Calgary 2012 helped some local artists but didn’t stop closure of Art Central

Wonderland sculptureCalgary 2012 was meant to highlight what the city has to offer artistically and support new endeavours or artists starting a career in the city. However, there is still a shortage of art space in Calgary and one of the city’s art hubs is facing closure despite the city’s designation of cultural capital.

Awarded by Canadian Heritage, the cultural capital program’s objectives included developing and promoting a sustainable art and culture community in Calgary.

The Canadian Heritage website notes its Cultural Capital component will be cancelled at the end of the 2012-2013 year. This makes Calgary and Ontario’s Niagara Region the last designated communities to receive the title of Cultural Capital.

The Calgary Arts Development Authority, or CADA, played a large role in the bid process for the designation of cultural capital. The development authority is owned by the city and one of its main roles is to disperse funding to arts organizations.

Cadence Mandybura, the community manager at CADA, feels that the initiative “raised a lot of awareness for the arts that are going on, a lot of conversations around the arts that are happening in the city and good or bad, the fact is that people see it now as something that is worth discussing.”


Despite this support for the arts in Calgary, a building initially envisioned to support and focus on the arts community is facing closure. Situated on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Centre Street, Art Central is a community of galleries, artist studios and cafes.

Axis Contemporary ArtThe entrance to Axis Contemporary Art, a gallery located in Art Central. Owner Rob Mabee states that the building wasn’t affected by Calgary 2012.

Photo by Krystyna SpinnerBut the building is not performing as well as it was expected to and the landlord has notified the current tenants that in the future, the building will be redesigned for a different use.

Once a vibrant and bustling art and cultural core, Art Central now has many ‘for lease’ signs on its empty windows. While traffic in the building is still fairly significant, this may have more to do with the C-Train being close by – allowing people to browse through the shops or stop by the café while waiting for the arrival of the train.

The empty spaces in the building are being put to good use by both Axis Contemporary Art gallery and the Alberta College of Art + Design, which features the work of its students in a gallery-like setting.

Rob Mabee, owner of Axis gallery was previously in charge of leasing at Art Central and he says that in 2007: “It was 100 percent leased and there was a waiting list for those studios… you know, it was working, there was a lot of support and enthusiasm for the project working.”

He says Art Central was initially “a great vision, it was a super idea to bring all these artists right down into the heart of Calgary, but you know without any real breaks the building had to coexist in the real world. It’s privately owned, it’s not a not-for-profit or anything so I think the rents have been considered steep by most artists. The rents were and still remain to be expensive and that takes a lot of people out of the running.”

Mabee adds: “The whole concept of finding affordable art studio… or production space, or retail space, for artists is very difficult in this city and that’s been a constant problem for years. If there was some kind of a tax break or even with our business taxes with the city, or things like that would certainly help. But I don’t really see that happening.”


Art in MotionThese small art displays, in place on many of the streets in downtown Calgary, are another effort to display art around the city.

Photo by Kristine SartskyMabee states there are number of things that contributed to the decline of Art Central, including the global recession and the construction at the Bow Tower and the C-Train station across the street.

He also thinks that the low population of people living in downtown Calgary played a part, as many people only come into the downtown core to work instead of to shop or frequent art galleries.

“It kind of comes down to basically a concept like this, it’s really hard to make it work in the middle of a high-rent district in the middle of the downtown core of one of Canada’s biggest corporate communities, those two things just don’t work too well together.”

In terms of the Cultural Capital, Mabee says the building wasn’t affected or saw much support from Calgary 2012.

“It was peripheral to us, it was there for people to take advantage of or to utilize, some of the grassroots grants and things that were available for artists.”

Cadence Mandybura agrees that the vitality of Art Central has waned over the last couple years, but remains hopeful for the arts in Calgary.

calgaryartsimage3The art on display inside Axis Contemporary Art. Owner Rob Mabee says that affordable space for artists is difficult to find in Calgary, and the rent is steep for shops in Art Central.

Photo by Krystyna Spinner

“For a time, people certainly knew this was place to go and to find artistic happenings, so I think having that was certainly helpful, you know it is disappointing that it is closing down for artists but it certainly has shown us that there is an appetite for arts.”

She says CADA is “pushing very hard on developing art spaces, and it’s always important and a concern when a space like this closes down, but I think that you know buildings in the downtown core do have a lot of pressures on them and we hope they understand how much having art space can really vitalize them.”

She says a project developed out of CADA, cSPACE Projects, is working on an arts incubator at King Edward school to develop sustainable art spaces and develop a collective community.

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