Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fiesta and WineFest bring in spring

It may leave like a lamb, but winter in Calgary is still roaring like a lion… or maybe a couple dozen pussy cats. That was the feeling, anyway, at last week’s Mexican fiesta-style fundraiser at the Wallace Galleries which raised money for P.E.A.C.E. (Protection & Education for Animals, Culture & Environment), a non-profit organization dedicated to decreasing the unwanted pet population in Mexico. PEACE also provides work skills and education to underprivileged families in and around Puerto Vallarta.

Dozens of people braved the icy weather for a little taste of the sunny south, and a big dose of reality. Colette Hubner organized the event around her family's pet project, after years of helping to spay and neuter animals around her family’s vacation home. Through a few degrees of separation, her family met Molly Fisher, the president of PEACE and began working with her to bring veterinarians, supplies, and money into the region. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, she says.

Chef Klaus Hubner and friends provided an authentic Mexican feast, with healthy helpings of guacamole, tostadas de polo, ensalada de jimaca, tomates y cebollas y queso fresco, paella, mouthwatering pork tenderloin and a spicy shrimp dish. Little children gleefully crowded around the gallery’s main entrance while a piƱata was beaten, spewing treats and toys onto the pavement below. Their noises of delight blended into the chatter and laughter of almost a hundred adults, many holding mini-margaritas and swaying in time to music piped through the sound system.

On the walls of the bright, open space gallery were silent auction items ranging from a set of organic, freshwater pearls from Lotus Lines to a care package for pets, massage certificates, and dinner for two at Divino. Local artists, some friends of gallery owner Heidi Hubner (mother of Colette and wife of Doug), were in attendance to watch as their work was auctioned off for the charity. Julie Meisser’s handcrafted glass bead bracelet fetched a handsome price, as did a painting by Bill Duma. Liberal MLA Kent Hehr was also present and spoke briefly before the live auction began.

Things were also heating up in Edmonton recently, when a large crowd gathered for WineFest at the Shaw Conference Centre. A complementary Riedel wine glass was handed out to guests who then had the opportunity to taste at least 45 different wines. Hors d’oeuvres and a wide variety of cheeses were also offered.

Votes were collected for the “people’s choice” award, which unanimously claimed a 2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling the winner for white at both the Calgary and Edmonton events, and the 2004 Reserve Vinoce Cabernet Sauvignon Edmonton’s favorite red wine.

Guests included: Brian Heck, president of Wine Runners Inc, Katherine Fischgrund, principal interior designer for Urban Design Interiors, Dean Wulf, managing partner for Avison Young, Shanna Dorsch, vp of operations for Solutions Workplace Furnishings, Christine Iverson of RBC, Luisa Montgomery of Primerica, Dale Orvis of Charton Hobbs, Erin Honeyman of the RCMP, and detective Patrick Tracy of the Edmonton Police.

Published in National Post, March 28 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Events show how far we've come, but we're not there yet!

International Women’s Day, March 8, was celebrated with several events in Calgary. At the Chamber of Commerce, in the plush fourth floor ballroom, the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) hosted a luncheon aptly titled Women of the World Celebration. Mayor Dave Bronconnier gave opening remarks, focusing on the benefits of diversity and immigration in major urban centers. Cara Fullerton of Global Television was the master of ceremonies; Gerda Bloemraad of CIWA and Rob Ferguson of Citizenship & Immigration Canada also spoke. The mouthwatering three-course meal included a choice of richly spiced chicken korma on basmati rice or vegetarian lasagna.

Guests were encouraged to network at their tables, and topics of discussion were provided for this purpose. Malgosia Skrzynski, an administrator at CIWA, began by noting the popularity of women’s day in her home country of Poland. More fresh flowers are purchased and delivered to women across Europe on Women’s Day than on Valentine’s Day, she said.

Romantic gestures are not the only thing women are fighting for in this country, others noted. According to fact cards distributed at the luncheon, the number of women in daily newsrooms equals a third of the number of men. In 2006 the Status of Women Department suffered a severe budget cut, and the Court Challenges Program - legislation for legal protection of the rights of low-income and otherwise marginalized women - was abolished. The UN recently asked Canada to investigate the disappearances and deaths of over 500 Aboriginal women. And in autumn 2008 the Finance Minister proposed changes to the rules governing pay equity, a move some say will undermine human rights claims of gender inequality in the workplace.

Writer and Campaign for Real Beauty spokesperson Judy Wark gave the key-note speech. She talked about beauty as the presence of boldness, intellect and compassion, rather than a manufactured aesthetic. With a calm and eloquent dignity, she also spoke about herself; watching her beloved husband loose a struggle with cancer and finding joy in her children.

