Wreck City Demo Tape thoughts

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A week ago this past Friday (June 19), I attended the opening evening of the newly opened incarnation of Wreck City. I got there late as the last band was packing up. I was only able to see a few things that evening and had to return to see the remainder the following day. Sadly, even though I began writing this on the second day, this project called Demo Tape has now ended.

The last project that this curatorial team called Wreck City was involved with was entitled Phantom Wing. It occurred in the fall of 2013 and I have written at least one or two posts about it. If you are curious, follow the Phantom Wing link to the right.

Phantom Wing (from what I understand) was under the direction of cSPACE (working in collaboration with the curators of the successful original Wreck City project in Sunnyside). I have written a few things about it during the time that the project was running. It was coordinated to kick off the impending demolition stage of the new wing of the King Edward School that is intended to be an arts incubator.

About a month or two ago, the official sod turning event happened at the King Edward School. Two years later (after Phantom Wing), it would appear as if the King Edward School project has finally began the building stage process. As stated optimistically in the press release above, occupancy is scheduled for mid-2016. But given how long it has taken to get to this stage, and with some knowledge of how long construction projects often take, it is my speculation that occupancy will be more likely occur at some point during 2017. But since I am not involved in this project, it is possible that I could be wrong.

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After my little introductory diversion, the curators of Wreck City put the word out in January and in February that they were looking to resurrect the concept once again.

At that stage, they indicated that they were looking for space in the inner city communities. From what I understand there were a number of options that came as a result, which is not surprising given the rapid gentrification and upgrading of older communities in the city. Obviously given that this concept occurred – they found a suitable space.

This event was held in the former Penguin Car Wash overlooking the Elbow River between Fort Calgary and the Esker. It has a fantastic view of downtown Calgary and the mountains behind.

It also has a connection to an art mystery.

Specifically, this mystery involves a series of Rembrandt letters which prove that two recently purchased Rembrandt paintings were indeed forgeries and also involve a murder that was tied to an incident to obtain these letters. Of course, this whole Rembrandt story is a complete fabrication. But it was a small piece of the plot for the movie Silver Streak (1976) featuring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan and Richard Pryor.

The Penguin Car Wash connection takes place at the bottom of the small hill that the car wash is located upon. The CP railway bridge which crosses the Elbow River and is located directly below the carwash. See next photo, as it is quite possible that this scene was shot from this viewpoint (or nearby).

At the beginning of the third act of Silver Streak, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump from the train into the Elbow River below. I tried to find a clip of the scene, but could not track it down. I guess that means you will have to watch the whole movie instead. It is possible that the Penguin Car Wash is visible in the movie. However, it has been so long since I have seen it, I am uncertain whether it is visible or not.  Now I have to track down a copy and view it again as well.

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After, yet another diversion, back to the Penguin Car Wash and Wreck City’s Demo Tape.

As stated earlier, I visited opening day toward the end of the night. The band that I heard while waiting for the freight train to pass, was already starting to pack up by the time I arrived. As a result, I only got to see some of the installations. However, I came back the following day when it was less busy and saw the remainder when there were less crowds.

It was interesting, however this version, did not have the same amount of buzz around it that I recall from the first iteration. Why that was, I am unsure. Maybe it was a bit more structured, formalized and probably a bit more thoughtful.

These are all good things, that are to be expected as an organization matures and changes.

Midway through the event, the organizers were forecasting that they would get 5000 attendees. Although the final numbers of those who attended have not been released, based on the following comments, a guesstimate can be made that probably somewhere between 2500 and 3000 people most likely attended. This is a solid attendance for an art event with little media support.

