The end of Uptown 7th is nigh

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View of 1st Street C-Train platform and bubbles from 129 – 7 Ave SW / November 14, 2016

Recently, at the beginning of this month, I wrote something about the high possibility that changes to the 100 block of 7th Avenue SW may be coming.

Apparently, those changes are coming sooner than I anticipated.

Last night, as the train I was travelling on stopped at the 1st Street platform I noticed that all four panels of Uptown 7th had a new message on them. It was a message that obviously were meant to read as one. The four panels read:

  •     (Panel 1) Good News! / Good Bye Bye!!
  •   (Panel 2) All of us are getting EVICTED VACATED this FRIDAY NOON.
  •   (Panel 3) As if this city isn’t depressed enough as it is. Six Families . . . Out!
  • (Panel 4) Who’s Kicking us out? It’s the MAN
    •   Below the fourth panel is a series of arrows on the sidewalk pointing toward text on the street directly in front which reads:
  •   (Street text) THE MANNIX FAMILY!!! From Calgary
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Panels 1 & 2 on façade of 125 – 7 Avenue SW / November 14, 2016 at night

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Panels 3 & 4 on façade of 125 – 7 Avenue SW / November 14, 2016 at night

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Text on street and façade in front of 125 – 7 Avenue SW / November 14, 2016 at night

As I was photographing the panels for this posting, I happened upon activity in one of the spaces and as a result had the opportunity to visit with Jonathon Sunstrum and get some background on what has gone down in that block recently. He was able to provide a timeline of recent activity relevant to his continued occupancy:

  • October 03 – Court approval received for the purchase and sale of the buildings
  • October 25 – Sunstrum and other tenants are served with notice to vacate by the new landlord
  • October 27 – due to an error the tenants were “officially served” with notice to vacate and informed that the landlord’s leasing agents would meet them on the following Monday
  •   October 31 – landlord’s leasing agents met with Sunstrum to discuss the exit of their properties
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Johnathon Sunstrum standing in office window at 129 – 7 Avenue SW with bubble machine / November 14, 2016

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Interior of the 127 – 7 Avenue SW space / November 14, 2016

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Interior of 127 – 7 Avenue SW space / November 14, 2016

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Exterior of the 121 and 123 – 7 Avenue SW spaces at night / November 14, 2016

It appears as if my hunch as evidenced by previous blog post was spot on. I even got the timing right. Notwithstanding that, I found that some information in that blog post was not entirely correct. They are as follows:

  • Spelling of Sunstrum’s name (which has been corrected in the previous posting) 
  • Assumption that the 129 space was used as a residence (this is incorrect. The space is used as an office instead)
  • Stuart Block and eviction of “undesirables. (from discussions with Sunstrom last night, November 14, 2016, this occurred during time that Heritage Properties owned the building as indicated. The update is that the building was sold at some later point, possibly around 2012, to corporate interests owned by members of the Mannix family and has remained boarded up as seen in the photo below and owned by that group since that time).

 

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Stuart Block building (113 or 115 – 7 Avenue SW) and a lone female transit customer on 7th Avenue at night / November 14, 2016

It would appear that unless something changes in the next couple days, that the small businesses and the Uptown 7th spaces have been given 21 days to vacate and will need to find new premises, on short notice – one month prior to Christmas.

Their final date of occupancy being this Friday, November 18 vacating no later than 12:00 Noon.

I wonder what impact this will have on perceived safety at this C-Train platform after hours, without having those eyes on the street.

 

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Uptown 7th changes coming?

Uptown 7th Buildings

I have been wanting to write about this space for quite some time. I have always needed a reason to write about it, and now I have found the reason.

The space is Uptown 7th.

Located in the Delamere Block at 125 and 127 – 7 Avenue SW, it is located directly across from the First Street C-Train Station. It can best be described as a bit of an outlier when speaking of art galleries in the city.

The primary face to this project is a J.J. (Jonathon) Sunstrum. Also involved his partner Kayla Shimbashi.

I first met Jonathon when he gave me a tour of the original space shortly after he took it over and I was actively researching art spaces in Calgary for the past 100 years. It was in pretty rough shape then and the space that was predominately used is what is visible from the street now. When he refers to the space, it is usually as an “art gallery under renovations” or some variation thereof. It is for this reason I became interested in the space, and have remained so since that time (partly because I pass it so often).

Sundstrom took possession of the former Express Café space on October 3, 2012 which was located in the 125 space. The Express Café began operations in 1980, and was closed by the Health Board in January 2012. This was the beginning of the Uptown 7 space.

Uptown 7th expanded to include the neighbouring space at 127, probably at some point in either 2013 or 2014. This space is more suitable for art exhibitions as it has better lighting, larger windows, level street access and the floors are probably in better condition.

Who is J.J. (Jonathon) Sunstrum?

I could find very little information available on him.

As a result I had to depend on what he himself provided on his website. In the Uptown 7th website, he has indicated that he previously owned the Powder Horn Saloon in Bragg Creek and the Mountain Pizza and Bistro also of Bragg Creek. As best I can determine the Uptown 7th website was probably created in 2013 and has only had a few minor updates since that time.

