Saturday, December 12, 2009

An International Christmas Feast in Calgary

Vine and Dine Gives Perfect Holiday Pairings

Christmas came early in Calgary, as over one hundred excited guests gathered on the 35th floor of International Hotel and Suites to celebrate the holidays with fine wines and food from around the world. Vine and Dine, the popular food and wine club hosted by Linda Garson, organized the event.

The menu featured six small courses, each paired with wines from a different country. First there was Portuguese bacalhau da consoada - poached cod with egg and cabbage - matched by Casal Garcia Vinho Verde. Vinho vedre literally translates to ‘green wine’ and speaks to the youthfulness of this blend, which is bottled without aging and meant to be drunk right off the shelf. The wine comes from the north of Portugal. It is fresh and slightly bubbly, a perfect balance to smoky, earthy flavoured food. Then a taste of Chilean sea bass arrived, with a sample of Botalcura Chardonnay/Viognier. The highlights of the meal were yet to come, though, in the form of a succulent braised wild boar belly from Italy and French-style smoked duck breast with toasted pistachio nuts. Those were paired with Masi Campofiorin and Coudoulet de Beaucastel, both full-bodied reds. Typical Canadian holiday fare was provided in the form of turkey with gravy and stuffing, paired perfectly with Gray Monk 50 Red from the Okanagan Valley.

Although she had not tasted any of the dishes prior to the event, Garson was pleased with the pairings. The menu was created especially for the occasion, in partnership with the multi-cultural talent of the hotel’s kitchen staff.

“None of these are available on the typical menu,” explained Carrie Larose of International Hotels, “We wanted to show that the hotel can really provide whatever you want for catering or functions. We also want to provide food that is not typically found in Calgary - or hard to find - and cater to that niche.”

Guests ranged from regular Vine and Dine attendees, like Heidi Wiebe and Wendy Walters, to pure vino-philes like importer Jocelyn Morgan, to culinary adventurers like Ann and Jim Murphy, who are set to travel through Southeast Asia with local food critic John Gilchrist next month. Their trip is organized through the University of Calgary, where Gilchrist teaches, and will include a two-day workshop on ‘Food and Culture’ at the campus before a two week trek through Thailand and Cambodia.

A large and jovial group of sixty-five patrons dominated one side of the room. They were managers of Boston Pizza franchises, enjoying a company Christmas party in high style. Dennis and Betty Bailey, owners of several Boston Pizza restaurants in the Calgary area, were among them.

After each course, there was a draw for two prizes: a bottle of one of the wines sampled, and a gift bag including chocolates and other treats. The majority of the randomly awarded prizes went to the Boston Pizza crowd. After dinner, the tables of the ballroom were cleared to allow dancing late into the evening.

Published in National Post on December 12 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business in Calgary

The Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business [CCAB] was in Calgary last week for their annual gala dinner. It has been twenty-five years since the organization was founded. Earlier this year, an anniversary party was held in Toronto, where John Ralston Saul was the keynote speakerand Rick Mercer delivered a pre-taped welcome address.

In Calgary, the celebration focused on economic development and the success of private-public partnerships. “Alberta is a dynamic place to be, and to learn about sustainable partnerships,” says Clint Davis, president of the CCAB. “This province is an economic driver for the country, and you’re also talking about a strong First Nations community, politically.”

Held at The Westin Hotel, guests mingled around hors d’œuvres and an open bar before sitting down for a full four course meal. Salad and soup were served before a turkey and lobster duo, which was finished with a seared berry desert. The food was paired with excellent selections of wine from Nk’Mip Cellars, Canada’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery. It is found deep in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

While networking was high on the agenda, the gala was also the launch pad for the CCAB mentorship program. The initiative partnersAboriginal entrepreneurs with experienced leaders in Canadianbusiness. Applications will be accepted as of January for partnerships in Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“It’s a fascinating time in Canada as it pertains to the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business relationship in this country,” says Davis.

He points to the increasing number of young, urban, educated Aboriginals in Canada as a timely remedy to labour shortages. Davis adds that other factors in the growth of Aboriginal influence include a “groundswell of support for corporate social responsibility” which further connects Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business communities, roughly five million dollars in investment capital from settlement claims, a panache for entrepreneurial activity, and the legal ‘duty to consult’ before developing on traditional Native land.

While yet another First Nations community in British Columbia - the Gitxsan of Hazeltown - considers giving up their rights under The Indian Act, Davis says change continues to come quickly. “There’s no doubt that The Indian Act in and of itself is a barrier to economic development,” he says, “[Relinquishing it] certainly has an impact on how government and business works together. But I think it’s a very good thing. It builds capacity within the community, and it opens up more opportunity to attract investors."

Those who attended the Calgary gala included: Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of Loon River First Nation, Woodland Cree Chief Joseph Whitehead, director of education for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Dr. Noella Steinhauer, Jess McConnell of
ConocoPhillips, Maria MacAulay of Enbridge, Vicki Reid of EnCana, and Bonnie Veness of Suncor.

Published in National Post on December 5 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rosenberg Talks Risk at Teatro

David Rosenberg was the guest of honour at the latest Salon Speaker Series event in Calgary.

The theme for this season is Risk and the Global Economy. It’s a topic with which Rosenberg, who left Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in New York to join the Canadian firm Gluskin Sheif earlier this year, is intimately familiar.

After a champagne reception and impressive three-course meal at the posh Teatro Restaurant, guests settled in for the main event. Salon speakers are requested to make opening comments, unscripted, for approximately 30 - 40 minutes before taking questions from the audience. The generous portions of lamb with caramelized root vegetables had barely been cleared, the mouth-watering array of sweets hardly explored, when Rosenberg launched into his monologue.

Dubbed the ‘double dip guy’ by at least one guest (because of his two-pronged recovery forecast), Rosenberg prompted a rush of murmurs with his opening: “You have to make your bets against the consensus,” he proclaimed, “The consensus gets it wrong about eighty percent of the time. But maybe this year is one of those times the consensus actually gets it right … right now the consensus is on some sort of v-shaped recovery.”

He was quick to win over his audience and declare his intentions.

“I am a financial market economist,” he said, “I’m a Wall Street guy and I’m a Bay Street guy. I’m here to talk about how to take the economics…what it means for your investments, and how to stay out of trouble. It’s about how much risk you want to take on, in order to get your return.”

True to the evening’s theme, Rosenberg’s talk centered on risky endeavors. First there was the Obama-Bernake analysis. Calling the United States economy a “fiscal train wreck,” he predicted that the sanctioning of a low dollar would boost their economy, promote exports, and protect balance payments. Then there was full-blown derision for the equities market, which he claimed “as a culture is dead”.

A director of Gluskin Sheif and regular Salon Series patron, Wilf Gobert, agrees on both counts.

“What he’s saying is that people are so focused on equities as the only investment,” Gobert said, “But the reality is that there are a lot of different investments available, including gold and bonds. And the attractiveness of alternative investment has grown, as a means of diversification in asset risk.”

Unsurprised by much of what Rosenberg had to say, Gobert says the economist “can be bullish at times,” citing his optimistic perspective on commodities (and therefore commodity equities) but agrees with his assessment of the American dollar.

“He’s bearish on currency because it’s the only major policy lever left in US government to try to stimulate their economy,” Gobert said.

And what does this mean for Canada, and more to the point, Alberta?