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Of course this cannot compare with the approximately 8000+ that attended the original project. We can attribute this variance to any number of reasons, given that both took place over a similar time period. Some of these reasons are:

  • Public transit accessibility – original was two blocks from a C-Train platform vs. Demo Tape had little transit infrastructure nearby and about a kilometre away from the nearest C-Train platform.
  • Time of year – the original event occurred at the end of university/college school term (last week of April) vs. Demo Tape occurred at the end of primary school term and the beginning of summer holidays for many.
  • Cultural awareness – the original event ramped up in the fading days of the year-long Calgary 2012 event when awareness of cultural events was high (with Calgary 2012 receiving seed money and support from organizations such as the federal government’s Department of Heritage, Calgary Arts Development Authority, Calgary Stampede, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Parks and Recreation and others) vs. Demo Tape which depended upon the connection to Sled Island and Wreck City’s own base who attended previous events.
  • Number of artists – original had approximately 150 artists vs. Demo Tape which had approximately 50
  • Cohabitation – to my recollection the original had more cohabitation happening between artists in the same (this is probably the nature of the more intimate nature of the buildings used, where the spaces were smaller and artwork would cross over perceptually even though they were placed in separate spaces in each house) vs. Demo Tape where each artist had more distinctly separated physical spaces for their artwork and larger spaces in general.
  • Newness – the original concept had the perception that it was new (in some ways it was, and for many attendees it was definitely something new. In other important ways it was not. I state this because it was a derivation of a previous project one or more of the curators were involved with a project that occurred in 2011 a few blocks away from the original Wreck City project in the community of West Hillhurst) vs. Demo Tape being the third project by the Wreck City collective after a two-year hiatus.

Were these reasons enough to make a difference?

Maybe. Maybe not.

These will all be factors that the curators will need to figure out when they do their post-event analysis, debriefing and reporting (if they actually do that). Potentially, I am actually doing it for them (or at least giving the curators something to think about).

Audiences can be very fickle and it is hard to determine what the root cause is that will prompt attendance in one case and not the other.

Media

I also have to mention media. Even the news outlets, didn’t get behind this event like they did for the Sunnyside project. During the 10-day run of the project, I believe that only the Calgary Herald actually reported on the project. There also was an interview with a number of the curators on CJSW radio. Both happened on the first day and nothing else happened afterwards.

To be fair, there was certainly coverage leading up to the week leading up to the event, In addition, the media really helped put the word out about the collective’s search for space back in February.

Whatever happened, and why it was not covered as it was previously, I suppose will remain a mystery.

Of course, it is worth mentioning once again, that the visible absence of arts reporting through the vehicle of FastForward Weekly is still noticeable, especially for special events such as this.

This has subsequently made the act of talking about visual arts and exhibitions, somewhat like talking to an audience (that may or may not be there) in a steel drum. I have said it before. I will say it again. Local arts reporting is critically important for an artist’s career and development. It is the same reason why music reporting is important, why theatre coverage is important and sports coverage is important. At the end of the day, they all serve the same type of purpose – to a point.

But, I guess removing visual arts coverage entirely, and/or having said coverage take place from a different geographical location is all done in the name of progress and it is not my call to make. I just try to add my little bit from time to time – and when my own time allows this luxury (since I don’t get paid to write this blog).

The actual event

I must be honest. Although I went, my heart was not overly engaged. The first night I came immediately after work and spent more time talking to people I knew than looking at art. The second day I spent more time relaxing on site and talking to an art teacher who travelled by herself from Madison, Wisconsin to volunteer at the Demo Tape event. I feel bad, because I spent at least an hour or more talking to her – and now I have forgotten her name. She had never visited Canada before, but came with the intent to volunteer, see some scenery, but also to see the two performances of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a few other groups she wanted to see as part of Sled Island before heading back to Wisconsin. She was a very interesting person to talk to and it was a very enjoyable time.

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There were a number of interesting projects, however overall it gave the appearance of a glorified art school project focusing on installation-based work.

This is understandable, due to the nature of the event. So this is not necessarily a criticism. The majority of work was slated to be destroyed along with the building at the end of the actual event. By that very nature, the works will have an unfinished and raw quality to them. As a result, it will rarely be like something one would see in a gallery setting.

