History

BURNS VISUAL ARTS SOCIETY, born in 1979

The Burns Visual Arts Society and its name originated in Calgary’s historic Burns Building located downtown on 8th Avenue SE. In the mid-1970s some fifty independent artists took advantage of low rental rates caused by inner-city decline and secured studios in the Burns Building’s lush marble and brass interior. Though the resident artists were not yet officially associated, they were aware of each other and interacted.

In 1979, the Burns Building was proposed for demolition to make room for the Calgary Performing Arts Centre. The controversial demolition of the building was defeated in Calgary City Council by a single vote. Instead of being torn down, the building was incorporated into the new construction. The evicted artists, united by a loss of studio space in the Burns Building, held a meeting. The result was the establishment of the Burns Visual Arts Society of Calgary who founding members included: Ron Moppet, Evan Penny, Naboru Sawai and Bill Rogers.

The primary mandate of the cooperative society was to provide low cost individual studio spaces for visual artists. In this way, BVAS differed from other visual art societies such as potter’s guilds or print-making collectives that shared a single space and equipment.

The newly dubbed Burns Visual Arts Society immediately located space a block west of the Burns Building in the historic Neilson Block. BVAS members took over the top two floors of the building and facilitated the construction of studio spaces.

In 1998, after nearly two decades, Burns Visual Arts Society was forced to relocated for the second time when the Neilson Block was slated for redevelopment as part of a hotel and convention centre. It took six months to secure a new space, a lengthy period during which time many artists found alternatives. The remaining members rented a building in the Ramsey area, an industrial part of Calgary. This location, at 828 – 24 Avenue SE, for the foreseeable future, remains home to Burns Visual Arts Society.

The current building BVAS occupies was constructed in 1959 and has hosted a medley of varied businesses including an automotive garage, a chemical shop and a winter garment factory. A floor plan was devised to create studios within the open space and materials were acquired with help of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Members once again provided the necessary labour. Renovations were started in 1998 and by 2000 all studios in the new building were occupied.

There are currently sixteen studios at the Burns Visual Arts Society hosting twenty artists. There has been a waiting list for BVAS studios for some time, a reminder of the indispensable resource Burns Visual Arts Society provides to Calgary artists.

Beyond the valuable benefit of providing affordable studio space, members of BVAS foster an underlying commitment to engage with community. There are few chances for the public to see where art is created or to view an artist’s tools and works in progress. BVAS facilitates face-to-face interactions between artists and the community through a variety of initiatives. Visits from post-secondary art classes are welcomed and a series of annual events is offered including Eastside Studio Crawl, Studio Stomp, and workshops during Alberta Culture Days. In this way, Burns Visual Arts Society connects beyond its own history to the history of buildings, neighbourhoods and community members.

History is an evolving creation that grows through the shared experiences of those who know it. If you have information or material that would help create a more detailed history of Burns Visual Arts Society, please write in our visitor book or send us an email.