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