In the Uptown 7th website it would appear as if Sundstrom moved to Calgary during 2001. In 2007 he showed that has some local political ambitions by running for Mayor against the incumbent Dave Bronconier. During that election, there were nine candidates running. Sundstrom placed last, receiving 1813 votes (0.86% of the vote).

This was followed in 2013 when nine candidates also ran for the position of Mayor against the incumbent, Naheed Nenshi. Sundstrom placed 8th receiving 775 votes out of 262,577 votes cast.

Programming

The name for the gallery as best I can determine, and it is speculation on my part, is as a derivation of Uptown 17 which was the name of the BRZ for 17th Avenue SW. I suspect it is still in operation, but the focus has definitely changed in the past ten years or so.

I am quite familiar with Uptown 17 (now known as 17th Avenue Retail & Entertainment District) as I was actively involved in conversations with the BRZ as a result of my working in a commercial gallery which was located in the BRZ. We worked closely with the BRZ when it actively supported the visual arts and prior to the time when the approximately 10 (sometimes more, sometimes less) galleries all shared frontage onto the small section of the avenue between 4th and 10th Streets for approximately 20 years (or more?). Now, I think there is only one recently established gallery on the avenue and it does not have street frontage. At one time the BRZ championed the visual arts quite a bit and commissioned respected artists through a yearly(?) open competition to create murals to enliven the street.

Enliven the street it did, as there were some significant artworks created by artists such as Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Alexandra (Sandy) Haeseker, , Bill Laing, Barbara Milne, Gary Olsen, John Snow (destroyed in a fire), Wade Stout and I am quite certain that I am definitely missing others who should be listed.

I found an unattributed image of one of the murals that once was located on 17 Avenue on the internet without any indication of who took the photo. This is a work by Sandy Haeseker from the time when she was working on a large series of prints and paintings of English Sheep Dogs that she did for an extended period of time.

sandy_haeseker_mural_previously_located_on_uptown_17

However in the name of progress many of those artworks were quietly removed, the maquettes were sold off. As an aside I once purchased a Dulcie Foo Fat painting that was a maquette for a mural that was never commissioned, that I subsequently sold. The demise of 17th Avenue as a gallery row occurred around the time when Shopper’s Drug Mart removed an old building located on the corner of 7th Street and 17th Avenue, a building which housed my favourite drinking establishment in those days – the old, dark, and dingy, brick-lined Mercury that had paintings of Brad Harms on the wall. Usually there was a fluctuating number of artist types who would meet every Friday after work and regularly stay from early to quite late in the evening usually ending up getting serenaded by the sounds of Sideshow Sid and his epic collection of vinyl. The death of the gallery strip was followed shortly thereafter by similar action the block west where the Best Buy is currently located. Both of these buildings were not in sympathy with the buildings in the area. In my opinion, it became the death of the strip as a viable place to do business as a small business owner, and now has the personality of a factory outlet by comparison. The ascent of the Red Mile which was also just starting around the time when the entire cultural change of that street became noticeable.

But I digress after this small walk down memory lane.

Back to Uptown 7th.

Somewhere along the way, I recall seeing a defaced Uptown 17 poster/pennant/ flag in the window of the Uptown 7th space. Someone had painted over(?) the #1 in 17 but otherwise everything else was the same. Those flags are not used any more, so I am sure that it was salvaged in some way, probably around the time, or before Uptown 7th became what it is now.

As a gallery, there have been surprisingly few exhibitions. The space which I have attended art exhibitions (the 127 space) is marginal at best. From sources that I believe correct, there is black mold in the interior spaces and the building roof leaks into the spaces below. It is probably unheated and is lit by construction lighting and heated by electrical space heaters. Quite frankly the buildings have been neglected for a number of years (probably decades). I am sure that the conditions predated the beginnings of Uptown 7th.

Sometimes you have to work with what you have. I am trying to be as objective as possible. This no doubt affects the type of shows that can be presented, and to an extent the type of art that will be presented.

The most visible aspects of the programming are the regularly changing messages, quotes and jokes that are placed on the blackboard of the 125 building exterior. The music (usually CKUA) and the large screen TV in the window often plays older movies. All these are seemingly meant to entertain those waiting for the C-Train on the station across the street.

The 127 space, occasionally has exhibitions, events and occasionally features backlit dancers at night that perform Latin dances that are usually out of synch with the music playing outside.

Because of this, I often look at the space as being a performative type of venue whether intended or not. There is a theatrical type of element present in everything that this space does. In so doing it does play to a core cultural attitude for the city.

One cannot deny the importance of theatrical, musical, dance, festivals, entertainment (I include sports here) and how these activities are viewed as core cultural values in the city. This often is done to the exclusion of the visual arts and those small little niche markets mentioned above that can be defined as elitist by some (i.e. chamber music, modern dance, etc.) except for their small core constituencies. Why this is, I do not know.

When there were traditional exhibitions, and the last show was about a year ago in November 2015, they usually featured artists that fell under the radar and are not part of the traditional gallery community. I am aware of a number of the artists who have shown work in the space through just being active in the community and talking to whomever will listen – even though I do not operate a gallery anymore, nor am I really involved. But when I was, I loved given unproven artists a break, even though I didn’t always sell their work and sometimes showing their work cost me more money than it was worth. For many of these artists, just having the chance to show their work is a small success. A career is built upon a series of small successes. Many of those artists have never forgotten me and usually want to chat me up when we cross paths and usually ask when I will get back into the business again.

