Monday, October 27, 2008

News from the West: Or, Things I Love (or Hate) But Forgot About Until I Was Reminded Of Same

There's always notable things happening out West in Alberta and BC and Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But here are a few items that have come to my attention lately from the great Conservative land of AB.

A Sad History of Grave Mismanagement at the Art Gallery of Calgary
In an excellent article in this week's FFWD, Anthea Black and Drew Simpson Anderson investigate ongoing complaints about the troubled Art Gallery of Calgary. As they note, artist complaints about the 8-year-old AGC have involved one or all of the following: work being damaged; work being soiled; work being misused (eg. a text piece being rearranged to spell the name of a corporate sponsor!); not being paid promised exhibition fees; being given the runaround on said exhibition fees, etc. Further, the gallery has gone through three head curators in as many years, with two of these currently entrenched in legal battles against the AGC. What's more, the AGC can't seem to keep an artist on its board for more than a few months. For me the biggest shocker is that when current CEO Valerie Cooper arrived in 2004, "the key challenge...was simply paying employees on time. She arrived to find 11 bank accounts with about $50 between them and two weeks to make payroll." [emphasis mine]

Insane. And sad. Why? Because as Black and Simpson Anderson take pains to point out, the AGC was a grassroots endeavour at first, coming into existence because of the participation of 14 arts organizations.

I myself have talked with the new AGC head curator, Marianne Elder, and, as Black and Simpson Anderson assess, I too am tentatively optimistic that Elder, who's originally from Ontario and most recently worked in California, will do her best to turn this situation around. Still, it won't be easy. And as the Glenbow takes up the torch of contemporary art with former Art Gallery of Nova Scotia CEO Jeffrey Spalding at its helm, funders will likely be drawn to that museum's more established administrative track record, even if it's Spalding, newly arrived, who's bringing a strong contemporary arts focus to the traditionally history-oriented museum.

On a More Inspiring Note: Ronnie Burkett's New Show
It was not until I saw former Calgary Herald and FFWD staffer Martin Morrow's feature on Alberta-bred theatre artist Ronnie Burkett at the other day that I remembered just how much I love Burkett's work. Burkett is an amazing puppeteer and puppet maker who actually plays all the roles in his quite-sexy-and-grownup puppet plays himself. Now I know from this one-sentence summary that this actually sounds a bit like a creepy horror flick waiting to happen. But in real life experiencing a Burkett show is nothing short of wondrous. This man is seriously a Canadian cultural treasure. Here's how Morrow summarizes Billy Twinkle, Requiem for a Golden Boy, Burkett's new production just premiered at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre:

An affectionate spoof of the American variety puppet acts that flourished in the middle of the 20th century. ... In typical Burkett fashion, the new show has a cast of 24 wood-and-string characters, all manipulated by their nimble-fingered creator. They include the denizens of Billy’s splendidly louche act: drunken opera diva Biddy Bantam Brewster; naughty old man Murray Spiegelmann, with his balloon-in-the-pants shtick; burlesque babe Rusty Knockers; and the lovable, roller-skating Bumblebear.

Then there’s Billy’s late mentor, Sid Diamond, who appears to his despondent protege as a hand puppet. Sid comes back to rescue Billy when the middle-aged puppeteer, fired from his job with Happy Sea Fun Cruises, considers leaping overboard to his death. Refusing to leave Billy’s side, the insistent Sid makes him relive his life as a marionette play in the hope that the erstwhile “golden boy” will recapture his passion for puppetry.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Can't wait to see it if and when it makes it to TO (so far the closest web fer-sure is the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Or the Sydney Opera House, if you're really willing to spend those Aeroplan points.)

Finally: A Promising Glimpse Into a Not So Harper-Centric Alberta
Gillian Steward has been a journalist in Calgary for decades, spending some of that time as managing editor at the leading city daily, the Calgary Herald. So when her biweekly columns in the Toronto Star come out, I always make a point to read them for an informed first-person view from the west.

In her most recent column, published this Sunday, October 26, Steward tries to make the case that "beneath that apparently impenetrable shield [of conservative voting] there are a few signs of a yearning and a churning for change, especially in Alberta." She notes to this end that an NDP candidate was elected in central Edmonton and that the highest Green Party vote in the country came from downtown Calgary. She also points out that provincially, four Liberals--yes, you've got that right, Liberals--hold the seats for downtown Calgary.

As Steward predicts it, the economy might play a role in even larger left-leaning votes to come: "There's no question that a sharp drop in the price of oil can quickly shift the sands of support for the ruling party. And the price of oil has certainly dropped a lot in the past few weeks. This time around, Albertans won't have the National Energy Program to blame for their troubles. Instead, the blame will likely fall much closer to home." Really worth a read if this last election gave you a hangover, oil or otherwise.

Image of Ronnie Burkett with one of his puppets from


Anonymous said...

Glad you liked the AGC article, but I feel I must point out that my last name is Anderson, not Simpson : )

Leah Sandals said...

Eeek! I presume you are Drew. I shall fix it right away.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I like the eek.