Peeling back the hide

January’s mark new beginnings, new years full of promise and dreams.  For Habitat, just over a year old, we are now looking at our old age – in a sense.  We created a space for exploring the arts, a place to show art, create art – regardless of age or skill.  The community jumped on board with regular workshops, film nights, demonstrations and events.

Music in the Street!

And as the Habitat prepares to take down the walls of accessible creative space – the walls for Habitat II are going up.  You see, in 2011 we were invited to be part of the new Library that the Town of Jasper is building.  They have opened up the northwest end of the new structure to be a home for Jasper’s Arts and Cultural industries.

So, as we get into the groove of booking events and opening doors for the varying community orgs to create programming in Hab I for 2012 – our attention and energies are twisted towards making sure that, when Hab II opens its doors in 2013, it reflects all the gusto and intensity of seasoned arts and cultural workers!  We will transfer the excitement of our original opening, such a short time ago, and pour it into the new foundations.

Habitat and Jasper Artists Guild on the far left

And if that isn’t scary enough, we have taken a deeper dive into the world of advocacy and lobbying for this great industry by making sure our funders and future funders are confident in what we bring to the community of Jasper.  To do that, we have to ‘peel back the hide’ on the carcass of Hab I and ‘pick some bones’ to make sure we are getting every possible scrap of information on what we have done and where we can go with what we know.  What are our strengths?  What are our weaknesses?  (feel free to tell us!)

BUT first and foremost, before we go to the big house…before we go to the bright and shiny ‘in the public eye’ cultural spaces being built just for what we BELIEVE we are…lets define the what and the why.

What will it be?  If we learned anything from the past 14 months it’s that not everything we felt the community needed was needed.  At least not in the form that we presented it in.

Our efforts to include all ages – check.  From wee ones to seniors – they came to be engaged or to share their skills.

Our efforts to tie the arts into as many community and extended community (tourism) events as possible – check. From the annual Jasper in January Festival to the Dark Sky Festival to Heritage Day…we built related workshops or displays and even full on festivals to complement what was there (or missing).

Our efforts to co-ordinate the different organizations in the community through art – check.  Arts Days and the annual Arts with Altitude Festival not only got every possible org from the Folk N Blues Society to Arts Jasper to the Film Club doing what they do best – they did it all over town.

ArtsDays 2011

So that takes care of the WHAT.  Now the WHY.

An initial glance at any ‘arts centre’ initiative and you can deduce that it was about the ‘centering’.  It was about creating a ‘hub’ where information on art, arts groups, arts events, arts education…could be found.  Our passing grade on this – check.  Evidence is in the offshoots of success that can be seen in artists, that are now teaching and sharing their art, that found their audiences and students through Habitat’s ‘people place process’ mandate.  Further evidence is in continued support and lobbying efforts made by IOTAD to keep groups alive, and prospering.  This support reaches far and wide…from reviving ToastMasters (fingers crossed for their continued success…we need great speakers!) to offering volunteer support to Arts Jasper to offering space for community to meet.  Continual searching for funds to enhance and financially support others – instructors, artists and even actors – round out the relevancy of Hab’s ‘centre’.  A lengthy pursuit of ideology and philosophy on the detrimental effects of ‘silos’ in community we wont go into – Jasper’s past ‘silos’ are slowly merging and creating a strong diversified cultural industry.

This industry – in Alberta – is responsible for 3500 jobs and a 1:12 return on investment – turning $13 million dollars (in Alberta Foundation for the Arts grants alone) into $153 million for the Alberta economy.  This impact is felt throughout the province from tourism, accommodations, transportation to agriculture and education.  We find the potential to grow this industry in Jasper very exciting, we find the Town of Jasper’s insightful move to create dedicated ‘cultural spaces’ in the new Library very advantageous.

