Happy Anniversary to the Art Gallery of Alberta!

This weekend the Art Gallery of Alberta celebrates the one year anniversary of its new building in Churchill Square. It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago that the ribbon cutting took place and Edmontonians were clamoring to get a peek at the beautiful facility.

And what a year it has been! Here are some of the highlights of 2010:

  • Attendance more than quadrupled since 2009 – more than 111,000 visitors!
  • Of that number, approximately 87,000 were paid admission, which significantly surpassed the target of 65,000.
  • The number of AGA members increased from 1650 to 5300!
  • A total of 17 exhibitions were presented, 5 of which were dedicated to Alberta arists.
  • Roughly 4700 people in total attended the 395 public tours that were given. In addition, 146 private tours were given to a total of 3150 visitors.
  • School programs grew from 5000 students in 2009 to 14,500 last year.
  • A total of 367 private and corporate events, 24 wedding receptions, and 62 wedding photos sessions took place.

Here are a few graphs to help illustrate the success of 2010:

One of the highlights for me personally was the Refinery series of events. There were three in 2010, and each one was more popular than the last. Over 1700 people attended Refinery, and 800 of those were at the most recent event (it was so popular, people had to be turned away). I wrote about the second Refinery here. The 367 private and corporate events is significant as well. I attended dozens of events that took place at the AGA last year, it’s a great venue.

And who could forget the exhibitions! From Edgar Degas, Francisco Goya, and Edward Burtynsky to Warner Bros., Jonathan Kaiser, and Laura St. Pierre, we had a little bit of everything. I particularly enjoyed the Warner Bros. cartoons and Janet Cardiff & George Miller Bures’ Storm Room.

While the building was the most obvious “new” thing from 2010, let’s not forget that the AGA launched a new restaurant, logo, a new website, and established a presence in social media last year as well. All of those things helped the organization win a variety of awards:

  • Metal Construction Association Presidents Award for Overall Excellence
  • Institutional Winner: Alberta Construction Magazine 2009 Top Projects
  • 2010 Edmonton Economic Development Corporation Recognition Excellence Award
  • Best Cultural Institution 2010 by See Magazine
  • Zinc Restaurant was named one of the Best New Restaurants of 2010 by Where Magazine
  • Allan Scott was named Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the Edmonton Association of Fundraising Professionals

Interview with Gilles Hébert, AGA Executive Director

The numbers for 2010 are certainly impressive. I asked Gilles to reflect on the past year. “It’s quite remarkable,” he told me. “The challenge is to maintain the momentum and continue to grow our audience.” In the first two months after the new building opened to the public, more than 30,000 people visited. “Lots of people came initially just to see the inside of the building,” Gilles said. Now he says people are coming back for the programming. “We exist because of the program, not because we have a cool building.”

Gilles said the AGA has seen the most interest in its contemporary programming, which he described as “pretty cool”. The success of the AGA’s contemporary exhibitions has driven interest nationally too. “People are looking to us for these big ambitious shows,” he told me. “They’re drawn in by the level of enthusiasm that is palpable in this community.”

Looking ahead to 2011, Gilles told me the challenge is generating buzz in places other than Edmonton. “There is no other institution like us in this province – we have a provincial mandate.” One of the ways the AGA is doing that is through social media. “We’re finding that these new forms of communication are really driving interest and allowing people to connect with what we’re doing.” He said their social media activities are actually becoming more valuable than traditional printed material and paid advertising, at least in terms of driving audience.

Gilles told me he is really looking forward to the celebration this weekend. “We are so proud to celebrate this milestone.”

Art Gallery of Alberta

Sunday Celebration

The anniversary celebration takes place on Sunday from 11am until 5pm. Here’s a brief description of what to expect:

The day includes the launch of the official AGA building book, presentations by the Citadel Theatre, Alberta Ballet and the Edmonton Opera, exhibition tours, as well as cupcakes for the first 500 visitors.

