Public art and the act of extreme douchebaggery

Memorial_from_Mountain_View_Cemetary_Veterans_Grove

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.

 

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A tale of two cities . . .

Galleria_Edmonton_from_Metro_2015_May_27

I had to visit Edmonton for the last couple days. While I was getting ready to return, I noticed and picked up one of the local free newspapers – the Edmonton Metro. The story on the front cover looked interesting and I wanted to read what it was all about.

Sure enough it was interesting.

It was interesting enough that the Edmonton Journal also picked up the story and ran it in the front section, if I recall correctly (although not on the front page).

Briefly, the Edmonton news relates to a billion-dollar project called The Galleria (not to be confused with the gift shop and gallery of sorts that shares the same name in Calgary). The Edmonton project yesterday received a city council investment of $7.5 million, not to mention another $50-million that was already raised privately prior to going to City Council. This new project will incorporate a new home for the University of Alberta Art and Design faculty, four new theatres and some mixed use development. It will be located adjoining the new Royal Alberta Museum that is currently under construction. You can read about it here.

Of course when I got back into Calgary, I got onto my computer to see what was going on in Calgary as well.

Imagine my surprise upon my return, to read a number of things going on at the Alberta College of Art and Design both yesterday and today as well. Of course, a certain amount of activity at educational institutions is to be expected as the school year has wound down and administration can focus on infrastructure projects, planning, etc. over the summer.

What is happening at the Alberta College of Art and Design that might relate to the project at the University of Alberta?

Gisele_Amantea_piece_installed_outside_Illingworth_Kerr_Gallery_at_opening_of_Oh_Canada_show_January_2015 (1024x768)

After my preamble, I will now turn over the significant majority of the remainder of this posting to two people. I do this because I was not privy to the discussions around this decision or the email that was sent out. . . and there is always more than one side to a story. Often reality is somewhere in the middle.

The first person that I want to turn the mike over to is a person by the name of Shauna Thompson. The name is familiar, but I don’t know her personally (or at least I don’t believe so). She posted something to the Alberta College of Art and Design facebook page yesterday and suggested that it could be broadcast widely. Her comments relate to an internal email that was circulated by ACAD to the ACAD community. I must assume that it was sent out yesterday. I can only rely upon the comments of someone else who received it however it came about whether it was direct or not. I understand there is some risk in this, because it may not be factually correct, however I will assume that she has some knowledge of what was included.

Without further ado, here is what Shauna Thompson wrote yesterday (May 26) at 16:24. Her full comments can be read here:

In an email sent to staff and students about “key” budget cuts and restructuring, ACAD administration revealed in a bullet point that IKG Director/Curator Wayne Baerwaldt will be “retiring” at the end of June and they have chosen NOT to fill this position.

ACAD claims that the gallery will not close, but instead “[o]ver the next few months we will work with internal groups on a new management model and plan of action aligned to serve the educational goals of students and faculty of the College within our new fiscal reality.” There has been no official press release that I know of; only this surreptitious, post-semester email.

I should state that I am editing along the way. However, I am trying to keep the integrity and intent of what she said as a whole without diminishing it. She continues:

The idea that a contemporary art gallery embedded within an art school should be required to prove why their existence is important is ludicrously out of touch. It’s telling that ACAD has effectively reduced Wayne, the IKG, and everything their presence has brought to the school — AND TO CALGARY — to a bullet point in a memo.

Thompson states a number of things that Illingworth Kerr Gallery does, and adds this:

These are things that we, as a community (and I mean within Calgary and beyond it), need to fight for.

There are a lot of questions that remain about the administration’s ultimate intent, but this is the kind of terrain we shouldn’t give up to disingenuous announcements about “new fiscal realties” (sic). There has been a lot of talk recently about the relevance of post-secondary arts institutions. What does it mean to the students and to the ecology of an art school to operate without a professional contemporary art gallery? What does it mean for an historically culturally isolated city like Calgary to have even less exposure to international contemporary art, artists, and ideas? What does it mean for all of us when a space for research, support, and presentation of visual art is carved up by administrators with barely a whimper? This isn’t the kind of thing we should let slide.