Ok, this is getting very long…and we still have pictures to post!  One final reason for todays post…to educate those that wonder what Habitat is doing, what we stand for, why…

Almost every conversation we have – be it with teachers or students or seniors or parents or politicians…leads to economics.  Well, while we are not artists in the pure sense – we dont paint, we dont dance [where you can see us], we dont sing –  we sure do dream.  And we believe.  We believe that the arts can be a poignant economic driver if we learn from those that have succeeded, if we listen to those that are trying to tell us something, if we watch the signs and enthusiastically grasp and build on opportunities like a new facility.

People Place Process, IOTAD mantra – put them in whatever order you want.  We believe they are the keys to success.   Not unlike the 3T’s of Creative Class fame.  Talent, technology and tolerance.

Talent: The driving force behind any effective economic strategy is talented people. We live in a more
mobile age than ever before. People, especially top creative talent, move around a lot. A community’s
ability to attract and retain top talent is the defining issue of the creative age.
Technology: Technology and innovation are critical components of a community or organization’s ability
to drive economic growth. To be successful, communities and organizations must have the process for
transferring research, ideas and innovation into marketable and sustainable products. Educational institutions are paramount to this, and provide a key hub institution of the creative age.
Tolerance: Economic prosperity relies on cultural, entrepreneurial, civic, scientific and artistic creativity.
Creative workers with these talents need communities, organizations and peers that are open to new
ideas and different people. Places receptive to immigration, alternative lifestyles, and new views on
social status and power structures will benefit significantly in the creative age. Define it as proactive inclusion.

Jasper might be a bit behind on the PROCESS or the TECHNOLOGY to make the arts a viable economic pillar today.  And Habitat II or IOTAD’s dream of a ‘Banff Centre’ atmosphere in Jasper might be a bit reaching…but that’s what we do.  That’s why we are here.  Imagine a world without art.

A Musements and Mythology, Habitat moves into March

Habitat for the Arts is now looking at month four!

The Peoples Gallery:

The Snow and Ice exhibition of photography for Jasper in January is now replaced with ‘A Musements’ by Susan Szathmary.  These works are wonderful explorations in colour.  Each canvas is based on just that – Red or Yellow or Green…and through the darkest days of a Rocky Mountain winter Susan has developed delightful pieces that enlighten and spirit the viewer away in their abstract form of colour.

FROM THE FITZHUGH February 24th 2011 by Annalee Grant, Photojournalist

Susan Szathmary was working on something entirely different – illustrations for a children’s book – when she found a collection of wooden planks and decided to paint them with acrylics.

The resulting pieces, titled A Musements, are being displayed at the Habitat for the Arts in the People’s Gallery until March 1.

What’s special about these works of art is that they were created in Costa Rica, while Szathmary was on an artist’s retreat at the Julia and David White Artist’s Colony located in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica. It was her first departure from painting on paper, to the wooden planks. She used a monochromatic colour scheme to create vibrant, lively pieces that are receiving praise from those who have caught a glimpse at the People’s Gallery. Szathmary explored six colours and played with shapes and her chosen colours. She never did finish the pieces, until the Habitat for the Art’s Marianne Garrah encouraged her to pull them out of the closet and finish them up to be hung at the Habitat for a few weeks. Szathmary said she has no idea where her inspiration came from, past the use of bright colours.

“A lot of it’s very intuitive,” she said.

Usually Szathmary sticks to smaller pieces and creates patterns and designs. She says the size of each board was a challenge, and she did her best to use depth of field to create something unique. The experience has left her with a desire to keep pursuing different kinds of art.

“It’s like a springboard for me to kind of develop and keep developing.”

Szathmary calls the pieces “lovely accidents.”

The artist has never done a show before, and was hesitant to hang her pieces in public. She says she has a constant battle over whether or not to display her pieces, and wonders what art is really for – display for others, or for the creation and enjoyment of the artist?

