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.

Talk about Brutal

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The topic tonight is Brutalist architecture in Calgary.

There are a number of buildings in this style located in the city which were built between the 1950s and the 1970s.  The Brutalist style has been described as “polarizing” with critics who distain the style (Prince Charles being one) and champions who love it.

It is usually distinguished by the use of concrete and is often likened to a fortress.  It my opinion that much of the architecture in our cities (especially in suburbia) is distinguished by not eliciting any passionate or emotional response.  So having architecture that does this is very refreshing.  Like in all arts, when this happens it becomes worthy of looking at, regardless of which camp the observer falls into.

As stated before there are a number of notable examples of Brutalist architecture in the city:

  • Calgary Board of Education building (1969) on Macleod Trail between 5th and 6th Streets.
  • Calgary Catholic School District building (1968) Macleod Trail and 6th Avenue SE
  • Centennial Planetarium (1967) designed by McMillan and Long at the west end of downtown at the beginning of the west leg of the LRT
  • Century Gardens (1975) between 7th and 8th Avenues and 7th and 8th Streets SW
  • Mayland Heights Elementary School (1969) designed by Gordon Atkins in the community of Mayland Heights located at 2324 Maunsell Drive NE.
  • I am sure there are more that I have overlooked.

Tonight d.talks is presenting Building Iconomy: Possibilities for a Brutalist Building in the Glenbow Museum Theatre at 6:30.  A suggested donation of $5 or more to cover costs would be greatly appreciated.

The first building to be discussed is the currently vacant CBE building and the possibilities around creative-reuse for the building.

More info can be found here: http://designtalkscalgary.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/building-iconomy/

Challenging conventional wisdom

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It is usually a good thing when one figures that conventional wisdom must be true – and then in an unexpected moment this conventional wisdom is proven wrong.  It reminds us to always question one’s assumptions and that the search for knowledge should never end.

Today was one of those days.

The conventional wisdom.  Barbara Kwasny and Elaine Peake published a book in 1992 entitled A Second Look at Calgary’s Public Art.  In this book which contains 165 pieces of public art, there is little mention of any public art east of Centre Street north of the Bow River, or east of the Elbow River between the Bow and continues south along Macleod Trail from where they both meet near the Stampede Grounds.

There are three exceptions listed (which qualify as the term “little mention” as indicated above) – two of the three barely count if you know the area. They are:

  • two large sculptures and a small sculpture located at Deerfoot Mall,
  • The large Dinny the Dinosaur located on the zoo grounds, and;
  • a large installation dating from 1988 by Rick Silas entitled Out West located in Inglewood that has subsequently been removed from the location and it is believed was subsequently destroyed.

First a caveat.  Kwasny and Peake’s book focused on three-dimensional sculptural work, usually of a traditional material (i.e. bronze, wood or stone).   In the book, there was no mention of murals or two-dimensional work even if situated in a public place.  There were also gaps in terms of what they included and what they did not include.  In their defense, there will always be gaps no matter how thorough one tries to be in this type of endeavor.

I am also aware that the City as part of their 1% for public art program on large capital projects has subsequently situated new public art in this area during the past five to ten years.  As a result certain things have been added to the public art inventory since the book was published.

My big surprise.  I had a meeting to attend in the northeast earlier today.  I stopped in briefly to Sunridge Mall to pick up something I required for the meeting on the way.

I look up and what do I see?

A flock of geese (or maybe just birds that remind me of geese) suspended from the roof.

My mind immediately traveled to Eaton Centre, Toronto and the three-dimensional photographic flock of geese which occupy the Atrium.  They were created by the very influential Canadian artist, Michael Snow entitled Flight Stop, 1979 and are a major tourist attraction in their own right.  As I gazed upon the birds flying inside Sunridge Mall I could see the wind in the mall moving them slightly which was obviously the artist’s intent.

Now I was curious about who made these flying birds as there was no signage visible.  I made my way to the administration office to find out more.  I met with two lovely women – the receptionist and another woman called in from one of the offices nearby.

The outcome of our conversation.  There have been a number of management and ownership changes over the years since the mall was built in 1984 (for comparison Eaton Centre was built in 1978/79).  The receptionist was able to tell us that she remembers them from when she first worked at the mall.  She could place that time, to when she was pregnant approximately 20 years ago.  As a result, the two women came to a decision that they most likely have been there since the mall opened.  Based on that conversation, I would also tend to agree with them.  Although I still know nothing more about these birds than I did yesterday.

The mystery still remains.  Who created these works?  What are they called?  When were they made?  How did they end up there?

My request for help.  My hope is that some architect, builder, artist, contractor or person with information to share will help me figure out the answer to these questions above.  If you know, please send me a message.  I would very much like to talk to you.

Help needed at Stride

In my first post I referenced the flood this past June. Some people got hit hard – I know this because I helped frequently in High River. One of those groups hit hard was Stride Gallery.

To give you an idea how hard they got hit, watch this video – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZuT7ssAXUY

In this video, Stride Gallery is visible between 0:13 and 0:25 and off and on right through to the end of the 45 second video. With a river flowing down the street outside their front door, it is little wonder that their basement was fully submerged. As a result their archives, publications and records were seriously compromised. It is very sad, as Stride is a long-standing artist run centre in the city and has an active exhibition programme.

Calgary is an amazing city with a fantastic willingness to volunteer. As always in an emergency situation people stepped up to help those that need it. They also got some help from the good folks at cSPACE who graciously allowed them temporary usage of space at the King Edward School which is under construction for development as an arts incubator.

Now Stride needs help again.

Late this afternoon, Stride sent a press release to ask for help. They need a new home – and they could probably also use some money too.  This is part of what they sent today.

* * * * *

Due to extensive damage caused by the recent flooding in Calgary, Stride is unable to occupy the gallery’s 1004 Macleod Trail SE location for 3 to 6 months. Stride is seeking temporary affordable or donated office and/or exhibition space in an effort to maintain programming commitments through in the fall. There is a possibility for long-term occupancy.

Please visit www.stride.ab.ca for more information on Stride Gallery. Information on volunteering and financial donations can also been found on the website.

Please contact Larissa Tiggelers, the Gallery Director, if you wish to assist the organization or have space available for temporary use.