Harold Town at Wallace Galleries

HaroldTown (742x1024)

I don’t often talk about commercial galleries.  In fact, for whatever odd reason commercial galleries as a general rule don’t get much talking about in the Calgary press.  This is the way it has been ever since Nancy Tousley retired from the Calgary Herald who would occasionally make periodic mention of an interesting show.

I want to talk about one such show that is in the midst of a two week long exhibition.

The artist – Harold Town.

I want to talk about it because it is a damn good show and someone should step up to the plate and draw attention to the show before it is over.

Harold Town was an interesting artist.  Born in 1924 in Toronto, he died in 1990 in Peterborough.  He was one of the early proponents of non-representational art in Canada doing work that was influenced by Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning making a big impact in the 1950s.

He was a member of the highly influential Toronto-based art group Painters 11 and also introduced a very important body of work during the 1960s called the single autographic prints which are monotypes.  These prints were highly collected and helped solidify his role as an innovator and a leading light in Canadian art.  He followed that by creating a series of paintings in the 1970s called the SNAP paintings.  These works without going into detail about how they are created which relates to the name, quite frankly are amazing.  By the 1980s he had started to fall out of favour and largely neglected even though he continued to do work.  The image used on the card dates from circa 1985 and brings his career full circle to where he first made a name for himself as an important abstractionist.  The neglect that his work fell into is now changing and there is an increased awareness of his important role in the Canadian art world.

I went at the very end of opening day and as a result did not have much chance to look at the art, as is often the case at openings.  I did however do a very quick pass at the entire show while getting caught up with someone whom I have not seen for quite some time.  Fortunately I was previously familiar with his art so did not take notes or have a camera with me and am depending entirely on memory, so could be corrected on one or two things.  As I recall there are at least three SNAP paintings; maybe five to ten single autographic prints a couple works from the 1960s and a small selection of works from other periods with maybe 30 pieces overall.  It is quite the achievement to accumulate that many in one place and have them available for sale.  For that I must congratulate the staff at the gallery.

It is a strong show overall.  It is so rare to see this many works together by such an important artist from this vintage.  It is well worth visiting the gallery to check them out before the show comes down on October 9th.

Wallace Galleries is located at 500 – 5 Avenue SW (on the main floor of Chevron Tower) in the heart of downtown.  They are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00am-5:30pm.

An interesting development in the upcoming election

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There was an interesting ad in the Calgary Herald this morning.  It was found on page A11.   I have followed politics all my life, since I was a very young child when I wanted to be a politician for a career.  I rarely talk politics.  Be that as it may – today I want to talk politics.   I have photographed the ad in today’s Calgary Herald for reference.

What makes it worth talking about in relation to a blog that covers the arts, ironically and maybe even surprisingly, has little to do with the arts.

First some background.

McCall Lake is a golf course in the NE quadrant of the city directly south of the main North-South runway of the airport.  It is just east of Deerfoot, between 32nd Ave and McKnight Boulevard and is located in Ward 5.  City Council made a decision to close the golf course at the end of the 2014 season.  This decision was made during a city council meeting in November 2012 with the purpose to convert it into a business park with green space.

McCall Lake, quite frankly, is old news.

Why is this an interesting story?

These facts together make it an interesting story with future implications:

  • One, is that it is a full-page ad in the front section of the Herald containing six candidates, none of which are incumbents.
  • Two, none of the potential candidates are running in ward 5, where McCall Lake is located.
  • Three, Alderman Ray Clark (the incumbent for ward 5) is running unopposed with an election happening approximately five weeks from now.  If it really was an issue he would have someone (or many) running against him.
  • Four, it does not even mention the golf course
  • Five, the group states in fine print, “This is an independent opinion and does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of one person or the other; nor does it constitute a Party or a Slate.”

So what makes this story and ad interesting for an arts based blog?

It really has no related and direct arts content to the story.