“It’s scary, you know. You really put yourself out there,” Szathmary said of displaying her artwork, although she adds that sharing it is all part of the process. She went on to muse about the possibility of pursuing a larger and more formal show in the future. She says the challenge for her is to bare what she has created, and “be brave enough to be imperfect.”

Szathmary has spent months at the Costa Rica retreat, which accepts artists of all forms who submit their portfolios to be accepted. While there, Szathmary has mingled with artists from the U.S. Japan and more, with skill levels ranging from developing to experts. Depending on how long each artist stays, they get together at the end of their time and share the pieces they created. Many people are repeat customers, and return year after year to be inspired by the cozy, friendly place away from the mainstream tourist rush of Costa Rica.

“It’s a well loved place,” Szathmary said. She reminisces about the beautiful tropical flowers that change constantly. “All season long new flowers come out.”

Szathmary first attended the retreat in 2006, and returned in 2007 and 2009, and hopes to go back again in the future.

“I’m very, very fortunate to have a lot of time to explore.”

Once the show at the Habitat is finished, Szathmary hopes to return to some unfinished projects and use up the remainder of her paints to clean out her closet of art projects. In the process, she hopes she can develop her skills further.

A Musements will be at the Habitat for the Arts until at least March 1.

The Szathmary exhibit will be followed by an AFA travelling exhibition called Half-Breed Mythology with works by artist Aaron Paquette.   This show arrives on time for March and International Womens Day.  Aaron’s works often depict the important role of family in his images.  The role of grandmothers is a central theme in his work, referenced by the balancing of heritage with stories.

This exhibit is presented by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Peoples Gallery in the Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts.  It will run March 3rd -23rd.


The Classroom:

When not being used for after school creative arts you will find evening classes in anything from Spanish to the Art of Gardening.  Thanks to the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre the classroom received wonderful new tables and chairs.  A thank-you goes out to Adult Learning downstairs for the use of their table and chairs while in transition.

The Studios:

The artists studio for visiting or resident artists who would like to have a quiet dedicated space is almost ready – a bit more shuffling of stored items to their proper placement, some oak to cut up for the stage floor, and yet MORE recycling and we will have a fabulous home for an artist with an amazing view of the Rockies through the ceiling to floor windows!

The Schools:

The pottery school is running at capacity two nights a week with more planned in April.  The video school has several students lined up waiting for some minor upgrades to the Computers from Schools.   The theatre school has after school programs twice a week and the creative arts program is working towards 3 days a week soon!

It is worth reminding you here that the Classroom and the Peoples Gallery are two spaces you can use for arts programming of YOUR choice.   If you have always wanted to run a class for any age or in any arts medium…we welcome you to check out the Habitat spaces.  For very low hourly rates you can bring your ideas alive!  Call Justin at 852.4747 noon to 5pm.

A bit of history…and a lot of future

An Update!!

Well, as usual December flies by.   And we are amazed at the wonderful assortment of projects that the Habitat brought to life in our 6th week of being!  Another childrens concert is complete – complete with beaming instructor watching in amazement at the skills and talents that have been fostered by her teachings.

The lantern making workshop was interesting, we found ourselves relaxing in the sunbeams (the classroom has windows ceiling to floor on the north and west walls) while listening to music from the stage – Jingle Bells, classical pieces and a finale by an 8 piece string ensemble!

So as the year comes to an end – we wish you all a safe and happy holiday and best wishes for a new year!

If you need some last minute stocking stuffers…check out the January classes.  Lots of potential for something unique and memorable!



Thursday December 9th – we drew a name today from our donation box to take home the CORB LUND tickets for Sunday night.  Rita was the lucky recipient of the tickets…have a super weekend everyone!  Dont forget to stop by the Habitat on Friday night and Saturday afternoon to check out the Barb Brooks art show.


Monday December 6th

Today’s brown bag lunch was amazing…Monika Schaefer took the stage for the hour and treated us all to the sounds of violin and viola.  The plan with the lunch program is to get people engaged in the arts – to bring their kids or friends for a weekly 40 minute hit of something entertaining and educating.  Our crowds are still minimal but Monika was barraged with questions on bow science, materials used in making violins, history of classical movements and audience etiquette.

