It’s like déjà vu all over again

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It was refreshing to pick up the Calgary Sun this morning and see that they corrected some factual errors that were made in yesterday’s paper about the inges idee sculpture entitled Travelling Light that was recently installed on 96th Avenue NE.

I am also glad to see the conversation is continuing.  This will create a greater understanding about how public art makes its way onto specific locations.  It is an important ongoing discussion to have.

A bit of controversy is welcome too.

As Yogi Berra is purported to have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

I recall the uproar that surrounded the Santiago Calatrava Peace Bridge that opened a few years back.  As it is with this project, there was a large amount of dislike surrounding the bridge at that time.  Now whenever I walk or ride over it, there are always people there, unless it is very late at night – even then there often is.  I believe that a lot of opinions have changed about the Peace Bridge over time as well.

That speaks well of the Spanish architect’s concept and design.  I foresee a similar situation happening here as well.

Now if only someone or a group of yarn bombers would yarn bomb it and make it into a giant dream catcher.  Or close off the bridge and get a Johnny Cash tribute band up here to do a concert and sing The Ring of Fire while the pyrotechnics are going on behind him.

They would both be awesome ideas!

But, I jest.

At the same time, there might be something there that is worth considering.  By doing something like this, it would give a reason to talk about public art and get a huge buy-in from the general population while we are at it.

Now if only someone was willing to take this project on and make it happen.

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Is it really about the art?

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I see that the Calgary Sun is at it again – talking about public art and creating a sensational cover story while doing so.

The issue:

Within the last few weeks, a new sculptural work that serves a dual purpose of lighting an important intersection and as a piece of art was installed on 96th Street which is located near the airport and near the edge of the city.  It is also visible from Deerfoot Trail.  This work was conceived by a Berlin-based artist group called inges idee but was fabricated in the city according to the artists’ and the city engineering department’s specifications.

The background:

In 2004 City Council enacted a Public Art Policy (CPS2003-95 and as amended CPS2009-33).  The sum total of City Council Policies (of which this is one) must inform decisions that City Council makes, and Policy must also be considered when budgets are being prepared.

As part of this Policy, the framework was created for what is commonly known as the 1% for public art program.  This governs all capital projects over $1 million, and does not include land purchases or depreciating assets (i.e. computers, equipment, vehicles, etc.) along with other items specified in Council Policy.

According to Council Policy an open competition was issued for proposals of artwork under the 1% for public art program and a jury convened to decide which project from those submitted would move forward.  In this case, a jury of five community members met and the proposal by inges idee was selected.

The controversy:

In today’s Sun we see the headline (see photo above) where it is intoned that the City “wasted” $470,000 worth of tax dollars.  The story then goes on to state, “it seems all too fitting that Calgary’s latest public art project is a giant hole — it should serve as a symbol of money thrown away, for all the good it does us.”

But the “wasting” of money is not the real issue.

The real issue is stated in the very first sentence.  It states, “to bicker over $4,800 in suburban development costs, when the city has $470,000 to blow on bad art.”  We know this, because the writer returns to this comment, by stating, “When Naheed Nenshi’s entire re-election campaign based on a $4,800 per-house levy he wants to charge for new development in the deep suburbs, you’d think blowing 98 houses worth of cash on bad art would have the mayor and his aldermanic allies livid.”

Art is always subjective and one person’s “bad art” will be another person’s masterpiece.  So I will take the Sun’s interpretation of this as being “bad art” with a grain of salt and consider it as having little value outside of a personal opinion stated by the writer.

Personally, I think it looks interesting although I have not seen it yet.

Where does the $4800 vs. $470,000 comparison come from?

Recently, Mayor Nenshi posted a platform in his re-election campaign – see http://www.nenshi.ca/endthesubsidy

Boiling down what is stated in the Nenshi platform is that city voters as a group are subsidizing each new home built in a greenfield development.  On a per home basis, the city funded infrastructure builds during 2012, which was incurred to the tune of $4800 each.  That $4800 is used for things like new highways, the 1% for public art that goes with the resulting infrastructure, new streets, sewers, electrical, parks, fire stations, medical facilities, etc.

This is no chump change.  If what Nenshi states is correct, that works out to $33-million of subsidies that goes to developers that would otherwise have to be spent, if new developments had to be built with full infrastructure in place prior to occupancy.  I am not an economist, so will take the numbers at face value, given the reference in this story.

The $470,000 I must assume is the cost for this work of art and other related costs to install.

