Esker Foundation
By Kathleen Renne

A Space for Art

To provide a place for Calgarians to enjoy contemporary art. That’s why Jim and Susan Hill – long-time Calgary entrepreneurs and art lovers – founded the Esker Foundation in Calgary’s Inglewood district in 2012. “They’re huge believers in the experiential value art brings, both to individuals and to communities,” says Aeryn Twidle, the foundation’s marketing and operations coordinator. In fact, the Esker Foundation is the largest, privately funded, non-commercial, contemporary art gallery in Calgary.

The curatorial team at the Esker Foundation assembles contemporary art exhibitions designed around themes “that are relevant to contemporary social issues,” says Aeryn. For example, one exhibition revolved around the design of public spaces and architecture, while another – called “Terms of Engagement” – showcased work exploring “terms of engagement” in warfare.

There are three major exhibition changes each year that correspond with the seasons. The artists whose work is on display come from a wide geographical area and use media ranging from photography and video to painting and sculpture. “We try to keep it interesting,” says Aeryn.

In order to make that contemporary art experience accessible to as many people as possible, admission to the Esker Foundation exhibitions is free. “We’re focused on audience engagement and have work that is relevant to peoples’ daily lives; whether you're dropping by alone or in a group, admission is never an issue,” says Aeryn.

Esker also curates a street-level art space – The Project Space – facing 9 Avenue SE, which showcases the work of emerging Calgary artists.

We’re a place that is focused on audience engagement and having work that is relevant to peoples’ daily lives. - Aeryn Twidle, operations and marketing coordinator
The Eskers Foundation showcases contemporary art with multiple exhibitions held throughout the year
The art exhibitions on display at the Esker Foundation feature various media, including sculpture, video and text-based work. Photo by John Dean, provided by the Esker Foundation

What's in a Name?

The Esker Foundation is named after a geographical landform – an esker – which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “a long ridge of gravel and other sediment, typically having a winding course, deposited by meltwater from a retreating glacier or ice sheet.”

Aeryn explains the connection between this landscape formation and the foundation’s mandate. “Eskers have formed pathways across landscapes, which historically were used to mark routes of migration, trade and travel. These markings are common across the prairies, and were used by indigenous people, explorers and settlers. Likewise, contemporary art offers a route, or a means, to explore a wide range of social, and aesthetic issues,” she says.

The Eskers Foundation has three major exhibition changes yearly, in tune with the seasons
Large art installations like this one explore themes relevant to people's daily lives. Photo by John Dean, provided by the Esker Foundation

Programming for Everyone from Babies to Octogenarians

What sets the Esker Foundation apart from other contemporary art galleries is its extensive free programming, including talks, tours, film screenings, panel discussions and hands-on workshops, as well as the Lantern Library on its premises. The library offers a collection of books selected by the artists whose work the foundation is exhibiting. The result is “a highly personalized reading list that serves as an alternative method of accessing and discussing the works in the gallery,” says Aeryn.

There’s also a Little Lantern Library, featuring a selection of art books for children. When it comes to children, Aeryn says the Esker Foundation is dedicated to making contemporary art – stereotypically considered the purview of elite aesthetes – accessible to even the toddler set through programs like the Mini Masters art workshops for two to five year olds. The foundation is also family friendly. It even offers a Bring-the-Baby Art Tour the first Friday of every month. “Contemporary art is for everybody,” says Aeryn. “We support people having their own experience with contemporary art, irrespective of what that experience is.”

The Eskers Foundation also works hard to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, even children, through programs like Mini Masters art workshops
The Esker Foundation is located on the fourth floor of the Atlantic Art Block in Inglewood. Photo provided by the Esker Foundation
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