Next week join us for a reading, after spending hundreds of hours in the car this year we have re-discovered the joy in having someone read to us.  Which is perfect for next week as ACFA (Jasper’s French Community) is having a two day book fair on the 15th and 16th…10 am to 8pm.  Then Dec 20th the Brown Bag Lunch Program will host a short film by Jasper’s Kirby Morrow – lots of Jasper faces to see!

Otherwise we are keeping busy with January programming in Pottery, Video and Theatre.  Saturday mornings may never be the same as DEKE is offering a Drawing with Deke drop in class – only $5 – ages 10-100.   Knitting for children and a fabric art class begins in January also.

You can purchase Fur Ball tickets at the Habitat this month…$30 in advance for a fantastic evening of heritage, food and music.  If you have any items for Santas Anonymous please drop them by as well.  We are open Tues to Sat noon to 5!



Well, its the end of November.  The Habitat is almost a month old.  It has been a fantastic month.  The doors opened to host theatre classes, band practices, film nights and our brown bag lunch program beginnings.  Last night we put up some holiday decorations and cleaned up to the smell of fresh butter popcorn that still lingered from our MINIFEST film night.  (For those of you who couldn’t make it out to hear Maria in the Shower we did download the webcast and it can be seen at

Our guests have left us greetings and well wishes – even ‘an about time’ is now etched in our first guest book.  Our wishlist was only posted for a week and its almost completely filled.  We could still use some office supplies but we now have enough garbage cans!  Charlie brought us two vintage old steel cans that I swear Oscar is about to jump out of…if he is missing one of his cans I think we might have it.

The doors have been kept open as promised noon to 5 Tues to Sat’s, except for the really cold snap when we were just not open.  (I think we might make a policy of -30 and we dont open unless you want in!)

These are the listings coming up for the next few weeks.  Please come up and put your information on the WHATS ON JASPER wall – designed for community and arts related events.  Just leave your poster with Justin and we will post.  Ideas for the brown bag program are most welcome.


We were concerned about the naked walls (until we get our gallery hanging rails) and then the sun showed up at the Habitat one afternoon and decorated the walls for us!


Well, fun doesn’t end with an ‘n’ this weekend…its fun’d’ report time.  Oh – almost forgot – having lived in Jasper for years our board members came up with the idea of lowering studio costs in the winter, to reflect the lower income so many of us have in the winter.  So for Dec 1st to March 31st you can access a studio space for 1/2 of the normal cost recovery fee.  Talk to

January 2011 – Dish Pottery School will be opening, Delphinus Video School as well – on time for making your film for Festival, and A.C.T. (A Community Theatre) will also begin programming for the new year!  Sign up now at Habitat, registrations are open and spaces are limited.


On Friday October 29th three wise people at the Jasper Town office and Parks Canada worked together and got the lease approved – Monday November 1 we got keys to the Habitat.  Starting Tuesday November 9 you can stop in between noon and 5 and see your community artspaces!  The Habitat for the Arts is officially open.  The GRAND OPENING is January 16 in conjunction with Jasper’s winter festival.  Big Band sounds will echo through the building while we work on our first annual TIME AUCTION…we have dreamt up a winter of activities.  IMPROV for youth starts Dec 5, theatre classes for adults is already underway on wednesday nights…and our MINIFEST is November 25th.  As soon as we get our Facebook page up I will let you know.

See you at the Habitat!  Now on google maps.

Full listing of Habitat contacts is available on the right side of this page under HABITAT.  And a full overview of all the things community can do in this space is HERE…check out the calendar of community events too.


Now back to the original post;

A little history…

…early this year it was noticed that the Provincial Courthouse in Jasper National Park Alberta was vacant.  Having watched arts programming taking place in schools, the library, the recreation centre, vacant buildings, basements and churches since the late 80’s…wherever possible – we wondered if the old Courthouse could be a space dedicated to the arts.