I will be the first to admit that I am certainly not in the loop about what is happening at ACAD and at the IKG. But I am definitely interested in what is going on there. Be that as it may, Thompson’s questions do have some validity as it relates to a public gallery that is embedded in any educational institution of merit.

Students need to be given access to original work as part of their program of study. How they do that, is something that I will not address, nor should I. Art cannot be learned in isolation, regardless of the fact that most art that is made is a product of predominantly solitary studio-based practice by the artist. If the instruction is focused on predominately contemporary practice, the gallery attached to the institution should also focus on contemporary practice and/or work that will inform contemporary art practice to encourage student growth. Galleries in an educational facility serve an important role that cannot be overemphasised.

The day after Thompson wrote her comments, Alberta College of Art and Design then issued a press release (May 27). I will now turn it over to their media specialist JoAnne Reynolds to say her bit about the same situation. In this case, I have included the media release in it’s entirety below, which can also be read here:

Wayne Baerwaldt, The Director of the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG), is retiring at the end of June. We are very grateful to Wayne for his close to a decade of service at ACAD, not just at the gallery, but also in his role as VP Research and Academic Affairs. He brought a discourse and variety to the College with gallery exhibitions that made an impact on the entire artistic community. His support and passion for students and education was certainly evident.

The IKG is not closing. We are fortunate to have such a space within our walls. It remains an important part of the student experience at the college and we are taking this opportunity to review the role it plays in our institution and how it can better serve our community without filling the director’s position.

World-class exhibits will continue to be curated. We have a very robust visiting artist program at the college and the gallery is steadily becoming a destination for incredible art in Calgary. To that end, an internal committee formed (including faculty, staff, students and alumni) and we will create a new operating plan in the next few months.

The quality of the programming will be unaffected. ACAD’s goal is to make it even more inclusive and representative of the variety of programs at the college to help us thrive and support future academic growth.

The IKG is an essential part of the experience at ACAD and there are different ways to structure the curation of the gallery. We have listed three key positions that we hope to put in place by this Fall below:

1. A Curatorial structure overseen by a faculty member appointment assisted by an internal exhibit committee.

2. We will fill a current administrative vacancy to support gallery operations and coordinate visiting artists, scholars and speakers.

3. The Gallery Technician will remain an integral part of the gallery.

Creativity matters now more than ever. We are embarking on a sustainability process to generate ideas and solutions that supports our school, our community and our world. Like most post-secondary institutions, especially those with less than 4,000 students, ensuring the longevity of the college is our top priority.

It is an exciting time at ACAD right now as we are embarking on a visioning process that collectively students, faculty and staff can reimagine… rethink…and redesign how ACAD will look for the next 90 years and beyond.

So there you have it.

From the opening part of the press release, it would appear as if the future plans for the gallery are already in place.

This makes the final two paragraphs somewhat intriguing, especially given the use of the root word “embark” or as used in both paragraphs, “embarking”. If I understand the term correctly it means something to the effect of – to board something (especially as it relates to a plane or boat); to begin, or; to start a new course. I am going to make an assumption that in this case, the third meaning is the intent as used.

I can’t argue with the sentiment of the first paragraph with the highlighted talking point beginning with “creativity matters now more than ever.” In this section it talks about sustainability. Financial stability is necessary for any institution, business or person if they want to survive, no matter how large or small their financial resources are. However, I do find it surprising that a small part of the budget, (the Illingworth Kerr Gallery) as presented here, it would appear to be a mainsail, or at the minimum a jib, of the boat (ACAD) that is being embarked. From what little I know about budgets, it would be a fair assumption to assume that teaching staffing for a degree-granting institution as a whole, should be substantially higher than operations of a small gallery with a staff of less than five (I am assuming), even if staffing is included as a direct cost of its operations.

Of course, I don’t know what was all included in the first email that prompted Thompson’s comments. However being aware of corporate speak, it would seem fair that that there is significantly more financial austerity planned from ACAD, given that she mentioned the Illingworth Kerr Gallery/Wayne Baerwaldt situation as a bullet point amongst other “new fiscal realities.” If so, then the final paragraph may make more sense and it makes me wonder why there was not another press release issued to talk about those items as well.

