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Alberta Society of Artists

Rising from small and tenuous beginnings, the Alberta Society of Artists (ASA) has grown in size and importance over the last 70 years. It has become a Alberta Society of Artists' 50th anniversary.pivotal arts organization in Alberta, directly impacting the development of such key players in the Alberta arts scene as the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA).

The ASA was started by a small group of friends in Calgary who, at the time of its formation, felt that the arts community in Alberta went largely disregarded. Intended to acknowledge the reality of isolation, the ASA served as a place for artists to communicate and pursue the development of each artist's skill while drawing more attention to Alberta artists as a whole.

Two groups, the Edmonton Art Club, which formed in 1924, and the Calgary Sketch Club, formed in 1922, loosely affiliated to construct what became known as the Provincial Art Society, eventually evolving into the ASA. Although appearing to be one organization, philosophical differences present at the start of the ASA were potentially destructive.

R. W. Hedley ASA founding members included R. W. Hedley, A. C. Leighton and Harry Hunt. This brought together two very different groups; one was informed by a very traditional approach to art making—the British Tradition that emphasized rigorously achieved technical excellence—and the other informed by an approach considered more avante garde and modernist. Despite the two groups merging, tension continued as politics around membership status periodically resurfaced.

A.C. Leighton.Ultimately, the ASA was aspiring towards the improvement of art making in Alberta. The struggle happening within the ASA did not lead to the organization's demise and members had drafted a constitution for the group by March 21, 1931 that, among other things, explicitly included women. Considering the time period, this was an anomaly. Annora Brown from McLeod, Alberta was the first female member.Marion Nicoll.

The hub of ASA activity came to be situated in what was then referred to as the "Tech," the burgeoning arts department within the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology that eventually became a separate entity, the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD).

Mike Pisko.Originally a fairly small organization, the ASA developed a reputation for the Edmonton and Calgary branches' reputably fabulous evening gatherings to which guests were also invited. Other activities ASA members engaged in were camping trips taken together to paint in locations such as Canmore, Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta River. These outdoor activities would, to some extent, inspire undertakings of the art department at the Banff School of Arts.

Asserting itself as a bona fide organization, the ASA introduced its newsletter Artometer in 1933. Aside from its title, the inaugural newsletter was greatly received. Taking feedback into account, ASA editors changed the name to Highlights, which remains the same today. Though readership suffered a slump after the first four issues, it was revived, and eventually thrived with new collaborations and features.

Visual Arts day in Calgary.Throughout the years, the ASA has been housed in the ACAD facilities; a 28-room mansion called the Coste House in Mount Royal, and the Allied Arts Centre in downtown Calgary. It changed from a small group of close artist friends to a formal arts organization advocating for the interests of its members.

Archie Key, one of the ASA's directors, started the Artist's Information Centre, which was later endorsed and run by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The ASA also acted as the impetus behind the acquisition of the Muttart Gallery.

Traditional tea ceremony.Once the AFA was established, it became the key venue for showcasing ASA artists' work to the public. Tensions between philosophical approaches to creating art have never disappeared, and have made audible rumblings. For example, ASA artists have sometimes suffered criticism for being too current and experimental.

Today, the ASA is a registered charity that serves the artist community by cataloguing works, holding juried and travelling exhibitions and providing accessible information and educational material pertaining to the arts. True to its roots, the ASA's mission is to facilitate artistic excellence, have active artists as its members and continue to communicate with artists and the public in order to augment the appreciation and awareness of visual arts in Alberta.

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