Diana Anderson

Diana Anderson

Champion of local arts: Diana Anderson

When Diana Anderson calls herself a Red Deer arts supporter, she means it.

When Diana Anderson calls herself a Red Deer arts supporter, she means it.

The petite, energetic woman with trademark spiky red hair can be seen at cultural events around the city, from the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concerts to events on the Ross Street Patio.

As co-ordinator of the Red Deer Arts Council, Anderson is a special booster of the Kiwanis Gallery in the downtown branch of the Red Deer Public Library, which the council operates. She not only installs each show with her “team” of helpers, but attends every First Friday exhibit opening, where she shares her enthusiasm with the public.

Why do the arts matter? Anderson sees it as a quality of life issue.

“There’s so much liveliness and joy” that comes from looking at paintings, reading literature, and attending live music or theatre events, said Anderson.

“Can you imagine what a wasteland we would live in if we didn’t support local artists?”

Artisans and artists are essentially small business owners who contribute to the local economy. Yet their reality isn’t made too easy in Red Deer.

Anderson noted city council’s recent handling of a public proposal for a new performing arts centre. The facility was No. 4 on a residents’ wishlist for capital projects. The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra has also been lobbying for years for a new performing arts centre after regularly selling out the 576-seat Red Deer College Arts Centre.

But city council opted to put the proposal way, way onto the back burner — some 20 years in future.

Anderson doesn’t understand why, noting that many much smaller communities, including Medicine Hat with a population of 62,000, have their own municipal performance halls. Even Lacombe, a city of 12,000, is pursuing such a facility.

Red Deer, while declared Canada’s first-ever Culture Capital in 2003, actually values sports over arts and culture.

Consider that the City of Red Deer owns, operates and staffs numerous sports arenas and recreation centres, yet leaves arts facilities to non-profit groups — which is a heavy financial burden.

Anderson noted this caused the demise of a couple of local non-profits that had to turn facilities such as the Old Court House and Scott Block over to the private sector.

Where the City of Red Deer does step up is in supporting many arts groups through fee-for-service grants — and for this Anderson is grateful.

Her own devotion to the local arts and culture scene goes a long way back — much further than in 2010, when she began co-ordinating the newly formed Red Deer Arts Council.

Anderson, 64, was born into a creative family in Calgary, with a mother who was a singer and dancer, a supportive father who worked in the air force, and grandparents who were painters and musicians.

In 1966, the clan relocated to Red Deer. Upon graduating from high school, Anderson worked briefly at Michener Centre, then put money she had been saving for a trip to Europe (aborted when her would-be travelling companion bailed) towards obtaining an art and design diploma from Red Deer College.

Through what she learned in this program, Anderson became fascinated by how relevant art is to society, often capturing or reflecting what’s going on in the world. She was spurred to earn an art history degree from the University of Alberta. Anderson was then quickly hired by the Red Deer and District Museum.

In 1978, she started what turned out to be her 30-year stint helping with displays, eventually working her way up to exhibits co-ordinator at the museum and Kerry Wood Nature Centre.

Anderson recalled a busy and fulfilling time. She worked on high-profile, international exhibits, including ones that featured photos of the late Queen Mother, Aboriginal art from Australia, and art and historic artifacts from a Scottish island (this one drew dignitaries from Scotland as well as Ottawa to Red Deer for the opening).

There were also many, many national shows, including painting and sculpture exhibits, and a handmade wedding dress display that she prepared to tour across the country.

Anderson, who took an exhibits training course at the National Gallery of Canada, must have made a good impression on the Ottawa technicians who often came to Red Deer to help assemble travelling shows. In 1989, she was one of five technicians seconded from across the country to help prepare for the opening of the former Museum of Civilization (now Canadian Museum of History) in Ottawa.

When the “physicality” of the Red Deer museum job — moving and lifting of heavy artifacts — proved too much for her, Anderson sought a change and took on similar duties at the former commercial bilton contemporary art gallery, which later closed.

Since being hired as Red Deer Arts Council co-ordinator, Anderson has been championing local arts of all kinds — visual, literary, musical and performing.

The organization’s goal is to raise the profile of arts in the community. The council also aims to increase networking, partnering and educational opportunities for artists.

Anderson, who has served on various boards, including Tourism Red Deer, the Alberta Museums Association, and Red Deer’s Art Walk Committee, sees an expanded role for the council in encouraging and supporting artists through scholarship programs.

The Red Deer Arts Council gives out two $500 Canada Centennial Scholarships, administers a municipal $500 Princess Margaret Scholarship, and provides a $1,000 Emerging Artists Award.

A fundraiser, featuring live music from local band St. James’ Gate, will be held on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Festival Hall in Red Deer for the latter scholarship, which was born from legacy funds left in the community from when Red Deer hosted the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta’s Distinguished Artist Awards.

The 7 to 9 p.m. Art and Craft (Beer) benefit will also feature beer tasting, wine sales, and silent and live auctions of mostly artistic experiences, including free workshops on painting, needle felting, baking, jewelry making, raku ceramics, glassblowing, dancing and photography.

A house concert will be another auction item, as will sessions on meditation and composting.

“It will be exciting to get involved in the arts in this way,” said Anderson.

She believes Albertans actually have a great appreciation for arts and culture — only they take these for granted.

But if people stopped to think about how much poorer their lives would be without the music on their radios or iPods, without performances on TV, movies or the theatre, without artworks on walls or stories in books, Anderson said they would reconsider how much priority the arts should be given.

Tickets for the fundraiser are $50 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre ($350 for a table of eight).