However, be that as it may, three of the six candidates have run previously in the last election (Oct. 2010), placing 2nd in each case.

  • Sean Chu ran against Gael McLeod in Ward 4 losing by 1,288 votes (6000 vs. 7288)
  • Kevin Taylor ran against Druh Farrell in Ward 7 losing by 1,252 votes (10,658 vs. 11,910)
  • James Maxim ran against Brian Pincott in Ward 11 losing by 1,449 votes (9,385 vs. 10,834)

This also appears to be a “shot across the bow” to present a potential slate on an issue that is more or less a red herring.  However there was a very interesting piece which contains food for thought on The Homestretch show on CBC Radio this afternoon.  http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/Alberta/The+Homestretch/ID/2406694679/

With the YYCArtsPlan going to City Council early in the new Council term, it will be important for those whose interests lie with arts related issues to be aware of the potential political implications (if any).  It may even be worth it to support the activities of; ask the candidates what their thoughts are on the arts; or at the very minimum check http://artsvotecalgary.ca/ who will ask these questions on your behalf as the election draws closer.

As a sidebar, it also prompts me to question if this might be the beginning of a move to introduce a backroom slate and in so doing try  to introduce party politics into civic elections.  This is something thankfully we have not had to contend with, as it allows the successful candidate to respond to each issue on its own merits alone, without the the rigours of having to vote party line.

I will definitely be watching this development.  Although I probably will not comment further, whether I will might be up for further debate.


A new twist to the music business in Canada

Musicians1938 (1024x766)

An article in this morning’s Calgary Herald about live music, government policy and the unintended effects of legislation and government policy prompted me to write once again.  The news story can be found here (see http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainment/fees+international+touring+musicians+threaten+smaller/8842759/story.html).

What is the story about?

Briefly the story is about small local businesses which book live music acts as part of their ongoing businesses.  These are venues which will occasionally (or regularly) book live music acts from outside the Canadian borders, but whose primary business is not music (i.e. bars, clubs, coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, music retailers, etc.).  According to the article each venue must pay a $275 per person application fee for all persons connected to the band and a $150 work permit fee for each person approved for a temporary work permit.  In this story those interviewed expressed concern that this new legislation will affect their businesses.

On the surface the new fees may not seem like a lot.  Let’s create a very simplistic model to use for economic comparisons to see if this is true or not.

The framework.  Fire code for the venue that we will use for comparison purposes indicates it will hold 150 people.  The band that is being booked has four musicians and a sound person, all originating from a different country.  Assume that all applicants were approved. This would mean that the bar (we will use this as an example, because it is easily understood) must pay $2125 in fees before the band even gets on the stage, for their one night gig.  Let’s say the band is just starting to receive critical notice, so travelling to build an audience is a very good idea and it also works for both parties.  Because of that, the band charges an appearance fee of $3000 (or alternatively $600 per person connected to the band).  Although I have no idea what numbers are like in this business, this would seem as if it should be reasonable.  I base this on the fact that the band will need to pay for hotels, equipment, traveling costs, management, taxes, food and drinks on the road, along with the apartment/condo/house that each person maintains at their home base out of this amount and that they will not play every single night so it will need to compensate accordingly.  Based on this model, the total direct costs that the bar owners must pay for the band to perform in their venue is now $5125 each night.

The simplistic business economics of the framework as described above.

As a private business, the bar can do one of two things – they can charge a cover/ticket price, or they can pay the direct costs themselves while not charging a cover.  There are of course advantages and disadvantages to both.

First scenario.  The bar with a stated capacity of 150 the promoter must sell ALL 150 of the tickets or charge a cover fee of $35.00 per person to see this band on a strictly cost recovery basis without allowing for less than a full house.  This would be compared to having to charge $15 with no additional charges or fees, prior to the new fee structure which was introduced by the new legislation.  The bar then can take the full amount of the bar sales in both cases to cover their own operating costs.