It should be a great day! You can see the event on ShareEdmonton here. And if you just can’t wait until Sunday, tonight is opening night for the Brian Jungen exhibition which features three sculptural installations.

If you’re taking photos this weekend, be sure to add them to the AGA pool on Flickr. Be sure to follow the Art Gallery of Alberta on Twitter.

You can see my photos of the AGA here. If you’d like a bit of background on the new building, check out my recap of architect Randall Stout’s talk.

Recap: Refinery at the Art Gallery of Alberta

RefineryLast night was the Art Gallery of Alberta’s second Refinery Late Night Art Party. I was invited to attend for free in exchange for live-tweeting during the event, an offer that Sharon and I happily accepted. I can’t remember why we didn’t make it out to the first Refinery party, but we heard nothing but good things about it. Needless to say, we were looking forward to checking it out the second time around.

The doors opened at 8pm, and slowly but surely people started to arrive (apparently there was a line-up outside at the first Refinery party). DJ Justin Der (Shortround) helped set the mood on the main level. Two of the event’s featured artists, actors Amy Shostak and Arlen Konopaki, were asking guests to help them prepare for their improv show by writing favorite lines from Warner Brothers cartoons on little slips of paper. Sharon and I had difficulty remembering anything but the most famous lines, but we eventually came up with a few things.


Our next stop was the new exhibition, The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons. We both grew up watching Looney Tunes, so it was really neat to see the original character sketches and the evolution of the characters. It was also surprising to learn that they stopped making new cartoons in 1969! Everything we watched as kids was so old! Or timeless, I guess 🙂 Here’s a little about the exhibition:

This major exhibition features 165 drawings, paintings, animation cels and related art objects used in the making of Warner’s classic cartoons. The exhibition explores seven different themes from a chronological history of the cartoon studio to the evolution of Warner’s first cartoon stars, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck; and features a step-by-step breakdown of how classic cel animation was made and an in depth look at Warner’s most famous creation, Bugs Bunny.

We also spent a few minutes in the M.C. Escher exhibition adjacent to the Warner Bros. one. Just outside the exhibitions on the second level, local filmmaker Adolfo Ruiz was working with Refinery guests to create a group film. Everyone was invited to scratch, paint, and draw on 16mm film. The final product was displayed at 12:30am. Also on the second floor was the Warner Bros. photo booth! Here’s Sharon and I in front of the backdrop:


One of my favorite things about Refinery is that the entire AGA was utilized. We eventually made our way to the third level, where local artist Sarah Jackson (one of our favorites) was drawing condiment portraits. Everyone received three of Sarah’s trading cards at the door, the idea being that you trade with others as you meet them, hopefully collecting all seven to win a prize. With the condiment portraits, Sarah would draw you as a “condiment”, like a salt shaker, or a cupcake. The line was long all evening, but Sarah just kept on drawing!


Outside on the terrace, DJ Dane Gretzky was spinning records and drinks were being served. It was a beautiful night to be outside, and you could just catch a glimpse of the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival taking place in Churchill Square. At 10:30pm, Amy and Arlen performed their improv show using Warner Bros. as the theme. It was funny and entertaining, as expected! The AGA did a fantastic job with hors d’oeuvres and treats, created by Zinc. Over a dozen different plates of food were carried by servers throughout the terrace. There was also an ice cream bar!


We also wandered through the TIMELAND: 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art exhibition, and Sandra Bromley’s FIRE as well. If you haven’t checked out the newest exhibitions at the AGA, you should, they’re worth the visit.


The crowd at Refinery was pretty diverse, which meant a few familiar faces and lots of new ones. I’m not sure how many people attended, but the terrace was pretty full for the improv show. Everyone was dressed really well too, so if you’re looking for an excuse to wear something new, Refinery is the party for you!

Thanks to the AGA for inviting us to check out Refinery. We’ll be back for future parties!

You can see the rest of my photos here. The AGA will be posting theirs on Flickr too.