A few days later at the Calgary Public Library, another event took place. Five prominent and powerful women took the stage to give insight on living a balanced life. Brown bag lunches were provided by EthniCity Women’s Catering Collective, and the Chinook Winds Show Chorus opened the event with a few musical numbers.

The speakers were: Dr. Kimberley Amirault, a sports psychologist who has worked in the male-dominated fields of the NBA and the NHL, Eva Friesen, CEO of The Calgary Foundation, chef Dee Hobshawn-Smith, Rosemary Thomson, chorusmaster of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and Frances Wright, founder of the Famous 5 Foundation and the guiding force behind Barbara Paterson’s bronze statues of Louise McKinney, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, and Irene Parlby celebrating a newspaper headline reading, “Women are Persons!” in the downtown core of Calgary; the sculpture is also pictured on the $50 bill.

In attendance were several MLAs, Miranda Dallalba and Karen Garrick of Calgary Economic Development, Sandra Gajic of the Epcor Centre, and Bev Hubert of the Calgary School Board, among others.

Published in National Post, March 21 2009

Edmonton ad. community celebrates their best

Creative juices flowed through the troubled waters of an economic downturn last week at the 30th Annual Advertising Club of Edmonton (ACE) Awards gala. Industry professionals unabashedly celebrated success and promoted their clients.

“Our advertising community proves time and time again that it has the chops to ‘tell’ and ‘sell’ in engaging ways – to help mitigate business challenges,” Dennis Lenarduzzi of RED - The Agency, said.

Although libations flowed freely at the welcome reception, at least two party-goers were moderate in their approach. Tracy Hyatt and Jennifer Windsor spent the last month abiding by the Canada Food Guide on a budget of just $80 for the entire four weeks; a project they called the “working poor diet.” It was their first meal since taking up the challenge. Eyes slightly glazed, with a tired smile, Hyatt can only say “I’m starving” and that she’s more than ready for the three course dinner that awaits them. It’s “a bitter-sweet ending” to their crusade, Windsor writes on their blog. Their aim was to publicize the links between poverty and nutrition.

Happily, a nutritious and delicious feast was in the cards. Southwestern beef tenderloin was the meal’s crowning jewel, with a trio of lemon blackberry cake, hazelnut chocolate pate and vanilla bean ice cream with blackberry coulis for desert. Dave Babcock and the ACE Orchestra provided after-dinner entertainment. Beth McIntyre, a founding member of the Advertising Club of Edmonton, was honoured.

Awards were also handed out for excellence in all things ad-related, from copywriting to art direction to guerilla marketing. Freckle Creative earned a nod for its work on the Lakeland Credit Union annual report, which was themed “rooted and reaching” and featured a mosaic of fall inspired colours in botanic shapes throughout the document. Calder Bateman Communications brought home a whopping seventeen awards, including ‘best newspaper campaign’ and ‘corporate identity’. The ‘best in show’ award, however, went to DDB Canada for its work on the Rexall Edmonton Indy.

Party guest Rob Jennings admits that he probably chose “the most inauspicious moments in recent history” to start his business, Starburst Advertising, but the risk has paid off. “Conventional wisdom says that organizations tend to cut marketing budgets when times are tough,” he says, “That may be the case, but I have also found that some organizations are taking advantage of the economic climate to make a strong grab at mind or market share from their competitors. Edmonton is also a government town and governments have communications needs, such as public awareness or social marketing campaigns, that don't go away just because the economy is temporarily slowing. My business is doing very well, and when we make it through the economic downturn I will be very well positioned.”

Local actor Chris Craddock hosted 500 guests, including: Jim Smith, producer with Image West Films, Terry Cowan, director of advertising for the Brick Group, John Windwick, VP marketing for ATB Financial, Ania Smith, marketing director of Axial Corporation, Kristin Gibson, senior designer at Woodward Design, Mieke Higham of the Edmonton Arts Council, and sound designer Brad Belcher.

Published in National Post, March 14 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Global Stimulates Good Cheer

With tongue firmly in cheek, government and industry people gathered to celebrate a “global stimulus package” last week in Calgary. Guests were bailed out of their winter-weather-and-fiscal-meltdown blues with cocktails, live jazz, and a selection of delectable h'or douvres, courtesy of government relations firm Global Public Affairs.

"With all the talk of recession and stimulus packages recently, we felt that people were ready for a party,” says Randy Pettipas, president of Global Public Affairs, “Our friends and clients seemed to appreciate the play on words - and the sentiment. Calgary is an optimistic city, and we are really happy that so many came out to celebrate the talent and opportunity that still exists here."