“Like all exporters in Canada, a low US dollar hurts the oil patch,” explains Randy Pettipas, president of Global Public Affairs and a regular guest of the Salon Series, “Your expenses are in Canadian dollars and your revenues in US dollars. It's worth noting though, that historically as the US dollar weakens the price of oil rises providing some compensation.”

Other guests at the function included D’Arcy Levesque of Enbridge, John Cordeau, Q.C. of Bennett Jones LLP, Dave MacInnis of Chevron Canada Ltd, Mark Kryzan of Shaunessy Investment Counsel, Jim Palmer of Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP, Wouter Raemdonck of Total E&P Canada Ltd, David Bercuson of the University of Calgary, and Nicholas Kohler, Calgary Bureau Chief for MacLean’s Magazine. Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the series, skipped the event to be with his wife and new-born baby in Toronto.

Published in National Post, November 28 2009
Photo by Adrian Shellard.

Calgary Spies with the Geminis .... A Film Studio?

The 24th Annual Gemini Awards for Excellence in Canadian Television brought top industry talent to Calgary last week for a series of meetings, galas, and a glittering award ceremony, broadcast across the country. Held in a different city each year, this is the first time The Geminis have come to Calgary.

On-screen talent Brent Butt of Corner Gas, Arlene Dickinson of Dragon’s Den, Erin Karpluk of Being Erica, and Tom Jackson, most famous for North of Sixty, mingled with the behind-the-scenes folk who make it all happen, like local acting instructor Karen Ryan, Calgary film commissioner Luke Azevedo, Vancouver producer Ed Hatton, and Tom Cox, executive producer of SEVEN24 Films. While out-of-towners were kept entertained, local industry got a huge boost from their provincial ministry.

It’s taken almost three decades of planning, bargaining, lobbying and hoping, but a permanent, full-service film studio and post-production centre seems to finally be on the horizon in Calgary. During last week’s haze of Gemini Award parties, Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit Lindsay Blackett unveiled an “agreement in principle” with the owners of Canada Olympic Park to buy a piece of their land and build a 75,000-square-foot facility there. The agreement comes less than two weeks after plans for a Canadian Sports Hall of Fame on the same site were announced. The province has promised $10 million to the Hall of Fame, and indicated partial funding support for the estimated $26 million studio development. At another function, Blackett also revealed $800,000 in new provincial grants for creative projects.

“For us it’s amazing”, says Azevedo, “It’s more than just sound studios: there is potential for sustainability, there are plans in place to allow us to link with post-secondary, to help create a training grounds, to help us become the diverse economy that we always talk about. Although we’re in a downturn economy, this is one of those things that will help us recover on a global scale. In my opinion, without a sound stage it’s also very difficult to grow our industry to where we want it to go. And since 80% of the work is done in the Southern quadrant of the province, we do need to facilitate that. This property will allow us a quick transition and a quick build.”

The Glenbow Museum, Westin Hotel, and Teatro Restaurant were all venues for hot ticket parties last week. After the funding announcements were made at the museum, insiders mingled, munched and mused across the street at the Women in Film and Television Alberta (WIFTA) party. Guests dined on scallop ceviche, fresh oysters, seared duck breast, and pork belly appetizers while a seemingly impromptu drum circle and live jazz provided entertainment.

Marni Fullerton, the recently elected president of WIFTA, says the timing was perfect for both a party and the new grants announcement. “We wanted to sort of ‘present’ Alberta, as the rest of the industry from across Canada descended,” she says, “[The funding announcements] are a really positive sign that Alberta is serious about long term development and sustainability in film and television in this province, and I applaud Lindsay Blackett for taking that initiative.”

Big winners at the next evening’s gala award ceremony included The Rick Mercer Report for best comedy, Flashpoint for best drama and best direction, and The Dragon’s Den for best reality series.

Published in National Post November 21, 2009
Photo by Adrian Shellard

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saskatoon: A new heart for the old west?

Canada West Foundation, a forty-year old think tank headquartered in Calgary, has opened a new office in what their senior economist has called “the top-performing province in the country” - Saskatchewan.

At a dinner in Saskatoon’s Delta Bessborough hotel, Premier Brad Wall and local mayor Dean Atchinson were joined by high profile guests from the Western provinces including former Attorney General for British Columbia Geoff Plant, former Saskatchewan Minister of Finance Janice MacKinnon, former Manitoba MLA and current president of the Business Council of Manitoba James Carr, former Alberta MLA and current chairman of The Western Financial Group Jim Dinning, Member of Parliament for Blackstrap Lynne Yelich, and Cameco Corporation’s Gary Merasty.

Calgary-based PetroBakken (a PetroBank company) was a lead sponsor of the event. Two weeks ago, in the small town of Kerrobert Saskatchewan, the company unveiled a homegrown technology called “Toe-to-Heel-Air-Injection” or THAI, designed to recover heavy oil in an efficient and sustainable way. The province’s Premier and Minister of Energy were on hand for the project’s announcement, which they claim will make major strides in extracting the estimated twenty billion barrels of heavy oil under the province, while preserving other valuable resources like water and natural gas.

Saskatoon berry wine was poured while Jim Gray, outgoing chair of Canada West Foundation, provided the opening remarks. “Think of the great assets of this province,” he said, “We have energy, food, and water. Then think inside of that triangle: We have technology, we have innovation, we have the people, and we have the quality of life. That’s your future, in Saskatchewan. It’s a marvelous future, and well deserved.”

The premier was introduced by CEO of Petrobank Energy John D. Wright. Guests from Alberta - already fearful of a shrinking competitive advantage at home - squirmed in their seats as Wright praised the “excellent leadership” and economic strength of Saskatchewan.

“I want to share with you that Petrobakken, and our parent company PetroBank, see Saskatchewan as the province for investment in Canada,” Wright said, “From the communities in which we work to the halls of the legislature; we’ve been welcomed with open arms. There couldn’t be a better place to do business in our experience. We will invest all that we can into this province.”

Wall picked up the praise, even adding fuel to the fire with a slide show depicting the Calgary Stampeders taking hits from the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Slogans like “You don’t stand a chance” over pictures of the football teams appeared on a large screen. Taking a more serious tone, the premier talked at length about the disparity between economic power in Western Canada and political power centralized in the East. Calling upon the National Energy Program, the musings of John A. MacDonald, and the notion of ‘easy money in the oil patch’, Wall framed his comments with “the disconnect; the lack of understanding between fellow citizens in the same country.”

“Some would say you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you,” Wall said.

Charged with provoking debate and testing “national policies against regional aspirations,” Canada West Foundation certainly had good fodder for its opening in Saskatchewan. The premier went on to talk about the limits on a cap-and-trade scheme in the province - “We know we have to pay our share,” he said, adding the money must be re-invested in environmental technology in order to be “on in Saskatchewan” - and the growing alliances between the Prairie provinces in Canada and those in The United States.

Jack Vicq, former associate dean for University of Saskatchewan, will head up the new office in Saskatoon.

Published in National Post, November 14, 2009

A Sunday at the Opera: Manon opens Calgary's season

Calgary Opera gave its patrons a sneak-peak of its season-opener last Sunday, as the cast of Manon performed recital-style in The Petroleum Club. The first of three “opera brunches”, the event allowed guests to feast on an expansive buffet before company members took the stage one at a time to sing a song of their choosing. On the menu were: eggs two ways, Belgian waffles, toast, three types of salad, fruit (strawberries, raspberries and lots of melon), bacon, sausage, potatoes, grilled veggies, brownies, cookies, cakes, croissants and more. Tickets were $65 per person.

