Jane Edmundson is a Lethbian through and through. Born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta, a graduate of the UofL with a BFA in Studio Art, and currently working at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, she is a staple in the Lethbridge music and arts scene as well as a supporter of local artistry and artist community groups. Nourishing a serious crush for typefaces, shiny dance pants and shoes, she knows good looking when she sees it. Just ask Lethbridge based musician Paul Lawton.
I spoke to Jane in mid October about what “art” means to Lethbridge, how funding cuts have affected the University of Lethbridge gallery and why we are truly much more cultured than the rest of Alberta.
JE: Well, in my 3rd year, I started as a student employee at the Gallery which ended up parlaying into a full time position working on the database and while I was doing that, I was also helping out the Preparator with exhibition installation so when he went on leave, I ended up filling in for him and I’ve been doing a mixture of the prep job and curatorial assistant duties for two years. I suppose I stayed because I couldn’t turn down such an amazing experience in my field getting work in the museum/gallery field right out of school is pretty amazing.
JP: Is this fairly typical of Lethbridge? Hiring gallery staff from the bottom up?
JE: Since the University Gallery encourages student volunteerism, often those volunteer positions can parlay into paid positions. The SAAG also has employed many University [of Lethbridge] graduates. It is a good pool to hire from.
JP: Many people view Lethbridge/Southern Alberta as fairly uncultured, yet those who know, know that Lethbridge boasts a tremendous art collection and devoted art scene. In your experience here, do you feel there is a thriving art culture?
JE: I think it is definitely thriving. Having a university here really facilitates the community by providing young artists and museum studies students that are interested in creating work and mounting exhibitions. Also the University promotes cultural education, which means there are lots of professors and staff that are interested in supporting local artists and exhibitions.
The University of Lethbridge Art Society (ULAS) maintains various displays of student art all over the city that Lethbridge residents can encounter in non-traditional venues, The Penny Coffee House, for example.
The SAAG brings critically acclaimed up and coming, and established artists to town for exhibitions because the community is smaller than those in Vancouver or Toronto. Students and Lethbridge citizens can interact directly with the artists when they come to town to install their exhibitions or when they are visiting as lecturers for the Art NOW course at the University.
There are also various independent artists studios all around downtown giving professional artists living in town a framework of support and the Bowman Arts Centre and Trianon Gallery provide even more opportunities for exhibitions and cultural experiences.
Really, the opportunities for artists and art supporters just keep growing.
Oh! And Trap\door artist run centre; they are a great support network for local artists, and they bring international up and coming artists to town for exhibitions and residencies.
JP: You mention Art NOW, which brings in a variety of artists to educate the UofL student community. Does this do a lot to benefit the UofL art gallery as well?
JE: I think the two go hand in hand very well. Visiting artists are drawn to the University because of its great reputation as a cultural institution, which comes from having a strong Fine Arts Faculty and the extensive art collection and any artists that are hosted by the Gallery to install contemporary exhibitions (such as Allyson Mitchell, who was recently here to install her Ladies Sasquatch exhibition) are also featured in Art NOW, which helps bring students that are enrolled in the class to visit the Gallery.
JP: What does the UofL gallery have to offer to the Lethbridge community that is unique? Why the need for an on-campus gallery when we have 5 or 6 others in a small city with a variable population?
JE: The students and staff/faculty on campus can have easy, direct access to art and research materials, and even those in the campus community who wouldn’t normally search out those cultural experiences can easily wander into the Gallery (or walk through the Helen Christou Gallery).
The Uni Gallery programming features both exhibitions from the collection, as well as contemporary exhibitions. The Gallery has also developed an online database of all the works in the collection. So, students, faculty, Lethbridge citizens, artists and researchers can learn from the collection first hand, or through the database, or through the contemporary art that the Gallery brings to Lethbridge
The integration with visiting artist lectures and the Uni Gallery gives students and community members an opportunity to learn in the lectures, and then go and view the art directly.
The Gallery and art collection allows Museum Studies/Art History students to learn directly from the collection and exhibition programming/installation techniques directly from Gallery staff. Having this type of hands-on education is extremely rare in an undergrad setting.
The 3000 level Museum Studies students are now curating one exhibition a year for the Helen Christou Gallery, which is an amazing opportunity for undergrad students who are hoping to go on to graduate school in the field
JP: Helen Christou Gallery. What is, where is it, and what purpose does it fulfill?
JE: The HCG is our satellite space, it is on Level 9 of the LINC building, right beside the Security Offices. Essentially, it is a corridor space which we have adopted for exhibitions and the space is programmed along with our Main Gallery space so sometimes the two shows relate to each other, and other times they are independent of each other. We utilize the space as another way to reach students and staff/faculty who may not normally visit the Main Gallery space
Generally the shows featured in the HCG are eye catching, and accessible to people of a variety of cultural and art appreciation backgrounds.
JP: You have done some curating for the UofL galleries, what has been your favorite exhibit been to put together?
JE: My first exhibition, Tasty Treats, which was in the HCG, featured works from the collection that depict various food. It was really fun and I had a great opportunity to make awesome posters and a great brochure with my curatorial text.
JP: I have buttons from that show! They are adorable.
JE: This past summer I got to curate my first Main Gallery exhibition, and I chose to display some of the large scale, photographic pieces from the collection that examine depictions of the human body, which I thought ended up being really understated and lovely, and the Gallery felt really peaceful. It was nice to get to do something more serious after the first, more carefree show. (The Main Gallery show was called “The Body Multiple”)
JP: Has there been any affect on the UofL Gallery with arts funding cuts? Also, do you anticipate any impact from upcoming University wide budget cuts?
JE: We were affected most by Harper’s decision to cut the Exhibition Transport Service, a national shipping network for artwork and art exhibitions. It was subsidized by the government, which meant artworks and full travelling exhibitions could be shipped between galleries and museums for an affordable price.
Most of the public galleries in Canada are not-for-profit, so they can’t afford astronomical costs of shipping. When the Conservatives [government] cancelled the program, it had the University of Lethbridge Gallery and galleries all across Canada scrambling to meet shipping costs for planned exhibitions. We had to adjust some of our planning for an artist’s project coming up this November when the shipping costs proved to be prohibitive.
However, we are luckier than a lot of other galleries in Canada that don’t have the other sources of funding we have. We are supported by both the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. We are lucky to have a great Director/Curator that earns us grant funding also because we have the support of the University, and the forethought of the people that first began the art collection, the Gallery also has funding via an endowment so we are doing better than a lot of places.
JP: Is it a curator’s primary role to secure funding now, in a [sic] economically frustrated world?
JE: It is a huge part of their role, yes
JP: Lastly… Which Lethbridge gallery is your favourite, and why?
JE: (laughs) I can’t answer that! (more charming laughter) I am biased, the University Gallery has given me so many opportunities; I am indebted
JP: Fine, which Gallery in the WORLD is your favourite?
JE: The time I spent in the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal was absolutely fantastic
If you want to see a sample of Jane Edmundson’s curating skills, Head Shots is the featured exhibit at the Helen Christou Gallery until October 23rd, 2009.
Article first published in The Meliorist, Volume 43, Issue 7 on Ovtober 8th, 2009.