That is both the blessing and curse of this type of event. Expectations potentially can be high, when they shouldn’t be. And the reverse is also true.

As mentioned previously, much of this show had much more conceptual bent than was the case with the two previous iterations – Wreck City (the original) and Phantom Wing. I am unsure why this is the case (and it is certainly not an issue), maybe it was partly curatorial; maybe it was the artist’s interests who applied; maybe it was the nature of a long lead time, with limited amount of time with access to the space; maybe it was just delivery (and how it was perceived); or maybe it was a combination thereof. In the end it doesn’t matter.

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For me, some of the highlights of this event were (and there were certainly more):

J.D. Mersault’s installation/performance/story entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see http://fortyfourfragments.tumblr.com/).

At first I did not pay much attention to what was going on, when I saw the artist sitting at a desk writing, since it was the first piece I encountered upon entering the site and wanted to head straight in knowing that I only had a limited amount of time.

However, once I realized that this was part of the exhibition, and the more I looked at this work, and thought about it – the more I found it fascinating. It was a multi-disciplinary piece that was not static, but combined elements of durational performance, installation, memory, poetry and more. I was very intrigued by what he was attempting to do.

Obviously, what I encountered on the first night was a work in progress. What intrigued me was the dialogue that the artist had with two works that I was previously familiar with – 1.) John Scott’s piece Trans Am Apocalypse No. 2 (1993) which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada; and 2.) Joan Cardinal Schubert’s The Lesson (1989) which was first shown at Articule Gallery in Montreal.

In Cardinal-Schubert’s work (which was included in the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 1990s large group exhibition. In this Made in Calgary show it was recreated and incorporated as part of that exhibition a little over a year ago. In that installation Cardinal-Schubert installed school desks, chalk boards and other related ephemera as it talked about residential school for aboriginal students. There is an image to her work as installed at the Glenbow in 2014 here. Of course, this is timely given the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report. It however should be stated that Mersault’s work does not have the same political edge that Cardinal -Schubert’s has.

In John Scott’s piece, the artist transcribed and etched the complete Book of Revelations of St. John the Evangelist into the entire surface of a black Trans Am. In JD Mersault’s piece he was in the process of writing the contents of a new book onto a steel desk. This was intended to cover the surface of the desk in a manner similar to John Scott’s piece mentioned above. I am somewhat disappointed that it was only the top surface, and the not the entirety as in the case with Scott’s Trans Am. But I also understand, that it is a time-exhaustive process with only a limited amount of time – so I cannot be too disappointed. This work was being written during the duration of the Demo Tape event in his position as writer-in-residence – a piece entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see hotlink above) which he would like to publish at the end of the event. I am very intrigued and curious to see where this work will lead.

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Palmer Olson’s installation My Favourite Buildings. Here the artist deconstructed the office space, catalogued the items; and packed it up. He then attached a packing slip with all the contents of the office listed; provided instructions and renderings, ready for reinstallation elsewhere.

The dialogue involved with this work engaged with the larger concept of gentrification; adaptive re-use of historical spaces; demolition of marginal space; sustainability; and other issues surrounding construction waste as a result of new development (in both greenfield and brownfield areas) which all adds to our landfills.

It is an interesting dialogue to have in the city with all the rapid gentrification (although not to the same extent as was happening even a year ago); and the generally prevailing concept that new is better than old, bigger is better than small.

This dialogue is an important one to have and it lends itself well to this type of project.

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Lane Shordee’s and Desiree Nault’s installation With Sprinkles.

This installation which was located directly beside Palmer Olson’s was a two part installation. I hate to use the word beautiful (and maybe even a bit magical), but sometimes these terms fit.

