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Calgary venue tells artist to remove poster listing names of trans murder victims

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Arts Commons is doubling down after being accused of censorship for removing a public art installation that was meant to draw attention to the issues transgender people face.

The New Gallery said in a meeting with the venue on Tuesday they were told they had two business days to remove an art installation, consisting of a poster listing the names of transgender victims of violence and three TV screens, from their window gallery in a downtown Calgary Plus-15 walkway.

The now-blank TV screens were part of a video installation that was taken down by Arts Commons after the venue said it had received complaints about nudity and profanity — neither of which are displayed on the poster.

'There's no cursing, there's no nudity'

"I was pretty shocked," said The New Gallery's director Su Ying Strang. 

"The fact that they wanted to take away the remaining component, the censorship in general, I don't think is fair. But at the end of the day, the rest of the work … a poster of names commemorating these individuals. There's no cursing, there's no nudity. I don't understand."

The installation was supposed to run until Sept. 28. 

Instead, Arts Commons — which owns the window space that The New Gallery curates — sent the gallery a letter on Aug. 29 saying the piece would have to be edited to remove the objectionable content, or it would be taken down.

Arts Commons also offered artist Beck Gilmer-Osborne one night in a private venue to showcase the work, instead of in a public gallery. And now, the entirety of the work will be removed.

The piece, in The New Gallery's space in Arts Commons' Plus-15 walkway, has been turned off. (CBC)

Gilmer-Osborne declined the offer for a single night in a private venue, and criticized the venue for "censoring" work that was meant to have a public impact. 

Arts Commons is a civic partner, and the agency said that with children travelling through the public space during the day, the material was not appropriate.

Arts Commons and The New Gallery met Tuesday in an attempt to come to an agreement over the situation.

Strang said The New Gallery suggested compromises, including screening the video only in evenings or putting up a QR code and link to the website so people could be redirected to view the work online.

"They weren't interested … as they said 'facilitating the request to further criticize them,'" Strang said. 

Decision was not taken lightly: Arts Commons

Arts Commons said the request isn't a criticism of the piece itself and the decision was not taken lightly.

"We think it carries a valuable message and has been created with love and care. This was simply not the appropriate venue for the piece," the venue said in an emailed statement.

It said the request to take the poster and TV screens down, and the refusal to allow The New Gallery to post a link to the artwork, is because it would prefer to host a different piece of art in the space.

Arts Commons also reiterated that the original video broke its programming agreement with the gallery, something Strang questions.

"I don't believe this restriction is always applied equitably," Strang said, stating that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council allows scenes of unsexualized nudity on daytime television as well as some curse words, and that she has heard other pieces of nude art have been freely displayed in Arts Commons.

There are seven to eight profane words displayed in the piece, and a three-second, blurry clip is shown of a nude woman standing on a beach at night while wearing a prosthetic penis.

"The idea that this work is not suitable for a highly public venue, I think, is fairly ridiculous because the whole point of this exhibition is to make trans issues visible and to help spur some change within mainstream media. That's why this is integral."

Artist Beck Gilmer-Osborne says they were given a choice of editing their video art installation or the piece would be turned off, after Arts Commons said it received complaints about nudity and profanity. (Beck Gilmer-Osborne)

The window gallery is one of nine Arts Commons has provided for free to local artist-run groups to use since 1992. 

While Arts Commons owns the spaces, each gallery curates its own content.

This is the second time Arts Commons has been criticized for "censoring" a transgender artist, after the venue put up a wall in front of one of the Plus-15 window galleries in 2006. 

The New Gallery said its main gallery is under renovations, so it's unable to move the work from the Plus-15 gallery to the larger venue. 

But it's looking for other options to host the artwork and is hoping in the meantime people will view it online on its website.

"I encourage anyone who may find the work challenging to talk about it, talk with your family about it, talk to your friends about it, talk to us about it," Strang said.

"I think that's one of the really exciting things art does is it creates an opportunity to connect and to learn something new."

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Art's beloved 'Blue Boy' gets major 250th birthday makeover

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SAN MARINO, Los Angeles County — “Blue Boy” is getting a long-awaited makeover, and the public can watch as one of the world’s most recognizable paintings gets a little nip here, a nice tuck there and some splashes of fresh paint (blue presumably) just in time for the eternally youthful adolescent to mark his 250th birthday.

Thomas Gainsborough’s stunning oil on canvas featuring a British youth dressed nearly all in blue has been one of the most sought-out attractions at Southern California’s Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens since its arrival in 1921.