Recap: 2010 EEDC Annual Luncheon

Today I joined hundreds of other Edmontonians at the 2010 EEDC Annual Luncheon, held at the Shaw Conference Centre. The event was an opportunity for EEDC to share its accomplishments over the past year, and to provide thoughts and guidance on the economic outlook for our city. Outgoing EEDC board chair Randy Ferguson got things underway with some thoughts on two of his favorite subjects: downtown, and EXPO 2017. Randy reiterated how important a downtown is to a city, and said that we must have the courage and commitment to make EXPO happen.

Next up was EEDC President & CEO Ron Gilbertson. Something that Ron has been showing a lot lately is the Edmonton Economic Dashboard, which grades our city on eight different aspects. Here’s where we are today:

  • Income/GDP – A
  • Retail Sales – A
  • Unemployment – B
  • Insolvency – C
  • Office Vacancy – A
  • Housing – B
  • Air Service – B
  • Inflation – A

Overall, that gives us a B+. Looking long-term, Ron gave Edmonton an A, saying:

Though Edmonton was not immune from the 2009 global decline, our economic fundamentals remain strong. Few economies have as bright prospects over the coming decades as Edmonton and northern Alberta.

EEDC Annual LuncheonEEDC Annual Luncheon

The 2010 EEDC Awards of Excellence were also handed out:

EPCOR President & CEO Don Lowry, Innovotech President Ken Boutilier, and AGA Chair Allan Scott were all on-hand to accept the awards on behalf of their respective organizations.

University of Alberta President Dr. Indira Samarasekera closed out the event with a phenomenal speech about the importance of working together (which you can read online here in PDF, or here). She focused on innovation, smarts, and creativity, and shared some really interesting and scary statistics (such as the low percentage of Albertans that go to post secondary). My favorite part though, was the beginning:

“I would like each of you to take your trusty digital device – Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, whatever you use – from your belt or pocket, or out of your bag and purse, and hold it in your hand,” she instructed. “Now, take a second moment to take a good look at it. In your hand, you hold the symbol of innovation. We call them smart phones. These smart phones have transformed our lives – our social lives, our business lives, our family lives, even our emotional and physical well being.”

It was a great way to start. She said one of our biggest challenges is speed – we have shorter incubation times than ever before, and we need to keep up (Innovotech’s Ken Boutilier talked about that too in his remarks). She also said that we need some BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And she stressed that both the City and the University desperately need to diversity their talent and economic bases. Dr. Samarasekera is a great speaker, and was definitely the highlight of the luncheon.

You can read the 2009 EEDC Annual Report here in PDF. Stay tuned to @EEDC on Twitter for updates.

The Art Gallery of Alberta is now officially open!

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held this morning at the Art Gallery of Alberta, officially opening Canada’s newest art gallery and celebrating the thousands of people and many years of hard work that went into making it a reality. AGA Board Chair Allan Scott led today’s ceremony, and said in a statement:

“It is the AGA’s dream that a rebuilt, renewed Art Gallery of Alberta will serve as a cultural centre of excellence for the Alberta community today and beyond, for generations to come.”

Art Gallery of Alberta Ribbon Cutting

All levels of government were represented. Canada’s Minister of Public Works Rona Ambrose brought remarks, as did Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Norman L. Kwong and Minister of Alberta Culture and Community Spirit Lindsay Blackett. Minister of State and Western Economic Diversification Lynn Yelich was also present. Mayor Stephen Mandel brought remarks from the City of Edmonton, along with nearly all of the City Councillors. We also heard from architect Randall Stout, and AGA Executive Director Gilles Hebert.

Art Gallery of Alberta Ribbon CuttingArt Gallery of Alberta Ribbon Cutting

Many of the speakers paid tribute to Barbara Poole and her late husband John Poole, who in October 2001 donated $2 million in seed money for the gallery project. The Poole family continued to donate $1 million each October until 2004, bringing their total donation to $5 million. Randall Stout talked about how important community has been to everyone involved in the project, and he cited the Poole’s funding request as proof. Instead of requesting that part of the building be named after the family as is often the case, the Pooles requested only that the new AGA building be connected to the pedway system and LRT, that it be connected to the existing city network. In his remarks, Mayor Mandel called Barbara Poole “a gem, a jewel” and said that if Edmonton had a first lady, it would be her.

