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Liane Faulder: Rebirth for arts scene in 2020 as Churchill Square and library come to life again – Edmonton Journal



Edmonton Arts Council’s Sanjay Shahani see bright arts future for the city

It’s easy to feel gloomy about prospects for the quality of life in Edmonton and Alberta in light of dramatic provincial budget cuts, threatened job losses, talk of separation and ongoing squabbles between Premier Jason Kenney and Ottawa.

But as 2020 approaches, take comfort in the arts scene in Edmonton — a spectacular bonus of living in our beloved, far-flung northern outpost.

Even as Alberta artists are poised to feel the provincial pinch — the Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women will lose 27 per cent of funding over the next three years and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts lost five per cent for 2019/20 — the city of Edmonton’s commitment to the arts remains strong, with additional investments planned over the next three years.

That positive perspective comes care of Sanjay Shahani, the executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council.

“The city values arts and culture in a different way than other cities,” said Shahani in a wide-ranging year-end conversation about the arts scene in River City.

As he points out, Edmonton is second only to Vancouver in municipal arts funding per capita nation-wide. While many other municipalities have art departments within their bureaucracy, Edmonton funnels all arts and culture funding through the Edmonton Arts Council, an arm’s length non-profit with its own board of directors.

With an operating budget of $14 million per year, the council helps support some 160 arts organizations, including key players such as The Citadel, the Art Gallery of Alberta, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra — each of which receive roughly one million dollars a year.

The council is transparent about grants; the 2018 annual report lists which groups and individuals received city dollars, giving Edmontonians a good picture of how their taxes contribute to the city’s quality of life.

On top of its operating budget, Edmonton’s city council has pledged an additional $5 million to the EAC, distributed between 2019 and 2022, to fund its 10-year-plan to transform arts and heritage in Edmonton. The plan, which kicked off last year after broad consultation with the arts community and the public, aims to turn Edmonton into a “hub for extraordinary creation,” said Shahani.

Part of the plan’s thrust will see more local creativity in neighbourhoods, through free events such as this weekend’s Swing and Skate. Taking place at Ottewell community hall and arena on Jan. 4, and at city hall on Jan. 5, each of these events pairs live music by Edmonton bands with dance lessons by Sugar Swing Ballroom. There are free skates at each location for those who like to have their fun out-of-doors. (For more details, go to and click on the picture of Winston Churchill.)

“We want to get people talking about art in a non-intimidating way,” said Shahani, referring to Swing and Skate and its equally popular summer counterpart, the Public Art Picnic. “It pushes art into the neighbourhoods. People say they want to have art in unexpected places.”

Well, not everybody says that. When the council, which is responsible for administering the city’s public art program, put a new, million-dollar sculpture by Berlin artist Thorsten Goldberg on top of the new city transit garage on Fort Road earlier this year, there was major pushback from city council members and community members alike. People thought the sculpture, called 53°30’N and representing abstract topography at the same latitude as Edmonton from around the world, should be in a traditional location, like a city park or prominent square.

But I like the piece where it is. Ideally, art should surround us as we live and work everywhere in the urban landscape; a glimpse of beauty during a commute can provide hope on a dreary day.

Asked what he’s looking forward to in 2020, Shahani points to the re-emergence of Churchill Square as a centre for summer festivals including the Street Performers Festival and Taste of Edmonton. Tix on the Square is expanding to offer a larger shop at Churchill Square, and more opportunities for local artists to sell tickets for a small administrative cost. The refurbished Stanley A. Milner library is to be unveiled this spring, when the public will see the newly restored, 50-year-old Norman Yates mural, brought back to its original splendour by the EAC’s conservation team (the only municipal team in the country).

Shahani, who came to Edmonton from Toronto three-and-a-half years ago to run the EAC, says he continues to be impressed with the city’s artistic perspective.

“It’s a city which is very warm, welcoming and friendly for anyone who wants to make room for themselves. It’s also bold and fearless in how it sees itself in its relationship with the world,” he reflects. “Edmonton has found a way to get noticed without having to brand itself as something it is not.”

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District of Sparwood accepting submissions for Street Art Banner Program – Cranbrook Townsman



The District of Sparwood is now accepting applications from artists for their Street Art Banner Program. In a press release, the District explained that the program was designed to encourage, promote and celebrate local heritage, arts and culture through the display of artistic street banners hung on community utility poles.