Bob McPhee, the CEO widely credited with keeping Calgary Opera financially stable through uncertain times, acted as master of ceremonies, first introducing accompanist Gordon Gerrard. In September, Gerrard was awarded the Enbridge Arts Award for Emerging Artist at the Mayor’s Evening for Business and the Arts, an event which McPhee co-chaired with Jim Stanford, former CEO of Petro-Canada .

M.C. McPhee also welcomed special guests in the audience: artistic director of Edmonton Opera Brian Deedrick was in attendance, having been appointed the stage director for Manon, as well as vocal coach Michael McMahon, resident conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Mélanie Léonard, and former Toronto Star music and dance critic William Littler.

Matthew Cassils, a baritone from Montréal and a new member of the Emerging Artist Development Program, opened the show. Then came the widely celebrated Peter McGillivray, who sang “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Faust. Michelle Minke, Lauren Phillips, and Michel Corbeil all gave charming performances. The two stars of Manon, however, certainly stole the show.

American tenor Richard Troxell has joined the cast as des Grieux, the handsome and impetuous horseman who falls in love with Manon at first sight (and in the first act), and compels her to dodge life in the nunnery in favour of eloping to Paris. At the brunch, Troxell opened with an amusing story of bear-sighting in Alberta before launching into a heart-breaking version of “Oh, Danny Boy” - proving he could sing Happy Birthday and have an audience in tears. Nathalie Paulin, who plays Manon, sang “La Vie en Rose” while pulling McMahon from the audience for a brief dance. Paulin and Troxell have both performed with l’Opéra de Montréal (Troxell as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly Poulin as Mélisande in Debussy’s Pélléas et Mélisande), in addition to appearances around the world. For the finale, the singers performed a duet from Carmen, leaving no doubt their version of lovers in Manon will be phenomenal.

Calgary Opera’s Manon begins November 21; the next opera brunch will be held in January with the cast of Mark Adamo’s Little Women.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Worthy Romp in Calgary

It was everything you’d expect from a night out with the girls: candy, drinks, gossip and make-overs. Pink décor overtook the usual dark-and-trendy vibe of Calgary resto-lounge Belgo; professional hair and make-up stations greeted patrons, while a mobile spa awaited them further into the fete. There was even a semi-secluded area with plush couches and big screen TV called ‘the man cave’. Girlish glee aside though, there was something heavy weighing on the minds of party-goers last week: breast cancer. The ultra-feminine, hipster-oriented affair was one of many hosted by Rethink Breast Cancer across the country, designed to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

Founded in 2001 by MJ DeCoteau (who attended the recent Calgary event), Rethink Breast Cancer has become one of the nation’s leading sources of information and inspiration for women under forty. DeCoteau was featured in MacLean’s Magazine as one of their “10 Canadians who made a difference” and in Chatelaine as one of the ten women they’d like to see run the country. The organization was also noticed by Marketing Magazine for their innovative communications strategy. Rethink events, like last week’s “Rethink Romp” at Belgo, are designed to be appealing, approachable and accessible for young women because traditional medical literature is often the opposite.

Alongside parties in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto (including a breast film festival at the Royal Ontario Museum in November) Rethink has partnered with retail and fashion brands like Joe Fresh, Roots, Gap and Telus to deliver attractive fundraising merchandise. The organization’s style and results are what prompted Calgary chair Tasha Westerman to get involved after she struggled with the disease and won.

“I was looking for something that was young and hip,” she says, “Something where women could talk about what matters to women, like fertility and appearance, and that would reach out in a supportive but fun way. The experience [of having breast cancer] can be very isolating.” Westerman got in touch with DeCoteau, and together they put together the first Rethink event in Calgary.

An impressive silent auction had party-goers betting and bargaining late into the evening. Items included a Gold’s gym membership, a weekend get-away to Banff Park Lodge, WestJet round-trip tickets to a location of your choosing, and a fabulous basket of chocolate, cheese and other treats. Money raised by Rethink Breast Cancer directly supports young medical researchers in their professional and academic development, family and youth support programs, and, an informative website for breast cancer patients.

Guests of the romp included public relations guru Jason Krell, stylish editor of Malwina Gudowska, Wax Creative copy-writer Stephanie Bialik, Calgary Economic Development’s Sarah Cott, Telus’ Rick Salahub, Vice President of Exploration for Trident Resources Mike Finn, and Souzan Basmahjian of Long View Systems.

Published in National Post on October 31, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fashion and Feng Shui in Calgary

Holt Renfrew, a mecca of labels and luxury in Canada for 170 years (Yes, 170 years! In 1837 it was created as a hat shop in Quebec before becoming the Queen’s “furrier” in 1886 and finally Holt, Renfrew & Co. in 1900), has replaced its store in Calgary with one three times bigger. Among the boutiques newly available in the 151,000 square foot space are Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Hermes, which hosted its own launch a few days after the mother-ship’s opening.

Media tastemakers from across the country flocked to the city for a celebration of beauty and branding at the new Hermes store, just inside the 4th Street entrance to Holt Renfrew. Champagne circulated while Guillaume de Seynes, executive vice president of Hermes and Jennifer Carter, president of Hermes Canada, delighted in sharing stories of the brand’s history.

In keeping with the evening’s theme of “The Great Escape”, guests were shuttled in a limousine or by stylish cruiser bicycles to The Opera Room in Teatro Restaurant for an intimate dinner. There, Bastien Bicharzon, just weeks after his move from Paris to Calgary, was introduced as the new store’s manager. Guests enjoyed a four-course meal including lobster, beef tenderloin, a selection of fine cheeses, and seared wild strawberries with lemon thyme sorbet.

A sweetly sophisticated Vineland Estate Vidal Ice Wine was circulating just as the affair became a kind of high fashion hoe down, with Hello! Canada Magazine editor Ciara Hunt and Avenue Magazine editor Kathe Lemon standing on the dinner table to reach classic Hermes scarves hanging off the giant globe lamps above.

A round of fluorescent green shooters were ordered and passed around. Meanwhile, Tanya Kim of entertainment news show eTalk Daily, Christopher Sherman of Fashion Television, and Hunt plied local writers for information on the best locale for line-dancing and other things cow-town. Nathalie Atkinson, style editor for The National Post, Karen Ashbee of FASHION, Malwina Gudowska of, Shelley Youngblodt of Swerve Magazine, and Bill Brooks were also in attendance. At the end of the night, each guest was gifted with a souvenir Hermes bicycle helmet and a piece of gold-embossed porcelain bearing the iconic jumping horse of its Cheval d’Orient collection.

Earlier this season, style in the home was the focus of another event, this time spanning four days. The Calgary Home and Interior Design Show took place at the BMO Centre in Stampede Park. High profile presenters included Bryan Baeumler, host of popular television show Disaster DYI, Alykhan Velji, a Calgary-based designer soon to be launching a new signature line of rugs and home furnishings, and Mag Ruffman.

For those unconvinced by scarves and showrooms, a new book about how to build a healthy, happy home was released this month at a small yet bustling function in Okotoks. Alberta author Dawn Hankins teaches Feng Shui at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Her new book, The Forces Behind Feng Shui: A Companion to Energizing Your Life, gives pragmatic advice for those seeking a positive, peaceful and prosperous environment. Among the tips are: add a touch of red into your décor to boost your financial abundance and enthusiasm for life; de-clutter your front door and make sure it is well lit to invite positive energy; and make sure the foot of your bed is not facing the bedroom door for a good night’s sleep and a feeling of security.

