Vi­brant vi­sion fires up Glen­bow fans

Liv­ing­stone lays out bold mu­seum ideas

Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - RICHARD WHITE

Great cities have great mu­se­ums.

New York City has sev­eral — Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, Guggen­heim and Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art. Paris has the Lou­vre, Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou, Musee d’Or­say and Rodin Mu­seum. Ev­ery day, tens of thou­sands of lo­cals and vis­i­tors in­vade the city cen­tres of Lon­don and Paris to be en­ter­tained, ed­u­cated and en­light­ened by a mu­seum ex­pe­ri­ence. The di­ver­sity and qual­ity of the mu­seum ex­pe­ri­ence is crit­i­cal to the un­der­stand­ing of a city’s his­tory and sense of place, both for lo­cals and tourists.

The im­por­tance of mu­se­ums in defin­ing a city was re­in­forced dur­ing our re­cent six-week U.S. road trip, where we toured 24 dif­fer­ent mu­se­ums and art gal­leries in places like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tuc­son, Al­bu­querque, Colorado Springs, Denver and He­lena.

In Cal­gary, the Glen­bow Mu­seum is both our art and his­tory mu­seum. For many years now, it has strug­gled with this dual role. At­ten­dance and mem­ber­ship have not grown dur­ing the past 25 years de­spite the city’s doubling of pop­u­la­tion, as well as the num­ber of its down­town work­ers.

Re­cently, Donna Liv­ing­stone cel­e­brated her one-year an­niver­sary as the Glen­bow’s pres­i­dent & CEO. I thought it was timely to check in with her to learn about her plans for the Glen­bow.

The Build­ing

Liv­ing­stone was quick to say the Glen­bow has no plans to move out of the down­town. In fact, the cur­rent Glen­bow build­ing is in very good shape and what is needed is just mod­est ren­o­va­tions to the ex­te­rior and in­te­rior ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces.

She re­minded me that when the Glen­bow was de­signed and built (in the mid-to-late 1960s), 9th Av­enue was the place to be, with its new Cal­gary Tower, Con­ven­tion Cen­tre and ho­tel, as well as the CPR sta­tion and the grand Pal­liser Ho­tel.

To­day, 8th Av­enue S.W. has be­come Cal­gary’s sig­na­ture street so the mu­seum needs to re-ori­ent its en­trance to the north­side. Her vi­sion in­cludes a new wel­com­ing Stephen Av­enue Walk en­trance with an en­hanced gallery shop, cafe and bold new sig­nage. Liv­ing­stone would also like to see the sec­ond floor look like a con­tem­po­rary art gallery, not a con­ven­tion cen­tre space. This could be ac­com­plished with a new ceil­ing and light­ing, as well as the re­moval of the car­pet to al­low for a pol­ished con­crete floor, a rel­a­tively “mini-makeover” so to speak.

Liv­ing­stone is look­ing at a mega-makeover of the third floor, which, in the past, has al­ways been re­served for a ma­jor his­tory ex­hi­bi­tion that is on view for 10-plus years with­out any changes, of­ten leading to the com­ment, “noth­ing ever changes at the Glen­bow”.

She sees this floor be­com­ing a multi-pur­pose space for art, ar­ti­facts, read­ings and per­for­mances that ex­plore both the new West and the old West from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, gen­res and artis­tic prac­tices. Us­ing in-house ex­per­tise, com­bined with guest cu­ra­tors and other cul­tural groups lo­cally, na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, she wants to ag­gres­sively pro­gram the space to tell Cal­gary, south­ern Al­berta and Western Canada sto­ries. It is an am­bi­tious and com­pelling vi­sion that in­te­grates and hy­bridizes mod­ern art prac­tices with his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion. It is the be­gin­ning of what she calls, “a new kind of art mu­seum.”

As the fourth floor doesn’t have the high ceil­ings needed for to­day’s con­tem­po­rary art and his­tory ex­hi­bi­tions, her vi­sion is to trans­form this space into a “hands-on” ed­u­ca­tional gallery for people of all ages and back­grounds. In ad­di­tion to the ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, it will in­clude dis­play cases filled with art and ar­ti­facts from the Glen­bow’s collection that will ro­tate on a reg­u­lar ba­sis so, “there will al­ways be some­thing new at the Glen­bow!”

