Results of the public art Notice of Motion

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This morning City Council discussed Councillor Peter Demong’s notice of motion that I talked about over the weekend.

I try to back up my words with action if I am able. Yesterday I proposed a call to action and to attend the City Council meeting today.

As a result I attended the meeting in person. I was surprised at how quickly this meeting moved along. I was expecting substantially longer than what it actually took to get to the agenda item I was waiting for. As it turned out, the TV cameras and news reporters barely got there in time for the agenda item.

Councillor Demong placed a revised Notice of Motion onto the table when the agenda item was called.

The revised notice of motion, was for all intents and purposes the same as before. The major change was that the entire final paragraph was removed as seen in the before and after photos below.

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This REMOVED paragraph in the revision (see original above, and revision below), ORIGINALLY contained the following:

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

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Councillors that spoke to the revised motion (see photo above), included things like a bizarre story from Councillor Sean Chu who regaled those in attendance with a fabulous tale about his children, ATMs and Mercedes Benz vehicles.

However, relevant points to the topic at hand were brought forward by Councillors Andre Chabot, Dianne Colley-Urquhart and Evan Woolley.

Through the comments made by these three members it was disclosed that other attempts to find cost-cutting measures have been proposed, but not dealt with, at this stage.

Another relevant comment brought forward was a reminder that in 2008, during the last economic set-back, the federal government actually increased funding for infrastructure projects instead of cutting as expected.

The inference was that to debate cuts before the budgets from both provincial and federal governments is a premature action. Not to mention that this notice of motion also unfairly targets a small portion of the city budget and an entire program that has already been allocated during the budget process last November. Allowing this motion to move forward to debate, only opens the door to further cuts to/of other programs individually.

It was discussed that this type of discussion should take place as part of a larger discussion about budgetary cuts and/or increases. The idea that some programs might even need an increase such as was a topic of discussion in a previous agenda item with regards to the Family & Community Support Services (FCCS) Calgary.

This revised notice of motion needed a 2/3 majority to move forward to debate. It was defeated by a vote of 9-5 (those on the losing side being Councillors Demong, Chu, Magliocca, Keating and Stevenson) with Councillor Ward Sutherland being absent for the vote.

As a result the motion did not even make it to the floor for debate.

However, I would suggest that we must remain vigilant.

I leave the final word to former Director of MoCA-Calgary and more recently, the former Artistic Director of Contemporary Calgary, Jeffrey Spalding who earlier today stated the following:

It is just sad that an argument can be floated that suggests that the public needs to be appeased by a symbolic blood-letting: by cutting arts funding. This has never been the effective strategy anywhere in the face of financial downturns. Culture is an economic driver, you need arts to help spur a recovery. The solution during the Great Depression of the 1930s was the WPA (the Works Progress Administration program in the USA. Spending money via the arts was foreseen as a societal good and an aid to their recovery.

…and oh yes, arts jobs are ‘jobs’ too!

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My proposal for a new non-profit organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I am sentimental that way.

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

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

Regardless, arts journalism is important.

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am of the opinion that all is not lost.

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

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

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

That is step one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this could work.

I really do.

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

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

Yet another public art situation in Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

This is the first.

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

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

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

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

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

RE: PUBLIC ART FUNDING

COUNCILLOR PETER DEMONG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, this statement is most likely true.

Background information

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, you read that correctly.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Now for my editorial on the public art issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As seen, there is a lot of potential here.

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

Public art serves an important function.

It is NOT a luxury.

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

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

Is one person’s aesthetic better than the next?

Maybe, maybe not.

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

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

* * *

My action item for the reader.

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

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

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

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

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

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update on the Col. Walker Park gargoyles

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Sometime ago I wrote about the gargoyles that were located at Col. Walker Park on the +15 level of the future Telus Sky complex site. I suppose I could also say that I wrote about Art Central as well, since it was located adjoining the park and was at that time under demolition.

