In Focus: Alberta Craft Council Calgary

By Maureen McNamee

The Alberta Craft Council has at last realized its goal of creating a physical presence in the southern half of the province. The council, which was founded in 1979 and operates Edmonton’s second-largest public gallery, has opened a new space in Calgary’s cSPACE King Edward, a historic sandstone school that has been redeveloped as an arts hub. The exhibition and retail galleries occupy two former classrooms directly across from each other, opening into a wide central corridor at the west end of the second floor.

The Council hopes to increase exposure for its artists and give people more opportunities to see professional fine craft. Outgoing executive director Tom McFall, who retired in June, believes it’s critical for Albertans to see the best of craft in the best of places for it. Fine craft, he says, “is taken much more seriously when we can present it well.”

The ACC is a provincial organization but until now has been primarily based in Edmonton. At the same time, a large portion of the senior members of the council are affiliated with Alberta College of Art + Design. McFall says a Calgary location has been in the works for decades. “It significantly increases the public profile,” he says. “The space is quite a bit smaller than the one in Edmonton, but it’s still fairly high-profile by being part of King Edward.”

“Fine craft is not toilet roll Santa Clauses. It’s everything from beautifully made furniture to exquisite jewellery.”

The first exhibition in the new space, “Citizens of Craft,” runs until September 23, but the gallery’s official grand opening coincides with Alberta Culture Days, September 29 to October 1. The latter will feature “Along the Bow,” a show by members who are inspired by the Bow Valley region. The retail gallery sells ceramics, jewellery, scarves and more.

Alberta has a strong craft art scene. Medalta, in the historic clay district near Medicine Hat, was home to some of the early designers in ceramics and continues to attract artists from around the world. “The ceramics scene in Alberta is unusual even beyond Canada for that kind of concentration of activity,” says McFall. ACAD also plays a significant role in developing a sophisticated, professional level of craft in the province, he adds. In total, “Hundreds of people work in Alberta on a full-time professional level doing studio-based creative artwork in craft media such as metal, ceramics, fibre, fabrics, glass, wood, stone, some in leather, some very specialized.”

McFall says the Calgary space will enhance members’ careers by providing another venue to show and sell their work. The retail gallery also serves as an “incubator” for some emerging artists, who get to show their work alongside more experienced members. Emerging artists “tend to be working in isolation more than they should or than we would like,” says McFall. “It’s a fairly solitary activity, even when you have a degree or two or have a network of friends, to be working out of a one-person studio.”

McFall recently handed the Alberta Craft Council reins over to Barry Moss, the new executive director. Moss believes the Calgary space will provide a chance to introduce more Albertans to contemporary fine craft and to what it is—and isn’t.

“There are misconceptions when people hear the word craft,” he says. “Fine craft is not toilet roll Santa Clauses. Fine craft is everything from a beautifully made piece of furniture to an exquisite ceramic bowl to amazing silver earrings or jewellery. We’re blessed with some high-calibre artists in the province and we have to celebrate this.”

—Maureen McNamee


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