Art Gallery of Alberta Ribbon CuttingArt Gallery of Alberta Ribbon Cutting

The ribbon cutting:

The public will start streaming into the new building tomorrow morning at 9am, with the grand opening celebration lasting through Monday. If you weren’t able to get tickets to attend, fear not, the AGA is here to stay and there will be plenty of time to visit again, and again. A few quick facts to keep in mind as you explore the new building:

  • Steel, Zinc, Glass, and Douglas Fir are the key materials
  • 800 tons of structural steel were used in the framework of the building
  • 90% of the steel used was comprised of recycled material
  • 5000 individual steel pieces were custom made, and laid end-to-end would total 12 kilometers
  • 26 metres (86 feet) is the height of the atrium lobby
  • 190 metres (625 feet) is the length of the borealis

It really is quite amazing to see!

You can see all of my photos from the ceremony here, you can watch Allan Scott’s introduction here, and you can watch Mayor Mandel give his remarks here.

Sneak Peek at the new Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton

Nearly thirty people from Edmonton’s very active social media community attended the blogger sneak peek today at the new Art Gallery of Alberta in downtown Edmonton. Armed with smartphones, video cameras, audio recorders, and lots of digital cameras, we toured the new building with Sarah Hoyles, the AGA’s Media Relations and Communications Coordinator, and Gilles Hebert, the AGA’s Executive Director.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

The very striking building is situated at #2 Sir Winston Churchill Square, on the northeast corner between City Hall and Chancery Hall/Century Place. I think it is just as beautiful on the inside as it is distinct on the outside. Everyone is in for a real treat when it officially opens to the public on January 31!

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the building with Torch Reporter Chris Wheeler, so I thought I’d start this post with some of the under-construction shots I took at the time:

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Art Gallery of Alberta

And here’s one of AGA Board Chair Allan Scott, who has been working to make the new AGA a reality for more than ten years:

Art Gallery of Alberta

On to today’s tour! We met in the foyer, right underneath the borealis.

Art Gallery of Alberta

Here’s a shot of our guides, describing the borealis above:

Art Gallery of Alberta

Our first stop, after the coat check, was Zinc, the Art Gallery of Alberta’s new restaurant. Still under active construction, we got a very quick glimpse at what dining in Churchill Square might be like. As Sharon remarked, standing in Zinc is reminiscent of standing inside Cactus Club Bentall 5 in downtown Vancouver.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Here’s Chris and Sharon, representing Edmonton’s food bloggers:

Art Gallery of Alberta

Next we ascended the grand staircase to the third level, which provided us with a fantastic eye-level view of the borealis, as well as the opportunity to step outside onto the City of Edmonton Terrace.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

We slowly made our way back downstairs, pausing on the second level to learn more about the way the new building is meant to capture snow. It’s explained in this video, which also provides a sneak peek at Storm Room, an interactive ten-minute exhibit featuring water, among other things:

Passing by the front entrance, we next visited the basement level, which features a number of education spaces (the rooms are named after colors, such as orange and yellow), theatre space, the AGA sales office, and the LRT entrance.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

A lot of thought went into the design of the new AGA, something that architect Randall Stout illustrated very well during his talk back in September. It’s a building that you have to visit multiple times – it looks different depending on the season, weather, and time of day. It’s a fantastic addition to Edmonton’s downtown, and to the city as a whole.

Art Gallery of AlbertaArt Gallery of Alberta

Thanks to everyone who made it out to the tour today! You can see the rest of my photos here.