These shows usually lasted for a couple days to maybe a week in length. They are as follows:

  • Watercolours by 17 year old artist Natalie Slaba – November 2015)
  • Paintings by Mateja Šmic (or alternatively Mateja Schmitz) – October 2015
  • Paintings by Enriquito Selfismo – September 2015 (a Cuban artist that I understand is now living in Florida)
  • Traditional b&w photography by Clarke Kinaschuk – August 2015 (now living in Toronto?)
  • Paintings by Enrique Hernandez (Selfismo?), Yulin Qin and Juyan Chen – June 2015 (Grand Opening event)

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The space with the most amount of activity is the apartment above 129. It is here that Sundstrom and Shimbashi reside (November 15, 2016 edit: This information is incorrect as the space is used as an office instead, as will be discussed further in  an upcoming posting). What we see here is bubbles that are often discharged at random times of day and night from one of the upper storey windows. It creates a bit of a magical effect. While waiting for or riding the C-Train I have heard more than a few times people commenting on this part of the space. I have seen children trying to catch the bubbles, occasionally an adult too.

What benefit does this space provide?

I remember this section of the street from when I was still in high school. Occasionally, after school, I would go downtown with some of my fellow classmates. There was an arcade in one of the spaces, possibly below the residence. I also remember being propositioned to purchase drugs on this section of the street periodically during that high school timeframe as well.

7th-ave-sw-100-block-circa-2006

When Art Central opened, this section of the street definitely was seedy. There is no question about that. It was an area of urban blight. It was a section of downtown that was considered to be unsafe by many people and an area to be avoided.

Around the time that Art Central opened (across the street and other end of the block from Uptown 7th) the C-Train platform was moved from between 1st and 2nd Streets to it’s present location between Centre and 1st Streets. During this time there was a C-Train platform on the south side of the street which was removed and relocated one block to the east where the current Centre Street platform now resides adjoining the Hyatt Hotel and the Calgary Convention Centre.

Approximately when both C-Train platforms were relocated and Art Central opened, Heritage Property Corporation purchased a series of these buildings. For a number of years Heritage Properties tried to create the Seventh Avenue Autopark Inc. which was a driverless, automated parking lot which was to be located directly above these buildings. This would allow the refurbishment and rehabilitation of the buildings similar to what they did in the Lougheed Building around the corner on 1st, which houses the Grand Theatre and buildings that once housed the old Calgary Public Museum.

Stuart Block, 7th Avenue, Calgary

Presumably around the same time, there was a forced eviction of “undesirables” who were residing in the three-storey Stuart Block. It is this building in the photo above. Because so many of the people who used this building as a home lived on the margins of society there was little uproar about the forced eviction. However, This is My City Society in cooperation with the High Performance Rodeo presented a performance which addressed the last days before the eviction as part of the Cultural Capital activities during 2012. The building outside for the most part has been vacant since that time.

This all was taking place around the same time that the York Hotel and the Regis Hotel were getting vacated; the Art Central project was nearing completion; and The Bow building was beginning; the Calgary Convention Centre was expanding and the Hyatt development was happening. There was definitely some over-riding desire to gentrify the few blocks in that area during that time.

7th-ave-autopark-drawing

In the end, numerous attempts were made to City Council to make the auto park project happen. Ultimately, it never got off the ground. No doubt, there was substantial amounts expended to do the engineering reports and other related expenses. Having the buildings mostly vacant, and the few that were occupied were probably barely covering operational costs for the remaining buildings. With the local economy in a tough spot, and the last attempt to make it happen got shot down (again) around the time that the price of oil collapsed in 2014, that probably was the end of the road for the financial viability of this project. In some ways, I am surprised that they lasted as long as they did. As a result, the buildings were placed into receivership (or bankruptcy) as evidenced by the photo at the top of the page.

Legacy of this project

The biggest legacy to this project is public safety. With this project being where it is and activity happening all the time, Uptown 7th has become the eyes on the street. Often we will see Sundstrom on the street doing things like sweeping up cigarette butts and trash. He will be up on the roof shovelling off the snow. He is out there often. By blowing bubbles from an upstairs window the human presence is evident.

By doing these things it has created public safety for C-Train patrons that may not be as noticeable at other downtown C-Train stops.

For illustration, I will use the Centre Street platform located the next block over as an example. Here there is no human presence across the street after hours where the old Regis Hotel (cardboard is currently in the windows), the old Calgarian (now a fitness centre active during the day) and the Legion #1 which are all located in that block. In addition to this there are no C-Train platform entrances to either the Convention Centre or the Hyatt leaving the platform virtually unattended at any point outside of the business and daylight hours in the downtown core. There are a few small businesses that keep their doors locked and a Calgary Transit ticket place that is busy at the end of every month and various points in between. There also is some public art piece of standing people which allows for a place to blend in with the sculptures and rest while taking advantage of the heating vents located below them, where police will often visit at night to check on those who like to hang out there.