A non profit foundation had been created in 2009 for other arts purposes – IOTAD (It Only Takes a Dream, a registered Alberta non profit arts foundation) saw the opportunity to secure space in Jasper for artists and patrons.

In April 2010 the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit gave his support to the Minister of Infrastructure and the space was allocated to become the home for the Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts and regional Creative Campus.  It is now July, we are going through the leasing process, and by late fall the space will be open!

So what does that mean exactly for the future?

The Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts is designed to provide unique and meaningful arts programming. Programs ranging from studio space for community and visiting artists, classroom space for after school programs to post secondary accredited outreach education, a venue for small music / theatre presentations, a home for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts traveling exhibitions, a volunteer centre, a hub for information on cultural events in the community, a resource centre for artists and instructors, a multicultural centre for showcasing community ethnicity…  The plan is to develop a place where community can engage with each other, educate and interact with the public. It is intended that the space will be enjoyed by all demographics whether it be for presentation of art or to engage in the arts.

We are pretty excited about the possibilities for this space…and cant wait to see what the community does with it!  Especially if Jasper gets Cultural Capital status in 2011!!

For more information – to book a studio or a classroom…please email us at



The Peoples Gallery (Jasper’s Public Art Gallery) in the Habitat has 6 amazing exhibitions from the Esplanade in Medicine Hat, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Grande Prairie Art Gallery and one to honour travelers for David Thompson year…posting of the years events by the end of summer.  (Exhibits from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts)


FOLLOW US ON TWITTER AT    ‘jasperhabitat’

Its all about the journey…

It’s been just over a year now since the Yellowhead Rotary Arts Festival Society was granted funding to build a regional ‘Creative Campus’.   A year since I got the part time job of assisting that society in building arts capacity in my region of the Yellowhead.  I am amazed at the amount of intensive administration that is involved.  Keeping track of phone calls, and promotional materials, and photographs and time as required for reporting to the funders.  Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I am lucky if I can keep track of my phone let alone the calls!

That is not to say that I am ‘disorganized’ as much as just busy…chasing new things, putting out fires (usually ones I have started) and trying to educate myself along the way.  As I sit at the desk tonight surrounded by gas receipts, magazine clippings and business cards scattered amongst the jump drives, sticky notes and camera batteries  I wonder if I am truly accomplishing anything!  I mean – this blog for community updates is even 2 months out of date!

Well, I think its time I told you what this regional arts coordinator has been up to since the Cinderella Ballet – the last blog on this site.


The Glass Managerie followed quickly on the heels of the ballet.  Two fantastic presentations that the community flocked to at the end of this years Arts Jasper programs.

March also saw two of Jasper’s finest ‘string’ musicians – Lisa MacDonald and Monika Schaefer take on a Celtic Hour performance.  Before the month was out Anna Carnell and Friends had a month long exhibit at the museum, Anna and the other artists gave us a whole new appreciation for art and the use of rock in imagery and context.

The edit suite has been extremely busy finishing up on Grace Kohn’s production of the Children of Autumn, which is now available in DVD format.  (contact Grace for your copy!)

Then out of the blue we were asked to babysit a hostel while friends went out of town.  So from an edit suite surrounded by screens and technology to outdoor plumbing and no running water…a bit of a culture shock.  But what an amazing treat.  After a long day of ‘administrative stuff’ we were driving up the road to the hostel and the clouds were low enough to be meeting the land – tiredly I looked at David and said ‘Look at the air – its just hanging there’.  Falling asleep in extreme silence and all you can hear is your heartbeat took a couple of days to get used to.  I am still unsure if a heart is supposed to be that noisy!