The banners, which will be composed of an aluminum composite material, will allow for digitally printed artwork to be sourced from a any artistic medium. Artists from across the Columbia Basin region can apply, so long as they meet the eligibility criteria. A preference will be given to Sparwood and Elk Valley residents.

The primary objectives of the Street Art Banner Program are:

• Beautification of the community

• Supporting the development of local artists

• Celebrating local artists and supporting their development

• Preserving and celebrating local heritage through art

• Sharing the stories of Sparwood

• Displaying and promoting the work of local artists

A full list of eligibility criteria is available on the District of Sparwood website at

All submissions will be evaluated by an advisory group, consisting of a member of the Sparwood and District Arts and Heritage Council, a District staff member, a member of Council, a senior representative and a youth representative. Names of artists will not be taken into consideration and all submission/eligibility criteria must be met. The advisory group will focus on creativity, originality and overall impression when making their decisions, along with the relevance and likely appeal to the community.

Once the advisory group has evaluated the submissions, they will provide Council with their recommendations on artwork to be reproduced and used in the Street Art Banner Program, says the District. Council will then review the recommendations and award the successful art submissions. All artists will be notified of Council’s decision, and artists will receive a $500 honorarium for artwork that is selected for production into a street banner.

Submissions will be accepted until August 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. MST. Submissions can be sent to Jenna Jenson via email at, or via mail to District of Sparwood Box 520, 136 Spruce Avenue Sparwood BC, V0B 2G0. For more information call the District of Sparwood at 250-425-6271.

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Morinville muralist paints fence art – St. Albert Today



From 50,000-year-old cave dwellers to 21st-century graffiti artists, murals have given humans a way to express their world for centuries.

Closer to home, this popular art form has found its way on all sorts of exterior walls including garages, sheds and fences.

Morinville visual artist Robert Murray is one the latest to dive into this populist art form. His fence landscapes, mountainscapes and seascapes may not decorate great halls, however, they create a serene, relaxing environment for the homeowner.

Murray turns an ordinary wall into an extraordinary scene. His nature-based garden art runs the gamut, from a tree grove surrounding a cool pond or a ship sailing on orange waters during a setting sun, to water mills turning alongside rushing rivers or a lighthouse on a cliff waiting for the tide to rise.

“When I first posted my fence work on St. Albert Chat, my Facebook page lit up with inquiries. With people staying home because of COVID, I’ve already completed 65 since April,” said Murray.

Originally from Nova Scotia, he showed an aptitude for drawing at an early age. After high school, Murray travelled to Red Deer College where he graduated from a two-year art and design program.

“It covered a broad spectrum of art. My first intention was to be an art teacher to young children.”

However, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Murray was called to serve as a missionary in England. Across the pond, he discovered the French impressionists. In particular, Édouard Manet and Claude Monet art had a profound influence on the young Canadian.

“The impressionists immediately struck a chord, and I was trying to use their technique. I admired their skill, the loose compositions and the romance in the paintings.”

Upon returning to Alberta, he met his wife Judy. They were married shortly after and had five children, all gifted with artistic talent.

Raising a family required different commitments. Murray pivoted to sales for 42 years, selling life insurance first and then industrial materials to oil and gas companies.

In the 1990s, his creative juices started flowing once more as he published three books, and for a time, sketched a weekly cartoon strip. He also designed a series of t-shirts as well as painted detailed landscapes on rocks and stones later sold at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market.

“I really honed my palette of colour and light and shadow in painting rocks.”

Through a series of circumstances, Murray inadvertently began mural painting after his mother was admitted to a seniors centre.

“I went to visit her and one day I was staring at a bare wall. I asked permission if I could paint a mural. It was an organic fantasy in the Kincaid style with flowers, trees and leaves.”

The administration loved his concept and commissioned two more works. To date, the prolific muralist has completed 500 pieces.

From painting three-pound rocks to finding himself on a hydraulic lift painting images more than three stories high, Murray has developed a style that incorporates impressionism’s romantic vibe.

“When I get a brush in my hand, I’m lost in my world and I love it. It’s a wonderful thrill. For me, it’s therapeutic.”

Murray works with speed and agility completing as many as two fence art pieces a day. In between painting garden art, he’s also been commissioned to create 13 indoor murals for Alberta hospitals.

“My plan is to make the murals a place of tranquility and peace that helps them (patients) reflect on the things that bring them happiness.”

