Message from Nicholas R. Bell, Glenbow President & CEO and Irfhan Rawji, Chair of Glenbow Board of Governors
September 24, 2021
This past year was defined by unprecedented upheaval to arts and culture organizations due to the global pandemic – as well as new opportunities to engage with our communities in a time of great need. Glenbow’s unique mandate was to navigate this ever-shifting terrain while preparing for the full renovation of its building and reimagination of its program in the years to come.
Change has been fast paced: February 2020 brought us the transformational announcement of the Government of Alberta’s pledge of $40 million towards the renovation of Glenbow’s building. Less than a month later, on March 13, 2020, our museum closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The continuing public health crisis has left the arts and culture sector with an unclear pathway to return to business as usual. At time of writing, in September 2021, Glenbow has been open only 82 of the 555 days since that first closure, leaving us unable to support our pre-pandemic business model. A substantial portion of Glenbow’s operating budget has traditionally been funded by visitor admissions, memberships, school programs, event rentals, and shop sales – earned revenues stopped cold by the pandemic. Last year we came to the difficult but unavoidable decision to reduce staff positions to only essential services, and to focus our limited resources on the delivery of online programming, and long-term planning for the museum’s future.
In the early days of 2020’s lockdown and worry, the first thought of Glenbow’s team was, what could we contribute that would help our community pull through a such an unsettling time? We are very proud of our staff who mobilized quickly to ensure that Glenbow could continue to serve as a trusted source of information and enrichment as schooling went online and families were isolated at home.
With our #GlenbowFromHome digital initiative, our team ensured art and culture could continue to provide inspiration, solace, and, most importantly, a sense of connection to the people and world around us. Between March 31, 2020, and April 1, 2021, we produced over 50 digital activities and programs, featuring artist talks, virtual tours, and education segments, in addition adapting our school programs to the virtual space and delivering almost 200 programs to over 6,000 students who were learning from home.
We also launched a rapid collecting initiative: Dear Glenbow invited Albertans to send the museum letters, photos and drawings and social media messages about their experience of the unique time we were all living through. We received over 700 submissions from as far away as Ontario and Kansas. Our hope is that these personal letters will give a powerful sense of people’s lives at a pivotal moment in time and contribute to the ongoing story of a connected community in a time of shared experience.
In all this, Glenbow retained one substantial advantage – our process of reimagining the museum was already in progress. Our plan to renovate the building and the bulwark of the provincial government’s financial commitment to the project offered a clear path to emerge from the immediate challenge of Covid-19 and rebuild a stronger, more resilient, more impactful Glenbow.
Over the last three years, our focus on revitalization and renewal has deliberately included efforts to improve diversity and equity in all aspects of Glenbow’s operations. However, the urgency of the anti-racism movement that exploded in 2020 has reframed how we will approach that process. While we are proud of our past efforts, Glenbow is not separate from the institutional systems that perpetuate racial and social inequity. The way forward must involve building trust by demonstrating action beyond well-meaning statements. To support this, our commitment to increasing diversity in our leadership continues. In 2018, six of 22 Governors identified as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Colour). When we confirm our 2021 Nominees for Governor, Glenbow will benefit from greater representation from a diversity of voices across Canada and internationally. The Board will include 10 BIPOC members, increasing the percentage of BIPOC Governors from 22 percent to 42 percent.
Anti-racism, accessibility and equity must be at the foundation of decisions about what Glenbow will be in the future. In the summer of 2020, we created a new Anti-Racism and Equity committee that includes staff, management, and board members. This committee is evaluating and recommending structural improvements throughout the organization. Recommendations that are put forward are collaboratively worked on with an achievable, transparent, and realistic timeline. Over the past year, the committee has initiated a staff priority survey, a staff and public help line for anti-racism support, proposed a review of HR and hiring policies, and facilitated Indigenous Understanding training for Glenbow’s staff, Board and for the contractors and partners who are working on Glenbow’s renovation project.
Our curatorial and programming team is committed to developing new outreach, education, and exhibition strategies to build upon what we already do to share and support the work of racialized artists and creators. An integral part of our Glenbow Reimagined project is an investment in audience outreach and research to inform some of this work.
Throughout the challenges we have experienced this year, it has become clear that the most fundamental thing we must do as an institution is define how a museum – how Glenbow – serves people. What will Glenbow do to participate in a thriving community?
Each time health restrictions eased, we were able to reopen the museum (with reduced capacity and timed ticketing) for a more traditional visitor experience. The feedback we received from visitors on their delight at being able to experience Glenbow’s galleries in-person again was a much-needed morale boost for our team.
