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News / June 25, 2013

Updated: Alberta Floods Impact the Art Scene

The Alberta art scene, like the rest of the province, is in recovery mode this week as the impact of massive floods there are being assessed.

Mud-soaked galleries, water-filled studios and damaged interpretive displays are among the challenges that artists, curators and arts workers are facing.

There are organizations, however, that are looking to help those in the arts and assess the damage to the cultural sector.

And there are galleries that weathered the storm well—at least as can be determined so far, as Calgary’s downtown core remains off-limits to many due to power outages.

An Avalanche of Water

Up until Thursday evening, Avalanche Institute of Contemporary Art directors Nate McLeod and Cassandra Paul thought that their Friday-evening opening would be going ahead as planned.

Six artists had been building site-specific works at Avalanche for the prior week in anticipation of “White Heat,” an exhibition and performance associated with the Sled Island Festival. On Thursday night, they were sweeping and tidying up for the following day.

“Then on Friday morning I looked at the news and saw an image of Avalanche completely surrounded by water,” McLeod says. That was the end of that plan.

Avalanche is located at 1265 Macleod Trail SE, directly across the street from the Stampede Grounds and Saddledome, the latter of which was flooded up to the eighth row of seats.

When they were able to re-enter the rented space on Sunday, McLeod and Paul also discovered that the basement, where their personal studio spaces had been located, was completely flooded.

Luckily, McLeod and Paul were in the process of moving Avalanche to a new location, so only part of their production was lost.

“We’re not too upset about the space, or even the [personal] work that we lost,” McLeod says. “More than anything, we feel for the artists who were supposed to be showing there.”

McLeod hopes to make it up to the artists by inviting them to exhibit in Avalanche’s new space on the other side of downtown at 343 11 Ave SW, which was undamaged by the flood and is due to open July 19.

Stride Gallery Soaked

Just north of Avalanche at the 28-year-old artist-run centre Stride Gallery, also on Macleod Trail, director Larissa Tiggelers is also dealing with basement flooding.

Though she hasn’t been able to inspect the basement completely, three feet of water most certainly damaged a textile installation being exhibited there by Montreal artist Mona Sharma.

“We’re doing everything in our power to save Mona’s work,” Tiggelers says. An exhibition by Serena McCarroll on the ground level did not suffer significant damage.

On Friday, photos and videos posted to social media showed extensive flooding happening outside Stride’s door along Macleod Trail.

Also at risk in the basement is a reading room with a full publication archive of Stride’s history, as well as a library of rare and unique art books. Much of the gallery’s infrastructure was also stored in the basement, including computers, projectors, electronics and lighting, and files on administrative history.

“We have the first issue of Canadian Art down there… typewritten correspondence… two giant file cabinets full of our exhibition history,” Tiggelers said.

She said that if Canadians elsewhere wanted to help, the gallery would appreciate donations through the Canada Helps button on its homepage.

“I’m quite worried we are going to take a financial toll,” Tiggelers said. “And that might trickle into other areas of usual programming.”

Artist Studios Flooded

In the Hillhurst neighbourhood, another area hard hit, artist Tammy McGrath was also dealing with a fully flooded basement—one that contained her studio and much of her life’s work.

“When we got the call to evacuate, we were not anticipating this,” McGrath said. “We thought, maybe a couple of feet [of water] in the basement.”

In preparation for evacuating the house, which they rent, McGrath and her partner Gord Henke “lifted things up high” off the basement floor. But now water there is “way past the ceiling” of the basement.

“In this five or six block area, basements are all full to their ceilings,” McGrath said. “I cringe to think what anyone who lived in a basement suite is going through right now.”

Insurance for artists or others seeking to recover the value of their lost goods may also be an issue. McGrath says her insurers said that their policy does not cover “acts of god” such as the flood, which also felled a tree on their car and brought down a nearby power line.

McGrath says that Canadians seeking to help Calgary artists should consider donating to Elephant Artists Relief Society, a charitable organization that provides “short-term financial assistance to artists in Calgary who are in emergency situations.”

“There really is no other resource for local artists when they are in an emergency like this one,” McGrath says.

Historic Ceramics Facility Damaged

Further south in Medicine Hat, Aaron Nelson was surveying the damage at the historic Medalta site, a 35-acre facility that once produced 75 per cent of Canada’s pottery. The complex now hosts artist residencies, exhibitions, a museum and interpretive displays.

“The main building has sustained some water damage,” Nelson, Medalta’s artistic director, says, “And our brick and tile site has sustained heavy damage. Luckily though, our china site is pretty dry. So it is pretty good news compared to what we thought [on Sunday].”

Though Medalta’s berms held, storm sewer backup led to much of the damage on the site.

Medalta recently wrapped up a residency program featuring a leading-edge 3-D ceramic printer that attracted artists from New York and other locales.

“Thank god we just shipped that printer back,” Nelson said.

The Medalta organization also moved “90 per cent” of its 30,000-item collection to higher ground before the floods commenced, Nelson said.

Medalta staff won’t know the full extent of the damage until the organization is permitted to inspect more fully—“likely Thursday,” Nelson said.

However, Nelson is quite certain two of Medalta’s archaeological-excavation displays are also underwater. One of these shows the foundation of the facility’s famed beehive kilns, while another allows visitors to explore underneath the floorboards.

“It’s the brickyard in operation since 1886 that sustained the most damage,” Nelson said. The organization had just installed walkways, videos and interpretive panels in the brick works, which were due to open in a few weeks. “We were just waiting for our occupancy permit from the city,” Nelson said.

