Saturday, April 18, 2009

Iggy Pops Into Calgary Cocktail; Griffiths' Book Launched

As if summoned by a city-wide nerd alert, pundits, politicos, and others interested in weighty discussions of Canada’s ongoing identity crises gathered in Calgary’s downtown core last week. First at Pages bookstore in Kensington where Rudyard Griffiths, host of the Salon Speaker Series and founder of the Dominion Institute, launched his latest book “Who We Are: A Citizens Manifesto”, then a few days later at The Grand where Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was the guest of honour at a well attended cocktail fundraiser.

Late afternoon sun streamed through the upper-floor windows of a charming old book shop while Griffiths held court last week. A fair sized audience stood in a semi-circle around him, nibbling on fine cheeses and sipping local wine. After briefly introducing his thesis, the author invited questions. “How can we engage young voters?” asked one guest. “How role does new media play in democratic society?” asked another. “What does it mean to be Canadian in a globalized world?” En masse, they tilted forward, eager for a drop of certainty amid the ongoing Canadian identity-crises. And he delivered.

Succinct, poised and enthusiastic, Griffiths answered each question with a smile, leaving a happy crowd to mingle and discuss. Despite his somewhat contentious assessment of Canadian life -and what we need to make it better, such as mandatory voting, re-imagined media, and denying Quebec the rights of nationhood - there was little debate.

“There’s one nation - Canada,” he concluded, “We’re diluting this nation by thinking we can have multiple sub-nations that have all the benefits and power that we associate with the country writ large. I think that devalues Canadian citizenship.”

Guests included: Randy Pettipas and Lorraine Royer of Global Public Affairs, Cathy Cram of ConocoPhillips, Marcus Gurske of Play It By Ear Productions, author Judy Johnson, Frances Wright, founder of the Famous 5 Foundation, Ian Griffin, honourary chairman of Research Capital, and Shannon Palmer.

A grander affair took place on the other side of the river later that week. Michael Ignatieff hosted a few hundred of his closest friends for a cocktail fundraiser. He made pointed comments on Alberta’s energy capital and cultural cache, made fun of his own eyebrows, and basked in the rare melee of Western Liberal revelry. Between sampling delicate h’ors d’oeuvre and a variety of beverages, guests pondered the future of the opposition.

“Jesus Christ could run as a Liberal in Alberta and lose,” said one guest, laughing.

“This is the tipping point,” said another, “We’ve been waiting for a leader we could support, and now we have him.”

Guests included: Senator Joyce Fairbairn, Senator Grant Mitchell, John Cordeau Q.C. of Bennett Jones LLP, Christine Silverberg of Wolch Hursh deWit Silverberg & Watts LLP, Matthew Mitschke of Schofield Law Office, Howard Shikaze of RSM Richter Chartered Accountants, Daryl Fridhandler of Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP, George Gosbee of Alberta Investment Management Corporation, Dr. Nallai Nallainayagam of Mount Royal College, and George Hodgson, president of the Liberal Party of Canada-Alberta.

Published in National Post, April 18 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Cork & Canvas Fundraiser

Clad in their finest evening wear, supporters of The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra [CPO] filled the posh Petroleum Club last week for the final evening of Cork & Canvas, a fundraising wine and art festival.

Pillars of cultural philanthropy were among the guests, including Tibor and Livia Fekete, Jim and Barbara Palmer, Dick Matthews, Conrad and Mary Porth, Brien and Peggy Perry, Sandra Gajic of the Epcor Centre, Jim Mugford, VP at Siemens Canada, Raj Agrawal, president of NRG Engineering, and Irene Besse.

Following an intimate champagne reception in the McMurray Room, where members of the CPO preformed, guests poured upstairs and into a three-tiered dining room for a delightful five-course meal and live auction.

Alison Geskin, director of development for the CPO, acted as “mistress of ceremonies” with enthusiasm and charm. While guests found their tables and scanned the silent auction items, Geskin introduced Gerald Uhlen, the export director for Joseph Drouhin Vineyard in Burgundy. Uhlen’s charming accent and impressive expertise had the entire room settling in their seats and raising a glass.