As for the backyard fence art, he said, “With COVID-19 going the way it is, I want to leave people with a piece of heaven.”

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David Lee Roth Is Letting His Art (Mostly) Do the Talking – The New York Times



Typically, David Lee Roth spends his days, or at least his nights, “in tactical spandex, moving at 134 beats per minute,” he said. But now the 65-year-old Van Halen singer is just like the rest of us: stuck at home and obsessing about pandemics.

However, the past few months in quarantine have led Roth to an old pursuit, with new focus. Since April, he has filled his days creating Covid-themed drawings — he calls them comics — and then sharing the finished works, one each week, on his social media channels. The art, like Roth’s music and disposition, is vibrant, whimsical and somewhat unconventional. In moments, it is confrontational. Several drawings feature his own face. Many are filled with images of frogs.

What sparked this surge of artistic expression?

“Well, I lost my job!” Roth cracked over the phone from his home in Los Angeles on an afternoon in late June. As recently as March, Roth was on tour as a solo act, supporting Kiss in arenas across the United States. Earlier in that run, Roth, who has also worked as an E.M.T. in New York, had battled an unspecified illness. “I’m not so unconvinced I didn’t have the corona,” he said. “Man, they gave me enough prednisone to put boots on the moon! We left a trail of groupies, rubble and incandescent reviews. But I don’t want to go back through it.”

Even by rock frontman standards, Roth’s ability to command full attention from his audience is renowned, whether he’s launching himself off drum risers for midair splits or schooling fans on how Van Halen is “the rock ’n’ roll band who sold Ricky Ricardo rumba to the heavy metal nation.” But now his art is doing the talking. “Social commentary is what I do,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always done.”

Credit…Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

In his recent artwork, that social commentary has elicited a strong response. In one piece, he declares a name change. “Diamond Dave following Lady Antebellum’s (now ‘Lady A’) example, will be dropping the ‘Lee,’” he wrote below a drawing of, naturally, a frog. “From now on he wants us all to call him ‘David L. Roth’ or simply ‘El Roth.’” To many, it diminished the steps white artists are taking to correct racism.

“Humor — not jokes — humor, the best stuff, isn’t funny at all,” Roth said, defending his work. “My version is the truth dipped in sugar. And maybe it’s a little sugar and spice. But the good stuff compels discussions.”

Art, he continued, “has been a constant in my life. My hand has always been in wardrobe, background sets, stage sets, album covers, video direction. This is part of it. And there’s craft involved, so there’s a little bit more heft to some of the statements.”

Roth laughed. “This is the adult table; as a fellow artist, I sense you understand that.”

Another laugh.

“Next question!” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Why frogs?

I saw a story about Mark Twain — it was not his biography, it was a fictional piece with actors. And at the end of it ol’ Sam passes on, but he doesn’t go to heaven. He’s in the backyard where he grew up in Hannibal, Mo. And a little girl walks up and he goes, “Who are you?” She says, “I’m Becky Thatcher, and I’ve got some friends who are waiting to meet you.” And all the characters that he created come on up to greet him. So, I started my guest list. And probably the only one of that retinue that I could even spell, much less draw, was the frog from Calaveras County [from the short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”].

Many of your drawings include a reference to the “Soggy Bottom.” I took this, at least in this context, to be a play on the phrase “draining the swamp.”

If I explain it, it’s a bumper sticker. If I let you explain it, it’s art. But you’re very close to exactly accurate.

Credit…David Lee Roth

Can you describe your artistic process?

My approach is the best of both worlds: vintage and hyper-atomic digital. Sort of like watching “Dragnet” on your iPad. You know, I moved to Japan for two-plus years to study Sumi-e and calligraphy, and four nights a week I trained and then I did homework. Jesus, I’ve spent thousands of hours learning to operate a horsehair brush with a block of ink that I grind myself. Hasn’t changed its recipe in 700 years.

So everything in the comics is hand-drawn — all the typeface, all the colors, the line work, the lighting. And once I’m done, I work with Colin Smith, the Led Zeppelin of Adobe Photoshop. Together we scan everything, and then I’m able to move into areas that otherwise weren’t graphically available without decades of effort.

Credit…David Lee Roth

How does using digital manipulation transform the original work?

Many of these colors can’t be found outside the cyberverse. It’s a world unto itself. Serves a well purpose, because almost all of our fine arts and graphic consumption these days is interactive with a screen, whether it’s on your PC or your wristwatch. We’re actually back to Maxwell Smart and his shoe phone. “Somebody is on my Nike!”

