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.

Palais_Idéal_May_2014_from_Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

When that was not enough, he used a wheelbarrow.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.