When comparing both the Hyatt block and the one located where Uptown 7th is located, there is a significant difference in terms of activity. The Palomino usually has people on the street most evenings at one end of the street. In the middle, they both are the same with unoccupied heritage buildings with Uptown 7th on the other end. The platform of course may change once the Telus Sky project is completed in a couple years, as I understand there will be a residential component to it.

There is a measurable difference in the number of transit customers who wait on the two platforms after hours, using comparable times.

Although the cultural significance of the art gallery is debatable, the appearance of safety that has come with the gallery and the activity surrounding it, is undeniable.

This all brings me to the compelling reason to write about Uptown 7th

I often pass by Uptown 7th at various times of day and night because of the C-Train. I also often read the chalk board messages, just like many others also do.

About three weeks ago, early October (maybe it was late September) there was a message indicating that the buildings may be sold and that they would find out on the following Monday. I paid more attention as a result. Early the following week, I noticed that there was a message indicating that the building had been sold.

By the time I remembered to bring my camera with me, the message had been erased and replaced with another. Nevertheless, we do know that the building indeed has been sold. This is confirmed from the listing agent who has stated this fact on their website.

My assumption is that because it was a judicial sale, possession would take effect as quickly as is reasonably possible. A possession date, that starts at the beginning of the month after receiving court approval would seem like a plausible timeframe.

This means that the possession date could reasonably be expected to occur as soon as today (November 1, 2016).

Therefore, we may see changes to this block in the very near future.

I would also think that something big will happen in terms of development in this block in the near future. It will probably will not happen right away. I would think that with this block of buildings, the purchaser owns enough property on the block, that it is merely just a matter of time before something moves forward and this block will be gentrified.

A number of years ago in 2006, when The Bow building was still in development, Bob van Weegan penned a story in the Calgary Herald, which talked about heritage buildings. This quote which I feel is as relevant now, as it was then, is from that story.

When an old building is sold to developers, that is often bad news for heritage. In some cases, the city or province may provide funding or tax breaks, or use overriding legislative power to preserve a building. But typically when heritage is at stake, there is a negotiation between the developer and public authorities. If a developer is sympathetic and can achieve what he needs on a site without destroying heritage, there is a good chance for a win-win outcome.

I close with this thought to muse upon. Recently, there is an increased city-wide awareness that heritage buildings should be protected (in some way, partly through the Century Homes project which I was happy to be part of). Is it possible that the new project will incorporate the historical buildings in a manner similar to what was done in the Hyatt and Calgary Convention Centre expansion along Stephen Avenue Walk?

8th Avenue Hyatt & Convention Centre facade

My guess is that something like that probably will happen, and it probably will not be a small project either.

I will be watching to see what developments are waiting in the wings.

___

 

Reference (quote):

Bob van Weegan. Calgary Herald. Will EnCana’s twin towers make the most of our heritage?, June 11, 2006.

 

Yarn-bombed house in Sunnyside

Yarn_Bombing_project_832_10_Ave_NW_Calgary_May_24_2015

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.

Yarn_Bombed_Stairs_at_832_10_Street_NW_Calgary_May_24_2015

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.

new participatory yarn-bombing project coming soon

This_is_My-City_Yarn_Bombing_Info_September_2014

This is not something that this blog usually does – advertise for upcoming events.

However this project is a bit different as it is primarily about creative placemaking and engaging audiences that may be interested in art, but may not frequent the formalized art one sees in galleries with regularity. There were a couple recent projects that tapped into this dynamic, the most successful one probably was Wreck City in 2012.

This event all ties into this whole concept as described above in a roundabout way.

* * *

Without further ado – here is what it is all about.

  • I know that there are those who do knitting.
  • I also know that there are those who do crocheting.
  • They may even be concerned about their fellow human beings.
  • They may even be concerned about the issue of homelessness.
  • They also may only be superficially be aware of a phenomenon called yarn-bombing.

Recently, there was an art-bombing (or whatever term is most appealing to the reader to describe what is the result of an artist’s, or group of artist’s using yarn for creative public art displays) which happened downtown. The CBC covered this most recent attempt last week outside of Bow Valley Square downtown. It may still be visible (or not).

I plan to write about this whole issue of yarn-bombing, art-bombing, urban knitting, kniffiti, or any other variation that a wordsmith can come up with to describe what it is, when I have more time to do so.

I find this whole concept quite fascinating and interesting.  This, even though I don’t know how to knit. I did try to learn, with my mother when I was a child, and later with someone who was close to me at the time, providing guidance. Unfortunately, the end result for both times was that I got incredibly frustrated.

* * *

The project:

The Calgary Homeless Foundation has recently purchased a house that is slated for demolition.

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.

It seems like a great concept.

Since there is only a small group of knitters (or crocheters) involved, I want to help expand their network, if I am able.

Here is what they are looking for:

  • People to create 12” knitted or crocheted squares that will be used to yarn-bomb the house – or create a bunch of them, and/or getting friends to help.

It is that easy.

* * *

Now the particulars and how to get it to the yarn-bombers.

