When heading down 9th Avenue and crossing the Elbow River into Inglewood, one can literally feel the history in the spectacular houses, the mature trees, and the historic business avenue. This eclectic neighbourhood, originally referred to as ‘East Calgary’ or ‘Brewery Flats’, began its life just after the formation of Fort Calgary in 1875. Inglewood is Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood, though there is no shortage of new and interesting establishments sprinkled within its historical landscape.
Inglewood has long since been home to art and the artists who create it. In the 1970s, the Dandelion Gallery got its start in the Deane House. Today, one can visit Circa Vintage Glass, DaDe Art & Design Lab, Inglewood Fine Arts and Galleria, and many other artistically inspired spaces in the community. The newest addition to the neighbourhood art scene is the Esker Foundation Gallery. This impressive space offers free admission to the unique and engaging gallery, as well as ongoing and ad-hoc programs.
I had the opportunity to visit with the kind folks at the Esker Foundation and ask them a few questions about their gallery and surroundings:
C.I.A.: Please share a little bit about the Esker Foundation, and why it/the gallery came into being.
Rhonda Barber, Gallery Director:
Esker Foundation is the vision of local philanthropists and art collectors, Jim and Susan Hill. Connecting to art has changed the way they perceive the world and how it has expanded their minds is something they wish to pass on the Calgary community. With this in mind, Esker’s mission is to educate about art in a relevant way.
C.I.A.: How has the response from the community been?
RB: The response from the community we get most often when they visit our gallery is that they do not feel that they are in Calgary. The experience of being in our space has been compared to spaces in Europe and New York. They are ecstatic that a place like Esker exists in Calgary. Our programs have been well-attended and our general attendance is growing.
C.I.A.: How do you feel the gallery fits in to the Inglewood neighbourhood?
NP: To be honest, the gallery could have been built anywhere and people would have come to visit us. So it is not so much that Inglewood was important to the gallery, but being here does bring people back into Inglewood. I hear lots of people say, “I have not been down here for years”, or “Inglewood was not that interesting so I never come down here”. The gallery, and the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, are one of many new businesses that have moved into Inglewood in the last 7 years. I think we are part of a trend; my hope is that this trend will turn into a lasting commitment to building a creative community that adds to what is already a very interesting residential and commercial neighbourhood. It is exciting to see a downtown neighbourhood so livable; while the trend is to continue to expand the suburbs, I am proud that Esker Foundation will contribute to the growth and sustainability of a vibrant, diverse, and livable core.
C.I.A.: What other Inglewood establishments do you feel are helping to shape the neighbourhood, and city?
NP: Inglewood has all sorts of really unique businesses and shops, making it one of the more interesting parts of the city. The whole of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block brings a huge number of creative people to Inglewood. Reva’s Eco Store is an amazing model for smart and sustainable consumerism. Frosst Books is a great resource for artist books and publications because the larger chains never carry this material. The farmers market started at The Area this year was a great way to shop and support local. I hope it expands and comes back next year.
Additionally, the planned redevelopment at Fort Calgary will shake some new life into a museum that has great potential. Fort Calgary sits on a huge amount of inner city land and river front. How they choose to preserve and celebrate this will be very important, especially with all high density housing planned around the site.
C.I.A.: What do you feel the Foundation gives back to the community?
NP: Creative capital is very important to any community; museums and galleries often become like magnets, attracting visitors, pulling in business. Esker Foundation will grow to become an important cultural destination in Canada; this will bring people into the neighbourhood and everyone will benefit.
Barriers of fear, disinterest, or prohibitively expensive entrance fees are often cited as reasons why the public do not go to museums or experience contemporary art. Esker Foundation is free to the public, as are all of our public programs – talks, tours, hands-on workshops. By making our gallery accessible to everyone we sincerely hope to continually achieve and foster the triple motto of Esker Foundation; art, dialogue, transformation.