As seen in the photo above, the gargoyles are no longer attached to the wall and the site is flattened in preparation for redevelopment.

I can report that about two or three weeks ago, I happened to be travelling on the C-Train early one Monday morning when I noticed a scissor-lift was being moved into position to remove the gargoyles. I was working that entire day and the next. By the time was able to return to the site the gargoyles had been removed.

It would appear my initial concerns that the gargoyles would be destroyed in the demolition of the building were unfounded. It would also appear that the gargoyles have been removed for safekeeping.

Presumably we will see them again at some unknown time and place.

For now it would appear that this chapter is now closed.

Art Central has been demolished, the art has been removed, and a new development will start to take its place.

 

Gallery 505 – grand opening tonight

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Discretely placed into the lobby of a small, mid-century, low-rise brick office tower is a new public gallery.

The grand opening will take place this evening (January 22nd), between 5:00-7:00 pm in the lobby of 505 – 8 Avenue SW.

Having said that, this space has been used for this gallery purpose since mid-November 2014. I understand that the exhibitions will rotate on a three month cycle in the future like many public galleries. The location of this space is directly across the street from Holt Renfrew, between Eight Avenue Place and Barcelona Tavern (where the former restaurant Belgo used to be) which is right next door in the same building.

This is the first such “public” gallery that has opened in the city in a long time.

There is nothing to adequately compare this new space to. It does share some similarities to the most recent “public” gallery that has opened in the city – the Esker Foundation. However, on a different level the model between the two, is certainly much different.

Calgary Allied Arts Foundation

In this case the organization behind this new space is a local foundation that began in 1946 at the end of World War II, under a different but related name. It is now operating as it has since the summer of 1959 as the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation.

The Calgary Allied Arts Foundation’s influence in the city has been profound.

  • Full disclosure here: I have been a past board member of this organization. I also co-curated an exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Calgary (now known as Contemporary Calgary) in 2009 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary. In addition, I was the motivating factor for a new endowment created for the 50th anniversary (called the “Calgary Allied Arts Foundation Civic Art Collection Fund”) which is administered and can be funded through the Calgary Foundation using this page, searching the drop-down menu of all funds for the fund name mentioned above. As a result of the extensive original research I did for the 50th Anniversary show (which in hindsight, I now recognize as not being entirely correct), I saw the necessity of further research and reminded the board of this fact, at numerous times when deemed appropriate at subsequent board meetings. At these times I suggested that a history of this organization should be created. I probably did this often enough that they got tired of hearing that it needed to be done, but in the end it finally stuck. This little fact resulting from my initial research for the AGC show was not fully correct, which led me to personally engage in a significant never-ending rabbit hole of research on Calgary arts organizations that I began in 2011 after my gallery closed. This research is still ongoing on a nearly full-time basis, if and when my sporadic work commitments allow.
  • As a result and for obvious reasons, I am not going to talk much about the organization as a written history is currently being researched, produced and written and should be available near the end of this year.

Notwithstanding my previous comments, CAAF is a volunteer driven organization that I am a huge fan of.

At this time it is entirely funded by generous benefactors who over the past 50+ years have created endowments that allow the foundation to operate. These endowments allow the organization to create value in the community by encouraging those who work in the visual arts through various initiatives that they have undertaken over the years. These initiatives have included things such as funding purchases of public art; purchasing and donating artworks to the Civic Art Collection; establishing artist residencies; funding cultural initiatives such as ArtWeek and ArtWalk; engaging in advisory roles; and much more. As expected with a volunteer board, these initiatives reflect the interests of the board members who are predominately visual arts practitioners and reflect the political and artistic climate of the times.

Needless to say, the Foundation has been around for a very long time. However, for a number of reasons which I could go into at great length, in recent history, it generally keeps a very low profile. This is very unfortunate as it should be known much more than it currently is.

Gallery 505

There is an interesting dialogue at play with this newly formed gallery, that has some interesting roots. It is this, that I would prefer to talk about at this time.

