We spoke with Laura Ritchie, Exhibitions Manager at the Art Gallery of Alberta, to gain an insight into Alberta’s rich culture…
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
I am relatively new to Edmonton, having moved here in 2013. Originally from New Brunswick, I came to Alberta from St. Kitts in the Eastern Caribbean to work at the Art Gallery of Alberta, where I am now the Exhibitions Manager. For years, I have been working for art museums and cultural non-for-profits, primarily in collections management and project management. I came to Edmonton keen on working in the new, state of the art facility that was designed by Los Angeles architect Randal Stout and opened in 2010. Today, I organize exhibitions, curate shows from the AGAs collection of artworks and help produce large traveling projects that come to the AGA from around the world. I also sit on the Board of Directors at the Society of Northern Alberta Print-Artists, a not-for-profit gallery and print store located in Edmonton.
How important do you think art is to the telling of the story of Alberta?
Art helps to connect people from all walks of life and creates focal points for different perspectives on the world. I think it can play an incredibly active role in telling a community’s story, reflecting its reality and preserving its history; this is certainly true in Alberta, a young province with a diverse population that is actively growing and changing. Alberta has an active art scene of emerging artists and senior artists of international acclaim, and each contributes in a big way to the look, feel, and vibe of our province, whether we see their work in galleries, through public art, in artist’s books or in our classrooms and homes.
Do you have a favorite piece in the gallery?
One thing I love about the AGA is that the artworks on display are always changing. We have a permanent collection of around 6000 artworks and each year a selection are put on display alongside loans from private and public collections from across Alberta and the world. I get excited to see historical works from our collection in conversation with contemporary works, such as when we had Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris’s 1924 Alberta mountain paintings on display at the same time as Edmonton illustrator Jill Stanton’s massive dream-scape mural in Manning Hall. Two very different works made 90 years apart offer an interesting local view. Right now, I’m loving Alberta artist Vera Gartley’s sculpture, Tons of Ideas, 1990, a backlit sign that is on display in the Gallery’s front entrance. An ironic advertisement for something intangible, in a way it announces what you’ll find through the Gallery doors.
Is there a quintessentially Albertan experience you’d encourage visitors to indulge in?
It’s no surprise that I think all visitors should see Alberta’s oldest cultural institution–the AGA—but what I think really rounds out a trip to western Canada is a visit to the Rocky mountains. In Edmonton or Calgary, they are right at your doorstep. There is nothing comparable to approaching the Rockies on the Trans Canada Highway and watching them come into sight in the distance as you approach. It is truly sublime.
Do you have a favorite place in the city to relax?
My favorite place to go in Edmonton is the River Valley. The City of Edmonton maintains an incredible network of trails for walking, biking and skiing along the North Saskatchewan river; it is lush in the summer and tranquil in the winter and all year long makes me feel connected to the mountains and the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park where it originates.
What is it about the city that keeps you here?
I came for the art and the incredible progress that the city is seeing as a result of industry, but I stay for the community that I have found and the lifestyle that is afforded by proximity to the mountains. All year long I look forward to the first good weekend of the camping season so that I can pack up and head to Jasper or Banff and breath in fresh, mountain air. I love knowing that I can have a meaningful outdoor experience within either a few minutes walk from my home in the River Valley or a few hours drive to the Parks. And when I get back to the city, there is always somewhere new to eat, art to see and neighborhoods to explore. Each year the Gallery gets better, and I love working on its evolving program of exhibitions.
What would your ideal night out in Edmonton consist of?
Many of my special days and nights in Edmonton are spent at the AGA, and I relish the idea of sharing a walk through the exhibitions to look at artworks old and new before chatting the night away with friends and colleagues. Ideally, our visit in the Gallery would end with a glass of wine from Zinc on the 3rd level Terrace, overlooking Edmonton’s downtown. We would follow it up with bite to eat a Tres Carnales, the best local taqueria. Their tacos are magnificent—fresh and tasty and served in a vibrant but casual environment. The Tequila is not bad either! Super fast service allows us the time to take in a show by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the Winspear Center or outside in Sir Winston Churchill Square, and a nightcap of handmade cocktails at Woodwork would round out the day.
What is your favorite time of the year in the city and why?
That’s hard—each season has it’s perk. I love the summer when every weekend there is a festival of some kind bringing people out in the squares and parks to learn about their neighbors, and all the patios on Whyte Avenue are filled with happy sun-seekers. But Edmonton is truly a winter city, and its hard not to embrace the snow and ice when the city comes alive at the delight of the season. I love leaving the Gallery at lunch for an outdoor skate next door on the City Hall rink in Sir Winston Churchill Square; or renting cross-country skies for a weekend venture around Victoria Park. I love how the city’s downtown core is lit up at night and how even on Whyte Ave. there is a chance of catching the northern lights. Even the arts embrace winter in Edmonton: at Latitude 53, Edmonton’s contemporary artist-run-center, Parka Patio is an annual event not to be missed.
Alberta is a place of wonderful contrasts; do you think it’s important to experience both the urban and the rural sides of the province?
Definitely! It’s rarely so easy in Canada to experience such a drastic shift in environment in such a localized area; with two of the country’s largest cities within hours of one of its most glorious natural resources, it would be a shame to miss out on the experience of visiting them both and taking in how they compare and relate to each other. I love being in the mountains knowing how strange it is that major centers of industry and culture are so close while feeling so for away.
Finally – describe Alberta in just three words…
Progressive. Resourceful. Sublime
LAURA’S TOP 5
Explore Edmonton’s stunning River Valley
Visit the Art Gallery of Alberta
Dine at Tres Carnales
Watch the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Sip cocktails at Woodwork