were called Resolution Gallery (the gallery that was in the location for the longest amount of time) and another short-term gallery called White Lodge Art Gallery. I failed to mention these two galleries previously as there was no construction hoarding surrounding these two buildings, right up to the time that the buildings were demolished.

I would like to hear from someone involved with these two galleries. Please use the contact page to get in touch. Thanks.

A new gallery space in Bridgeland/Riverside

ddendum (McDougall_Road_NE-Calgary_Little_Gallery_2014_October_19 (1024x683)

Something I have been meaning to write about for a while is the new exhibition space in Riverside/Bridgeland. It is a short walk outside of the downtown core. This gallery is unique as it is located on property connected to a private residence while facing the sidewalk and street.

It is a unique and interesting way to introduce art to a broader audience that may never look at art otherwise.

In addition to that, the house also has a Little Free Library located only a couple feet away from the gallery. The first Little Free Library was installed only a couple years ago in Calgary and you can read more about it here. It was developed in Wisconsin during 2009 and has grown rapidly with an estimated 15,000 libraries worldwide. There is also a map of current locations in Calgary here. I am very fond of the Little Free Library project as well, and I am sure I will write about it further sometime soon.

The library and the gallery are good compliments to each other – not to mention the piece of public art outside the front door and the mural on the fence, as seen in the photo below.

732_McDougall_Road_NE_Calgary_2014_October_19 (1024x683)

I met up with the owner of the house two nights ago at a reception, and was reminded that I said I would write something about it about a month ago. 

When we first talked about the space, it was recently built and still vacant. They were waiting to have the first artist show there. From what I understand there was some initial casual discussion about possibly coordinating with the Tiny Gallery for programming, which was never formalized. The two galleries are geographically close to each other, although the layout of the two spaces are completely different. In addition the Tiny Gallery is attached to commercial spaces in the community high street, whereas this space is located on a strictly residential street (albeit well used). They are not connected, but there is definite affinities with each other. It would appear as if this space is coordinating its programming alone.

This gallery is very new, and was probably installed near the end of summer. Because of that I am uncertain if there has been a name attached to the space or whether it is just there.

Currently there is a landscape painting by local artist Mark Vázquez-Mackay in the small exhibition space. From what I understand from the owner, the next scheduled artist to be featured in this space will be Lane Shordee. Some may remember him as being one of the artists who was involved in a water installation in the courtyard at Phantom Wing. Before that he had a large installation in a greenhouse at Wreck City. I am uncertain when the new show will be installed, but I am sure it will be coming soon.

It will be interesting to see what Lane Shordee will create for the space.

The gallery can be viewed at 732 McDougall Road NE.

* * *

Addendum (2014 October 21)

I received an email from the owner of the property earlier today. In this email the following was stated:

The blog looks great. We are calling it the Tiny satellite gallery. I’m going to curate the space and Tiny gallery will help promote it. Lane’s show will have its opening Friday November 7th from 4-6.

Hope to see you there,