As anyone in the city who has turned on the TV news lately, or talked to anyone working in the oil patch downtown, or read a news headline in the recent months would know, it is obvious that things could be economically better in the city. The headlines are stating things such as this one from the Calgary Herald “Oil services giant Baker Hughes to lay off 7000 workers“; this one from the Globe and Mail “Alberta’s oil woes: typical downturn or end of an era?“. Both of these headlines give a clue as to others.

So reading that a corporation (in Calgary) is willing to underwrite the long-term costs of a new public art gallery at this time is very, very encouraging indeed.

In the distant past, there is a bit of a tradition in Calgary that is being resurrected by this initiative. It is one that I am pleased to see.

Long ago, we had companies such as Shell Canada, Petro-Canada and Gulf Canada Resources, all of whom had dedicated art gallery spaces available to both employees and the public alike. These galleries were all housed within their corporate offices. Other companies such as Esso Resources or Norcen Energy Resources (a company which gifted the large Bill McElcheran sculpture of the standing businessmen standing on Stephen Avenue Mall outside of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the citizens of the City of Calgary in 1981) had full-time staff to manage their collections and produced catalogues of their collections. These gallery spaces were staffed with curators and other related professionals (if required), catalogues were produced, and exhibitions mounted.

Of course these days are long past.

The physical shells of these spaces often still are visible and unless one knows what to look for and has a long enough memory of where they were located, most would not even know what once was located in those spaces. These spaces that once were, have been converted to other uses like office space, etc. and more often than not the collections have been sold or substantially diminished. So seeing art in public spaces like what is found at the neighbouring building to the one that houses Gallery 505Eighth Avenue Place, warms my heart, just a wee little bit every time I wander through the lobby.

This leads me to the single work that is shown above – a large, mature-period, four panel painting by Marion Nicoll entitled One Year, 1971. This was a gift of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation to the City of Calgary Civic Art Collection two years after it was created in 1973.

The selection of a major work by Marion Nicoll [1909-1985] is a very appropriate choice for the inaugural exhibition in this space.

Having this work and a gallery for CAAF located in the lobby of a mid-century office tower that probably dates to around the same time as the Foundation was formed, is only further icing on the cake.

The selection of this work recognizes her important contribution to the city of Calgary; the visual arts in the surrounding region; and her contributions in the field of education and arts development at the Alberta College of Art and Design and elsewhere in the city. It also recognizes the important financial contribution that both she and her husband Jim Nicoll (also an artist) made to the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation.

As mentioned above, the endowment as bequeathed by Jim and Marion Nicoll provides a significant portion of the operating income for the Foundation.

There is a lot of information about Marion Nicoll available. She stands tall in the art history in the province of Alberta. However, for brevity, I will just touch on a few highlights of her career:

  • She was one of the first students to study at what is now known as the Alberta College of Art and Design graduating in 1933;
  • One of her instructors was J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald (a very influential artist and member of the Painters 11, who is usually connected to Toronto and occasionally Vancouver, and a recent subject of a recent solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery). Jock Macdonald during his one year head of ACAD (or whatever his position was called at the time) was instrumental in helping set a new course for Marion Nicoll. He did this through the introduction of “automatic drawing”. It is from that body of work which she continued throughout her life, usually on a small scale on paper, that her mature work found its voice;
  • Marion Nicoll also probably was the first female instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design. Certainly, without dispute she set the groundwork for future female instructors at the College. Her influence at ACAD where she taught for her entire career, cannot be understated; and,
  • Recognizing her contributions, the Alberta College of Art and Design named the student gallery at the school in her name and honour.

This work is a good example of her paintings that she was doing at the mature period after she had retired from active teaching in 1966. From sources that I believe dependable, it is my understanding that this work has been predominately in storage for the significant majority of the time that it has been housed in the Civic Art Collection. Surprisingly, it was not included in the major retrospective at the Nickle Arts Museum a year or two ago. No doubt this is partly due to its size and the difficulty in finding a space that can adequately display it to best advantage. Now that it has been put on display, I would think it will be more likely that it will now find itself a new home.

