Contemporary Calgary is a visual arts destination in downtown Calgary, bringing exemplary art programming and exhibitions to Canada. Their visionary work is supported largely by their annual LOOK gala, and this year, we came on as producers of the event. The evening shared two meaningful goals: define the building as a hub for modern art while encouraging guests to raise more funds than ever before.
With our two guiding goals, the building itself was an obvious choice as our design beacon for the evening. Every decision we made weaved the stark minimalism of the brutalist era with high-impact experiences of modern art guests would remember Contemporary Calgary by. Ignite Magazine captured the essence of our unconventional theme perfectly–take a look.
Upon arrival, guests were immediately transported into those themes of brutalism and art as they entered through a 40-foot tunnel mimicking the building's interior, built by Create Projects. Emerging directly into the gallery, the tone was set as guests got an exclusive look at the Diane Arbus collection. Guests exited the exhibit to trays of champagne served by models in avant-garde outfits and headpieces by local designers.
A martini bar invited guests to mingle before gathering in the Grotto for a 500-seat dinner sponsored by Holt Renfrew and presented by Concord Catering. Four courses were served in architectural forms, emulating the shapes of the building. We continued the visual immersion throughout the dinner space, designing and building custom concrete-finished tables, centrepieces, stage pillars, and bar surrounds and incorporating clear plexi chairs and dome-shaped glassware to keep the sightlines uninterrupted.
Dinner was elevated by a dramatic performance by the Alberta Ballet and a fashion show that brought guests into the action as models made their way up and down the aisles of seating in bold fashion by Holt Renfrew. Not missing an opportunity to inject brutalism into every aspect of the night, Concord Catering presented white chocolate desserts shaped like the dome of the space-age-inspired building alongside paintbrushes and edible paint, inviting guests to unleash their artistic expression in an unexpected way.
With the gallery viewing and experiential meal paving the way, guests made their way to the focal point of the evening: the live silent auction. The anticipation was high, as an unexpected donation from Dr. John Lacey–valued at $250,000–brought Jean-Paul Riopelle's 1962 oil on canvas "Vespérales" to the auction.
Alberta's Brass Tactics gave a blazing musical send-off while models brandishing colourful lightsticks guided guests up to the historic dome where the auction was held. Keeping fundraising at the core of the evening, an online portal was created so bidders not in attendance could join the silent auction from their screens.
As bids were secured and guests joining for the latter portion of the night made their way downtown, our team flipped the 500-person dinner setting into an after-party for 1200. The Grotto was unrecognizable, with cocktail tables, soft seating, stools and brand-new activations shapeshifting the space.
With the guests moving through different spaces throughout the evening, we enlisted live entertainment, engaging hosts and exciting lighting to guide guests from one experience to the next without breaking the otherworldly immersion. Lighting by Pierre Marleau with Orange Frog Productions brought drama to the perspectives, shapes and angles of the architecture to create mesmerizing visuals everywhere you looked.
Guests were encouraged to get playful at the reception and after-party, with activations that disrupted guests' perception of an art gallery. Towering in the centre of the Grotto was a three-story tall mannequin–dubbed David–inviting partygoers to try their hand at puppeteering. Upstairs, the observatory deck had Calgary's AZMA projecting live art onto the walls from the viewpoint of a microscope, allowing guests to create their own version of the artwork by adjusting the focus of the Petrie dish. Continuing the celebration of local talent, a piece by a local artist was displayed throughout the evening and auctioned off live at the end of the night.
The result was a celebration of modern art in its many forms and a revitalized perspective of the renowned brutalist building–no longer a centre for science but a hub for the exciting future of contemporary art in Canada.
Not only was this the event of the year for Calgary's art scene, we saw $1,070,000 raised in one evening, making this Contemporary Calgary's most successful auction yet. For the first time, Contemporary Calgary also included an annual membership to the gallery with each ticket, resulting in a 33% increase, or 1,194 members, overnight.
Guests went home with a renewed perspective of what an art gallery can be, and an immense ownership and appreciation for the incredible destination we have in our home city. The evening cemented Contemporary Calgary as a pillar in the Canadian and global art communities.