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Glenbow Museum departure surprises Calgarians

Calgary's arts community is struggling to come to grips with the sudden departure of the Glenbow Museum's respected president and chief executive officer after 13 months on the job.

The museum announced Friday that Jeffrey Spalding, who had been at the helm only since December of 2007, had resigned his post and was almost immediately replaced on a permanent basis by a museum vice-president.

The news has sparked confusion and outrage among Calgary's artists, curators and other art professionals who say they can't understand why a person of Mr. Spalding's ambition and talent would depart so suddenly - and with so little explanation.

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"There are people who are really disappointed in the extreme and actually confused and embarrassed," said Yves Trépanier, founder and co-owner of Calgary's TrépanierBaer Gallery. "No one knows really knows what's going on."

Spalding was breathing new life into an institution in need of renewal, Trépanier said. His presence created a sense of excitement and optimism about the future of art in Calgary that hadn't existed for years, he added .

In Spalding's first three weeks on the job, 70 donors promised more than 650 works of art valued at more than $2-million to the museum.

"The Glenbow became an exciting place again," said Chris Cran, a Calgary artist and friend of Spalding's. "There's a kind of a real disappointment and even anger initially at what's going on. Why would the Glenbow hire a star like this, and then with very little information, make him

disappear?"

The Glenbow was created in 1966 and has about one million artifacts in its permanent collection, including at least 30,000 works of art. It became a provincial Crown organization in 1976, then reorganized 20 years later as an autonomous non-profit corporation.

Spalding, 57, came to the Glenbow Museum from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax, where he spent five years as director and chief curator. He is well-known across Canada and has been involved in arts and museum circles since the mid-1970s. Last year, he was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada.

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During his tenure as president of the Glenbow Museum, Spalding made it clear that he intended to quickly institute changes to boost the museum's presence and profile. His reputation as an ambitious and determined professional preceded him. WhenSpalding arrived at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery in 1982, its collection had about 200 works. When he left in 1999, it had 13,000.

Now, some of his supporters question whether his gung-ho attitude and intention to shake things up scared members of the board at the Glenbow.

"I think that they were critical of how speedy and fast Jeff Spalding works," said Gord Ferguson, instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design. "I think he put a lot of stress on the place because he did a lot of things very quickly."

Lauchlan Currie, chairman of the Glenbow board, couldn't be reached yesterday, but he told The Globe and Mail on Friday that "it just didn't work out between Jeff and the Glenbow and that's the reason he resigned."

Mr. Spalding could not be reached yesterday.

He will be replaced by Kirstin Evenden, who previously served as the museum's vice-president of access, collections and exhibits. According to a biography distributed by the Glenbow, Ms. Evenden has worked at the museum since 1993 in various roles, including art curator, director of knowledge management and manager of new media initiatives. She graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1992 with a master's degree in fine arts.

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Spalding and his wife, Marianne Gerlinger, attended an opening at the TrépanierBaer Gallery on Friday, the same day his resignation was made public. The news dominated conversation at the opening and "the place was just in shock," Trépanier said, adding that Spalding was courteous throughout the evening.

"Jeffrey was gracious and diplomatic," he said.

But as they come to terms with the news that Spalding's creative energy will be absent from a gallery many had hoped would raise Calgary's arts profile, some members of the arts community are wondering what the future will look like.

"He's a genius of a sort," Cran said. "He's a guy who actually gets things done and makes things happen ... I hope something can happen in this community whereby we can keep him because he's an invaluable asset."

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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