In September 2020, The City of Calgary generously included Glenbow’s renovation project in their allocation of Municipal Stimulus Program Funding. We received a capital grant of $14 million for Facility Revitalization and Renewal. This commitment allowed us to move up our timeline to begin critical renovations to the upper floors of the museum, where our priceless collections are stored. The rapid advancement of the project meant that our third and fourth floor galleries were set for permanent closure in late November 2020. We encouraged members and guests to visit and say farewell to their favourite exhibitions, including Mavericks, Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life and Treasures of the Mineral World. Our long-time partners at Servus Credit Union, who have supported free admission days with the Free First Thursday Nights program since 2015, stepped up again to help us offer a free All Access Week so that as many people as possible (within our limited visitor capacity) could experience these galleries one final time.
Between April 1, 2020, and August 29, 2021, 22,152 tickets were booked for visits to Glenbow. 13,097, or 59 percent of those tickets were free, thanks to Servus Credit Union’s ongoing support for our access initiatives.
As we look back, we can see that the challenges of the past year have also offered opportunities that may not have existed in a normal year. COVID-19 lockdowns and the resulting economic impacts across all sectors sparked a collective recognition that access to cultural infrastructure is essential to people’s wellbeing, and necessary for a great city’s vitality and resiliency.
Over the past 17 months, we have made incredible progress in matching the Government of Alberta’s financial commitment to our renovation. With the endorsement of $40 million from the Government of Canada, and a total of $25 million in support allocated by the City of Calgary, our $135 million Glenbow Reimagined campaign, launched in June 2021, is well on its way.
Supporters of Glenbow, granting agencies, corporate sponsors, family foundations and individual donors and philanthropists have all stepped forward – there is an undeniable momentum to further big-picture projects like Glenbow Reimagined – projects that fuel tourism and foster innovation, entrepreneurial growth and economic diversification. Glenbow is one of the civic assets that attract and retain people of all ages. Calgarians want to live, work, play and invest in a globally relevant city that is exciting, dynamic, and diverse.
Glenbow Reimagined is about more than the renovation of Glenbow Museum’s building. It is about creating a foundation for vibrant, thriving cultural resource in the heart of Calgary, that serves all Albertans, Canadians and visitors to our great community.
After years of planning, organizational restructuring, and intensive fundraising, Glenbow’s long-awaited and critically necessary renovation project is now underway. There is new momentum propelling us forward; Glenbow will play a huge part of revitalizing Calgary’s spirit and economic renaissance.
With in-person visits to the museum paused between March 13 – July 31, 2020, our team shared exhibition content online through our #GlenbowFromHome program: twice-weekly video or virtual content posted across Glenbow’s digital and social media channels. The goal of #GFH was to create virtual “shared experiences” to maintain connections with our audiences and support our community during a difficult time.
Virtual tours, curator and artist talks and programs directed at school-age children were all produced to share the details and themes of each of our 2020 exhibitions. We installed new exhibitions in February 2021, and continued to share them with our audiences through virtual experiences while Glenbow was still closed to the public. Thankfully, we were able to extend the run of Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds, so that Calgary audiences were able to see it when Glenbow reopened on June 19, 2021.
While the shift to digital was by necessity, the learnings from #GFH will now be applied to a long-term strategic plan for ongoing digital engagement that is proactive, intentional and complementary to in-person museum experiences. By delivering interesting, relevant and enriching content to our audiences in a way that is intuitive and convenient to them, the museum can use technology and online experiences to make Glenbow more accessible and personalized for both existing and new audiences.
Vivian Maier: In Her Own Hands (Feb 8 – May 24, 2020)
Maxwell Bates: The In Crowd (Feb 8 – Oct 4, 2020)
One New Work – Ron Moppett: Do You Remember Snow and Stars (Feb 8 – Nov 29, 2020)
Dynamic Connections: Threads of Living Memory (Feb 22, 2020 – Aug 29, 2021)
Recent Acquisitions 2019 (Feb 22, 2020 – May 2, 2021)
Metamorphosis: Contemporary Canadian Portraits (Mar 7 – Nov 22, 2020)
Enclosing Some Snapshots: The Photography of Métis Activist James Brady (Mar 21 – Nov 22, 2020)
Porchraits: Calgary Families in Isolation During COVID-19 (Sept 5, 2020 – Jan 3, 2021)
Porchraits: Calgary Families in Isolation During COVID-19
In September 2020, we opened Porchraits, an exhibition of 55 photographs taken by local photographer Neil Zeller during the initial pandemic lockdown. They were from a selection of more than 650 participating families he photographed. The images reflect the diversity of lived experience in Calgary during this time, showing our resilience and the importance of family and friendship to get us through turbulent times.