But it hasn’t had a substantial restoration in at least 97 years, and over time it’s become a bit torn and tattered, some of its colors have faded, and worse still, some of its paint is beginning to flake.

All that begins to stop Saturday when the Huntington’s senior paintings conservator, Christina O’Connell, goes to work armed with an array of 21st century tools to restore an 18th century masterpiece.

She’ll have a microscope that, at 6 feet, is taller than she is and can zoom in on the painting’s smallest details and magnify them 25 times. She’ll have numerous digital X-radiography and infrared reflectography images of the work that she’s been compiling and studying over the past year. And, of course, there will be paint created to match what Gainsborough was using circa 1770.

With all that at her disposal, she expects to have “Project Blue Boy” completed about this time next year and the kid back on the Huntington’s Thornton Gallery wall, alongside other stunning portraits from the era, sometime in early 2020.

As O’Connell toils in the same area where “Blue Boy” has hung for nearly a century, visitors will be able to walk up and watch what she’s doing. And, during occasional breaks, she’ll stop to explain it to them.

“One of the reasons why the painting hasn’t undergone such an extensive conservation treatment before was because people always wanted to keep it on view. So this is a way to address the conservation needs of the painting while keeping it on view — so the visitors won’t miss him,” she said with a smile as she took a break from her work in the gallery last week.

Indeed, “Blue Boy” — whoever he was — has become a worldwide icon since Gainsborough put him on display to acclaim at Britain’s Royal Academy exhibition of 1770. The artist titled the work “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” but when stunned viewers saw the full-length portrait of an adolescent dressed all in bright-blue silk, from his tunic to the breeches extending just below his knees, they quickly gave him a nickname.

Although Gainsborough, one of the greatest British painters of the 18th century, is renowned as a master of the brush, O’Connell says she won’t be nervous while a crowd watches her every move when she takes up her own brush to add touches to replace what the painting has lost to the ravages of time.

“We’re dealing with a lot of the usual suspects when it comes to a painting this age as far as condition issues are concerned,” she said, adding that she has repaired much worse, including a painting that was once handed to her in pieces.

Art historians have never figured out exactly who “Blue Boy” was, although they have a pretty good suspect, said Melinda McCurdy, the Huntington’s associate curator for British art and O’Connell’s partner in the restoration project.

“It could be an image of Gainsborough Dupont, who was the artist’s nephew,” McCurdy said. “He lived with the family, so he would have been a readily available model.”

McCurdy says it’s important that people see the care, which isn’t cheap or easy, that must be taken to maintain such treasured objects.

“We’re not just a building with pretty things on the wall,” she says. “We take care of them. We preserve them for the future.”

John Rogers is an Associated Press writer.

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Brooks: Women for Men's Health Gala launch at Hotel Arts

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Pictured, from left, at the Women For Men's Health (WFMH) reception Sept. 11 at Hotel Arts are, from left: Dr. Marty Duffy, WFMH founder Dr. Shelley Spaner, Karen Gosbee, WFMH's new mental health ambassador, Dr. Geoff Gotto and Dr. Anthony Cook. The reception introduced guests to Gosbee and also announced details of the second annual WFMH gala — The Big Ball — Feb. 1 at Hotel Arts.


Bill Brooks / Bill Brooks

Listen up Mother Nature. I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Not only did you create the postponement of the Hull in One golf tournament, but you made organizers of the Women for Men’s Health pool party at Hotel Arts somewhat stressed. But the terrific team at Hotel Arts can turn on a dime and seamlessly moved the Sept. 11 party indoors to Raw Bar.

The Women for Men’s Health (WFMH) Group, with the support of the Prostate Cancer Center (PCC), was established in 2016. Since  inception, the group has raised more than $250,000 and has secured more than $1 million in funding for expansion of Men’s Health Initiatives at the PCC. Readers may recall the inaugural WFMH gala held this past January at Hotel Arts was an enormous success. And the plans unveiled at the pool party for the second annual event — The Big Ball taking place Feb. 1,2019 had all in attendance buzzing with anticipation.

A powerful statistic that hits at the heart of the need for Men’s Health Initiatives comes when one looks at the top 13 causes of death in Alberta. This includes all cancers, heart disease, accidental or unintentional injury, diabetes, stroke, chronic liver disease and respiratory disease.

Men lead women in every category except one. Women die more frequently than men from Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. The reason for this is that men simply do not live long enough to die from this. The inequity in gender health becomes even more staggering when one looks into men’s mental health struggles. Annually, more than 500 Albertans die of suicide. Of these, more than 400 are males between the ages of 30-69.

