It is so great that the Glenbow is able to have free First Thursdays and free community days, allowing those in who could not otherwise afford to. Or, in some (many?) cases, attracting visitors that have never been, or not since their school days, and have not since found a real reason to go in.
So was the case the last community day when I visited with a friend. I myself have been to the Glenbow numerous times, including as a regular volunteer several years ago, but am currently unable to afford the cost of admission. It was a great opportunity to see the new exhibitions. For my friend, this was the first time she had been to the Glenbow in years. Besides the expense, there is obviously some lack of perceived value. It’s not worth spending a day here if you’ve already been. Nothing changes. Or what changes is not attractive enough. I know there are temporary exhibitions, and these are of amazing calibre, highlighting great Canadian artists and local collections. But perhaps something is also missing. With the new (ish) direction of the Glenbow to focus on Western Canada, and specifically art, we have lost something. There is now almost nowhere, certainly in Calgary, and I would argue anywhere West of Ottawa (with a few exceptions), for Canadians to explore global culture. To learn about past civilizations the world over. To view artifacts, not just artworks. To learn empathy and make global comparisons. Not that the Glenbow shouldn’t tell Western Canadian stories. It should. And it does. But so does Fort Calgary, Heritage Park, Lougheed House, and all of the other great sites in Calgary and Alberta. These are great stories, necessary stories, important stories. But they are also stories that overlap, coincide, and focus on similar events, themes, and time periods. We need to tell them, but there are many other stories to tell too.
There are also many great art galleries in Calgary, and hopefully soon to be a destination art gallery- Contemporary Calgary.
My friend commented that while visiting and seeing the art exhibitions was nice, she would like to see more objects. From places you can’t maybe see here. One of her favourite spots was the Asian galleries- where she could see objects from hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. And I agree. I think something has been missing since the days of Petra and Egypt, Greece and Rome. There are no institutions locally with any sort of international focus, specifically on material and social culture. And I feel that we are severely lacking for it.
I completely understand the narrowing of the mission, vision, mandate for the Glenbow, but that doesn’t mean I don’t mourn the loss of what else could be on display and explored. If the Glenbow isn’t going to do this, who is? Is it time to start advocating for a more globally focused museum or gallery space?
(Note: If someone wants to go for this- I’d love to contribute. I have a pretty broad background, specifically in Roman art and archaeology!)
A point of, perhaps confusion, was the military gallery. I definitely understand the constraint of time and resources, and the changes in direction since it was first designed and installed, but it’s certainly showing its age. There are so many new methods of designing exhibitions now, and the gallery as a whole no longer fits into what the Glenbow is trying to do. As my friend and I discussed the gallery, which seems a bit random and confusing, filled with lots of replicas and statues, our conversation was overheard, and some other visitors leaned in to say they agreed.
Overall, it was a good visit though, and I particularly enjoyed the ‘artifact’ portion of the Moodie photo exhibition. Seeing their original glass slides and lanterns was very interesting, and added a depth to the main exhibition. There were also some installations and sculptures that were awesome.
While the current direction of the Glenbow may be open to critique, there are still great things happening. Definitely check out their upcoming exhibitions and events, including Out for Lunch tours, Art Baby tours, Youth Open House, and Behind the Scenes tours, among many others. Don’t forget Free First Thursdays.