Published in National Post on October 17, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Movie Madness for Mavericks: CIFF at Ten

The parties were a little more modest, and a little less crowded than last year. There were more directors than cast members (read: celebrities) present, which is a good thing according to executive director Jacqueline Dupuis. The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is about the filmmakers, she says, unlike Toronto’s marketing blitz and Vancouver’s mass-appeal programming. Every speech, interview, media piece, or private conversation alluded to the festival’s financial status.

Yet these signs of the economic times hardly prevented success on CIFF’s ten year anniversary, but rather narrowed the focus to what was most important: a record number of submissions, over a dozen well programmed series of truly international films, industry panels on the future of film, and a $25,000 cash award to a ‘Maverick’ filmmaker. And there were still plenty of free drinks to go around.

The opening and closing galas were held in the same location: a large section of downtown’s Eau Claire Market, which was sectioned off with billowy white curtains, flanked by a stage at one end and the white canvas FASHION / American Express / CIFF photo-op backdrop at the other.

The opening film was Crackie, a Newfoundland tragi-comedy starring Mary Walsh and Meghan Greeley, who was in attendance with director Sherry White. White and Greeley participated in a post-screening question/answer session, moderated by local reporter Nirmala Naidoo.

Then came the Rock n’ Roll Red Carpet Party, which followed John Chester’s new documentary about photographer Robert Knight, whose expert eye and relaxed demeanor has earned him privileged access to some of the greatest rock performers of our time, from Mick Jagger to Robert Plant. The party took place at the Barley Mill, across from Eau Claire Cinemas, with both Knight and Chester in attendance.

Toronto’s Ryan Noth, Geoff Morrison, Luke Bryant and Sarah Lazarovic were in town to premiere two movies - NPP: Gros Morne and No Heart Feelings. The documentary-cum-art-project called National Parks Project: Gros Morne is a city-specific experience which combines stunning footage of our national parks (in this case Newfoundland’s Gros Morne) on the big screen with a line-up of local musicians who perform a live soundtrack to the images. No Heart Feelings, a very funny film about a group of twenty-somethings in the big city, held its after-party at the Uptown Theatre’s Marquee Room, where cast member Steve Murray (also of The National Post) was in attendance. Director Lazarovic was the first ‘visiting creative’ to earn a free hotel stay at the newly renovated Nuvo Suites, which along with Calgary Arts Development is offering one complimentary stay per month for artists visiting Calgary.

Damien Chazelle, jazz drummer and Harvard grad, was one of the ten emerging filmmakers to earn the title Maverick. His beautiful black-and-white musical film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench was celebrated with live jazz and a hopping after-party at Beat Niq Social Club. Chazelle also participated in an industry panel on “the art of filmmaking.”

At the closing gala last week, Chris Chong Chan Fui was awarded the coveted Mavericks prize for innovation and excellence in filmmaking, for his film Karaoke. Theatre actress and director Karen Hines took home the award for Best in Alberta short film for her work on A Tax on Pochsy. Among those mixing and mingling at the party were David Lee Miller, director of My Suicide, Juliet Garcias, director of Be Good, Ian Day, Tyler Fraser and Scott Townend of the locally-made short film Greenwash Gang, Spencer Estabrooks, director of the Western zombie flick Dead Walkers, Geraldine Byrne of WADE Canada, and Dr. Terry Rock, president of Calgary Arts Development.

Published in National Post October 10, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saints and Scoundrels on Wall Street

The Salon Speakers Series has opened its 2nd season in Calgary’s Teatro restaurant with author and New York Times business writer Joe Nocera. The theme this year is Risk and the Global Economy.

Some things at the Salon Series don’t change: the outstanding quality of a three-course meal at Teatro, for example, or the introductory remarks from a local business icon (in this case Jim Palmer, founder of Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP), or the name-dropping within thirty seconds of the speaker’s remarks (last session we heard Bill Kristol’s scathing review of Al Gore’s company; this time we heard about Mr. Nocera’s casual visits to T. Boone Picken’s living room). On the other hand, some regular guests (it is an invite-only affair) have noticed some marked differences. In his introduction, Mr. Palmer, whose firm is also a title sponsor, pointed to the rather conservative nature of last year’s speakers and implored that the audience “be okay with some thinkers that are slightly to the left.”

Nocera’s gift, as a speaker and a writer, is story-telling. Energetic and knowledgeable, he spoke about the tension, the vacuum and the free-fall on Wall Street and in the White House after the collapse of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. He described scouring for information, trying to figure out what would happen next. “They had no idea,” he said, “As the debate over Freddie and Fannie was going on, that AIG was just a few days away, then Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch … it’s like all five heads of the family, in mafia terms, falling like a deck of cards.” Then he took questions.

In his book, Good Guys & Bad Guys, Nocera unravels the narrative of big business from the early ‘80s until today, giving the reader an up-close-and-personal look at how major deals close, companies grow or falter, and ultimately how a few personalities have dramatically shaped the American fortune. The book is compelling and accessible, deftly turning high finance into a good story. His descriptions of Wall Street in the mid-1980s (a chapter called “GaGa Years” is particularly good: “The scent of the market is powerful here, intoxicating,” he writes, “All around me I can see the blandishments of money, the seduction of wealth, the lure of financial security.”) are riveting. Oh, the heady climb before the fall.

For such a prolific insider, it’s a surprise that his writing didn’t offer forewarning of last year’s economic tumble, but boy can he explain it well today. And his prediction for the future? “People want to know if this will happen again,” he said, “And the answer is yes. It is inevitable that as people forget the downside of risk, they risk again, and ultimately fall into national - in this case international - insanity.”

While the question and answer period focused mainly on domestic economic recovery plans, Nocera did have a few awe-inspired comments for China (“It’s impossible not to be dazzled by China’s economic rise.”) who along with India and Brazil was given increased sway over the activities of the IMF only days prior and which, not incidentally, owns a significant portion of American debt.

Guests received a signed copy of Nocera’s book courtesy of Enbridge; other sponsors included Bennett Jones, Vendemmia International Wines, Global Public Affairs, and The National Post.

Published in National Post October 3, 2009
Photos by Adrian Shellard

Calgary International Film Festival

A daily blog
following the films, parties, and general antics of this year's CIFF for The National Post

Published on The Ampersand, September 25 - October 4

National Music Centre fit for a king

Plans were unveiled last night for the Cantos National Music Centre in Calgary; the results of an eight month global design search and competition. Opened in March 2009, the contest was narrowed to five architecture firms by July, each of whom presented their vision to a public audience at an event dubbed Designs on Calgary. The competition was then moved to a jury made up of artists, architects, and Senator Pamela Wallin.

The new institution will build upon the historic King Edward Hotel (affectionately known as the 'King Eddy'), a legendary house of blues that was shut down by public health authorities in 2004 after falling into serious disrepair. Located in a construction-riddled, slightly seedy part of town, hopes for a revitalized neighbourhood and national koodos are pinned on the multi-million dollar development. Cantos expects up to 120,000 people will visit the centre annually within two years of its opening.

In its new life, the King Eddy will house multiple performance spaces, a museum, educational programs, and play an iconic role in the city's skyscape. It will also serve as the new offices for Cantos Music Foundation.

Allied Works Architecture, an Oregon-based firm known for its landmark performing arts spaces across the United States, will partner with local architects BKDI to design, develop and construct the new centre.

The concept behind the design is building as instrument, a theme picked up by the other competitors as well. A secondary inspiration is the Western landscape, in particular the canyons, mountains and hoodoos of Alberta.