Personally, I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the donor of the space where we can see works that might otherwise be hidden from view. I look forward to seeing more in this space in the years to come.

The potential imminent demise of a cultural legacy

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Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) after visiting my family for the holidays, I happened to be downtown and noticed that active demolition work was being performed on the site adjoining the former Art Central Building – which will soon be known as the new Telus Sky Building site.

It is possible that I did not mention it, but I certainly alluded to it previously, that the external walls of the Art Central Building proper (a.k.a. the old Jubilee Block) were fully demolished a little over a week ago. It took longer than what I originally anticipated it would take. I have also noticed demolition is more active on the weekends than it is during the week. I wish that I could say that the same thing happened when the York Hotel was being demolished when I had an active small business operating across the street from it. That is in the distant past and water under the bridge, now that my business has closed. But I digress.

Now the demolition has begun to move on from the Art Central Building (which is complete) and onward to the adjoining Col. James Walker Park and single level building below.

The Col. James Walker Park was little more than a flat cement surface on the +15 level that housed a small open-air fenced off playground made accessible for children who have care facilities in the neighbouring buildings connected to the +15 network.

One of those nearby buildings that contains children during the workweek is the adjoining Len Werry Building. It will be incorporated into the larger Telus Sky building project. In addition to the offices located above in that building, the Len Werry Building also houses the Calgary Board of Education’s W. H. Cushing Workplace School for grades K-3.

From a press release issued earlier this month, the Calgary Board of Education is now seeking a new partnership for this school. The W. H. Cushing School began operations at this location in 1995 and its current lease ends in July 2016. As a casual observer of these type of things, I would now consider it a safe assumption that if the right opportunity came along, all parties involved probably would seriously contemplate ending the lease prematurely. This is especially true given the amount of construction taking place in the immediate area both now and in the immediate future. As many will know, and I know personally from past experience, this type of activity can be highly disruptive to either a business or learning experience.

Calgary_Herald_Building_And_Lougheed_Building_with_Grand_Theatre

The Len Werry Building has an interesting history. Part of that interesting history is surrounded in confusion. As seen in the photo above the Calgary Herald Building (built circa 1913) has a similar footprint, design and scale to the Len Werry Building. This is especially true, when one considers how the other building later occupied by the Calgary Herald was changed around the same time (see photo below).

Len_Werry_Building_prior_to_C-Train_platform_placed_on_block

In the interim between the two buildings. The Calgary Herald Building was re-purposed and re-used as the Greyhound Bus Terminal which was its use between circa 1947-1971.

We know that there was some modification at the time its use was changed to allow buses to access the interior of the building. I have seen photos of the building when it was used as a Greyhound Bus Terminal and it appears somewhat similar (at least from the exterior facing 7th Avenue and 1st Street SW) to its previous use as the Calgary Herald Building as seen above. As a result, I question how much modification was done to the exterior except where buses entered and/or left. I would expect that there probably were significant modifications to the interior to allow access for buses as well.

One thing that is interesting about the repurposing of this building is that it housed Luke Lindoe’s first major public art commission (1947). We know that it was a portal relief in concrete. According to information that I have in my possession, and dates from when Luke Lindoe was still living, it is understood that this commission was destroyed. Presumably it was destroyed in the building’s demolition, prior to the Len Werry Building being built circa 1973 or 1974.

In an October 1971 news story in the Calgary Herald, it was indicated that the new Len Werry Building would be 10-storeys high and cost $12-million to build. Obviously there was some changes after that time as it would appear that the current building is slightly higher as seen in the photo above.