While we left our urban abode for the rustic cabin in the woods we were graced with a visit from Tessa Nunn and Jeff Collins.   These artists are always a wealth of information about the bigger picture – being from the big city – and we were glad to share our art world with them.  Tessa is involved in arts programming at the UofA and will be sharing her expertise with us when the Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts is brought to life this summer.  Jeff’s experience with board governance and non profit etiquette have already been put to use.

The annual Yellowhead Rotary Arts Festival took place in April.

Over 1000 entries this year in music, voice, instrumental, writing, pottery, visual arts…venues and performances all over the region, some of Alberta’s top artists in their genre are brought in to adjudicate the works and after 10 years a team of 15 core volunteers bring the arts alive for two weeks!  Amazing. 

Jasper had two days of events in the schools for band and voice.  Our elementary school students even wrote their own prose this year!

The Campus has two intensive workshops in Jasper this summer/fall – FilmCamp for youth at the Palisades and Artists in the Pines for ArtsDays/Culture Days.  Posters, emails, postcards, press releases.  And when the Habitat comes on line these types of events will be monthly!  Traveling exhibitions, lunch programs, after school programs….   There’s that heartbeat again!  (or is it an art beat?)

Thank goodness for outings like the groundbreaking at the Activity Centre or my excursions to the outdoors would be even fewer.  New spaces, new ideas…like the artists call for new bike rack designs.

The details should be finalized soon and you can contact Barb Dyck at the Activity Centre to put in your design ideas.   A few more stats on Jasper’s cultural identity and the application to the Cultural Capital program will be complete…all fingers crossed that Jasper is a Cultural Capital for 2011 on time to celebrate the Thompson Bi-Centennial.

And then there was the horoscope in April:  There will be good news coming your way that involves your entire community or perhaps an organization you have recently become involved with.  Its an excellent time to begin long term projects. The horoscope was followed quickly by a letter from the province saying they approved of the Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts.  This lead to measuring the elevator to see if the piano would fit and finding a temporary home for the 12 computer systems that Computers for Schools have donated to the Habitat!

(I think at this point in the story I should mention that I am only one body in a team that works on some of these initiatives. )  (and it might be worth mentioning also that the artists I frame for have the patience of saints!)

The computers are headed into the communities of Jasper Hinton Edson and Grande Cache as part of the Creative Campus learning materials for the filmmaking courses that run regularly.

This in turn lead us to the Banff Centre to learn more about artists user agreements, studio space use, programming for public spaces, non profit corporate status, copyright…

As I stood on the Banff Centre grounds surrounded by inspiration I realized that there is a lot of supportive people in our lives, and while there are a lot of things our Habitat for the Arts won’t have right away – we have the same natural Rocky Mountain inspiration.  I didn’t know if I was jealous of what Banff had or thrilled to know that that amazing place is only 3 1/2 hours down the road!  A friend told me to always go with the positive so I am excited for what we found and can build relationships with.

By now you are probably wondering what the Jasper Community Habitat is.  Well…we are almost ready to tell you.  A few more crossed t’s and a few more dotted i’s and we can share it all!!

Cinderella vs the Olympics

Being a community of 4500 and bringing in a big production like the Ballet Jorgen’s Cinderella can be a tad hard on the nerves…special details ranging from ironing costumes to creating dressing rooms from back stage storage closets seemed like a never ending task.  At least they brought the tool box!

Redesigning the lighting in our Activity Hall/Floor curling/Climbing wall multipurpose room and finding a 50 foot sound snake were but two of the technical challenges we proudly overcame!  So its a Friday night…hundreds of pounds of stage equipment are arriving, volunteers are in place, duct tape is everywhere…and the TV is plugged in and on the Olympic Hockey Game!  Lets not forget – we are Canadian.

And in came the crowds to this sold out evening – mommies and daughters in lace and fancy shoes…husbands and wives out for a rare night at the Ballet!