Deadline:

  • These 12″ squares need to be dropped off at a few locations around the city by August 26 (that is 14 days, or two weeks from now)

Here are the locations:

  • Crowfoot Library (8665 Nose Hill Drive NW)
  • Fish Creek Library (11161 Bonaventure Drive SE)
  • Louise Riley Library (1904 – 14 Avenue NW)
  • Community Wise Centre (aka The Old Y) (Suite 101, 223 12 Avenue SW)

For more information please review the photo above. You will find more contact info available on that image.

I am sure I will cover this story more once it is up and installed.

 

Observations on three different heritage hotels

Cecil_Hotel_Sign_in_Winter_2014_January_13 (1024x683)

It is midway through Historic Calgary Week which includes the Century Homes Project. It is an interesting way to draw attention to historical issues in a city that has a love affair with tearing older buildings down and replacing them with newly built buildings. Rarely are the old buildings incorporated into the new design. However, that is another issue for another day.

With that in mind, the Calgary Herald ran a story today that talks about the Cecil Hotel, Stephen Avenue Mall, Penny Lane Mall, the Barron Building and many other older and newer buildings and trying balance demands for the new with voices trying keep the old. It is not an easy thing to do, in a city that is rapidly growing with constant demands for space.

I will try to keep this short.

At the same time I want to talk about three old hotels – The Cecil, The King Eddy and the York Hotel.

The rationale?

All three buildings that were built in the early part of the 20th century; are located east of Centre Street; have recently been in the news; were all owned by the City at one time in their existence; and have been floated as being appropriate venues for cultural spaces at some point after the residents had left (or were in the process of leaving).

The Cecil

Cecil_Hotel_2014_June_26 (1024x683)

A long time ago, when I used to own a gallery and was tied into a five-year lease, I was approached by someone who talked at great length, complete with architectural drawings and conceptual ideas about how the Cecil should be rebranded as a cultural space/boutique/art space with studios above. It was similar to the Art Central concept with the exception that it quite possibly was a contemplated as a live/work concept. This is my memory talking here.

I have no documentation about this. I could not find mention of it in the online newspaper site I visited. My memory also is that the concept never lasted very long. However, it stuck in my mind as it happened around the time the landlord I was renting from at my residence, was talking about selling and I was considering my options. Now, I am very interested to see the architectural renderings again or to find out more about the concept. I am putting this out into the internet world, in the hopes that someone has this information, and/or is willing to talk more about it. Please visit my contact me page if you are that person or persons.

Notwithstanding this concept, the Cecil has had various uses in a cultural capacity over the years. Most recently a movie called Three Colours & a Canvas, 2014 was released within the last few months. It was filmed predominantly at the Cecil. The use of the Cecil as a backdrop for advertising photography, movies and photographic stills is common. The building has a grittiness and contrasts that works well in these contexts.

This is evident in a photo-essay which the Calgary-based photographer George Webber did for the February 27th issue of Swerve magazine in 2009. It documented the last days of the Cecil, and the introduction said:

On Friday, Feb. 13, the residents of the Cecil Hotel packed up and left. And then there were none–except a photographer and his camera.

The Cecil was also the subject of an art exhibition called This is My Cecil which was held in the Ledge Gallery at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts. This was done in conjunction with This is My City Festival. The organizer of this exhibition Tomas Jonsson and his objectives for this show were described in a May 2010 story in the Herald as:

With his interactive project, Jonsson wants to make the negative view or “narrative” of the Cecil more “complex” by looking at other points of view, and at some of the rich-versus-poor backstories and business-versus-human dimensions of urban development.

Somewhere I believe I have a small publication produced for this show.

The King Eddy

KingEddieWithHeart

This once seedy hotel (just as the Cecil was) used to have a pub in the basement where a virtual who’s who of blues musicians would perform over many years. It was known as the Home of the Blues – with good reason. Legendary acts such as Buddy Guy played there.

In August 2004, the King Eddy (or more formally the King Edward) was condemned with the Calgary Health Region citing, “dangerous level(s) of mould, not enough toilets and unsanitary conditions.” Like the Cecil it sat vacant and unused for four years before a proposal by Cantos Music Foundation (now the National Music Centre) was accepted in May 2008 to allow for redevelopment as a museum/music centre. This project is well underway as seen by the photo below that I took in early July of this year.

King_Eddy_site_National_Music_Centre_2014_July_02 (1024x683)

I am sure I will write more about this project as time progresses.

The York Hotel

YorkHotel2006JudithUmbachCollectionCalgaryPublicLibrary

Sometime between October 2005 when City Council approved the sale of the York Hotel and June 2007 when demolition began on the hotel – the low-income residents who occupied this previously seedy hotel had to move out. This hotel however probably was a step up from the other two mentioned above. This is probably due to the fact that when the city purchased it in 1990 they converted it from a hotel to an assisted living facility.

On a side note, only because it relates to the seediness of the York Hotel, a long time ago I had a job in the former Petro-Canada Tower. One hot summer day I looked out my office window and saw a stripper sunning herself with the tiger she used in her routine on the second floor balcony above the retail frontage on 7th Avenue. As I recall, this prompted an impromptu 5-minute meeting to be called amongst the guys on my floor to discuss this unusual event. But I digress.