Andrew Mosker, executive director of the Cantos Music Foundation, which spearheaded the competition and re-development, said Allied Works and BKDI were the firms that "jived most" with his staff and "best understood and paid homage to the legacy of the original King Eddy."

Published on The Ampersand, September 24 2009

Calgary's Cultural Capital

Three years ago, Maclean's magazine dubbed Calgary a “cultural capital”, a moniker which has been internalized and proudly reiterated by our city's citizens ever since. It was a relief to some to be recognized for something other than oil and wealth, and a source of intense satisfaction to many to be mentioned in a national (i.e. Toronto-based) publication. Finally, people took notice. But the magazine, and the country, noticed something else - “Some Calgarians wish the hype would go away” wrote Anne Kingston; they worried about losing something authentic as the city boomed.

Today, the city’s cultural and fine arts communities are feeling something different. They are adamant that the high quality of cultural experience in the city has deep local roots, and is growing organically - and rapidly - every day. Despite being on the waning side of the boom and bust cycle, the arts and culture communities have seen sustained growth. And what's more, it's not imported shows and touring exhibitions begging for attention, but the high level of homegrown talent, risk-taking and adaptability.

“Cultural capital” may not be something we are, but something we have.

Read Entire Article Here ->
Published in Avenue Magazine, September 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Calgary Illuminates Creative Spaces

It was an evening of transformations: a snowy field into a political statement, an abandoned, ramshackle theatre turned trendy restaurant and hub of cultural activity, an industrial lot used to make bricks became an iconic urban green space, and most notably, a bunch of notoriously wordy designers turned succinct, witty, persuasive showmen - and women. This was Calgary’s first Pecha Kucha night.

The concept is deceptively simple. A dozen presenters take the stage, one at a time, and present 20 slides for 20 seconds each. First conceived and launched in Tokyo six years ago, Pecha Kucha was an attempt by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham to foster creative - and concise - dialogue between designers. Now, over 200 cities have hosted Pecha Kucha nights around the world.

At the upscale Velvet Restaurant in Calgary’s Grand Theatre - also the subject of artistic director Mark Lawes presentation that evening - well over a hundred guests mingled before the 7:00 pm performance began. The audience was a who’s who of Calgary cultural elite, including former president of the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts Colin Jackson, former alderman Madeleine King, former city council hopeful Naheed Nenshi, co-owner of Beat Niq Jazz Club Connie Young, president of Calgary Arts Development Dr. Terry Rock, and well-known blogger-provocateur D.J. Kelly.

The evening’s presenters made an equally lofty line-up, including Toronto’s Joe Lobko, Tim Jones and Billie Bridgman alongside locals Jeremy Sturgess, Andrew Mosker, Erik Olson, Scott McTavish, David Scott, and Bill Chomik. The charming Karen Ball, director of community investment for Calgary Arts Development, played master of ceremonies.

The theme was “art spaces” - well chosen for its number of talented representatives in the city, and for its timing. Calgary Arts Development, which hosted the Pecha Kucha, is currently in the “heavy lifting” stages of redevelopment in the city’s core. They are part of the revitalization of Olympic Plaza, now called the ‘cultural district’, and plans are underway to carve out new spaces for creative and cultural tenants elsewhere.

At the Pecha Kucha, there was much talk of how a creative space develops and why. Bridgman talked about doing ‘as little as possible’ with old buildings in Toronto before turning them into vibrant, garden-ridden live/work spaces for artists. She pointed out the importance of light in each loft apartment, and illustrated why the designers would group bathrooms and kitchens together at the back of the space, in order that the artist living there could have maximum flexibility and illumination. Mosker talked about the international design competition launched by his organization, the Cantos Music Foundation, in order to find an architectural vision for a national music centre on the site of the old King Edward Hotel. The competition - an effort brought to life with the help of former Art Gallery of Alberta director Tony Luppino - remains in adjudication.

The next Canadian Pecha Kucha nights will be:

September 30 in Montreal, at the Société des arts technologiques
October 2 in Edmonton, at The Myer Horowitz Theatre
October 23 in Waterloo, at The Button Factory, and
December 2 in Calgary, again at The Grand.

Published in National Post on September 19, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Festival Season Winds Down; "Culture Month" Ramps Up

The sun was shining on the 13th annual Taste of Calgary Festival this year - literally. Postponed by rain early in the month, the popular event took place in late August, bringing hundreds of foodies and vino-philes into the bright and sunny Eau Claire Market plaza just hours before dark clouds rolled in.

Thirty restaurants ranging from the trendy Belgo to the delicious Ruan Thai set up kiosks around a bustling beer tent. Samples of local Brew Brothers beer were served alongside more obscure Eastern European brands and the ubiquitous Big Rock.

Samples of food and drink were sold for between $0.75 and $4.50. Entertainment under the big top included Cumako, the upbeat afro-latin band featuring flute, saxophone, drums, trumpet and bass, country singer Shane Chisholm, and the Rick Climans Jazz Group.

It has been a busy summer for festival-goers, who poured in to events centered on blues, jazz, rock, folk, and alternative music, among other things. It appears the Alberta arts scene, however, was simply preparing for a month of full-blown creative celebrations.

September marks the first annual Culture Month in Calgary, coinciding with Alberta Arts Days, and initiative out of Minister Lindsay Blackett’s office. Over the next few weeks city-slickers can expect a windfall of artsy parties, free concerts, film premieres, fashion shows and award ceremonies. Highlights are sure to include the first ever Calgary PechaKucha night on September 14, where a medley of creative people will design, present and speak about twenty slides for twenty seconds each, for a total of approximately six minutes. Conceived in Tokyo, this event now takes place in 230 countries around the world, from Capetown to Copenhagen and now Calgary.

“Like many world-class cities, Calgary has a thriving arts community,” said Mayor Dave Bronconnier at a press conference early this week, “Culture Month gives us the opportunity to showcase why Calgary was once again named the most cultured city in Canada.”

Other highly anticipated events include a free performance by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on September 7, and the ArtCity Festival of design and architecture from September 11 - 20.

While the arts community is celebrating, though, a loyal stalwart of culture in the city may be fading. Beat Niq Jazz Club and Bistro, a long time staple of music and food lovers alike, has announced that it may close due to financial uncertainty. Owners Robert and Connie Young have planned a three-day gala fundraising during culture month, Sept 8 - 10, with the goal of keeping their original culture club afloat.

Published in National Post on September 5, 2009

GlobalFest Brings French Feast to Laurier Lounge

There is a small brotherhood of pyro-musical designers around the world, so they all kind of know each other,” explained Ken Goosen, carefully bringing the broad-brimmed glass to his nose and inhaling deeply. His wife, Barb Goosen, sat next to him, pondering the two glasses of deep red wine on the table before her. The conversation paused and all together they smelled, swirled, sipped and looked at the ceiling in concentration.

Before the talk of explosives and orchestration could continue, Linda Garson, founder of Vine and Dine, was on the microphone and strolling from table to table. “Which wine is Canadian, and which one is French?” she asked her audience. Close to fifty guests glanced at each other and their glasses tentatively. It was the last uncomfortable moment before the GlobalFest French-Canadian Wine Dinner went into full swing. Soon guests were cajoling, cracking jokes, betting, guessing, and even looking for hints after tasting each round.

