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Joe Fafard's sculpture from 1973 is part of the Nickle Galleries' "We Tell Ourselves Stories" exhibit.
Michael Issakidis/the Gauntlet

Nickle Galleries finds new home

U of C's art museum hosts large collection of contemporary artwork

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After two years of construction and relocation, the Nickle Galleries reopened in the Taylor Family Digital 
Library on October 5. The Nickle Galleries — formerly the Nickle Arts Museum — offers members of the University of Calgary a chance to see a wide range of contemporary and historical artifacts.


In 1970, philanthropist Samuel Nickle donated $1 million to the 
U of C to create an art gallery. At the time, the donation was the largest the 
U of C had ever received. In January 1979, the Nickle Arts Museum was built.


The new space is over 930 square metres, compared to roughly 1,300 square metres in its old location. However, according to Nickle Galleries art curator Christine Sowiak, the gallery’s new location in the TFDL is more central to the student population. 


“The Nickle is organizationally part of the university library, so when the new building came into being, it was an opportunity for us to have a dynamic new space in a very highly-populated corridor on campus,” said Sowiak. “I love the fact that now it’s right in the heart of the library complex.”


Sowiak said the Nickle Galleries has a program of temporary exhibitions, which change often to keep the collection fresh.


“We rotate our exhibitions on a regular basis — about every 10–12 weeks — and we have three different exhibition spaces in the new gallery,” said Sowiak. “That means it’s always changing and always vibrant, but the museum itself is home to three public collections.”


The permanent pieces in the museum are a collection of East Asian rugs, about 20,000 rare and historical coins and over 6,000 contemporary art pieces representing Calgary and Western Canada. Sowiak said the collection is more focused on contemporary art.


“Typically, our exhibition programs start from the mandates that build our collections and they go out from there,” she said. “So we really do have a focus on Calgary and area artists.”


The City of Calgary invested over $3 million towards the new space as part of Calgary Arts 
Development, an initiative to strengthen ties between art and the community.


Sowiak said the opening exhibition, “We Tell Ourselves Stories,” makes a point of bringing together not only the Nickle’s collection, but also those of the Libraries and Cultural Resources, the office responsible for preserving university archives and managing library resources. The opening exhibition includes many pieces from the library’s cultural archives.


“It’s meant to show what a rich and diverse collection of material we have here at the university,” said Sowiak. “The exhibition brings all of these very different items together under the idea that we tell ourselves stories. Any object in this collection, whether it’s a 2,000-year-old coin or a work of art that was created a year ago travels with a story.”


Second-year U of C visual studies student Kriss Janik said having art on campus from diverse 
Canadian artists is important and can be a source of motivation.


“It’s a good way for students to see Canadian art that’s not necessarily from our school,” said Janik. “And it’s a good source of inspiration just to be able to see some work from people other than 
students.”


The Nickle Galleries will host an open house on October 11 and the gallery is open every day of the week. “We Tell Ourselves Stories” will be on display until January 2013 and is free.


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