This property was linked to construction of The Bow and as the picture above shows, this new development contained a smaller tower that incorporated the concrete Art Deco friezes which were custom-built on location circa 1930 at the York Hotel and were unique in North America. There were two locations that this was done – Calgary and Hollywood. As seen in the original building above and the architectural rendering below, these friezes were to be incorporated into the new building. I would have to do some research and I don’t feel like doing it today, as it is an obscure fact, but I believe the Hollywood and Calgary friezes were both done by the same person whom I believe was somehow a relative to the original owner of the York. This of course is from memory, so I could be corrected on this.

TheBowAndYorkHotelFosterRendering

The building was carefully demolished and the bricks and friezes were put into storage as the intent was to reconstruct the building, retaining the two sides which faced Centre Street and 7th Avenue SE. The new building as illustrated in the rendering above was to be used as a cultural facility. In fact as I recall, this was a condition that allowed for the increased density and height of The Bow. As you can also see in this photo it was directly across the street from Art Central (the building on the left with the red vertical sign). This was intended to help solidify what was hoped to be a cultural zone, which was at that time called the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, and now is nothing more than an historical footnote.

Sadly, the worldwide economy went into a significant economic slide in 2008 which resulted in a refinancing in 2009 and the news as found in the Herald in April 2009 which stated:

The south block of The Bow skyscraper project, which was to house office, retail and cultural space, has been “deferred” due to the challenging economic times and construction for the time being will be stopped at grade level.

In February of this year, a front page story in the City section of the Herald stated this in the opening paragraph:

A second, smaller tower proposed as part of The Bow office development downtown will not go ahead. Instead, the property’s owners . . . will build a public plaza at the site of the old York Hotel.

 

York_Hotel_Plaza_under_construction_2014_June_27 (1024x683)

As seen in the photo above that I took the week before Stampede workers are progressing on this new development as announced. The site where these workers are working, is indeed the site where the York Hotel once stood. It is still in progress and I am surprised that it has not been completed considering how fast they were putting that part down in late June. But, like all construction projects in this city, it seems that everything takes longer than one would originally expect.

This York Hotel project was immensely interesting. I plan to write about this, but probably not in this format. I am sure it will be heavily documented. If you have more info that might be of interest before it is tossed, please contact me.

Conclusion

The use of one of the three hotels as a cultural space is well on its way. The outcomes for the other two are still very much up in the air. Only time will tell if something ever comes from either one of them in this regard.

My craft-based art proposal for the Western Showcase

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Showcase_Craft-Area_Overview_2014_July (1024x683)

Yesterday, I talked about Yvonne Mullock’s hooked rug and its unveiling at the Esker Foundation.

In that post I indicated that I wanted to continue this discussion as it relates to the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase. This also is a continuation of my previous post from about a week ago that relates to the Artist Ranch Project.

As any reader of this blog can easily figure out I have shown my current minor obsession on craft as art. I am interested (and have been for quite some time) in the dialogue between, at what point does craft end and fine art begin.

* * *

There are all sorts of issues surrounding this dialogue such as, but not limited to:

  1. the necessity of artists to perfect their craft;
  2. craft as a viable medium for artists to explore;
  3. what role art can have in craft production;
  4. the role of language and the use of the term “craft” in art; and
  5. does the term “craft” actually inhibit growth and dialogue in art production and collections.

With this out of the way and as background to this discussion, I can now move forward.

* * *

In my blog post from last Friday (see link provided above), I proposed that the Stampede seriously consider working collaboratively with the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton in the Western Showcase.

In my opinion, this could be a very good collaboration as the Alberta Craft Council has connections to a significant number of professional craftspersons active in Alberta (and being a provincial organization would be involved in networks nationally and internationally); has a large exhibition space with active programming in Edmonton; and has explored possibilities over the past number of years with intent to set up a separate location in Calgary as well. For whatever reason none of those attempts to set up a space in Calgary has come to fruition. Things now seem to be moving forward as they have a soft agreement in place that they will occupy a space of some sort in the new King Edward School arts incubator that cSPACE Projects is moving forward on. It will probably be ready for occupancy barring any delays sometime in 2016.

Overview of the two organizations:

From its website Alberta Craft Council is described as follows:

The Alberta Craft Council is the Provincial Arts Service Organization that develops, promotes and advocates for fine craft in Alberta. Since 1980, the ACC has promoted craft in Alberta through exhibitions, publications, marketing ventures, education, awareness projects and information services to its membership and to the general public. The ACC has a dual role: to support contemporary and heritage crafts as significant art forms that contribute to Alberta’s culture; and to develop a craft sector of creative, skilled, viable and sustainable craftspeople, studio, businesses and networks.

Now the Stampede. The Western Showcase component has been described on their website as follows:

Western Showcase is recognized as one of the major destination areas of the Stampede. We are a vibrant group of nearly 200 volunteers showcasing our Western Heritage and Values. Western Showcase, located in Halls D and E of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, showcases art, entertainment, presentations and exhibitions that depict our Western Lifestyle.

It would appear that this is how the two organizations envision themselves and what they do.