In February 2021, Glenbow was a presenting partner for project prõjekt, a free outdoor exhibition of new art projected on Glenbow’s exterior, as part of Chinook Blast Festival. The exhibition featured 54 artists and was an experiment in bringing art to the community and encouraging people to come downtown for a fun and Covid-safe art experience.
Local artists age 16+ were invited to create an artwork using illustration, design, typography, painting or photography to express one of the key project themes (spreading kindness and compassion, equality, Calgary’s future) in a clear and impactful way.We were absolutely thrilled with the response – we received over 500 artwork submissions from Alberta artists, and thousands of Calgarians attended the festival.
These classic exhibitions closed on November 22, 2020
A Farewell to Old Friends
In November 2020, as building renovations began, we invited Calgarians to say farewell to some of their favourite exhibitions. Servus Credit Union sponsored free admission for a celebratory All Access Week. All 2662 available timed ticket spots “sold out” between November 14-22, 2020.
Treasures of the Mineral World
opened in 1976 when Glenbow’s building was newly completed
The Rocks & Minerals gallery was a favourite destination for several generations of children, due to its treasure box atmosphere and glow-in-the-dark specimens. Meteorites, petrified wood, and minerals from all over the world were on display; the gallery showed off some of the highlights from the museum’s collection of precious and semi-precious gems.
Where Symbols Meet: A Celebration of West African Achievement
opened in 1994
For over 26 years, there was a small but significant portal on the prairie into the heart of West Africa. This exhibition was built in collaboration with Calgary’s West African community, and offered a window to the art and stories of five major cultural groups from over a dozen West African countries.
Warriors: A Global Journey Through Five Centuries
opened in 1994
The Warriors exhibition was another favourite of young visitors. Drawing on Glenbow’s extensive Military History collection, the exhibition encouraged visitors to consider the individual inside the uniform or behind the shield and ask what was life like for the warrior? The exhibition provided insights about combatants throughout time and raised questions about the relationship between warriors and their societies, past and present, and in different cultures around the world.
Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life
opened in 2001
This exhibition was the result of a groundbreaking partnership between Glenbow Museum and the Blackfoot Confederacy. Nineteen Blackfoot elders worked with Glenbow staff to lead the design of the exhibition and infuse traditional knowledge and contemporary lived experiences into an innovative storytelling experience that shared the history and culture of the Blackfoot people. The exhibition has been an important cultural resource for Indigenous and non-Indigenous museum visitors for almost 20 years.
The New Sun Gallery of Indigenous Art and Culture
opened in 2001
This gallery invited visitors to discover the stories of Canada’s first inhabitants. From the beauty of Inuit carvings to the intricacy of Plains quillwork and distinctive designs created by Northwest Coast Peoples, The New Sun Gallery featured artworks and objects from Glenbow’s collection that illuminate the traditional cultures of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta
opened in 2007
The 24,000 square-foot Mavericks gallery was the largest and most extensive exhibit unveiled since the museum opened in 1976. This exhibition fundamentally changed the Museum’s approach to presenting Alberta’s history. Inspired by the award-winning book of the same name by Calgary author Aritha van Herk, the exhibition told the story of Alberta through the lives of 48 mavericks, representing an impressively diverse group of people, including politicians, artists, ranchers, writers, immigrants, activists and entrepreneurs.
Collecting activities slowed in 2020-21, but there were some noteworthy gifts made to the Glenbow’s Art and Indigenous Studies collections, including works by Evan Penny, Margaret Shelton, John Snow and Janet Mitchell, all notable Alberta artists who helped define the Modernist and contemporary art landscapes in Calgary and Alberta. All four are already collected by Glenbow and are recognized as artists to whom we have a duty to represent in our holdings.
A gift of Indigenous Studies material from Randall Stowell and Marlene Tanaka
This is a significant collection with good provenance dating to the 1950s. Items are in good condition and many are samples of “work in progress” and would make excellent educational examples. The collection also includes a wide variety of mediums including beading, tufting, embroidery and hide and quill work.
The late Ken Stowell (1921-1976) joined Indian Affairs in 1954 and was posted to serve at Siksika. He was made an Honourary Chief and given the name Chief Pe-ToTo-Kon, when he left to serve further North. He was given a headdress and buckskin jacket when he left. He was also given a book of hand and typewritten poetry and tales from a Blackfoot perspective which is particularly unique and valuable.
After Kenn left Siksika, he headed north with his family to Tulita (Fort Norman) where he stayed from 1957-1961. Tulita is in the Sahtu region and the Dene peoples who live there create beautiful embroidered, tufted and beaded artworks and clothing. People of Dene heritage live everywhere from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico, and even Siberia; they are the largest Indigenous group in North America with almost 750,000 people. The Tsuut’ina who live next to Calgary are a Dene people and in 2019 hosted a Dene Reunification Conference in Calgary. This movement seeks to encourage Dene people to gather together, reunify as a nation and learn their language and culture.