One of the rooms, presumably an office space of some sort was enclosed and it was possible to only look into it. Above this room was a windmill made from materials salvaged from the car wash. Using this windmill, 24 kg of iridescent confetti was ground up and passed through a hand-made sieve and allowed to descent into the room below like snow. Presumably through wind-currents in the room it created this magical space that had a sense of otherworldliness, but yet at the same time was very familiar. Because the photo was taken quite early on the iridescence is not as visible as it would be toward the end of the 10 days.

When I visited the space earlier today to get a photo of the CP Rail bridge, the windmill was still operational. It is visible in a photo that I took on opening day and have placed near the top of this posting. It is somewhat easy to overlook, but you can see it in the image with bicycles in the front and the building behind. It is on top of the building to the left of the sign that states “The Club is Open”

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Lane and Desiree’s installation tied in well with another magical space created by Ben Nixon and Rachelle Quinn entitled Perhaps this Sound.

I was fortunate enough to have been asked to leave (along with everyone else at closing time on opening night) as I was just entering the room where this installation was located. I say fortunate, because had I actually visited it, I might otherwise have missed what made the space interesting.

The following day, on Saturday, I was the only one in that room.

As a result, I was able to interact with the keyboard that was part of the installation and play around with it without feeling pressure to move on. The interactive element, and there were other installations that were interactive and interesting such as The Cave were interesting as well, but in that case, I encountered it with lots of people around. Perhaps the Sound installation appealed to me on a more personal level and the other may have been different if I was the only one there. With the immersive music; the ability to control lights and sounds (somewhat, even though the outcomes may be unpredictable); and the immersive nature of the space with multiple senses being activated was a very enjoyable diversion and short-term escape that I enjoyed.

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Overall, this iteration was different, and had a more thoughtful feel to it, than was my recollection and perception of the previous two iterations.

* * *

Now that the space is vacant, what is the plan moving forward?

This is something that has not really been talked about to the best of my knowledge.

From sources that I believe to be knowledgeable, the space is slated to be demolished (which is probably common knowledge given the nature of the project).

This is being done to make way for a new residential complex. Unlike most recent constructions of late, this will be built as a rental property. This is potentially an interesting location for a new residential development as recent news has had a fair amount of conversation about the new LRT Green Line expansion.

This all gets back to my initial comments about Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak in a round-about way. Let me explain.

Recently, the federal government made a $2.6 billion announcement of new federal infrastructure funds for transit infrastructure in Toronto made by the current Prime Minister in Toronto, the day before Wreck City Demo Tape opened. No doubt, as the journalists who penned the Globe and Mail story intoned in the opening paragraph, this was timed to create warm fuzzy feelings amongst the voting electorate in the critically important Toronto battleground for the upcoming federal election in mid-October. Cynically, but also recognizing the nature of electoral politics (it is a fair assumption, that each party running wants to form government, or at least that is the theory. Otherwise, why would they run?). To do so they will each make announcements to entice voters to vote for them. Because of that, I am sure there will be further announcements in the near future that will be equally as transparent.

Currently there are 23 ridings which are currently split almost evenly in terms of representation between the three major federal parties (9 CON, 7 NDP, 7 LPC). From what  read as well, the polling for the GTA is very, very tight with only a few percentage points between each party. With the new electoral district redistribution the city of Toronto will get two new ridings (and the province of Ontario as a whole will get half of the 30 new seats), it will make Toronto that much more important, for any political party that wants to form the next government, but I digress. As someone who is very interested in the political process (not so much party politics), and given these facts, to my mind, it made perfect sense that the current government made this new funding announcement in Toronto.

Of course, this prompted Calgary to also get on track (I know, I know – bad pun) to immediately seek it’s share of the newly announced federal transit infrastructure funding for the Green Line expansion and the Green Line North (aka North Central LRT) which is part of the 30-year plan RouteAhead project.

If this expansion moves forward, it will be adjoining or certainly within close proximity to this new residential development. I say this, as my understanding is that the Green Line is proposed to follow (at least in the inner city portion) the current CP Rail line which is located only a few metres from the Demo Tape site (a jumping off site, if you will pardon the lame joke that references the Silver Streak movie).