That is why the focus of The Big Ball will be men’s mental health. WFMH founder Dr. Shelley Spaner spoke eloquently as to the cause for support and took a great deal of pride in introducing Karen Gosbee as the ambassador for the 2019 ball. Gosbee’s husband George took his own life in November last year. Karen has since become a phenomenal advocate and community leader in mental health. Her address this night was powerful indeed and will no doubt ensure the Big Ball will be an enormous success.

Among the select group of guests in attendance were: Hotel Arts Group general manager and PCC board member Mark Wilson and his wife Kerry; philanthropist and community leader Ann McCaig; Freedom 55 Financial’s Danielle Sutton and her daughter Olivia; Brandsmith’s Shea Kerwood; YYC Cycle’s Andrew Obrecht; PCC executive director Pam Heard with colleagues Shannon De Vall, Eva Moreau and Anthony Prymack; ARC Financial’s Nancy Lever; PCC board members Maryse St-Laurent and Andrew Abbott; Kathy Hays; Patti O’Connor; bestselling author Kirstie McLellan Day; Dr. Marty Duffy; Dr. Geoff Gotto; Dr. Anthony Cook; Lana Rogers; and Kim Berjian.

Please mark your calendar for Feb. 1 and plan to attend and support The Big Ball at Hotel Arts.

With files from Dr. Shelley Spaner


From left: Herald scribe and Prostate Cancer Centre (PCC) board member Bill Brooks, PCC executive director Pam Heard, PCC board member and Women For Men’s Health founder Dr. Shelley Spaner and PCC board member and Hotel Arts Group general manager Mark Wilson.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


Freedom 55 Financial’s Danielle Sutton and her daughter Olivia Sutton.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


Dr. Shelley Spaner (left) and Women For Men’s Health mental health ambassador Karen Gosbee.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


From left: YYC Cycle’s Andrew Obrecht, Prostate Cancer Centre’s Shannon De Vall and Brandsmith’s Shea Kerwood.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


From left: Patti O’Connor, Kathy Hays and Kirstie McLellan Day.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


Ann McCaig (left) and ARC Financial’s Nancy Lever.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


From left: Dr. Anthony Cook, Anthony Prymack and Dr. Marty Duffy.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks


Hotel Arts’ Fraser Abbott (left) and his brother, Prostate Cancer Centre board member Andrew Abbott.

Bill Brooks /

Bill Brooks

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Uncertain future for arts centre neighbouring damaged Fairview Arena

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The owner of Indefinite Arts Centre says increased demand for the program’s services for people with disabilities warrants an expansion but his hands are currently tied as he awaits a City of Calgary decision on what will become of the attached arena.

On February 20, the roof atop the arena at the Fairview Arena and Community Hall collapsed after the building in the 8,000 block of Fairmount Drive Southeast, was deemed unsafe and closed to the public. The structural damage to the part of the building that housed Indefinite Arts Centre was minor but the studio was forced to vacate the premises.  

The art program was displaced for nearly five months, operating temporarily out of the Shane Homes YMCA, before it was permitted to return to Fairview in July.

The building has been without heat after the gas lines were severed and the artists have resorted to wearing jackets indoors in an attempt to stay warm.

CTV Calgary was notified of the heat concerns and, after the story aired, Indefinite Arts Centre’s owner, Jung-Suk Ryu, says he received a call from a senior official in Mayor Nenshi’s office stating she wasn’t pleased that Ryu had discussed the issue with the media.

“My responsibility as the CEO of this organization is to be a strong advocate for our needs first,” Ryu told CTV on Friday. “The fact that it may not have been taken so well is very upsetting.”

In a statement, Nenshi’s office stated their concerns. “We continue to be committed to helping any organization that does important work in Calgary to the extent that we can but it is always easier if we hear it directly first instead of through other channels.”

Ryu says he has been supported in his effort to have the issue addressed. “The general consensus of our team members was I did the right thing when we went to the media to talk about the issues facing this building. We talked about some of the frustrations

Contactors from Indefinite Arts Centre’s insurance company have since restored heat to the studio.

Ryu hopes the City of Calgary will come to a decision on the fate of the property in the near future. “We’re in an eyesore of a building. This affects the community, not only the community that we serve but the broader community of Fairview.”

A stakeholders meeting was held Thursday night to discuss potential options for the building but the arts centre will not permitted to expand or renovate until a decision on the property is finalized.

With files from CTV’s Jaclyn Brown

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