What appeals to you about using brush and ink as a means of artistic expression?

Hold on. This isn’t expressing myself. This is performance therapy. I’m venting. I’m angry. And I am not asking for forgiveness. And this is how I do it.

People don’t usually think of David Lee Roth as angry.

That’s because I have transcended it. It is that secret magic when you take something that is essentially sad and find humor, eloquence and sometimes illumination in it.

What is your view of this country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic?

I sure wish our country had taken a Marine Corps approach to Covid. Instead of [creating] a divide, good or bad, right or reasonable, wrong or otherwise.

One of your pieces features the phrase “No politics during happy hour,” which feels to me like it could be an encapsulation of the Van Halen ethos.

Well, visually and graphically, the frogs underneath that caption are fighting — identical to what happened in my brief and colorful tenure with the Van Halens. [Laughs] But when you see Technicolor frogs doing it, it’s a bit more digestible. But what I’m reflecting on in that comic is the unstated. That which we don’t talk about. What does happen when we drink at happy hour and talk politics? What does it mean when we say, “Alcohol sales skyrocket again”? It’s all a bit of a diversion.

Credit…David Lee Roth

Can you say more about the piece that seems to be a response to Lady Antebellum’s name change?

It had connotations of personal politic. I sought to have a little fun at the expense of others, whose vision I will respect. And in lieu of the inevitable false-footed copycats I pretended to be one. But the supposed name change really drew some ire in terms of some folks posting from an arch right-wing stance: “Another left-winger takes a fall.” Hey, I’m a combat hippie — peace, love and enough guys and gears to defend the [expletive] out of it. You need one to support the other.

Credit…David Lee Roth

Would it be correct to identify David Lee Roth as left-leaning?

I love civil rights. Equal rights. Women’s rights. Kids’ rights. The rights of the rights. OK? The entire list. But conversely, I’m prepared to shave my head, join the Marines and go defend those rights. That in itself isn’t really a left-wing statement. Or it didn’t used to be when I was growing up. But I grew up in a really great time and a really great space during integrational busing in the ’60s. I went to schools that were 90 percent Black and Spanish, and I was in the color guard with a crew cut. Every morning at seven we’d march to put up the flag. And then at night we’d go to Kenny Brower’s brother’s house, smoke pot and listen to that new Doors record. Combat hippie!

You were on tour when the lockdown began. As a lifelong performer, was it difficult being forced to leave the road so hastily?

Every Jiu-Jitsu magazine has a 28-year-old who’s going to tell you about the two years that got taken away by his elbow. Every kickboxing magazine has a 32-year-old instructor who goes, “Well, I lost those three years to my left knee.” So I’ve just been isolating away. Because I myself am high risk.

Why do you consider yourself high risk?

The road will deteriorate you from the beginning or it will keep you alive forever. When we go out, we wear ourselves to a nubbin. I just had a lower back surgery. It was a spinal fusion where they take a chip from somebody else. I’m actually taller now. Do I seem taller? I mean, over the phone?

Credit…Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

You last toured with Van Halen in 2015. Do you think it’ll ever happen again?

I don’t know that Eddie [Van Halen] is ever really going to rally for the rigors of the road again. [The guitarist first announced he had cancer in 2001, and it has recurred since.] I don’t even want to say I’ve waited — I’ve supported for five years. Because what I do is physical as well as musical and spiritual — you can’t take five years off from the ring. But I did. And I do not regret a second of it. He’s a band mate. We had a colleague down. And he’s down now for enough time that I don’t know that he’s going to be coming back out on the road. You want to hear the classics? You’re talking to him.

For how long will we continue to see new artwork from David Lee Roth?

Like the tattoo artist said, ’til I don’t have any friends left! Until my Instagram’s empty! I can do this endlessly. I hadn’t considered this as something other than after dinner at the campfire. But lo and behold, people have taken a real fascination.

Given that fascination, will these drawings eventually be offered for sale?

In terms of what I really do for a living, as soon as the B-list — that’s Beyoncé, Bono and Bruce [Springsteen] — say it’s OK, I’ll be back singing and dancing and selling you T-shirts. But in the interim, I am drawing and painting every night. And the fact that there’s an audience for it is quite a tickle. So of course I’ll make it available. You bet. I just didn’t see it coming. [Laughs] But like my sister says, I seem to miss the big stuff.

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