The first wine was a 2005 Drouhin Chablis Vausesir Grand Cru, light in colour and lingering in the palette. With rapt attention, his audience swirled, sipped, and pondered. A marinated grilled squid salad was served, with olives, capers and roasted red peppers adding a sweet balance to the wine. And then there was the 2002 Clos des Mouches Blanc; a rich, slightly smoky chardonnay evoking damp forests and honey. It was a good start.

Before the next course was served, Geskin hosted a round of live auction. Tony Luppino, executive director of the Art Gallery of Alberta (and the husband of Ann Lewis-Luppino, president of the CPO) provided some comments on the first painting available for auction - Nicolas de Grandmaison’s Winter Evening. The bidding was fierce, with no signs of slowing down for the next two items; an interactive cooking experience with top chef Fabio Centini, Maestro Roberto Minczuk, and radio talk show host “The Coach”, followed by two bottles of Chateau Lafite (‘83 Rothschild Bordeaux Red & ‘89 Bordeaux Bend).

The menu included rabbit confit ravioli, Alberta beef tenderloin with bison short rib, a selection of fine cheeses, and tiramisu in a chocolate cup. Each course was preceded by Uhlen’s tasting notes, Luppino’s comments on a painting, and a round of live auction.

A package of 100 tickets to the CPO, to be donated to a charity of one’s choosing, was sold twice at $2500 to each bidder. Winner Trent Stangl, VP marketing and investor relations for Crescent Point Energy Trust, will donate his prize to YMCA Strong Kids. Two tickets for the luxurious Mountains, Music and Masterpieces event at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was sold to five separate bidders. Other donated prizes included Olympic hockey tickets, a chance to rehearse and perform with the CPO, many fine works of art including pieces by Amy Dryer and Robert Bateman, and over a dozen vintage wines, including a 1985 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux Blend.

Published in National Post, April 11, 2009

Green Business Series & Photo Gala

Photographers Jeremy Fokkens and Robert J. Scott hosted a gala benefiting the Children’s Wish Foundation at the Art Gallery of Calgary last week. Over three hundred hipsters and well-wishers turned out to peruse the duo’s first joint exhibition and indulge in a few glasses of fine wine. Picture This: a photography gala was not only a fantastic showcase for their work - haunting images of Prairie life and vibrant pictures of their independent travels through Southeast Asia, mostly - but raised approximately $15 000 for the charity. Every piece on display was sold that night; a total of fifty photographs.

Fokkens and Scott, childhood friends, are both teachers and have volunteered extensively with children and youth at risk. After travelling separately through Asia as photographers and ESL instructors, they reconnected and began to brainstorm ways to give back.

“We really wanted to convey to people here how fortunate we are to live the way we do,” said Fokkens, “I never expected this kind of response; it’s thrilling.”

The event was the product of an informal conversation between the two artists only three months ago. After the success of Picture This, plans are already in the works for several similar events across the region.

The Down to Earth Sustainable Living Festival began on March 28 with multiple Earth Hour events and local menu tastings, which continue throughout the city until Saturday, April 4. During the week, noon-hour business lectures took place at the downtown public library, kick-started by the presentation of a report recently drafted by Calgary Economic Development’s Katie Emond and Stephanie Jackman, president of REAP [respect for the earth and all people). The Green Business Report highlights four key actions available to small and medium sized enterprise to reduce their carbon footprint. It is available on the websites of both organizations.

Jackman says that an increasing number of business-owners in Calgary are looking to “go green” - and she should know. REAP is an association for businesses concerned with creating sustainable lifestyles, and organized Down to Earth week with support from the Calgary Herald, Bullfrog Power, Calgary Public Library, and Creative Factor. The turnout for events like the business lecture series was impressive. In attendance for the Green Business Report release were Richard Pootmans, business development manager for real estate at Calgary Economic Development, Sarah Newman of Vibrant Communities Calgary, Nancy MacKenzie of Calgary Public Library, and Gary Fredich-Dunne of Bullfrog Power.

Published in National Post, April 4 2009