Some of the items being donated by Kenn Stowell’s descendants are “works in progress”, panels of spectacular embroidery and beadwork which will be of great value to the Dene people, including Tsuut’ina, who have been visiting Glenbow more frequently, particularly in the past several years. In recent trips to Tsuut’ina for ceremony, community members expressed dismay that they “are our neighbours, but not well represented at Glenbow.” Adding these pieces to Glenbow’s collection will be a move towards correcting this and also provide opportunities to connect with future visitors from Dene regions in Canada and beyond.
Collections in Action
In 2020-21 Glenbow received a generous donation of an artwork from the corporate collection of CNOOC International. The gift is formally recorded as a purchase; Glenbow payed $1 to CNOOC to acquire Energy Steeple, 1990, by beloved Canadian artist Joe Fafard (1942 –2019).
This is a unique bronze sculpture from an artist whose work is often editioned. The sculpture is just over six feet or almost two metres high, and weighs 1,100 lbs, or almost half a tonne.
Energy Steeple joins ten other works by Joe Fafard already in Glenbow’s collection. Those ten artworks include five works on paper, three sculptures, and two ceramic works.
Historically, Glenbow’s School Programs open the museum’s doors to thousands of students each year, delivering educational and engaging content to school children, youth and adults, opening minds and encouraging new ways of looking at the world around us.
This 2020-2021 school year, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly induced the modification of a regular school year and Glenbow was challenged to adjust our school programming from in-person field trips to virtual sessions.
With the support of our partners Chevron, Calgary Arts Development and Calgary Foundation we were able to adapt quickly and deliver our museum education programs virtually to thousands of students, teachers and adults, continuing our outreach to generations of art and culture lovers.
Our Virtual Programs are linked to the Alberta curriculum, with new programming developed every year, to engage students with First Nations, Metis and Inuit perspectives, as well as conversations concerning active citizenship, social justice and change making. Our goal this year was the same as always: to give teachers ways enhance learning opportunities for their students across a breadth of program areas and help create critically thoughtful and empathic students.
Glenbow is a proven leader in the delivery of Indigenous first-person education experiences which, interactively, bring Indigenous culture and history to life for learners of all ages.
This Living Culture perspective authenticates Glenbow’s substantial and diverse collection while providing insights that demystify and encourage a newfound appreciation for Indigenous ways of knowing.
As news headlines pilot the Indigenous experience to the forefront of conversations in Canada and across the world, it is more imperative than ever that these rich, diverse histories are shared with the public. Our Indigenous programs and workshops are regularly reviewed and updated, to ensure we deliver current, relative and specific information; the annual demand for which increases exponentially.
The success of these programs stem not only from the content delivered, but from our education team that substantiates the first-person voice we ensure our programs come from. This delivery allows our patrons to recognize the value and importance of these teachings, and helps guide them towards their own role in reconciliation
As we adapted to educating students in the virtual space, it was imperative for Glenbow to ensure our programs were as interactive as possible. It was very important for us to develop programs, resources and supplementary materials that would build upon our notable ‘hands-on’ approach yet translate this through digital platforms. We continued to use the museum collections to the utmost; utilizing artifacts, archival photographs, stories, and program delivery by educators that are trained in Experiential, Inquiry and Object Based Learning techniques.
We are looking forward to continuing our digital outreach with our school program audiences both during Glenbow’s building renovation and into the future in our new building, realizing virtual platforms will be critical in museum education from this point forward. We will continue creating and adapting programs that prioritize usability and ease of access to enriching, curriculum-connected online resources.
In the 534 days between closing the museum doors in response to the pandemic on March 13, 2020, and our final day of operations before shutting down the building for full renovations on August 29, 2021, Glenbow was open to the public for just 82 days. We were able to offer visitors free admission on 22 of those days, thanks to the support of Servus Credit Union. That adds up to almost 60 percent of the 22,152 tickets booked by visitors.
This past year re-emphasized the importance of our efforts to ensure equitable access to Glenbow’s resources. As we move ahead with the Glenbow Reimagined campaign, every aspect of Glenbow’s redevelopment is being approached with the goal of removing barriers, whether financial, physical, cultural or geographic.
Donors & Supporters
Glenbow’s community of supporters and donors are a group of people who believe in the importance of art and culture and the role that Glenbow plays in building a vibrant, thriving and resilient community. We gratefully acknowledge the significant contributions made by our donors, sponsors and supporters from April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021.