Of course this new redevelopment may potentially reduce the current view of the downtown core from the Esker Foundation space. This is interesting given the recent Calgary Herald story earlier this month, which talks about the purchase of the former Farmer Jones auto dealership which was located across the side street from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker to save the view from the gallery.

It is probably doubtful as I have included an image from beside the CP Rail bridge (the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump off site) which shows the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker (the four story building that the rail beside the tracks points to in this photo) and the Demo Tape space (Penguin Car Wash site) to the right of the two trees in the photo below. And ironically the jump-off point is right in the middle of the two.

As with all new higher density developments, it will be interesting to see how the new development changes the nature of the communities of Inglewood and Ramsay.

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* * *

24 July 2015 @ 12:45MDT edit:

Further to my comments above regarding the GreenLine LRT and RouteAhead expansion, I read with interest that there was a Federal government announcement made this morning with regards tot his project. According to this posting made earlier this morning in the City of Calgary’s news blog, this announcement is the “single largest infrastructure investment in Alberta’s history.” This project will run from the as yet undeveloped community of Keystone Hills in the far north end of the city through to Seton in the deep south which is still undergoing development surrounding the newly established South Calgary medical centre.

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Public art and the act of extreme douchebaggery

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I am going to keep this short and sweet.

I have written about war memorials before. I have also written about public art. This story combines both.

Today a press release was issued by the City of Calgary Police Department seeking assistance to find the perpetrators who removed, without authorization, a large bronze memorial from the Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery just east of the city. It was located in the Veteran’s Memorial Gardens and was taken at some point between the evening hours of Thursday, June 25, 2015, and the morning of Friday, June 26, 2015. I have copied one of the photos that is attached to the press release.

From the police report it would appear as if this was something that required more than one person to do.

There is not much I can say about this beyond what was said in the news release, except to say that whomever was involved in this plot has reached a certain level of ascendancy in douchebaggery that is difficult to match.

Stealing something that is meant to honour the dead (regardless of what one thinks about the act of warfare) – the very people who fought for our freedoms, is not cool.

If you have information or know someone who has further information about its whereabouts or those that are involved, please contact Crime Stoppers, Calgary Police Service at 403-266-1234, or Constable Beierbach in District 4 at 403-428-6400.

Site case #15259843

Let’s find these douchebags and put them behind bars where they belong.

 

Yarn-bombed house in Sunnyside

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I know that I have been somewhat negligent about posting new stories on this blog, since March. It has certainly not been for lack of ideas of things to write about.

During a six-week portion of that two or three month period, I had a very time sensitive contract with very long hours required. Usually what that meant is that I would wake up, go to work shortly after the sun was up, come home after dark and go to sleep (repeating daily).

So now I have time to write once again – sorta.

The project I want to write about tonight, is something that I mentioned last summer (August 12). In that post, I indicated that this project was to take place last September. It did not occur. However, it was not forgotten, only the timeline moved and came together later. This is what I stated about this project at that time:

An organization I have written about in the past, This is My City Art Society is partnering with the Calgary Homeless Foundation to create an art event. Together they are trying to draw attention to this issue and as part of this, they are going to yarn-bomb the recently purchased house slated for demolition, which is located in a prominent NW location during September.

The wrapping of this house in a giant quilt, is meant to symbolize the warmth and comfort of a home.

In my absence, the yarn-bombing project moved forward and is located at 832 – 10 Street NW (at the bottom of the hill below SAIT and Alberta College of Art and Design, and across the street from Riley Park).

The organizers also involved the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer’s Market. Obviously, a number of knitted or crocheted items were collected at the sale this past week. I am sure that there were other methods of collecting items to wrap the house as well, probably some of which were collected last summer as mentioned in my initial post.

