The New Gallery lives up to its name

Emphasis shifts to engaging exhibitions and community initiatives

Calgary’s original artist-run centre has recently given its namesake some renewed clout. After it became known by all that Art Central was not the hub of artist-led activity it had promised to be and that the building would be closing down The New Gallery’s board and staff migrated the gallery once again (their third move in the past five years). This time rather than landing in a commercial centre they hearkened back to the street-level accessible feel of past locations and found a sweet little nook in Chinatown.

“There was some sense of us living up to our name” says board member Kyle Beal “and asking ourselves less questions about where the organization has been but where it is going. And the gallery space I think speaks to that in some way.”

Their first exhibition in the space …this used to be easier… by Sam Blanchard opened on September 8 with video projections lighting up the window and busy street front announcing the gallery’s new presence.

Blanchard a sculpture professor at Virginia Tech straddles the worlds of aesthetics and technology. He animates the space with a scale model roller-coaster designed on the 3D computer program SketchUp and manufactured out of wood sheets using a CNC (computer-controlled) router. Along the undulating track a motorized cart that cases a tiny Optoma data projector emits a tiny moving screen showing a middle-aged man (the artist) going for a light jog. The piece allows the space to define itself by becoming the plane and limit on which the projection becomes possible. This slow mechanized movement of both the struggling jogger and the humming motor cart along the track is the antithesis to the feeling a speeding roller-coaster generates as it throws your insides for a loop and gives you butterflies. This seems a sad and uninspired use of powerful new technologies but perhaps that is the very point.

Meanwhile an almost entirely new board and staff — save Noel Heard the board’s president who’s seen the organization go through many growing pains — is almost ready to implement its new programming schedule starting in December. Programming co-ordinator Steven Cottingham cites a change in the gallery’s programming goals that includes more community-driven and socially relevant art that ignites critical discussions on local art practices.

“I’ve tried to implement a lot of changes definitely showing more socially/politically relevant and aware work and selecting it based on conversations instead of jury ratings” says Cottingham.

One of the changes you’ll notice is a total rebranding (more likely a de-branding) of the website and publication materials which puts the focus on the art content not the gallery politics. The Chinatown space fronts a bilingual sign in English and Chinese and discloses a welcoming introduction on the front shop window.

The gallery is not a huge space and as Beal says “(t)here are warts galore some of which can be fixed while others will surely become fixtures.” But the new sense of The New Gallery is that there is an emphasis on engaging exhibitions community initiatives (such as the artist in residence program and events at the John Snow House satellite space and archive) and relevancy to the community — not on its commercial appeal or fixed image.