Artistic director explains intent to pursue old Science Centre as location

A new facility for a museum of modern art is in the works for Calgary.

Top suggestion for a space is the vacant downtown building that once housed the Telus World of Science Centre.

Jeffrey Spalding, executive director of the planned Museum of Contemporary Art, is pushing to fill the space with a much-needed contemporary gallery.

Spalding said, “Everyone wants an enlarged facility somewhere. The old Science Centre as an existing space could be transformed.”

The City of Calgary will soon hold an open call to organizations that wish to lease the space.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MOCA, and The Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art, known as IMCA, recently announced their plans to work together. Both institutions had previously performed independent architectural studies of the old Science Centre building to determine feasibility.

Now that the groups are collaborating, Spalding said the likelihood of attaining the space increases.

He said he has to wait and see what happens when the city decides to accept proposals for the building.

Although, Spalding refused to disclose a budget for the planned museum, the process of fundraising has begun. “IMCA has many skills with that respect,” Spalding said. “As well, the board at MOCA has been charged with fundraising for the new facility — we have a good feeling.”

It has been a long journey for Spalding. When he first took his former position of curator for the Glenbow Museum back in 1977, he was congratulated and pressured at the same time.

“A very spunky Calgary artist came up and said ‘Congratulations, now here’s something to read,’” said Spalding.Installation shots of Calgary Modern Exhibition October 2011.
Photo courtesy of: MOCA Calgary

At the time, he was handed a news article lamenting Calgary as one of the last major cities that did not have a freestanding art museum.

“It was harsh,” he said. “But it’s been a long time. They’re still telling me that we need something today. We have to put this thing to bed — solve it.”

Spalding left the Glenbow to work at the Triangle Gallery where he decided to make another push for a modern art facility.

He said, “Calgary’s year as 2012 cultural capital is something we can all be justifiably proud of. But we at the Triangle Gallery weren’t prepared, so we decided to reorganize, repurpose, rebrand and seek to relocate.”

Thus, the gallery was reborn as MOCA and plans went ahead to expand into a full-blown museum.

D’Arcy Levesque, IMCA chairman, said in a statement: “Joining forces with MOCA allows us to align our resources towards a common goal of establishing a dedicated museum for contemporary art –  offering Calgarians and visitors exceptional opportunities to connect with the art of our times.”

JoAnn Reynolds, Calgary Arts Development spokeswoman, said, “It’s great to see this level of collaboration in our community. This will enhance the art scene with contemporary spaces and installments. The collaboration will help grow the art sector in Calgary.”

Spalding answers the questions that skeptics have about moving forward with a project that has been up for discussion — with no resolution — since the late 70s:

” What is there to be skeptical about? Sure, we make an announcement and the people go, ‘Oh, we’re going to try this again?’ Well, that’s not the spirit that surrounds this now,” he said.

“We have fewer people fighting for attention and affection and we’re a lot closer — a lot closer than anyone thinks.”

jclark@cjournal.ca