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

Monday, July 6, 2009

Calgary loves summer sledding

Calgary has learned to love sledding in the summer thanks to a three-year old festival of film, art and music known as Sled Island. Over four days in June the festival attracted hipsters, artists, and cultural giants (such as British rocker Colin Newman, Sled Island’s guest curator) to the city centre.

Two hundred and fifty bands were on the program, playing in venues as varied as the tiny stage in Plaza Cinema, where the red velvet curtains parted to revel a rarely seen documentary on glitter rock post-set, to the alter of Central United Church, to the basement of The Palomino. Noteworthy acts included a soulful, folksy-pop performance by JJ Shiplett, the aggressive rock band Cripple Creek Fairies, and the utterly captivating electro-acoustic sounds of rising stars Axis of Conversation.

The Sled Island Festival was also about visual art, co-hosting several impressive exhibits throughout the week. Three shows with international flavour opened at Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG) on Wednesday.

German architect Florian Koehl toured guests through a multimedia exhibit based around his 2007 hyper-designed Berlin condominium building. Winnipeg professor of architecture Neil Minuk acted as curator for the piece, which allowed the viewer to walk through a narrow pedway lined with blueprints and photos of the development. The building itself is home to ten tenants-cum-designers who worked with Koehl and artist Anne von Gwinner on its conception. It is evident that space limitations were both inspiring and restrictive for them. The result is unique, dynamic, and often fluid living quarters, more interesting in some ways than the exhibiting of them. The bathtubs, for instance, are futuristic pods elevated above the kitchen floor, from which the bather can look into the living room. The most endearing characteristic among the apartments are the handkerchief sized pop-out balconies which give tenants a rare and highly coveted view of Berlin’s cityscape.

IKG also showcased a hauntingly beautiful collection of photographs by Berlin-based Spaniard Ricardo Okaranza called Calgary Nocturnes, Lanes, and the detailed, Escher-like paintings of Montreal’s Numa.

The Market Collective, a bi-monthly cooperative of local artisans, celebrated its first anniversary under the banner of Sled Island. Pedestrians in the busy neighbourhood of Kensington were lured into a high ceilinged, sun-filled space, hopping with live music and locally made fashion, books, and baubles.

The festival also coincided with the Calgary launch of artsScene, a non-profit organization made up of young professionals devoted to enhancing the city’s cultural landscape, and the role for emerging talent within it. The group brought together all the local darlings of arts promotion, including Jeffrey Spalding, Dr. Terry Rock of Calgary Arts Development, blogger DJ Kelly, co-chairs of ArtsScene Alex Middleton and Sarah Blue, Karin Poldaas of 1128 Media, and Calgary Film Commissioner Luke Avezedo, for a reception at Rob Mabee’s Axis Gallery in Art Central.

On the lower level of the building, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) gathered for their third party that night. A musical performance across the street co-hosted by Sled Island, CBC Radio, and artsScene capped off the evening.
Published in National Post, July 4 2009