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.


State of the Craft – Part 1

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

The gallery?

LoveCraft Gallery.

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Yvonne_Mullock_Hit_or_Miss_Esker_ Hooked_Rug_2014_June_14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parksale_August_17_2013_Haultain_Park_Calgary (1024x683)

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

* * *

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

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



MOCA’s grand reopening

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The grand re-opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art – Calgary is happening tonight.  It should start in about a half hour.

A lot has happened at MOCA Calgary this summer.  We had the flood.  City Hall was affected by the flooding, but MOCA amazingly even though it is connected to the building was not as it has a separate basement that is not connected to the rest of the building.  It was close.  The water only needed to raise by an inch and it also would have been affected.

The inside of the gallery has been completely refurbished with more space to hang more work.

Mercury Opera (http://www.mercuryopera.com/home.html) will be presenting Autumn Masquerade in the municipal plaza, just outside the main doors of MOCA.  It is presented in cooperation with Downtown Calgary.

Jeffrey Spalding who curated the Glenbow Museum’s 80s iteration of the decade by decade look at the art history of Calgary which opened last week (http://www.glenbow.org/exhibitions/mic1980/), continues at MOCA (http://mocacalgary.org/).  Watch for some more interesting work from the 1980s tonight.  So if attending the Glenbow, make sure that visit also includes a visit to MOCA during the next month.  They are located a block away from each other.


Get ready for Beakernight

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Beakernight is tonight.

I was out this afternoon as the robots were getting set up for the music concert in East Village.  The kids will love it and so will the adults.  It all starts at 8pm and will cover the area around Olympic Plaza, East Village, the RiverWalk and Victoria Park.

What you will see tonight:

Come for the fun.  Stay for the dancing and party!!!

It will be a plethora of sensory overload!!!  How awesome is that!!

Remember also that tomorrow is the final day of Maker Faire YYC at Alberta College of Art and Design from 10:00am – 5:00pm (see http://www.makerfaireyyc.ca/)

Oh, oh, OH, Oh!!!

And the Catharsis Catapult is happening to see how far you can toss your crap (or your ex’s crap) using a catapult on the grounds of Fort Calgary between 1:00-3:00pm.

How much more awesome is when you put it all together!!!!  It might almost be as awesome as Nuit Blanche was last year!


Art Box on 17E

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If one looks at a map of Calgary which is populated with cultural amenities marked on it, one fact will be readily noticeable.  There are significantly less spaces for the arts on the east side of Deerfoot Trail, as compared to the rest of the city.  Of course this information can get blurred somewhat if one uses a broader definition of the word cultural to incorporate things outside of the arts.

This past week there has been a fair number of stories in the press about Forest Lawn.  As long as I have lived in Calgary, I have noticed it is a community that has a strong sense of pride, but it also deals with some challenges as well.  It is a blue-collar community with all the strengths normally connected to that type of neighbourhood – hard-working, stand-up, straight-forward, no BS, tell it like it is community.  Although I have never lived there, I must admit there is a lot to be said for these qualities which can sometimes be referred to as grittiness.

Author Candace Bushnell once commented about the gritty roots of New York City this way, “the city was different back then—poor and crumbling—kept alive only by the gritty determination and steely cynicism of its occupants. But underneath the dirt was the apple-cheeked optimism of possibility.”  This could also be applied to our city if one looks back with a long enough vantage point.

Two community organizations that are trying to change this disparity in cultural amenities on the east side of Deerfoot, combined with their “apple-cheeked optimism of possibilit(ies)”, are the International Avenue BRZ along with the International Avenue Arts Centre.

If one travels down 17th Avenue it is possible to see the various murals championing the cultural heritage of the community.  Also the BRZ came to the rescue of Market Collective not long ago helping them find a temporary space in the community with short-notice.

This past August 1st the International Avenue BRZ and the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA) together, hosted an open house to unveil a new arts facility.  It is called Art Box on 17E.  I attended this opening and was happy to see the newly appointed President & CEO of CADA, Patti Pon make her first official appearance there on the same day she stepped into her new role.

Like the Seafood Market in East Village a few years back, this space is a short-term space available for a year and a half.

Some of the ideas that are currently achieving traction in cultural thinking are the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement; the use of pop-up spaces; and creative placemaking as an agent of change in urban planning (see http://www.83degreesmedia.com/features/place073013.aspx).  All of these ideas are present in the Art Box on 17E project.

As the facility is still in its early stages, it will be interesting to see how this facility evolves and what type of projects take advantage of the space made available.  At the unveiling an announcement was made that in cooperation with Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre, there will be multiple performances of I-Robot Theatre in that space during the Beakerhead Festival which occurs middle of September 2013.  The space, with its high ceilings and large footprint, lends itself to theatre, dance and rehearsals.  In addition there are smaller spaces upstairs which could be used for various purposes such as studios, offices and the like.

It is always interesting to see these projects develop and change in response to demand and interest.  I wish them well and am interested to follow what will happen there.  Knowing some of those involved, I am sure something interesting will come from it.