The analysis:

If the writer wanted to be factually correct, he should be doing an apples to apples comparison, instead of the apples to oranges comparison which he did in the article more than once.  If so, we would be comparing $33-million to $470-thousand.

But that would mean that the numbers for art might seem reasonable in that context.

Ironically, this new artwork is placed near new developments on the outskirts of the city and the infrastructure needed to efficiently service these new communities.  Knowing how long it takes to get a major art project like this from idea to installation, it wouldn’t surprise me that the jury convened in 2011 or 2012.  So what this means is this project more or less represents the 1% of the $33-million subsidized infrastructure build during the 2012 period that Nenshi talked about.

Further irony abounds when one realizes that only a handful of current council members had anything to do with initiating this Council Policy or even the 2009 amendment.

As much as we would think this is about the art.  It is not.

It is about politics.

Turning 50

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Yesterday, the main branch of the library celebrated the 50th anniversary of its present location on the corner of 7th Avenue and Macleod Trail.  There were a number of free events which took place at the library throughout the day.

Libraries have always held a special place in my heart as a repository of knowledge, wisdom and critical thought; while also providing the tools, access and resources needed to achieve the same.  It has always been this way ever since my mother or grandmother probably introduced me to libraries as a young child.  This was followed in grade two or three when I first helped out as a library assistant in my elementary school after classes were done for the day.

Our relationship has only grown since that time as we pursue knowledge and the love of the written word together.

There is nothing quite like browsing stacks of musty, well-loved books or touching the hand-written manuscript and being able to connect with the physicality and history that comes from that uninterrupted one-on-one dialogue.  It is a special moment when one can pick up a book to read; then opening the page to see a book plate of a well-respected expert in the field that has passed on and/or seeing a personal inscription from the author on the frontispiece.  It makes that personal connection that much more real than anything the internet will ever be able to provide.

Like many things in the internet age, libraries and archives have had to change and the tools that I remember as a child no longer have currency or have become obsolete and archaic.

Soon the main branch of the library will close and move to a new location in East Village behind City Hall.  Along with that move there will be changes as the library changes with the times and the reality of how information is collected, disseminated and used.  It may also potentially change the look of this street corner as the building has an uncertain future once the library moves out.

I will be looking forward seeing the plans in the months and years to come.

Happy 50th Anniversary to a long-time friend, the Calgary Public Library – main branch.

Harold Town at Wallace Galleries

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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.

setting up the ContainR

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Yesterday afternoon I was in Sunnyside as a work crew was setting up for ContainR.

ContainR is an initiative with a Calgary connection, Nicole Mion.  It started during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  It is also part of the Fluid Movement Arts Festival, which is organized by Springboard Elevating Performance Company.  There are a number of events connected to the Fluid Festival around the city between October 16-26 which mostly take place in theatres and exhibition spaces.

ContainR opens this weekend.  The interesting thing about this event is that they are utilizing shipping containers that are often seen on railcars, trucks and ships.  They have been repurposed for alternative uses.  According to the website, this “festival within a festival” (for lack of a better phrase) is described thus:

  • ContainR is a village of pop-up venues made up of redesigned and repurposed shipping containers. ContainR is a gathering place and urban park with demonstration gardens, local food, kiosks, library, and incubator and experimental work spaces. containR presents events and performances. containR nurtures creative minds, artists, thinkers, growers, and entrepreneurs and builds community.

This Saturday there will be a number of events at their temporary location at 2nd Avenue and 9th Street NW which is about two blocks away from the Sunnyside LRT station.

For those with a creative bent, there is a chair-making competition using hand-tools and prizes given for beauty, comfort, originality and a people’s choice award.  The wood is provided and all that is required is the work to transform the material into something interesting.  Registration takes place on Saturday morning between 7:00-8:00am with judging taking place at 4:00pm.

For more information visit http://springboardperformance.com/containr/#containr-sunnyside

Phantom Wing vs. Land|Slide

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Much has been written about Phantom Wing this past week or two.  This is entirely understandable given that it was a five day exhibition which ended a couple days ago.  It is a building (or at least the Phantom Wing portion of it) which is scheduled to be demolished at some point, in the next few months and eventually redeveloped as an arts incubator.

In that context it is interesting to compare this project with another that is happening simultaneously at the other side of the country, just outside of Toronto, in Markham entitled Land|Slide: Possible Futures.