The event, co-hosted by Vine and Dine and GlobalFest, took place at the cozy yet upscale Laurier Lounge. Three mouthwatering courses were presented to each guest, seated at tables of six to eight, and each arrived with two glasses of wine expertly poured (and paired). Guests knew that one of the wines was a Canadian - Tinhorn Creek - and the other French, but their labels were hidden and patrons were challenged each round to determine which was which. Those who guessed correctly throughout the evening were awarded VIP Passes to a night at GlobalFest.

The festival is a two-week, multi-faceted celebration of diversity in Calgary, which ends with an immense firework finale on August 29. Held primarily in Elliston Park, it encompasses traditional dance performances, cultural pavilions, music and food from around the world, a film festival, a human rights forum (which this year featured former Governor General the honourable Adrienne Clarkson among others), and an international fireworks show sponsored by Trico Homes.

The best in “pyrotechnics choreographed to music” from Canada, Mexico, Spain, and China were showcased this week. According to Goosen, a co-creator of the festival, the fireworks are not only world class, but one-of-a-kind. The first piece of music was prescribed to the team by festival organizers, ensuring that a new spectacle would be created just for the occasion. The remaining music must be largely from the team’s home country.

An evening of fine food and wine at the Laurier Lounge is certainly out of pace with the rest of the festival, but a perfect fit when it comes to spirit and taste. Canada’s pyro-musical team comes wholly from Quebec this year, making the French feast a natural tie-in.

Guests devoured a wild game charcuterie platter which included elk salami, dried muscox, venison prosciutto, bison pastrami and a blueberry-cranberry compote. This was paired with two Pinot Noirs - a Joseph Drouhin Laforet and the Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir. The second course was a large helping of succulent braised bison with classic “squeaky cheese” poutine and a colourful parcel of grilled vegetables. This was paired with Rothschild St. Emilion and Tinhorn Creek Merlot. Finally, a sweet, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth pear tarte tatin wth maple syrup coulis paired with a Canadian Icewine and the Chapoutier Beaumes de Venise.
Published in National Post on August 29, 2009

Little Festival with Big Heart Wraps 3rd Season

Not many church parties offer a dress code of black leather, fishnets and bleach blonde wigs, but it was all part of the fun this month during the 3rd annual Calgary Fringe Festival.

The fledgling theatre festival closed on August 8 with a gala performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Brad Duffy, followed by a festival-wide wrap party in the basement of Inglewood’s Lantern Community Church. Wild style and provocative prose aside, the fringe is not just about “pushing the envelope” says festival director Michele Gallant. This year, thirty-six percent of patrons were over forty-five years of age, and over fifty percent had university degrees or some higher education.

“I was surprised by the audience during our first festival, in 2006,” says Gallant, “I thought they would be younger and more interested in cutting edge stuff. But I’ve learned since then that university professors - and that demographic more generally - really enjoy the fringe festival. They’ve seen these types of festivals before, and know what to expect. They tend to meet for drinks, see a show, go for dinner somewhere and see another show. It’s an evening for them, an outing, something unexpected. I think they also love to support the arts so directly, as one hundred percent of the profits go directly to the performers after each show.”

‘Making an evening’ out of the Fringe Festival is something Gallant and her team have worked hard to promote. For the second year in a row the festival was held in Inglewood, a historic, artsy neighbourhood bordering the downtown core. The five venues were all within walking distance and most performances ran about an hour long, encouraging patrons to ‘hop’ from one show to the next.

The festival also collaborated with local merchants to launch an outdoor component during the opening weekend. That helped to make a “visual impact” on passers-by, she says, and encouraged community-building. Eventually, Gallant hopes the festival will take place equally inside and outside, like it’s more established counter-part in Edmonton, but for now she is “over the moon” with the results of this year’s attendance.

Over eight thousand patrons showed up to see shows ranging from Inviting Desire, an erotic journey into female fantasy delivered by Oregon’s Eleanor O’Brien, Tonya Miller, Tori Padellford, Allison Tigard, Mary Rose, and Emily Wisteria, to the Calgary-based comedy Crystal Ball which follows the haunted mishaps of a struggling theatre troop.

The festival’s after-party was also the scene of recognition for outstanding performances and professionals. Tom Cutherbertson, a venue supervisor, was awarded the “longest commute” medal for his daily journey from Red Deer. Cuthbertson took time off work, dedicated long hours, and declined an honorarium in order to help the Calgary Fringe Festival succeed. Gallant says the support of so many volunteers is both heart-warming and not unusual.

“There’s a lot of sharing that goes on between festivals,” she says, “Edmonton Fringe Festival, which has been around for twenty-seven years and is the second largest in North America, has helped me so much with ideas, networks, and sharing their experience. We like to think having both festivals gives the artists a good ‘Alberta circuit’ to look forward to every year.”

The Edmonton Fringe Festival wraps up on August 23. Meanwhile, Calgary audiences can look forward to the Fringe Rewind in February, when audience favorites from past year’s Calgary Fringe Festivals will be re-launched at the Arrata Opera Centre.
Published in National Post on August 22, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Green Cities Prepare for Copenhagen: ICLEI in Edmonton

Big change starts small. That’s the idea, at least, behind the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), an organization made up of representatives from over one thousand municipalities around the world. Six hundred of them arrived in Edmonton recently for a multi-day conference on topics ranging from wastewater treatment to public engagement. Their mandate stems from a United Nations program called Agenda 21, adopted in Brazil at the 1992 Earth Summit and designed to allow participation by non-state actors in policies affecting the global environment.

In Edmonton, the purpose was clear: radical and rapid change is needed, they said, and local governments must push for it at December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Yet creating and presenting a unified voice for local governments is not really what ICLEI does. Their mission is twofold: it acts as an association to share best practices, research, and support networks among sustainably-minded cities, and it organizes local programs and policies which feed into global climate goals.

So what can be achieved at a local level that will affect the big picture? For ICLEI president David Cadman, also the Deputy Mayor of Vancouver, the answer is varied. He points to Ontario’s recently adopted feed-in tariff which he claims will “stimulate you as the individual to put in solar panels, or a wind generator if you have a farm somewhere.” And the top-down incentives and responsibilities don’t stop there.

“We need to steward our fossil fuels - our oil, our gas, our coal - for a much longer time, because much of those resources are going to be key to this transformation,” he says, “The absolute key, though, is moving toward energy efficiency.”

ICLEI has a vociferous advocate for local governments in Mr. Cadman. Major emissions come from cities, he reasons, and cities are growing rapidly. This is where the big changes will occur; must occur.

Cadman will be roaming the hallways at the Copenhagen conference, just as he has done at the previous climate change summits in Bali and Poland. Their presence represents millions of citizens worldwide, he says, naming the organizations with which ICLEI is working, including United Cities and Local Governments, Canadian Federation of Municipalities, C-40 (an association of the world’s largest cities chaired by Mayor David Miller of Toronto), and the World Mayors Council. The top-down policies Cadman advocates on a local level will be the same he proposes from the ground up in Copenhagen, where ICLEI will mingle with global heads of state and federal ministers.