Indeed, between nibbles and sips there was much talk about when the next economic upswing will take place. Peter Pilarski from the Retail Council of Canada had recently returned from Fort McMurry where he spoke to a provincial committee of government employees about how the economy is affecting their industry. Development strategies include re-focusing on retention, cultural training, educational and professional development opportunities and promoting stories of success, “where people have moved beyond stocking shelves to become CEOs,” he says. Despite the icy, bitterly cold weather and a gloomy economic forecast, his outlook was positive.

“This economic downturn gives everyone a chance to reassess their priorities,” said Pilarksi, “So far we haven’t really seen the drops in consumer spending that have been so intense in other parts of North America. We believe that Alberta is not only going to get through, but we’ll be leaner and meaner when we come out.”

The party took place at Velvet, an intimate and upscale restaurant nestled in the heart of downtown. Many of the guests are old friends, with a fair number having worked together on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In a city where government and industry work together closely - meaning an impressive “get this done” attitude, but also criticism of such rapid development - companies like Global Public Affairs and the relationships they nurture are critical.

David MacInnis, a guest of the party, is the vice president of policy, government, and public affairs for Chevron. He also worked on The Hill for a time, and appreciates the wide network that Global offers. “They have people on the ground across the country, which is very important to us,” he says, “Global gives us the intelligence and expertise needed for discussions on issues with government at all levels.”

Among those rubbing shoulders were: The Honourable Luke Ouellette, Alberta Minister of Transportation, Claire Huffaker (wife of US Consul General Tom Huffaker), Elizabeth Cordeau-Chatelain, communications manager for Total E&P Canada, Stephanie Tan, manager of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries of Canada, Andy Popko, VP of Aboriginal affairs for EnCana Corporation, Peter Burgener, senior partner at BKDI Architects and Roman Cooney, VP of communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers [CAPP].

Three music students from Mount Royal College provided a mellow, jazzy backdrop to the evening. Guests enjoyed plentiful platters of mini bison and smoked gouda burgers, smoked salmon and herbed port jelly, ripened tomato and buffalo mozzarella tarts, beef medallions, and bacon-wrapped scallops.

Published in National Post, March 7 2008

Monday, March 2, 2009

Theatre Calgary Reflects Oscar Glow

A touch of old Hollywood glamour was bestowed upon a relatively new city last weekend, when Theatre Calgary hosted its annual Night with the Stars fundraising gala. At the posh Ranchmen’s Club (second only in stature and iconic namesake to the Petroleum Club) close to 300 guests gathered in black-tie. They enjoyed fine wine, martini bars, a buffet-style feast of international flavours, silent auctions, and multiple live large-screen projections of the Academy Awards show.

Local actors roamed the gala in character - a Moroccan gendarme, a detective in a neck brace, and a vacationing heiress among them - providing another layer of entertaining escapism while promoting an upcoming production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the play which gives life to those personalities on stage.

Hosts Jocelyn Laidlaw and Jefferson Humphreys provided a lively distraction from the broadcast’s commercial breaks, while The Honourable Lindsay Blackett, Provincial Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, provided opening remarks and provoked small whirlpools of activity as he worked the room. As the leader of a fledgling ministry, he is receiving top marks for enthusiasm, promotion, and politicking in the cultural communities. Many guests also commented on the exceptional talent based in Calgary.

“When you see a Theatre Calgary show, you could be watching theatre in any world class city. You’d never know where you were,” says Carlo Bellusci, president of Vendemmia Wines and a member of the host’s board of directors, “The quality of show is outstanding.”

And that’s no secret, according to Tom McCabe, president of Theatre Calgary. “We’ve had more interest and support in the last year than in the last twenty years combined,” he says, “It’s the first time that the government has really paid attention to the arts. We finally have a ministry of culture, and that makes a big difference, in fact it’s wonderful!”

Dr. Ian Beddis
, who was honoured along with his wife Robin Beddis earlier in the evening for their continued support of the organization, agrees on both counts. “Theatre Calgary is the best live theatre you’ll see in the city,” he says simply, “Calgarians are becoming more culturally knowledgeable, as we travel and see what the rest of the world has to offer. And now we can say that Calgary offers the best and supports the best.”

Among the starlets gathered for a night of glamour were: Larry Fichtner, director of development for S.I. Systems, Terry Koch, Senior Associate at Stantec Consulting, Dr. David Cenaiko, Brian Mennis, regional director at Investors Group, Michael Stevens and Stuart Walker of UTS Energy, Nicci Shores of GWL Realty Advisors, Glenn Tibbles, managing director of Knightsbridge for Alberta and the Prairies, author Suzanne Devonshire-Baker, Jim Floyd, board director for Theatre Calgary, and Gary Duke, project director for the University of Calgary Health Research Innovation Centre.

Published in National Post, February 28 2009