Now to expand my argument for this proposal:

In a previous post, I indicated in passing that that there is a Western Lifestyles Creative Arts & Crafts Competition. I didn’t call it by that name at that time, but this is what it actually is called. They have 14 categories in which competitions are held.

They are listed below, and I have only included the open division, which most adults would compete in. They are: 1.) knitting; 2.) crocheting & tatting; 3.) needlework & stitchery; 4.) quilting; 5.) paper crafts & calligraphy; 6.) assorted handicrafts; 7.) ceramics & decorative painting; 8.) rugs & weaving; 9.) wood working; 10.) dolls & toys; 11.) framed paintings; 12.) framed drawings; 13.) sugar art & cake decorating; and 14.) eco art.

As one can see from the list above many of these categories lie parallel to many professional artist’s practice. With blurring of boundaries in contemporary visual art practice and production, it is a fair assumption to say that all of the categories above are fair game for most artists to explore.

With that in mind, I thought it is worth investigating the rules for the competition. In the 2014 booklet containing the rules & regulations of this competition, I could only find one section (the last one) which addresses the inclusion of a professional artist or artisan from participating. It is as follows:

19. Participants in the Western Art Show will not be allowed to enter pieces for competition in the Creative Arts and Crafts Competition. . .

In my eyes, this would seem to be a fair rule. Here are some photo selections from the competition that are relevant:

Calgary_Stampede_Rugs_Section_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Window_Display_July_2014 (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Moving on to the Sales Salons

As I was wandering through the sales salon I very surprised to see some large ceramic vessels in one of the booths. I have included a photo of the booth and it shows work by Robert Behr from Montana who from his website, appears to travel the circuit of other festival events similar to the Western Showcase in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

From this it would appear as if craft is not an issue in the Sales Salon and as a comment made by Sherri Zickefoose yesterday on a previous post (see link above) she indicated that this may be due to no other artists applying. This is a reasonable assumption to make.

Robert_Behr_booth_at_Calgary_Stampede_July_2014 (1024x683)

Moving on to the Art Auction

I have attended many of these sales over the years. Although I don’t have the catalogues close at hand to reference, however I do have them available should I need to. I do not recall seeing any craft included into the sale. Having said that there is this interesting thing that sometimes happens prior to the sale where they have a Quickdraw event. I can`t remember what it is called. As part of that in the past I recall seeing a sculptor on more than one year working with clay to create a sculpture. I can’t remember what they do with it, but I suspect it is either sold or cast at a later date.

Unfortunately I am unable to attend tonight as the job that I once was working full-time at has now cut my hours to only six hours a week over two days. As a result I am looking for new work. However, the hours that I must work this week are the exact same hours as the auction, tonight. I can`t even get a photo if they do something like this tonight.

Further to this, some time ago (I could be corrected, but I believe it was held between 2007-2010) there was an auction called Pavilion: Contemporary Art Auction. I attended all the sales and have the catalogues somewhere. It was held in September in the Victoria Pavilion in the old Agricultural Building. It was held in cooperation with Christie’s (the auction house) and eight commercial galleries – Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Masters Gallery Ltd., Newzones, Paul Kuhn Gallery, Skew Gallery, Susan Whitney Gallery, TrépanierBaer Contemporary Art and Virginia Christopher Fine Art.

During the 2008 sale one of the pieces was a work by Shary Boyle. She is kind of a big deal as she the following year won the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2009 and later went on to represent Canada in the Venice Biennale in 2013. The piece which was specifically commissioned for this sale was described by Nancy Tousley in the Calgary Herald as follows:

(Shary Boyle`s work) is represented in the Pavilion catalogue by a lace-draped porcelain figurine of a woman, with a bloody stump of a neck. She daintily holds her severed head in her lady-figurine hands.

It sold for $12,000.

Unfortunately the Pavilion sale was not to be, and only three sales were conducted. It was subsequently cancelled on the eve of the fourth annual sale. In this sale there was a definite interest in exploring contemporary art and new media, including craft-based work.

Moving on the Artist Ranch Project

Instead of repeating myself I would suggest that if the reader is interested in reading more, to visit my previous post (see link provided at the top).

However to add to this discussion I have included an image of a work by Wanda Ellerback from this year`s iteration of the Artist Ranch Project for reference. Here she is creating a work that uses craft, while creating a fine art object.

Wanda_Ellerback_sculpture_for_Stampede_Artist_Ranch_Project_2014 (1024x683)

 

The Guilds and Cabins

In the Western Showcase is a cabin which is daily staffed with volunteer members of various guilds. One of the guilds is the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts. Here they show how the crafts that they work with are done. Sometimes, depending on the guild, they will show children and other interested parties how to do these crafts. This is part of an educational initiative to keep these skills from becoming obsolete. It also harkens back to pioneer culture and especially as it relates to women as many of these activities are of a domestic nature or things that have relevance inside the home.

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Lifestyles_List_of_Participating_Guilds_2014_July (1024x683)

In my most recent post from yesterday, I mentioned work by Yvonne Mullock and the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts (see link provided at the top of this post). It will become readily obvious why I wanted to include them in this dialogue.

They produced a large hooked rug for the Esker Foundation. It is now currently being shown in the gallery as art.