To my mind, based on the comments made at the beginning of the press release and the course of action suggested in the remainder of the press release, it would be a logical progression that the decision has already been made.

It would also seem like another logical conclusion that there is no “embarking” that needs to take place. If this assumption is true, it then makes me curious about the remainder of the last paragraph and prompts me to ask the question – how involved in the visioning process were the students, faculty and/or staff in this decision? It is something that I have no answer to. Maybe it was done, maybe it was not.

I also have one concern about the future stated plans of IKG as outlined in the press release. It is based strictly on my own observations and experiences, and this could be an exception (there always is one). My concern is that artistic direction by committee typically is much more challenging and problematic than not. As a general rule, it makes programming much more unfocused, inconsistent and uneven as a result. Some would even suggest the result often is mediocrity.

This prompts another curiosity of mine relating to the paragraph with the talking point “The quality of the programming will be unaffected”. It is a question about what was meant by the use of the word “inclusive”. At an educational institution of higher learning in the visual arts, is “inclusive” programming (however that is defined) something that should be aspired to? Or should programming be made so that students can see current work by artists producing at the top of their game; work that may be controversial with the intent of stirring creative juices amongst student (an example would be a work by Chris Burden that was made at ACAD in the 1970s that resulted in bringing out the fire department and made the local news); and/or works from the collection that show significant works that show how we got to where we are now?

Regardless, I can foresee that there is a high likelihood that the issue of artistic programming by committee will need to be addressed at some point, whether during the time of this administration, or next.

No doubt this is a complicated matter, with few simplistic answers.

This brings me full circle, back to the Galleria in Edmonton.

The two cities are approximately 300 km from each other, both within the same provincial jurisdiction. However, the focus between the two projects spearheaded by academic institutions (presumably both facing similar fiscal realities) couldn’t be more different. We see one project has a focus on expansion of a visual arts program with a substantial buy-in from the community at large; whereas the other project seemingly has a contraction of a visual arts program with an unknown quantity of buy-in from the community. My question is, why the disconnect between the two?

It will be interesting to see where these two projects end up. I will definitely be watching both projects with interest.

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.

Pi Day Exhibition at John Snow House

Pi_Fresh_Berry_Pie

There are very few constants in the world today. One of them is pure math.

Today marks the once a century Pi Day.

Notwithstanding the conventions of dating protocol, starting with the largest number and working progressively smaller, Pi Day is a bit of an anomaly. However for this sake, and I am probably not alone in this regard – I will celebrate month/day/year for warm pie!!

This all is preamble to talk about an exhibition of craft-based work.

Like math, craft is another constant.

What is produced may change, but many of the building blocks of craft practice will remain. So in that respect it is like pure math, whereby new things are built, but the fundamental principles remain.

From talking to one of my neighbours a few weeks (maybe a month) ago, she let me know about a group exhibition that will be held for one night only at John Snow House.

Pi Party front (1)

Tonight the exhibition begins at 6:00pm at John Snow House.

I understand that there probably will be pie tonight, for those that attend, if they so desire.

I don’t know if I asked, but if I recall the conversation correctly that it may be some sort of craft based exhibition. It is also possible that it is a student exhibition from the craft media program at Alberta College of Art and Design.

I do know that the John Snow House also hosts periodic Craft Nights, where artists who work in craft-based media work on projects while also networking and probably a bit of drinking as well. It all seems very civilized. One day I will actually attend. It may also tie in with that as well.

PiParty Handbill back (1)

I am going from memory here, so I could be corrected on this. For a while John Snow House was used as a residence for some of the recipients of the Markin-Flanagan Fellowship Writer-in-Residence program at the University of Calgary. I believe now it is simply called the Distinguished Writers Program.

More memory here, sometime around 2007ish (maybe?) John Snow House made some sort of relationship with The New Gallery. I was on the TNG Board at the time it happened. Since then it has been an adjunct space for The New Gallery.

Nevertheless, the home has an interesting history. John Snow was primarily a printmaker. His medium of choice was lithography and he produced lithographs between the early 1950s to the 1990s. He also periodically produced block prints, especially in the late 1940s, that in my opinion are very strong. He also did paintings and sculptures as well. I have sold many works of his and had visited him in this house when he was still living there. He took a bad fall and had to move to a seniors residence for the last few years of his life. He worked professionally as a banker, but he was very involved in the arts community. His wife Kay was a librarian.