Well done Arts Jasper…cant wait to see whats next.  Oh – its the Tennessee Williams theatre production of Glass Managerie on March 20th.   Tickets can be purchased at Tekarra Color Lab, The Other Paw and for a real treat take a night on the town with dinner and theatre starting at Papa Georges for a three course meal.

See you there!

Unfortunately the ‘too toos’ (spelling anyone?) did not stay in Jasper as the young dancers at the Jasper Dance Program coat check were hoping.  So if you want to give to great cause-donate to the Jasper Dance Program’s ‘too too’ wish list!

Revival of Bohemia…or just common sense

The Artery

Notebook Magazine open stage at the Artery

We had heard of this new magazine – it showcases the artwork of local artists.  But what was truly unique was that it showcased emerging artists…and the writeups were done by emerging writers and poets.  (I know a poet is a writer…but a writer isn’t always a poet – in my opinion)

And this magazine has evenings to coincide with their new editions…opening nights for a magazine!  And just when we thought the concept couldn’t get any better they added an evening of music releasing a new CD compilation of musicians – a musical version of the magazine.  All set in the most unassuming location we could imagine.  These artists and musicians took over the space in old downtown Edmonton known as the Artery.  If there was ever a project to show the success of taking back a community that has been abandoned by its residents and commercial business – the Artery is it.

More friends showed up – Moses Gregg on bass and Scott Cook…so we setup our laptop and did a webcast to share with those who could not attend!  WiFi and microphones went up quickly in a building that almost predates electricity on Jasper Avenue.  For hours crowds filed in and out of a neighbourhood that for the past 20+ years has seen persistent urban decay.  Kudos to the folks who own the old building and have given the Artery an opportunity to breathe life – even if its temporary – back into the area.  Kudos also to the volunteers and proactive visionaries who keep the Artery alive…with programs and upkeep in the old structure.  No the doors aren’t straight – the infrastructure is aged – the floors dont shine – but the artists do.  Thanks Artery – for letting the Artspeak!

Traveling exhibitions vs. traveling to exhibitions!

SaskatchewanWhile traveling to see the art and artists in the province is always a treat we decided this year to get on the Alberta Foundation for the Arts traveling exhibition circuit and grab some wonderful art that usually moves past our ‘door’.

In 1981 this provincial exhibition program was developed to provide every Albertan with the opportunity to see the province’s growing collection which now consists of over 7,000 pieces from more than 1700 artists.

This year we brought silver gelatin photos from the Badlands to town, heritage prints made by reknowned Alberta printmakers like Peter von Tiesenhausen and Margaret Sheldon and rare wildflower watercolours from the first botanical book on Alberta flowers by Annora Brown.  Etchings and oils by painters and artists that we would never meet…

And this weekend I await the crate containing 22 photographs by George Webber.  I must confess here that I thought I was getting photos taken by the artist George Weber…the man who is mostly known for his serigraphs of the province!  But after receiving the overview on the Webber photos I am not disappointed at all.

George Webber has been described as a ‘lyrical poet with a camera’.  His photos have appeared in books, Canadian Geographic, Photolife and Swerve.  In 1999 he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts for his contributions to the visual arts of Canada.  Yet he is still not a household name in Western Canada.  This is partly due to his shunning of the spotlight – and very likely partly due to his choice of subject matter.  For many in the west – rural dwellers – his photos appear very ordinary, often depicting everyday rural life.

His images are unique, special and ‘very western’.  He explores the ‘essence’ of his subject matter – whether it be people or landscape.  He is fascinated by the passage of time, the surface and underlying qualities of his subjects.  His critiques have come away saying ‘he captures the ethereal qualities of the prairies – the desolation, the loneliness, the immensity – isolation…while incorporating irony and dry wit.  He shows the symbiotic bond between people and their environment’.  “First people touch the land, then the land touches the people”, Webber says.

As I look out the window this week at the cold October rains, naked trees and encroaching winter I wonder how the images will be interpreted!  But isn’t that the sign of great art?  To evoke emotion.