Old-Calgary-Herald-Building-Original-1912-Plus-1967-Renovations-Together

Getting back to the confusion, it increases due to the fact the Calgary Herald later occupied two buildings across the street (the former Southam Chambers Building that was re-clad with marble in the 1970s along with a smaller press building across the alley to the north, as seen in the photo above) both of which were destroyed in either 2012 or 2013. The Southam Chambers Building was built at the same time as the Calgary Herald Building, using the same architect and with the same corporate ownership. Of course anyone that knows much about the newspaper industry would know that the Southam family through their ownership of Southam Newspapers owned the Calgary Herald for a very long time including around 1912 or 1913 when the two buildings were constructed.

The last building that the Calgary Herald occupied downtown resided on the site of the new double-tower Brookfield Place which is now a big hole in the ground. For further reference, Christine Hayes from the Calgary Public Library back in January 2012 wrote this helpful blog post which contains a timeline and photos showing a history of the Calgary Herald and their buildings.

* * *

I guess I have gone on a bit of rambling preamble to the main point of my current post – the terra cotta gargoyles created by English stone carver connected to the Royal Doulton China company, Mark V. Marshall [1879-1912]. Marshall was commissioned by the Southam family to produce these gargoyles I want to talk about further.

To do this properly, we must go back to the period around 1912.

In what was still essentially a frontier town, the population in the City of Calgary had only reached 47,000 at the population height during 1912. It was a time when the city was undergoing rapid growth as evidenced by the formation of the 100,000 Club which anticipated that the population would reach that number by 1915. It was also the year that the Calgary Stampede was recreated in its modern form throwing off the shackles of its Agricultural Fair past dating back to 1886. It was also a time when the focus started in creating a ‘world-class city’ a discussion which continues to the present day.

In that context, there were a couple ideas percolating in the city. One of these was the establishment of public art (a topic that I have written about previously, I probably will write about again, and what I want to talk about now).

I previously have discussed the reproduction of Auguste Kiss’ sculpture Mounted Amazon Attacked by a Panther that was installed in Central Memorial Park (which is still presumed missing); along with Louis Philippe Hébert’s heroic-scaled equestrian commissioned sculpture of an anonymous cavalry officer to commemorate the Boer War which was intended to be paid for by a group led by Major Stanley Jones, but in the end was largely paid for by the City due to unfortunate timing of WWI and drought in the area. Both of these sculptures can make reasonable claims for being the first piece of publicly-situated sculptures in the City.

In the Wikipedia entry that talks about the Hébert sculpture, makes this fabulous claim, “the statue is one and a half times life size, and has been described as one of the four finest equestrian statues in the world.” Although that last part sounds rather intriguing to ponder, interestingly there is no note attributing the source attached. It is a high standard that is claimed, so I would be rather curious to know how the ranking was determined; and what methodology was used to do so. There are some other comments in the same entry that also made me raise an eyebrow as well. To my mind, all these claims as a whole, suggest to me that whomever wrote this part of the entry must be prone to engaging in a bit of world-class thinking, but I digress. All that from trying to remember what the artist’s first name was.

The third public art project in the 1911-1914 period was the gargoyles which I mentioned briefly above.

In the photo at the top of this post which shows the active demolition of the Col. James Walker Park and the one-storey building below shows a series of visible gargoyles.

In the summer of 2013, knowing the ultimate destiny of this park given the news release announcing the Telus Sky development plans, I took photos of the Col. James Walker Park while it was still accessible to the public. Here is a photo of the gargoyles which are attached to the Len Werry Building at that time. In the photo at the top of this post, they still appear to be there.

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These gargoyles are interesting in themselves, but also are a source of some speculation as well.

The gargoyles were originally attached to both the Calgary Herald Building and the Southam Chambers Building. There was a large number of them which decorated the building exteriors. When the Calgary Herald/Greyhound Bus Lines Building was demolished in 1972 (probably) many of them were salvaged. There was speculation that when the Southam Chambers Building exterior was re-clad in Vermont white marble that the gargoyles attached to that building may have been covered over. Like some speculations this has continued to this day. However in a Calgary Herald article written by the then publisher, Frank Swanson on June 04, 1966 in response to inquiries about what is going on at the Herald building, stated the following:

Several people have expressed dismay that the ancient facing had to be eliminated along with the little gargoyles which decorate the front and side of the building. The fact of the matter was that the old facing of brick and terra cotta had become so weather-beaten and had degenerated so badly that it had become a very considerable hazard. Several pieces, up to the size of a football, have actually dropped off the building in the last two or three years, endangering passers-by below.