“ICELI has been following the negotiations on a post-Kyoto agreement,” Cadman says, “What we’re trying to do is have local governments working closely with national governments. We’re all on the same page. We know what we want - a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050”

The conference began at 9:00 am each day with keynote speakers (including Toronto’s Adam Fenech of Environment Canada, Mathis Wackernagel of California’s Global Footprint Network, and Alex Wong of the Davos World Economic Forum global industries sector) and wrapped up around 7:00 pm in break-away sessions for mayors, CEOs, and city staffers. There were multiple social functions as well, including a reception at city hall hosted by Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, and a dinner and dance at Fort Edmonton. A concurrent conference for academic researchers took place, also in the Shaw Convention Centre, and attracted well-known authors Dr. Mark Roseland of Vancouver, Dr. Peter Newman of Perth, Australia, and Dr. Yvonne Rydin of London, England, among others.
Published in National Post, August 8 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Calgary Folk Music Festival

The quiet, urban, tree-lined oasis known as Prince’s Island Park was transformed last weekend for the 30th Calgary Folk Music Festival. As dozens of happy sun-soakers floated by in rafts on the Bow River, thousands of people lined up for hours in the early morning heat to secure a spot for their tarp or camping chair on the island’s largest field. Space secured, the tarps and blankets before the main stage were abandoned in a cheerful mosaic while their owners wandered around the island. Main stage shows began at 6:00 pm every night of the four-day festival, and there was a lot to see otherwise.

There was a large grassy area with picnic tables and picnickers. There was a row of small white kiosks manned by everyone from the Green Party to the Grey Cup, and another filled with vendors selling bamboo didgeridoos, handmade clay teapots, leather purses, clothing, and more. And as one strolled through the island, there was music.

Stage one - sponsored by Ship and Anchor Pub - was close to the arts market and one of the free water dispensers, behind which a row of food trucks were positioned. Meals - from pizza to oyster burgers to butter chicken - were served on heavy plastic plates from Enmax, which could be redeemed at various places around the island for two dollars. The forks and cups were biodegradable, and there was composting. Stage two, slightly further down the path, hosted 60 year old legendary Celtic folk signer Dick Gaughan among others.

On all six stages during the weekend afternoons, artists were thrown together for an hour of improv and jamming. Stage 3 - the Field Law stage - featured Ontarians Steven Page (former front man for the Barenaked Ladies), Sarah Harmer, Justin Rutledge and the Good Lovelies together in a set called “The Young and the Restless”, while Stage 6 - the Broken City stage - featured an edgier, electro-acoustic group including Calgary’s own Chad VanGaalen, Montreal’s Kid Koala, Toronto’s Esthero and American Emily Wells. The group met for the first time five minutes prior to stepping on stage. The result was a haunting and unpredictable set that kept a sweltering audience in their grassy seats.

Musical highlights came from both the main stage - Arrested Development and The Decemberists provided consecutive knock-out, jaw-dropping, and thoroughly original sets which brought a lounging crowd quickly to its feet; they were opened by another excellent performance from British rockers Gomez - and the more obscure.

Stage 4 - the Local 510 stage - gave its audience plenty of grass to sit on, even a little hill beside the stage, and a good view of the impressive collection of bicycles housed in a gated depot. Here, too, were some surprising and entertaining performances. The Tom Fun Orchestra Cape Breton, Nova Scotia riled the crowd with their aggressive punk folk songs, underscored with traditional fiddle, brassy trumpet, and teasing accordion, enveloped in lead signer Ian McDougall’s whiskey-Waits-and-Springsteen voice and wildly beautiful back-up vocals from Carmen Townsend.

Published in National Post, August 1 2009

Banff Midsummer Ball

The Banff Centre, a home for working and developing artists in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, hosted its 30th annual signature fundraising event last weekend: the Midsummer Ball Weekend.

It began Friday morning with a friendly golf tournament and reception at the Fairmont Banff Springs. That evening, after checking into the lodge-style residences at the centre, guests were treated to an array of fine food - sushi, bison, seared tuna included - and a wine and scotch bar, before an intimate musical performance. Juno-award winning jazz pianist Hilario Duran played a three song set with bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Mark Kelso, head of percussion at Toronto’s Humber College.

Between songs Occhipinti, who is an alumna of The Banff Centre, remarked on the pleasures of playing in Alberta saying, “The Banff Centre is the crown jewel of Canada … and I would hazard that in this resource-based economy, we can all appreciate that art is the ultimate renewable resource.”

The performance was followed by several pieces from the musical Loulou, a work in progress by Kelly Robinson, theatre arts director at The Banff Centre and director of creative development for Mirvish Productions. Broadway stars Hugh Panaro and Carly Street were joined by the centre’s opera students.

Following the program, The Banff Centre’s board chair Jeff Kovitz asked Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Sprit Lindsay Blackett to do a reverse ribbon-cutting, which would signify the closing of Donald Cameron Hall. The building will soon be replaced by The Kinnear Centre, a structure designed by Diamond & Schmidtt Architects and set to open next summer.

“If there’s a camera and a microphone, I’ll do it,” the Minister quipped before hopping onstage.

Saturday morning brought a fresh-faced and excited crowd to three keynote sessions. In the first, prima ballerina-turned-filmmaker Veronica Tennant, O.C. showed excerpts from her film Shadow Pleasures, a work done in partnership with Michael Ondaatje and filmed in Toronto’s Distillery District. Tennant manages to capture both the intense energy of her subjects - dancers - and the intimacy of the words to which they are performing, poems and paragraphs by Ondaatje. It is a rare and beautiful sight, leaving the viewer’s heart thudding in time to the score. The second session featured well-known pianist and organizational coach Michael Jones, who spoke eloquently about personal leadership and played songs for reflection. Author and Banff Centre alumna Maria Coffey capped off the morning with stories of travel and transcendence. A prolific author and recent guest of the Oprah Winfrey show, she and her husband Dag now lead small paddling trips to Croatia, Antarctica, Vietnam and other places.

After lunch, the group split into the three separate tours; some sneaking behind-the-scenes looks at film engineers, ballet dancers, and opera singers at work, others touring the new building, and still others toured visual artists’ studios with Berlin-based critic Jan Verwoert.

The evening’s gala attracted around three hundred guests, clad in black tie and ball gowns. Guests included former Premier Peter Lougheed, Alberta's Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Relations Maria David-Evans, Former MLA and current chair of the Western Financial Group Jim Dinning, Pat and Sherrold Moore, Margot and David Kitchen, Ian and Judy Griffin, Murray and Heather Edwards, Glen Sather, president of the New York Rangers, Matt Fox, president of ConocoPhillips Canada, John Lau, president of Husky Energy, and Mary Hofstetter, president of The Banff Centre. The master of ceremonies was Angela Knight of CBC Radio. A four course meal was served, including candied salmon salad, duck confit on brioche, veal tenderloin, and blueberry panna cotta. A performance by the Eric Friedenberg Orchestra had guests dancing late into the evening.

Published in National Post, July 25 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

RCA honours Calgary talent; inducts 27 artists

The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) marked its 129th year last month by hosting a four-day festival in Calgary, honouring top local talent, and inducting twenty-seven new members. President Jeffrey Spalding hosted a gala dinner at Hotel Arts where guest Lindsay Blackett, Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, made an opening address. Supporting arts and culture does not only enhance our quality of life, Blackett said, but acts as an economic driver and the foundation for a richer educational system.

Creative achievements were then recognized by the awarding of twenty-seven memberships to professionals and practitioners in the field of visual arts, and RCA medals to curator Joan Stebbins and writer Nancy Tousley. Each medal recipient delivered warm, humorous remarks which conveyed nicely their contributions to the developing narrative of contemporary Canadian art.

