In a world where granting and donor priorities can change on a whim, focusing the mandates of regional museums is a challenge.
For many years, Calgary’s Glenbow Museum—the major collecting institution in a city of more than 1 million—has concentrated on historical and anthropological exhibitions. And understandably so: founded in 1966 from the eclectic art and artifact collection of oil-enriched businessman and philanthropist Eric Harvie, the Glenbow’s original and ongoing mandate is to “preserve western heritage while simultaneously providing visitors with a glimpse of the world beyond.” It has traditionally hosted travelling exhibitions on artists like Emily Carr, the Group of Seven and Rodin, but offered few substantial foci on contemporary work.
Since the arrival of Jeffrey Spalding as Glenbow president and CEO in December 2007, however, much has changed. Spalding, an artist, a curator and most recently director and chief curator of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, has spent much of his first nine months on the job aiming “to bring passion and purpose to the Glenbow Museum’s contribution to the art scene in Calgary and Alberta.”
Spalding’s arrival (and its consequent commitment to contemporary visual culture) prompted a spate of roughly 900 art donations from artists and collectors, a selection of which is now on view in a three-venue show called “The Big Gift: Calgary Celebrates Art from Canadians.” Spread across the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary, the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design and the Glenbow itself, the show features some 200 objects—some pre-Spalding, but most post.
Growing an art collection in such rapid, dramatic form is nothing new for Spalding. Earlier in his career, he built the University of Lethbridge’s permanent art collection from 212 objects in 1982 to over 15,000 by 1999. (He’s also a familiar face at the Glenbow, having been an art curator there in the past.)
This is a sprawling show, with a sprawling list of genres and artists. There are locals like Chris Cran and Eric Cameron, as well as from-aways like David Hockney and Dan Kopp. Raymonde April, Douglas Coupland, Aganetha Dyck, John Massey, Lynne Cohen, Graeme Patterson, Mowry Baden and Mary Scott are just a handful of the other artists on view from across the country.
The result is not just a gift to the Calgary region, but to contemporary Canadian art and its networks. (130 9 Ave SE, 1407 14 Ave NW & 2500 University Dr NW, Calgary AB)