I have no idea, and I could be corrected on this, but I would assume that they would still be very interested in collecting more items for the house. I am sure if someone deposited more squares on the porch of the house, It would be my assumption that the items would eventually find a way onto the side of the building.

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Fortunately I have a few friends who have posted photos about the project on my personal facebook. They volunteered to help install quilts onto the house today. The photo at the top came courtesy of one of these people – Georgie. This lovely detail of a stairway (see above) came from yet another – Angela.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation issued a press release about this projecta couple weeks ago. In it they indicted what their plans are for this space, which reads as follows:

CHF has purchased a home that has been slated for demolition; in its place, a brand new, fully accessible apartment building will be built and become home for 25 Calgarians exiting homelessness. . .

Construction of Aurora on the Park was made possible through funding from the Government of Alberta, and local Calgary Home Builder, StreetSide Developments: A Qualico Company, as part of the RESOLVE Campaign

This project involves This is My City Art Society, which is a relatively new organization (formed as one of the legacies of Calgary 2012). The organization serves an often neglected demographic in the city is stated on their website (which is linked above):

This is My City Art Society (TMC) believes that the creative voice of every citizen has value and that we are all richer for having listened.

The work that TMC does not only enriches the lives of the disenfranchised people in its programs, it opens the door for dialogue among all citizens. It builds bridges so that stereotypes can be broken down and common values can be clearly seen and celebrated.

This is My City is a volunteer-run, nonprofit society that brings opportunities for positive creative expression into the lives of some of Calgary’s most marginalized citizens: the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Professional artist-mentors bring their skills and love of art into the shelters and service agencies year-round and connect with individuals to make music, theatre, and visual art together.

As mentioned in the press release, there will be a public event on June 9th at the wrapped house (which when I say this and I know it is a diversion, I can’t help but think of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1971-1995) because the concept is similar, although the execution is much different. I suspect however, that this June 9th event will be mostly designed for the media to announce the newly built project which will be called Aurora on the Park, located on the yarn-bombing site.

The address is 832 – 10 Street NW.

* * *

Ironically, and I am going to go on a bit of a detour before I close, this location is probably a block (maybe two) away from the former Wreck City location which occured around this time in 2013, just before the flood. Those that attended the original Wreck City, may recall that one of the artists also quilted a portion of one of the house exteriors. If I recall correctly, the artist then was Suzen Green who also draped the Mario Armengal figures in Mummer’s costumes, which are/were located on the former Calgary Board of Education grounds downtown. In that way these two project relate somewhat, in a rather circuitous route.

I hear through the grapevine that Wreck City after months of attempting to find a location for a reincarnated version of that project, has indeed found a new location about a block and a half away from the Esker Foundation. This event will take place next month, between June 19 – 28. I am sure that we will hear more about it in the near future. Meanwhile, here is a news story that talks more about what their initial plans are for the old Penguin Car Wash overlooking the city and the Elbow River in Inglewood/Ramsay.

Is the Big Blue Ring the new Brooklyn Bridge?

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Sometimes when browsing kijiji ads the occasional thing pops out as being unusual and/or funny.

Sadly by the time I went to check out the ad, this ad was deleted (see below).

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With all the controversy over public art this past week, someone earlier today decided to post an ad to sell the Blue Ring (also known as Travelling Light) for $470,000 (pick-up only).

It appears to be a variant of selling the Brooklyn Bridge or ocean-front property in Nevada.

I am really liking this sculpture.

I finally saw it during the Christmas break when I had to go to the airport a couple times.

Whether people love it or not, doesn’t matter. It is getting people engaged with art and thinking about it. For that alone the money was well spent on the piece.

I love the fact that people are talking about it.

When people pull a stunt like this periodically, it only makes the piece the more endearing to me.

 

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!

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.

DemongNoticeOfMotion2015Feb11

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)

Giant_Blue_Ring_Comments_2015_Feb_22

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.