Calgary has a vibrant visual art scene. However, gallery goers often don’t think much about what is required for new artists to break into the local scene.
Michael Abel is a burgeoning success story of a younger artist who’s made real headway into the Calgary arts scene. When C.I.A. asked him about his progress, he noted that he wasn’t sure if he’d “broken into the scene” yet. (Touché – what does that mean anyway?). Regardless, he had a lot of good to say about the support he’s received so far.
Most notably, Abel is the winner of the My First Professional Exhibition competition, a new financial award granted by the U of C’s Art Department, through support of donors George and Susannah Kurian. The award covers the cost of the courses towards an Arts degree in the Intensive Studio Concentration, and culminates in a solo, public art show of the winner’s work in a local, commercial gallery.
As one result of the award, Abel had the sort of budget for art materials that the average art student couldn’t afford.
“The hardest thing about being an emerging artist is the cost,” said Abel. “Painting is really expensive.” Thanks to his scholarship, he was able to use an excessive amount of paint to create pieces that he wouldn’t have been able to make otherwise.
Beyond the support of his recent award, Abel also appreciates how supportive the Calgary art community has been for him. This summer while he was developing paintings for his art show, he had the opportunity to share studios (and ideas) with the Bakery Studio Collective, a group of ACAD grads. Among others in the collective, he received support from Matthew Mark, a more experienced artist whose projects include Calgary’s Haight Gallery.
“A lot of experienced artists in the Calgary scene are open to mentorship – they acknowledge you, they give you advice.”
Abel recently moved to Toronto to pursue a Master’s in Architecture. When asked how Calgary’s art scene compares to Toronto’s, he notes that Calgary’s arts community “is a really tight knit community. In Toronto, it’s a bunch of smaller cliques, but in Calgary everyone seems to know each other.”
“I really like the Calgary arts scene right now – there are a lot of strong painters that I’ve met that I’m really impressed with.”