John Snow moved in the same circle as Max Bates and Illingworth Kerr (who lived around the corner from John Snow). Max Bates as an architect designed an addition to the house. Also in the basement is the large lithographic press that he salvaged and one which most of his prints were pulled (along with other artists).

With all that history. I am glad that the house has been saved and put to a use that recognizes the buildings history and occupants.

* * *

Postscript (2015 March 15)

I attended the event last night. Unlike yesterday when I initially wrote this, I can speak more intelligently about the show. It is a required project that students in the FINA 450 class at Alberta College of Art and Design must do. What this involves is all aspects of the exhibition from planning, finding the space, right through to execution of the exhibition, and everything required in between.

These are students in their final year from all disciplines. My perception that it would have a craft element was influenced by the knowledge of the program that the neighbour who told me about the show is in. Because I previously knew about the craft nights, I assumed that they may have been related.

It was an interesting show as most student shows are. The quality is uneven and that is the way it should be. Each artist brings one or more pieces that is representative of their individual practice to the group show. The works on view ranged from traditional painting to installation. From video work to fibre. It ran the whole gamut of disciplines. But they did a good job.

I had a long conversation with one artist in particular and I want to talk further about her work.

It is not as much about her work as it is about context. She introduced herself when we were standing beside each other in the smoking room (in the garden). Later in the evening we met up with each other and talked further. The artist is Michelle Smyth, and it was interesting hearing where her work came from and what she was trying to achieve.

I did not have my cell phone with me or a camera, so I could not take a photo of the work. Maybe it is just as well.

Memory is a wonderful thing.

The work was an installation. One of the elements was a old weathered, child-sized, rocking Adirondack rocking chair. Beside it were other objects such as a couple stretched canvases that in the words of the artist Michelle, were “meant to serve as a welcome to the house.”

As I mentioned above, the gallery I worked at used to represent John Snow. I have sold well in excess of a hundred pieces of John Snow’s works beginning when he was still living.

Because of that, I am going to go on a bit of a detour to explain why this was a well-conceived piece for the exhibition and space.

Long ago in one of my first jobs, I used to work with a guy by the name of Gordon. He and his wife Janet (I think it was more her idea than it was his) hosted an annual Christmas party. They split up (as many do) and I have never heard from him again. But I stayed in touch with Janet. She continued to invite me to her annual Christmas party.

Janet lived across the street from John Snow. The site where she lived has subsequently been torn down and is now an apartment-style condo complex.

John Snow was elderly and before he moved into the nursing home, he would attend Janet’s party as well. As a result, I got to know in a social context outside of a strictly business context. Janet and her neighbours looked out for John Snow, as he lived alone after his wife Kay passed away.

Long story short, at one of these parties I found out that in the summer months when the weather was nice he would often sit for extended periods on the covered porch of his house. He was very friendly and would wave to those who walked past and generally kept an eye on the neighbours, just as the neighbours did for him.

This brings me back to the installation.

Although this work was not a site-specific artwork, it does share an awareness of site-specificity in its placement – even if it was entirely clairvoyant in doing so. The elements used (a dried flower, canvases, the chair) channeled the spirit of John Snow and his artwork, even though I am almost certain it was not done with an awareness of John Snow.

I think he would have approved.

Is the Big Blue Ring the new Brooklyn Bridge?

Big_Blue_Ring_Kijiji_ad_2015_Feb_24_small

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).

 Big_Blue_Ring_Kijiji_ad_2015_Feb_24

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

City_Council_Chamber_during_agenda_item_911_2015_Feb_23 (1024x768)

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.

DemongNoticeOfMotion2015Feb11

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.

Revised_Notice_of_Motion_2015-03 (1024x785)

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!

My proposal for a new non-profit organization

FFWD_End_of_19_years_2015_Feb_20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I am sentimental that way.

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

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

Regardless, arts journalism is important.

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am of the opinion that all is not lost.

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

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

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

That is step one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this could work.

I really do.

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

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