Saturday, January 10, 2009

More on the Jeff Spalding departure @ Glenbow UPDATED

Comment boards at provide speculation as to why recent CEO pick (and general CanArt supporter) Jeff Spalding left the Glenbow so quickly:

Gord Ferguson, instructor at the Alberta College of Art & Design, blames social conservatism:
As the only one-million plus city in North America without a civic art museum, Calgary is in dire need of a site for international contemporary art. The Calgary art community, and I suspect the citizenry as well, was very optimistic when Mr Spalding was hired to lead the dusty and tired Glenbow Museum toward a renewed focus on contemporary art. It appears to me that that the board of directors of the Glenbow like to rub shoulders with creative people and be associated with contemporary ideas, but when an energetic director actually makes these things happen, everyone gets nervous that something might actually change. The Glenbow was an impenetrable fortress catering to a very exclusive clientele before Mr Spalding arrived last January and almost instantly opened the doors to welcome a broad variety of people interested in new art that otherwise could only be seen by traveling to Edmonton, Toronto or Vancouver. He made it possible for students to attend lectures and openings for free and filled the second floor with provocative examples of contemporary art that gave us all access to the cultural debates occurring across the country and around the world. The news of Mr Spalding's departure is yet another example of the conservative nature of this city and how this attitude prevents us from joining the cultural capitals of the world. Gord Ferguson, Instructor, Alberta College of Art and Design

In contrast, "Helen" (anonymous) speculates that Spalding's splashy multi-venue exhibition debut may have caused cost overruns:
"As a former museum professional, I have to say that museum boards do not make a move like this unless they are in a very tight corner. How much did these massive aquisitions cost? If you know anything about museums, you know that "gifts" are anything but free. How much did it cost to mount all these short-notice exhibitions? Did the Glenbow fall into a deficit position as a result? What kind of a mess has he left behind? Judging from the abrupt departure it must be pretty ugly. I've met Evenden [Spalding's quickly named internal replacement] and she is impressive. But if Spalding has left a Bush-style wreck in his wake, even an Obama will have a pretty hard time."

Overall, though, the consensus seems to fall to blaming the Glenbow's rigidity and conservatism for contemporary-art-lover Jeff Spalding's departure:

Pete says: "A shocker yes; i keep rreading about all the amazing things Spalding has done to put Calgary back on the cultural map-- this sounds like a setback."

Sara says: "This is a HUGE disappointment. The Glenbow was finally on track to becoming the public art gallery that Calgary needs and deserves to join the ranks of the leading dynamic, modern cities of North America. Spalding brought tremendous and energy, experience and imagination to the task. I'd like to know more about what went "

CMJ says: "And so it goes ,,, the Glenbow continues once again to remain stuck in its lifeless downtown concrete. It needs CPR with light and fresh air. Several years ago my U of C art history class had a fantastic experience in Lethbridge.It was Jeffrey welcoming us into the storage room of U of L's wonderful collection of Canadian art. I distinctly remember his ability to communicate a refreshing infectious enthusiasm and promotion of Canadian art and culture. Even though we were behind doors with the paintings propped up around us he had 'a way' of making them live outside the box. Not something I could say about any of my Glenbow experiences except for the major one time events several years ago - Dinner Party and The Spirit Sings."

Anyone with tips as to why Spalding left is welcome to comment or contact me anonymously @

UPDATE Calgary blogger DJ Kelly posts Spalding's own farewell email:

A note to colleagues and friends:

This afternoon, Glenbow and I parted company. Enclosed you will find a media release issued by Lachlan Currie, chair of the board. It has been my privilege and honour to work with fine staff, generous colleagues as well as wonderful supportive partners, sponsors and donors. Together much of great note has been accomplished. THANKS!

My personal email is: [deleted for privacy reasons]



Jeffrey Spalding C.M.
President, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

while his anonymous commenter hints that Spalding's financial mismanagement was to blame:

Sadly, it is very good news, for art lovers and for Glenbow, that Jeff has "resigned." For one of the many reasons, you could check on the financial health and art storage/treatment situations at his former places of employment. You could check on the deficit budget and fundraising woes that plague Glenbow. You could ask yourself why "The Big Gift," (the many "unsolicited"(!?) donations), may not be what it seems...usually gifts do not cost the recipient anything, let alone money, resources and space that they do not have. You could ask what has happened to all the thousands of pieces of art that he "collected" for the U of L art gallery. You could cross-check the names of the artists that he "collected" for these same institutions...and see how many are the same from gallery to gallery. And maybe not so "new." And maybe not great examples of the artists' work. Maybe they needed a tax receipt. The vision of arts renewal is Glenbow's, not Spalding's. There is a responsible, thoughtful way to move forward to that goal, and there is...what happened in 2008. To what belongs to all the people of Alberta.

UPDATE x2 At, respected Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft voices her disappointment with the move in a comment: "As an outsider who has witnessed a revitalised Calgary art scene that began the moment the Glenbow hired Jeff Spadling, I say to the board who accepted his resignation, "What were you thinking?""


J@simpleposie said...

Hey I was reading about this in the dead tree media this morning...well, I guess it's back to paintings of canoes in a fog and such...heh.

Leah Sandals said...

Yeah.... I mean you never know in these sorts of things, I can understand if the budget overreached, but it's a blow to the art folks for sure.

Then again, the traditional nat-history fans of the Glenbow might be breathing a big sigh of relief. No more Marilyn shows for them!

Anonymous said...

As a museum professional I know that it takes more than creativity to make an institution relevant, exciting and sustainable in a community...fiscal responsibility should be one of the most important things on the list of what makes a great leader of any institution. Unfortunately Jeff Spalding has never been able to wrap his mind around this. all one needs to do is check this out with all of his former employers N.S. , Lethbridge, and you will note that he overspends and over commits and leaves in time so he does not have to wear it. Guess the Glenbow board and staff figured him out hopefully in time!

Anonymous said...

Follow the Money...

It's wonderful to think of a world of 'art for art's sake.' However in the real world operating major museums are a costly proposition requiring committed sponsors, patrons, government support.

Glenbow must operate in a tricky, fiscally responsible manner in order to keep its doors open. That has not been the case with Spalding's short tenure and will come to light over time. So does one continue to sink money into a bad investment or mutually agree to pull the plug?

Think this is only a Calgary issue? Think again and visit the link or check out the NY Times features on the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's financial issues. 'Art for art's sake' is a wonderful ideal. But ultimately someone has to foot the bills ... and in Glenbow's case, it wasn't being done by those loud, indignant people who lament this loss. Sure, many are there for the free opening or events, but where is the financial support required to make this big shift? It hasn't been there. PERIOD.,0,5520094.story

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