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
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
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
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 makingthe British
Tradition that emphasized rigorously achieved technical excellenceand
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.