Like Phantom Wing, Land|Slide is a large-scale, temporary public art exhibition with a short duration (five days, September 24-29 as compared to three weeks, September 21 – October 14).  The similarities continue where both events:

  • Started within days of each other
  • involve(d) over 30 artists
  • incorporated built infrastructure connected to the public arts and culture sector (the open-air Markham Museum and cSpace’s planned arts incubator at King Edward School)
  • a large number of temporary site-specific works that often utilized resources available on site was exhibited
  • artists from various stages of their careers were involved
  • free busing to the event was offered from arts institutions (MOCCA in Toronto and ACAD in Calgary)
  • have a lineage that ties back to The Leona Drive Project which took place in Toronto during 2009.

On the surface both would appear to be doing similar things in their respective local areas – one in the Greater Toronto Area and the other in Calgary.  As a result it is worth talking about both projects in context with each other.

We have seen the similarities, now what about the dissimilarities:

  • Facilities used in Markham will remain; whereas in Calgary they will be demolished
  • Financial support from all levels of government and private industry was indicated and community partnerships were listed in Markham; whereas the only stated support was received from the building owner and developer in Calgary
  • There was one curator in Markham; whereas there were five artist-curators in Calgary
  • The artists selected in Markham on average tended to be more established, with broader exhibition experience than was the case in Calgary, which tended to be more locally focused and by extension presumably less-established.
  • The artists work with a museum collection in Markham with a long history limits options (or alternatively expands the options); whereas in Calgary those limitations were not present.
  • The work selected in Markham tended to be more socially or politically-engaged; whereas in Calgary there was little evidence of this.

The main difference can be clearly stated by what the curators held up as their intent for each event as stated in the introduction to each project in each website.

Phantom Wing (http://phantomwing.wordpress.com/about/) described its objective this way:

  • PHANTOM WING proposes the creation of an architectural phantom limb – an event designed to resonate long after the building is severed from its adjoining sandstone counterpart.

Land|Slide: Possible Futures (http://www.landslide-possiblefutures.com/site.html#about) describes the event this way:

  • (Land|Slide is a) backdrop for artists to explore some of the most pressing issues facing Canadians today: how to balance ecology and economy, farming and development, history and diversity. . . in a unique community engagement initiative that pays homage to the past and imagines possible futures.

Both events allude to the place of suburban (and urban) development in cities that are rapidly expanding.

It is my wish that I was able to make it Markham before this event ends so that I could make a proper post-partum which would open the door to further dialogue surrounding both events and the issues relating to development and cultural infrastructure, which both cities must deal with.

So much to see and do

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Q: Why is it so busy this weekend?

A: Alberta Culture Days!

This evening is opening night and Olympic Plaza will be a hopping place.  Events will be happening throughout the weekend.  In conjunction with Alberta Culture Days, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – Calgary will be open late.  So will the Art Gallery of Calgary.  Of course the Centre for Performing Arts facing Olympic Plaza also has lots going on as well, which is typical as it is a Friday night after all.

Something is happening all over the city.  Here is a taste of what is happening tonight.  Everything listed below is FREE:

  • Opening ceremonies with live music, dancers, at Olympic Plaza from 4 – 10 pm
  • Live at Festival Hall with various Alberta musicians (1215 – 10 Avenue SE) from 5 – 9 pm
  • 3rd Annual Flamenco Festival at Webber Academy Performing Arts Centre (1515 – 93 Street SW) from 8 – 10 pm
  • Water Works, the City of Calgary Waterworks Department in conjunction with Calgary Society of Independent Filmakers (CIFF) at the south end of the Peace Bridge along the pathway from 7:30 – 9:30 pm
  • Culturefest, featuring Bollywood and Hollywood movies in the park and lots more at the Genesis Centre for Community Wellness (7555 Falconridge Blvd. NE) from 7 – 10 pm
  • Danielle Couture classical music performance at La Cité des Rocheuses (4800 Richard Road SW) from 8:00 – 9:30 pm
  • Tales of shoes around the world at John Fleuvog Shoes (207 – 8 Avenue SW) from 5 – 6 pm
  • Artember Festival throughout various locations especially along Main Street in the city of Airdie.  Visit http://www.creativeairdrie.ca/?p=553 for more information.

For a full listing of what will be happening as part of Alberta Culture Days http://culture.alberta.ca/culturedays/

  • There is information on Twitter @AlbertaCultureDays
  • There is information on facebook at /AlbertaCultureDays
  • There is even a mobile app available through iTunes at culture.alberta.ca

There is no excuse to stay at home this weekend.  Go out and have some fun!