To help raise funds for Medalta’s flood recovery, an online fundraising sale of fine-art ceramics from past residency participants will launch on July 15 at 9 a.m. and run through to July 19 at 5 p.m. Medalta also has a donation option posted to its homepage.

“The funds will be specifically tagged to help with the cleanup of our collection and archives,” Nelson said.

Medalta’s residency program enables artists from around the world to work on projects for periods ranging from one month to one year. This year, artists have come from South Korea, Germany, Ireland and Chile, among other locations. Past participants include 2010 Sobey Art Award finalist Brendan Lee Satish Tang.

“There were 13 of us in the studio at the time [that the evacuation order came],” Nelson said. “Luckily, we were able to get all that work up high enough that it wouldn’t be affected.”

Civic Org Assessing Flood’s Arts Impacts

Calgary Arts Development, an organization that allocates municipal arts funding for the City of Calgary and plays other cultural support roles, is currently in the process of assessing the flood’s impact on Calgary’s arts sector.

The group is due to report to all levels of government by Friday, June 28, and is asking artists or arts organizations affected by the floods to fill out a form on its website so that all impacts can be included.

CAD is also trying to coordinate assistance for arts organizations in crisis through its networks. However, it is unclear if this can consist of additional financial support.

As CAD posted to its website on Monday, “We are looking at our own available resources that we may be able to redirect to assist organizations and artists that are facing crisis. We will work with our partners to identify and direct resources appropriately. As of June 24, we do not know if any extraordinary funding or resources will be available.” [Italics theirs.]

Other arts organizations in the city have also volunteered their spaces for those in crisis.

According to the Calgary Arts Development site, “cSpace Projects is temporarily opening the vacant King Edward School for arts/community organizations and artists who have lost use of their studio and workspaces due to flooding this week.” Located in a heritage building in Marda Loop, cSpace is making 800-square-foot classrooms available and “larger spaces can be mobilized if necessary” for a few weeks.

Others Still Waiting to Inspect Spaces

There were many Alberta arts organizations that did escape the impact of the flood, and others that are still waiting to inspect their facilities.

McGrath, who is also the visual arts and media programmer at downtown’s Epcor Centre, says that the centre’s collection (which includes works by Marion Nicoll and other iconic Alberta creators) is secure and that flooding in the centre’s parkade was handled quickly by staff.

The Glenbow Museum’s Twitter feed indicated that the museum will be closed “until at least Friday” adding that the museum is “safe and dry, but without power.”

MOCA Calgary, the Art Gallery of Calgary and the Esker Foundation confirmed via email that their facilities and collections seemed to be secure, though they were unable to confirm when they too might open due to power outages in the downtown area.

The Whyte Museum, which is less than 100 metres from the Bow River in Banff, reported that protocols put in place early on managed to save the collection and facilities from damage. Though the Trans-Canada highway between Banff and Canmore is closed to private vehicles due to washouts of the highway, the museum is open for visitors.

The Banff Centre officially reopened its facilities on Monday. Located on high ground on Tunnel Mountain, it suffered little in the way of flood damage. Updates on cancelled programs are being posted to its website.

Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat remained open for regular hours during the duration of the flood evacuations and continued with its programming, which included a concert by Ziggy Marley on Monday evening.

The artist-run centre Truck Gallery, located in a downtown-core basement, reported today via Facebook that “the gallery is dry, but dark. We will be closed until power is restored.”

On the commercial front, Trépanier BaerNewzonesWillock & Sax Gallery (in Banff) and Herringer Kiss Gallery all reported that the facilities were generally holding up. Herringer Kiss is going ahead with a planned opening for David Burdeny this Saturday, June 29.

Email and phone service remains spotty, as does power, for many arts organizations in Southern Alberta. Some are yet to inspect their spaces, especially in Calgary’s downtown core.

Update (June 26, 2013, 2 p.m.):  Evanescence Gallery, a studio/exhibition space located in the hard-hit town of High River, 30 minutes south of Calgary, reports it is still on evacuation order and unable to assess possible damage. “We may have lost the kiln, my entire body of fibre art work, specialized equipment that has taken us 30 year careers to acquire,” co-owner Arlene Westen Evans writes via email. She is also concerned about the works of artists the gallery was representing. Evans and her husband had been slated to sell the gallery building with a closing date of June 20—the day the flood hit. The sale is now off. Those looking to help can contact the gallery through its website. In Calgary, Masters Gallery cleared all artworks to its second floor upon receiving an evacuation order on Thursday and both the gallery and inventory are intact, though president Rod Green writes via email that friends and clients along the Elbow River suffered “huge damage to homes and anything inside.” He is trying to distribute notes on conservation of damaged artworks via email. The Alberta Museums Association has compiled a list of resources on how to recover from flood damage and is offering to help Alberta museums having trouble at this time. And as indicated by commenters below, Pith Gallery, which escaped the flood in Inglewood, is holding a fundraiser June 28 for Elephant Artists Relief; see the Facebook event page for more details. Also, Upper Canada Stretchers of Owen Sound is offering to help flood-affected artists replace canvases and stretchers; email for more information.

Update (June 27, 2013, 5:30 p.m.): Calgary Arts Development is now also collecting province-wide info (not just Calgary info) on the flood’s art impacts in partnership with the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

More updates will be provided as they become available. If you have more information on the flood’s impact on Alberta artists and galleries, please contact us at or (416) 368-8854 ext. 114, or post a comment below.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via