Either way, the conclusion in this scenario is that the concert attendees bear 100% of the performance costs, unless it is less successful than planned, which is not factored into this scenario.

Second scenario.  In both cases, the operator charges a cover of let’s say $10 per person expecting some will leave early and others will take their place.  Let’s say they have anticipated based on previous shows and the popularity of the bar, that there will be a lineup to get in, so they can plan for over-capacity numbers.  Here are the numbers that we will work with pre- and post- legislation

  • 200 people attend;
  • each person pays $10 to enter a 150 person venue during the course of the night;
  • while there, each person buys five drinks each at $5.00 per drink.

Using gross numbers (before any operating costs are removed) what this means is the operator receives $2000 as cover charge/ticket price and receives $5000 bar sales for a grand total of $7000 that night.

Pre- new legislation economics in this scenario.  The venue booking this act must still pay the act $3000 which means that the venue’s margin to work with for operating costs (to cover staffing, lease, alcohol and power) that night is $4000.  This means that most likely the ownership group probably will get something out of this – depending on what their operating costs are.  It was probably a reasonable business decision to book this act.

Post- new legislation economics in this scenario.  After paying the act which performed $5125 which leaves $1875 net to pay the operating costs.  To me as a former business owner this seems like an amount could potentially be too narrow to work with to allow a profit given what probable operating costs are.  It might be leaving too little margin for error here.  The ownership group might have think twice in the future, just in case a bad storm happens or a competing act is announced for the same night reaching the same demographics.

Net margin to the operator (before operating costs) in the second scenario is $4000 vs. $1875

Third scenario.  The numbers using the same formula as the second scenario with a slight change

  • 200 people attend;
  • NO cover/ticket sales;
  • while there each person buys five drinks at $5.00 per drink.

Using gross numbers again the operator takes in $5000 in bar sales.  The band requires either $3000 or $5125 just to go on the stage as described above.

Pre-legislation economics in this scenario – the operator might be able to cover the operating costs with the $2000 net after paying out the band.  Based on my limited knowledge of this business, it probably would be a slim margin night, maybe not even enough to cover the costs.

Post-legislation economics in this scenario – before getting on stage the numbers are already negative.  There is no money left to pay for operating costs.  The business will now go bankrupt if this continues in this manner, unless they have extremely deep pockets and a dedicated ownership group that is willing to bankroll it regardless of what it makes.

Net margin to the operator (before operating costs) in this scenario is $2000 vs. definitely negative income.

What does this mean to the Calgary live music scene?

It probably means (based on economics alone) that many of those bands from other countries will rarely come to the smaller venues.  The exception will be if it is a big-name touring stadium act that people don’t mind paying significant amounts to see perform in huge venues and then buy merchandise after the show is over as well.  There is enough margin in these mega-shows that an additional $3000 (or whatever) is not going to mean a huge difference to the bottom line.  It is the smaller shows that will be affected most.

It also means that the smaller venues will find it more difficult to draw acts to fill their venues because the local acts are ones that they have seen more than a few times before.  So unless these local acts have a large following one will see drift in terms of “bums in the seats” (to use a theatre term).  The potential outcome of this might also be that we will see the closure of some smaller venues which were marginal for whatever reason as the economics no longer make sense to stay open for business.

What to do about it?

One of the most effective ways is to express their concern to their local MP as the legislation affecting this issue immigration and temporary foreign workers.  When communicating with your MP, also communicate with the Minister of Employment and Social Development – Jason Kenney whose portfolio this falls under.  When you are at it, one might as well communicate with the opposition critics whose portfolios incorporate this file– John McCallum (Liberal); Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe (NDP) and Maria Mourani (Bloc Quebecois).

Or alternatively one can sign the online petition that was started today as a result of the Herald article.  You can find it here – see https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/canadian-government-to-charge-international-touring-artists-425-per-band-member-per-performance-in-canada-previously-a-1-time-150-fee