So it would seem likely to assume that all the gargoyles were removed from both buildings in the 1966-1972 time period. Whether they were all saved is another question altogether.

Regardless of the ultimate destiny of all the gargoyles, we do know that some gargoyles have been saved.

The January 11, 1973 issue of the Calgary Herald published a photo of two of the gargoyles (see Glenbow Archives photo NA-2864-22325 below).

Glenbow_photo_NA-2864-22325

The caption to this photo states:

Carole Garroni, a Calgary Herald newspaper employee, pictured with gargoyles that were removed from the old downtown Greyhound building before it was demolished. The building had once been the home of the Herald newspaper and the gargoyles were caricatures depicting the employees. They were made in England by Royal Doulton. The removal of the Greyhound building made way for the development of a new Alberta Government Telephones building.

One of the two photographed gargoyles, the theatre critic is currently adhered to the wall of the Len Werry Building as seen below. The editor which is the other featured figure in this photo may potentially still be located in the lobby of the Len Werry Building. However, there is still a similar figure, the stenographer which is affixed to the wall like the theatre critic.

We know that there are approximately ten gargoyles (including some ornamental embellishments, which I am going to assume came from one of the two buildings) that have been incorporated into the sandstone exterior of the Alberta Hotel Building at the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street SW. These were added at some point after 1973.

When the building was demolished there was a large public outcry about their destiny. Regardless of the outcry, only 240 of the gargoyles were saved. The City of Calgary owns 46 of them. The Glenbow owns a few of the larger gargoyles as well.

In addition there are a few which are located in the Science B Building at the University of Calgary as well and in the Convention Centre. I am sure that there are probably a few others that I am not aware of.

In talking to Frank Hall in the past, I understand that some of them were dispersed through his auction house in the 1970s. They were sold by the City with the proceeds to fund the Historical Preservation Fund for heritage projects. Periodically they still appear. Recently one appeared on eBay and was the subject of a 2007 news story.

And as seen in the photo I took in the summer of 2013 something like 23 are located on the wall of the Len Werry Building at the Col. James Walker Park.

For now the 23 gargoyles are still safe – barely. Although it would appear as if their destiny may very well be the landfill in the very near future, unless some backhoe operator takes compassion upon them. Personally, having witnessed this sort of thing before, I have very little faith in this happening.

The other alternative to their rescue is if someone rallies the cause and draws attention to their potential demise – just like the careers of those who are portrayed on that wall – the theatre critic, the stenographer, the typesetter, B.S.S. the Devil, the Other Architect, and the cleaner that is a union member.

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Then there is this mural from the students from the W.H. Cushing Workplace School which is still located in the Col. James Walker Park as well. The students who created this would be in high school now, maybe in university. They have probably forgotten about this project that probably mentions Y2K, as have their parents.

Update on the Art Central demolition

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Doing a very quick update on the Art Central demolition.

The photo above was taken near the corner of 7th Avenue and Centre Street around 4:00pm earlier today (November 25).

As seen here the basement floor is visible and there is not much left to the building, except the north wall facing the alley where the Brunning mural is located.  There is also a bit of the west wall still standing which abuts the Col. James Walker Park, which is located on the +15 level between Art Central and the Len Werry Building at the other end of the C-Train platform.

There is some public art located on the Col. James Walker Park affixed to the Len Werry Building. I suspect that I will write about it in the near future.

With it only being Tuesday evening, I suspect that the north wall facing the alley will be demolished by the weekend if they keep up this pace.