Build­ing Part­ner­ships

One of Liv­ing­stone’s great­est as­sets is that she is a Cal­gar­ian; she knows the com­mu­nity and key play­ers. Dur­ing the past year, one of her pri­or­i­ties has been to fos­ter the Glen­bow’s re­la­tion­ships and build new com­mu­nity part­ner­ships. So, in ad­di­tion to work­ing with art gallery and mu­seum groups like Al­berta Col­lege of Art, Mil­i­tary Mu­se­ums, Fort Cal­gary, Univer­sity of Cal­gary and Con­tem­po­rary Cal­gary (for­merly the Art Gallery of Cal­gary, Tri­an­gle Gallery and In­sti­tute of Mod­ern and Con­tem­po­rary Art), she has also reached out to theatre and lit­er­ary groups to let them know the “new Glen­bow” is open and keen to work with them to bring its ex­hi­bi­tions and collection to life. She is also work­ing with the Cal­gary Stam­pede to cre­ate some­thing to cel­e­brate our cow­boy and western cul­ture year round.

One re­cent ex­am­ple of a new part­ner­ship was with Cal­gary’s Verb Theatre who per­form “Of Fight­ing Age” right in the gallery space con­tain­ing the “Trans­for­ma­tion: A.Y. Jack­son & Otto Dix” ex­hi­bi­tion (an ex­hi­bi­tion of war art on loan from the Na­tional War Mu­se­ums). For Liv­ing­stone and those who at­tended, the syn­ergy of the vis­ual and per­for­mance art was il­lu­mi­nat­ing. Build­ing Com­mu­nity

Sup­port

The Glen­bow’s sig­na­ture fundraiser, SCHMANCY, has been rec­og­nized by Ma­clean’s mag­a­zine as one of Canada’s top five power galas. This year’s rau­cous evening of art and cul­ture fea­tured the likes of Bryan Adams, Re­becca Nor­ton (Kung Fu Panties) and Ge­orge Stroum­boulopou­los. This is the new Glen­bow — young, cheeky and schmancy. Oh yes, it also raised $280,000.

Ex­hi­bi­tions like “Made in Cal­gary: The ’90s at Glen­bow” by guest cu­ra­tor Nancy Tous­ley — with its 100 art­works by 55 artists — are crit­i­cal to fos­ter­ing the sup­port of the lo­cal vis­ual art com­mu­nity, some­thing the Glen­bow and most ma­jor Cana­dian art gal­leries strug­gle with.

From June 7 to Aug. 24, 2014, the Glen­bow will fea­ture Cal­gary’s young (un­der 40 years of age) whim­si­cal glass art col­lec­tive Bee King­dom in an ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled Icon­o­clast In Glass. To en­hance vis­i­tors’ ap­pre­ci­a­tion of glass art, the Bee King­dom’s ex­hi­bi­tion will be paired with an ex­hi­bi­tion show­cas­ing the Glen­bow’s collection of his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary glass, which hap­pens to be the largest in Canada.

In the past, the emerg­ing and es­tab­lished lo­cal artists would of­ten com­plain the Glen­bow was ig­nor­ing their work. This is no longer true.

The Last Word

For Liv­ing­stone, the du­al­ity of the Glen­bow be­ing both art and his­tory mu­seum is some­thing she wants to cap­i­tal­ize on, not com­plain about. With the largest, most di­verse collection of art and ar­ti­facts in Western Canada (three times more art than the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery), one of the largest collection of cor­po­rate head of­fices in North Amer­ica in her back­yard, as well as one of the strong­est and most di­verse cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties in Canada, she feels the Glen­bow is well po­si­tioned to be­come the “new type of art mu­seum” she en­vi­sions.

That is, a mu­seum that tells the story of Cal­gary’s “sense of place: past, present and fu­ture” to lo­cals and vis­i­tors. A mu­seum that in­te­grates his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary mul­ti­dis­ci­pline sto­ry­telling ex­pe­ri­ences which speak to ev­ery­one. And, a mu­seum that of­fers pro­grams at noon hour, happy hour, week­days and week­ends.

The fact Liv­ing­stone has no money to do any of the phys­i­cal and pro­gram­ming changes she en­vi­sions doesn’t seem to faze her. She is con­fi­dent the Glen­bow will be­come the great mu­seum (my words not hers) that Cal­gary de­serves. It will be very in­ter­est­ing to watch the Glen­bow’s trans­for­ma­tion dur­ing the next few years.

Pho­tos: Glen­bow Mu­seum

Ma­clean’s says the Glen­bow’s SCHMANCY is one of Canada’s top five power galas.

The vi­sion for the sec­ond floor of the Glen­bow is to make it look more like an art gallery.

Donna Liv­ing­stone

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