2016 marks 50 years of the University of Calgary being part of this vibrant, energetic city and we have a great deal to celebrate. One of our significant milestones occurred in 1966-67 when the Department of Art was established. It was a radical idea — but more than 50 years ago when it was proposed that Calgary’s new university train and graduate artists, the reaction was disbelief. Nevertheless, the city’s creative life was about to get a lot more interesting.
With more than 70 pieces of art created by 30 studio instructors and 30 alumni, Generations: Fifty Years of Art at the University and Beyond, highlights the imagination, innovation and impact of the Department of Art in the Faculty of Arts over the last five decades.
“It’s an anecdotal history looking at how the department grew and the web of connections that engage the university with wider communities,” says Christine Sowiak, chief curator of Nickle Galleries. “It has formed extensive links, nationally and internationally through the people involved.”
The exhibition encompasses a wide range of work from the traditional to the experimental, and includes pieces from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection, the Glenbow and artists from all over North America. It’s organized by areas of teaching in the department, both past and present, including printmaking, photography, new media and ceramics.
“I wanted to have a show that was visually engaging. To showcase some of the energy and creativity, even though I couldn’t include everyone,” says guest curator Mary-Beth Laviolette, author of three books on Alberta art and an independent curator. While not chronological, the exhibition includes a ‘Founder’s Area’ that pays homage to the work of the people who were involved at the beginning in 1966, including the first head of the department, Helen Stadelbauer.
Stadelbauer was born in Calgary and received her master's degree from Columbia University in 1949. “She was one of Alberta’s earliest abstract artists,” says Laviolette. “She threw herself into the effort of developing a Faculty of Fine Arts and an art department that would be large and comprehensive like the ones she had seen in the US.”
Not only did graduates of the Department of Art go on to head up other art departments in institutions across Canada and the US, faculty and students helped build a visual arts scene in Calgary. “That’s another story we tell about the Art Department”, says Laviolette. “It’s not just about people working away in a studio environment on campus, but they are really out and about in the community as well.” Current head of the department, Brian Rusted adds that, "in recent years alumni have been head or dean of three postsecondary visual art programs across the province. New students often come to the department because their high school art teacher was a graduate."
Along with artwork spanning the last 50 years, the exhibition will feature written responses to individual pieces from a number of distinguished alumni from the University of Calgary. "This combination of art with alumni responses," says Rusted "demonstrates how material thinking with expressive media expands our understanding of creativity and research at the University."
“The exhibition highlights one tiny aspect of the university and shows how work here creates community and contributes to the richness of life off campus,” says Sowiak “We are particularly appreciative that Alumni Engagement agrees, and has given such enthusiastic support to the project.”
Generations: Fifty Years of Art at the University and Beyond
- September 29 – December 10
- Opening Reception
- Thursday September 29
- 6 – 9 p.m.
The reception is complimentary and open to everyone. Please register here.
The 50th Anniversary website contains a rich collection fascinating facts about our university’s journey as well as archival photos, videos, and personal stories. Contribute your own UCalgary story there and remember to share it with your friends and family using the hashtag #ucalgary50.