As an aside the current exhibition at the Esker is very interesting and in the context of this discussion should be seen by all members of the Western Showcase Committee. Two artists, Beth Stuart and Cynthia Girard (who worked in collaboration with artists David Altmejd, Julie Doucet, Groupe d`action en cinéma Épopée, Henry Kleine and Noémi McComber) who produced work that uses a number of craft-based media in the work that is on display (I think immediately of quilts, needlework and eco art). Not only that it is presented in such a way that it could almost be dropped right into the middle of the Western Showcase and look like it was intended to be there. If it was to be included, it would certainly create an active discussion. But I digress.

Yesterday, I walked past The Women’s Centre. As I passed, I was invited in to enjoy a Stampede Lunch and BBQ by a lady standing on the step outside the main doors. Once I was in the space I noticed a number of quilts hanging on the walls surrounding the office. This then gave me the opportunity to talk to one of the staff members and inquire if these were any connection to the quilts that I had seen in a window display at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts a couple months earlier. It was not the case, but it was an enlightening conversation nevertheless.

The quilts I referenced were made as a collaboration with some women that took part in a workshop connected to The Women’s Centre in cooperation with two artists (Cat Schick and Linda Hawke) connected to This is My City Art Society.

This project was a very fascinating collaboration. With the assistance of a Calgary 2012 grant the two artists led a workshop at The Women’s Centre, which answers calls to approximately 60,000 calls annually for basic needs from clients, the vast majority who are dealing with issues of poverty. This workshop was based on the theme of sleep and dreams and it is possible to read more about it here. Much of the work that was included was very powerful. I have included two small details from two separate quilts included in this art exhibition for reference below. Like the other collaboration that I have mentioned above (the Esker collaboration) The Women`s Centre collaboration, likewise crossed boundaries between untrained people and professional artists.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_one_January_2014 (1024x683)

For reference, the detail text from the above quilt states the following:

Sometimes when I should / be asleep, my mind is wide awake. Things I / need to do tomorrow nag at me, great / burdensome lists of thing, each with its own / list of associated details. On really bad nights / the shadowy corners of my life come into sharp / focus. I think about how I would relive / regrettable moments, fix mistakes. I replay / words I have said and haven’t said to people / alive and dead. My internal temperature / is thrown out of whack and I have too many / covers – then too few. I consider getting up but / usually don’t, afraid I’ll disturb some else’s / sleep.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_two_January_2014 (1024x683)

The detail from the second states the following:

A hawk flew into my dream,

down into my ruined house,

right through walls that weren’t there

and grazed my head.

The bird had a message for me,

but I was protected from

hearing it,

by the orange sunhat,

I wore in those days.

Synopsis and Conclusion

As we can see from the example of The Women’s Centre + This is My City collaboration craft engages viewers and practitioners on a very fundamental and structural level. When one looks at our Western ancestors we know that craft in some cases for survival, comfort or luxury. At some point in each of our family’s existence someone had to know how to darn a pair of socks, make and bead a pair of moccasins, knit a draft snake, hammer out a horseshoe, create a wedding band and set the stone, and make a ceramic plate – or be able to pay someone to do it for them.

We have determined that ALL sections of the Western Showcase have expressed some interest in showing craft as art up to a certain threshold. However there appears to be only very little of it shown at any one time.

There are probably reasons for this. From the vantage point of an interested observer and non-active participant, I would assume that the largest reason for this is a general lack of awareness that craft is a possibility to be shown in the Western Showcase. In other words, for whatever reason, the committee has not connected on some level with this specific audience.

For this reason I proposed that some initiative be created to allow craftspersons to participate in the Western Showcase. The province (and by extension, the larger region of Western Canada and the Northwestern USA) have some significant and important centres of craft production. This is a perfect venue to showcase this important cultural legacy.

The Stampede as a larger entity, has also shown that they are open to cooperative initiatives. I think of the partnerships that they have formed with corporate entities in terms of naming rights and funding for things such as the SAM Centre, the Youth Campus and its partnership with the Calgary Arts Academy along with the new Enmax partnership to relocate the Indian Village.

The Alberta Craft Council has also shown the same. About a month ago the ACC followed the lead of other organizations such as Stride, Truck, The New Gallery, Marion Nicoll Gallery, Untitled Art Society and the Alberta Printmakers Society in having a window in the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts. This is a new, purpose-built space that was constructed in the +15 corridor along with another newly built space for the University of Calgary Department of Art students between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre. In this space the ACC, like the others, have begun regular programming of craft-based, fine art or installation-based artwork rotating on a monthly schedule.

In the local area there are isolated pockets of support for craft-based artwork. Unfortunately much of these opportunities are geared more to selling of pots and functional craft, with occasional art-based opportunities available outside of this narrow focus.

What I would like to propose is something like the Artist Ranch Project which I think is an amazing project. Like this, I would propose a thematic residency of some sort. The Western Showcase I propose to work in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Council to develop a new concept that will benefit artists and artisans who are interested in exploring craft-based opportunities further with a show at the end during the ten-days of Stampede.

I have no idea how this should unfold, but I would be very interested in seeing something like this happen. I am also very excited about what it could look like.

I have done my part, now I am passing off the baton to someone else, whoever that may be.