The affair was an intimate one, despite the hundred-or-so guest list. Audience members cheered, catcalled, and clapped as each of the new academicians were introduced and given their certificates. Among the inductees were painter Garry Kennedy, past president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (from 1967 until 1990), Sara Diamond, president of the Ontario College of Art and Design, Calgary-born Christian Eckart, whose work stands in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum, photographer Justin Wonnacott of Ottawa, Quebecois painter Marius Dubois, Calgarians Rita McKeough, John Will, and Mary Scott, and sculptor Faye Heavyshield, originally of Alberta’s Blood Reserve.

La crème of Calgary’s cultural community was also proudly present, including artists Chris Cran and Ron Moppett, Yves Trépanier and Kevin Baer, whose gallery currently displays the work of many RCA inductees, and Karen Ball and Holly Simon of Calgary Arts Development.

Far from a society of mutual appreciation - although it is that, too - the Royal Canadian Academy of Art strives to support emerging talent, and facilitate discussion about and around art for the broadest possible audience. The organization also plays a national advocacy role by debating and presenting community-oriented policy, such as developing retirement funds, voicing a cohesive opinion on legislation, and reclaiming economic control over their work.

Over the course of the four day festival, Stride Gallery hosted the Joseph Plaskett Reception, where the work of seven new artists was celebrated. The emerging talent was chosen by seven distinguished members of the RCA. Among these rising stars were sculptor Robin Murphy, director of public art for Torode, Angela Bedard, and Romy Straathof.

Other events included the granting of the RCA Trust Award to Illingworth Kerr Gallery, a gallery hop including Art Gallery of Calgary, Weiss Gallery, Masters Gallery, Loch Gallery, and Triangle Gallery, and the world premier of a classical music piece for strings and voice by Katherine Govier and Allan Gordon Bell at The Grand Theatre.

Published in National Post July 18, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

City Saddles Up for the Stampede

Cowboys, cops, and corporate parties took over much of the city last week for the 98th annual Calgary Stampede. The Rogers Chomp and Stomp party was the first of the large-scale private events, taking place on June 30 at the Girletz Ranch. A few hundred people gathered to raise money for the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta. There were plenty of host bars available, as well as one donkey carrying buckets of tequila, a hot meal of roast beef and baked potatoes, and of course, rodeo. An enthusiastic round of bull riding was followed by some skillful trick riding, where agile equestrians rode red-spangled ponies with one hand or draped head-first inches above the ground. Corporate bigwigs at the affair included Ken Coffey, president of Micro-Watt Controls, Terry Hughes, CEO of Redwood Technologies, Steve Roberts, vice-president of Rogers Communications for Alberta, Holly Wood of Right Mind Media, and Derek Larsen of London Drugs.

Newly minted US Consul General Laura Lochman welcomed guests to her private residence a few days later for an Independence Day celebration. The US Consulate in Calgary is the only one in the world to celebrate the Fourth of July on the 2nd of July, out of deference to the stampede. Among the guests for the garden party were former Premier Ralph Klein, acting Premier Ed Stelmach, Federal Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice, Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit Lindsay Blackett, Alberta Minister of Sustainable Resource Development Ted Morton, publisher of The Calgary Herald Malcolm Kirk, president of Calgary Economic Development Bruce Graham, president of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Ann Lewis-Luppino, president of the Glenbow Museum Kirsten Evenden, director of WordFest Anne Green, and philanthropists Pat and Sherrold Moore.

The Calgary Stampede officially began the following day with an early morning parade and a city-wide celebration. Between the hay bales and wooden corrals, which appeared with sudden force on every major street in the downtown course, corporate hootenannies were in full force. President of Encorp David Neill played host on the rooftop of the Alberta Hotel Building. Among those in attendance were Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury, owner of Axis Gallery Rob Mabee, Karen Ball of Calgary Arts Development, Kristin Richard of Kaviar South Sea Pearls Inc, and designers Dee Fontans and Charles Lewton-Brain.

The first Saturday of the stampede arrived with a staggering number of complimentary pancake breakfasts. (Those in the know point to for a comprehensive list.) Mayor Dave Bronconnier, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the opposition Michael Ignatieff, and even Jack Layton rolled up their sleeves to dole out the morning staple.

On the stampede grounds, a midway, circus tent, several rodeo events, an agriculture barn, beer gardens, four concert stages, and an Indian Village vied for the attention of close to one million visitors. Events continue until Sunday with the chuckwagon races, barrel racing, cattle penning as the hot tickets. The prize for each rodeo event is $10,000. Musical performances include George Straight, Matt Mays, Joel Plaskett, Aaron Pritchett, Serena Ryder, and Reba McEntire.

Published in National Post, July 11 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Temporary Exhibit: Jeff Spalding and the Glenbow Museum

Fight at the Museum:

Painter, curator, educator, historian. The Glenbow had this trove of talent in Jeffrey Spalding, its progressive, plainspoken new CEO and president. And then he practically vanished.

Collect like drunken sailors, they were told. These orders from Eric Lafferty Harvie, an eccentric millionaire in the early days of Calgary’s oil boom, resulted in the creation of the internationally renowned Glenbow Museum and the philanthropic bedrock on which Calgary’s cultural future would be built. Comic or controversial, it was a legacy Jeffrey Spalding wanted to protect when he became president and CEO of the Glenbow in December 2007. And while “returning to the founder’s vision” was a task he relished, it may have proved to be his undoing as the institution’s new star.

By shaking up the establishment, as Harvie had done, Spalding lost neither friends nor sleep. But within a year, it cost him his job. Until his abrupt exit in January 2009, Spalding’s brief tenure enflamed the passions of artistic and philanthropic circles in Calgary and communities across the country — and left burning questions in its wake.

Kirstin Evenden, a 15-year Glenbow veteran, is now tasked with stoking those embers, a job some say is unenviable, if not impossible. Evenden started as an intern at the Glenbow and knows the ropes well; some have called the new CEO the “cautious, safer approach.” Sound reasoning, it seems, that suggests Spalding’s ouster during a time of economic turbulence was mostly due to circumstance. That’s one take.

Through the abstraction, another perspective sees a much-ballyhooed contemporary, an artist’s artist who jarred and juxtaposed against the Glenbow’s traditionally conservative backdrop.

Eric Harvie was a spirited lawyer from Orillia, Ontario, who was called to the Alberta Bar in 1915 and set up a one-man shop. The Great Depression left corporate coffers dry, where litigation on behalf of mining and oil companies could have been a lucrative business. Instead of hard cash, Harvie accepted mineral rights in exchange for his legal services. By 1944, he procured an estimated 500,000 acres of mineral rights from the British Dominions Land Settlement Co. Three years later, he received a call from the president of Imperial Oil — they had struck black gold under Harvie’s property, and he was suddenly one of the richest men in Canada. And humble. According to Time magazine in its Sept. 24, 1951 story: “Multimillionaire Harvie goes in for no big-rich gestures. He drives a two-year-old Studebaker and lives in a modest house.”

The one passion Harvie recklessly indulged was collecting artifacts. In 1954, he quietly established the Glenbow Foundation (named after his family ranch), and hired staff to travel the world over with the enthusiastic mandate: “Collect like a bunch of drunken sailors.”

Harvie’s acquisitions included Queen Victoria’s underpants, life-sized rubber Indians, New Guinea penis sheaths, an extensive collection of mounted birds, the complete landscape paintings of Carl Rungius, and a 10-foot-tall bronze statue of General James Wolfe, the British captain who led the assault on Quebec in the mid-1750s.

In the mid-1960s, John Hellson of the Royal Alberta Museum said Harvie was “so rich he doesn’t buy things from collections — he buys the whole collection.”

Continued Online Here

Published in Avenue Magazine, June 2009