Donna Livingstone, chief executive officer of Glenbow, with one of the museum’s 33,000 works of art. Wil Andruschak © Postmedia Network Inc.

Joel Schlesinger © Postmedia Network Inc.

Art and culture are inextricably paired.

The two are certainly not overlooked at Glenbow — Calgary’s foremost museum and among one of Canada’s leading curators of great works of art … and the culture that supports it.

“For many Calgarians, their first introduction to art and culture is here,” says Donna Livingstone, chief executive officer of Glenbow. “That’s a role we’ve been playing for a long time.”

But these days, Glenbow is undergoing a metamorphosis.

“We’ve been around for 50 years, but Calgary has changed a lot in those years.”

Livingstone acknowledges the museum’s founder, lawyer Eric Harvie, was a visionary in collecting unique and fascinating art and cultural artifacts from around Alberta and the world.

At the time of Glenbow’s inception, the city’s residents had a palpable thirst for knowledge about life in faraway lands.

“Fifty years ago, people hadn’t travelled as much, and they didn’t have the internet, so Calgarians hadn’t seen other cultures from the around the world,” she says. “And we were the only game in town to come and see these amazing things.”

But much has changed. Calgary is now a cosmopolitan hub and fertile ground for arts and culture. The future is bright for the city, and Glenbow wants to reflect this vibrancy more than ever.

“We did a review of the Calgary cultural scene and considered the role we could play for the next generation,” Livingstone says.

What its stakeholders concluded is that Glenbow — with its diversity of collections — truly shines as a leading centre of art, whether it’s Group of Seven paintings or the fine beadwork of Indigenous masters.

“When we reviewed our collections, what came out loud and clear was the quality and breadth of our art collection,” she says. “We’ve got more than 33,000 works of art — the largest collection in Western Canada.”
And yet only a sliver of this wealth of culture is on  display at any given time, Livingstone adds.

Given the scope of its collections, Glenbow is Calgary’s de facto public art museum — only with a twist.

“For example, we don’t just have the world’s greatest collection of Carl Rungius wildlife paintings,” she says.

“We also have his sketchbook, paint samples and hiking books from when he went into the backcountry, so we can tell a much richer story than just the paintings on the wall.”

Glenbow not only offers art to savour; it also provides context for understanding through its cultural and historical pieces: Quilts, saddles and buffalo robes. All of these reflect the  region’s history and our  collective cultural heritage.

“It just gives us a different lens to look at the artistry and creativity that’s involved in making these pieces.”

Livingstone adds that Glenbow is an important incubator for curators and artists. Moreover, it has the expertise and size to attract world-class art exhibitions and the works of Canada’s leading artists, including Indigenous painter Kent Monkman.

But its overarching goals are enrichment and education.

“People don’t just want to come here to look at paintings.”

They want to engage. They want new experiences.

And the museum is perfectly positioned to help with its vast collections,  Livingstone says.

“Simply because we have all these cultural treasures, Glenbow can tell a story that nobody else can.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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