With their 50th anniversary fast approaching in 2016, Glenbow has excitedly announced that changes are in store. Certain areas of the layout are going to be rearranged, long-standing exhibitions switched out and a larger focus on arts-related content will start to emerge.

The first changes we will see respond to a sense that locating Glenbow is sometimes a challenge for new visitors, so signage is going to increase. This will be followed by some renovations to the lobby, which will provide “a sense of arrival,” CEO Donna Livingstone explains. The transition should take about two or three years to complete, but it doesn’t sound like renovations will be very extensive to the museum overall. Layout changes are in the works for the third and fourth floors, which have exhibits that are 20 years old, and focus on warriors in cultures throughout the world, as well as a West African display. Those areas have been destinations for many school field trips, but “it’s time to change them up, and to show more of our collection in ways that are going to keep people coming back,” says Livingstone.

Glenbow has been experimenting the last while with some highly successful new types of public engagement. For example, going off the gallery reception model, they’ve hosted launch parties by donation for their new shows, which have been great fun and had massive turnouts. “We’ve really noticed that we’re getting a younger crowd and people who have never been to Glenbow,” she notes. They have also been good at continuing to draw people in through the duration of those shows, hosting panel discussions with featured artists, called “In Conversation,” and family events, like “Weekend at the Museum,” happening on March 22-23 with African drumming.

One of their current displays is Worn to Be Wild, a leather jacket show that explores the history of that garment and some particularly memorable ones held in their collection, with recurring screenings of motorcycle films on Fridays in March. Participating in the Exposure festival, they’ve mounted an arrangement of amazing photographic portraits by the multitalented musician Bryan Adams of his musical contemporaries (on until May 4). While those are on, our city’s diverse visual arts past continues to be revisited in a ‘90s installation of the Made in Calgary series, as it moves chronologically through the decades from the 1960s-2000s, and in fact, maps some history of the museum itself.

Glenbow first formed in 1966, when a local businessman and philanthropist, Eric Harvey, donated his large personal collection to the province. It came at a time when Canada was celebrating its centennial and also around the time that the Canada Council for the Arts was formed, as well as many other major organizations. In the next couple years, she says, “you’re going to see a lot of 50th anniversaries: we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary at the same time as the University of Calgary.” It is indeed quite noticeable, as we feel the rumblings of National Music Centre, a new Central Public Library across the street, Contemporary Calgary (formerly AGC/MOCA/IMCA), Telus Sky, and possibilities for the Planetarium building (formerly the Science Centre downtown).

It’s a pretty interesting marker and we have plenty to which we look forward. But with so much coming up at once, Glenbow still has something that those other institutions don’t: a permanent collection. “Glenbow has one of the largest art collections west of Toronto… it ranges from historical art, to modern, to contemporary art, and a number of different media. We’ve always showcased our collection as much as we can, and at the same time, brought in international travelling shows,” explains Livingstone. Not just that, they have collected a wealth of supporting materials to contextualize those works and better communicate their significance. Livingstone mentions, “diaries, letters, photographs, studio notes… we have more of a research aspect to us as well.”

Many will be as excited as I was to hear that they are looking at putting together an exhibition of work by local glassblowing collective, Bee Kingdom, who have quickly found international attention and fused their way into our soft spots. Livingstone explains that showcasing their work is also an excellent occasion to bring out some of their historic glass collection.

The duality Glenbow embodies, and their decision to try leaning into arts-related content, is something Livingstone believes will “allow [them] to refine [their] focus,” showing not only traditional exhibits, like painting and sculpture, “but also architecture, clothing design, jewelry…  a whole bunch of different aspects that our collections can [show] in really interesting ways. We’re also interested in our sense of place in the west… How those stories of the Old West, are reflected in how people live in the West today,” and she adds, ”We think this is going to be a trend that can pull most of our collections together.” We can’t wait, but get down there for what they currently have, especially if you still haven’t been by since the 1990s.

By Cait Lepla

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