Here are some of the other posts from today’s tour (I’ll update as more appear):

Art Gallery of Alberta sneak peek for Edmonton’s social media community

As I’ve mentioned here a few times before, I’m very excited for the new Art Gallery of Alberta, opening to the public on January 31 (on ShareEdmonton). The AGA has done a really solid job of keeping everything a secret so far for the big reveal, but at the same time they want to stir up interest in the community. I had the opportunity to suggest a sneak peek of the new building for Edmonton’s social media community, and was thrilled when Sarah Hoyles, the AGA’s Media Relations & Communications Coordinator, said it was going to happen!

Here are the details:

The Art Gallery of Alberta will host a private tour for local bloggers later this month. The by-invitation-only event will be led by AGA Executive Director, Gilles Hebert, who will provide Edmonton’s social media community with a sneak peek of Alberta’s newest gallery, opening on January 31, 2010.

If you’re an active blogger or Twitter or other social media user in Edmonton, you should be receiving an invitation soon! The invite will contain all of the other relevant details.

For more information on the new building, check out Randall Stout on the new Art Gallery of Alberta. For updates about the AGA, follow yourAGA on Twitter!

See you there!

Torch Relay Reporter Chris Wheeler comes to Edmonton

Today I had the pleasure of hosting Chris Wheeler, a video journalist capturing the Olympic Flame as it makes its way throughout the country. I was asked by EEDC a few weeks ago if I’d be interested in the opportunity, and I said absolutely. I love Edmonton and I love meeting new people, so it was good fit for me! EEDC regularly hosts travel media from around the world, something that most Edmontonians probably don’t know, but which absolutely makes sense to do.

DISCLOSURE: I got paid for my time today, but I am not getting paid for this blog post.

Chris is the iCoke Torch Relay Reporter, a project of Coca-Cola, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), and Tourism BC. This is the seventh time that Coca-Cola has sponsored the Olympic Torch Relay! So far the videos have been getting lots of views and Chris says that as he works his way west, the excitement is definitely building.

I started today by meeting Chris at the airport. He was in Saskatoon until very early this morning, and I quickly learned that the last 75 or so days of his life have consisted of “wake up, shoot footage all day, then edit/upload/sleep/travel”. It’s a grueling schedule, but one that Chris is passionate about!

Welcome to Edmonton

We first made our way to the new Art Gallery of Alberta, where we got a very brief tour amongst all the construction that is still going on. Chris interviewed AGA Board Chair Allan Scott, and I think was really amazed at how long he has been working to make the new AGA a reality for Edmonton. I’m very excited for the new AGA building, which officially opens on January 31, and I can’t wait to see it all finished!

Torch Reporter in Edmonton!

Next we walked to Blue Plate Diner for a quick lunch – tasty as always! It was really interesting to hear from Chris about the places he’s been on the trip, and some of the challenges he has faced along the way. One of the biggest, of course, is bandwidth. Chris shoots all his videos in high-definition, so even after editing and finalizing a video the files are still quite large, and hotels typically don’t have the fastest Internet. It’s pretty amazing that Chris has managed to continue posting new videos every few days!

Lunch at Blue Plate Diner

Our next stop was West Edmonton Mall, and more specifically, Sea Lions’ Rock. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out that Chris was able to get up close and personal with Pablo, the largest of the sea lions. Chris got to hug Pablo, and even got a big kiss! We also stayed for the scheduled show, something I haven’t seen in quite a while. It’s very entertaining, and is definitely something to check out at least once! Right after we left, Rick Mercer and Danielle Smith showed up for a shoot. Both Chris and I are RMR fans, but resisted the temptation to interrupt them.

Torch Reporter in Edmonton!

Torch Reporter in Edmonton!

Chris is in Edmonton all day tomorrow as well, filming the Torch Relay and related festivities (on ShareEdmonton). After that he’ll be on his way to other locations in Alberta and eventually, back to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Best of luck with the remainder of your trip Chris!

Thanks again to EEDC for the opportunity. You can see the rest of my photos from today here. Keep an eye on Chris’ YouTube channel for the Edmonton video, which should be up in a few days.