Alberta Craft Council
Alberta Craft Gallery - Edmonton
10186-106 Street
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

780-488-6611 / 1-800-DO CRAFT

Monday - Saturday: 10 am - 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am - 6 pm
Closed Sunday & Statutory Holidays
Free Customer Parking at back of building

Closed: Labour Day - Monday September 4, 2017 

Alberta Craft Gallery - Calgary
1721 29 Avenue SW, #208
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Wednesday - Saturday: 12 - 6 pm
Street Parking Available




Participating artists: Nicole Baxter, Linda Chow, Robin Dupont, Milt Fischbein, Matt Gould, Terry Hildebrand, Brad Keys, Eveline Kolijn, Diane Krys, Darren Petersen, Jean-Claude and Talar Prefontaine, Shona Rae and Simon Wroot.

This is the full version of the article originally published in the May-August 2017 issue of Alberta Craft Magazine.

Tom McFall: Time to Wave Goodbye

Tom McFall retires in June after nineteen years as the Executive Director of the Alberta Craft Council.  When he departs, Tom will be leaving a healthy organization with an annual budget of $900,000, a membership of 375, 16 exhibitions this year, sales of nearly $400,000 from its well-stocked retail gallery, a lively and dedicated board and eight (three more coming in Calgary) full and part-time staff.

More news will follow in upcoming issues of Alberta Craft Magazine about this new space in southern Alberta as well as the individual who will have some pretty big shoes to fill as Tom’s successor. In the meantime, Tom is here for the last time to talk about himself and his work with the nearly forty-year old organization. Board member, author, curator, Mary-Beth Laviolette conducted an interview with our departing ED in early March.

Mary-Beth: What were your beginnings:

TOM: My first degree was in industrial design, the second one was a continuation of that with more focus on design history. My fascination has always been with material culture, particularly the material culture of handmade and culturally influenced “things”. The root of this… I grew up on my grand-parents cattle ranch south of Medicine Hat where just about everything was handmade, where my grandfather was a blacksmith as well as a rancher, my grandmother hooked rugs and made quilts, my father made rope, my mother, relatives and neighbours all  made something…This seemed second nature, yet my urban experience was that very few people made anything.  At one time I thought my interest might be in museums as a designer or curator. My most seminal influence was going to Expo 67 and seeing Canadian design and Canadian craft for the first time. So, these ideas… got out of control somehow and… became focused on material creativity, design,  history,  the cultural origins and personal motivations, and the objects, techniques and processes we generally call fine craft… the culture of deliberate hand-making.

Mary-Beth: What have you liked best about your job at the ACC:

TOM: My best and favourite work… although I’ve not found the perfect term… is in the realm of artistic director or creative director. It certainly involves a lot of curatorial activity, and in one way or another, I have had a hand in over 200 exhibitions though the ACC and more in other locations. I wasn’t always formally the curator but have been involved as an instigator, manager or facilitator. I also like studying objects and object making and writing about that. The creative encouragement of individual craft artists and their creative pursuits, the artistic direction of projects, the elevation of craft as a distinct art form, and presentation of craft careers and craft forms are the things I most like to do.

Mary-Beth: How does the ACC compare to other councils in the country?

TOM: I like to use per capita comparisons between say Alberta, Quebec and Newfoundland/Labrador. I think NL on a per capita basis is the largest and most productive of the craft councils. Quebec is the largest in total and does the most export work. The mid-range councils are Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are smaller, still productive, craft councils in the other provinces   and similar organizations in the north.  Our craft council has one of the largest spaces, about 7000 sq. feet in Edmonton.

ACC produces more exhibitions than the others. Some councils don’t do exhibitions at all, but some of them do a lot more marketing. For example, in Saskatchewan, they organize one or two American ventures each year because there is a provincial program that supports that kind of activity. One of my regrets is that we have not had more opportunities to do marketing projects in the US. But there hasn’t been Alberta Government support for that. 

Mary-Beth: What are some of your highlight activities?

TOM: All About Alberta which took Alberta craft to the Smithsonian [Washington, D.C.] was a huge venture.  That attracted more high-level attention there than we ever could in Edmonton. There were federal and provincial cabinet ministers, ambassador, premier, mayors, councilors, and other VIPs who attended that exhibition. We’ve done half a dozen exciting exhibitions that have toured Canada or internationally.

Another high point was the move into the current ACC location 17 years ago. The relocation doubled sales and tripled visitors in the first year. More recently, securing and developing a Calgary location in c-SPACE King Edward has been a huge task, and sometimes a challenge. Doing the ground-work for Edmonton’s Artists Quarters [where the ACC will relocate] is another big chunk of activity. It will be a permanently owned location for the Craft Council.

More over-all… this is a little harder to explain… in 2002 and 2008 the ACC carried out member surveys. In 2002, around 50% of the members were describing themselves as professionals. In 2008, it was around 80%. This shift has been significant: meaning there was a lot of pent-up demand for more career services from ACC, more career advice, more exposure opportunities and not just on a commercial basis… because we do as much as we can to see people creatively excel at their craft.

That shift in numbers (toward more professionalism) has continued, and the most recent manifestation of that, last year, was the introduction of a designated professional ACC membership.

Mary-Beth: What does it mean then to be a professional?

TOM: We have written a description of that, partly based on several other organizations such as the Canada Council and the Edmonton Arts Council. This doesn’t mean strictly commercial activity. It means an intent to excel, first of all, to explore, to be more adventuresome, to have public recognition, to be acknowledged through grants, public acquisitions or other exposure, to have media coverage, to be exhibited, to be published and… to sell the work. (This ACC professional membership also includes teachers, writers, curators, gallerists, administrators, working in the craft sector.)  On one point or another, there might be some debate about what constitutes a professional… but it is fairly obvious when someone is on a career path as opposed to someone who is a dedicated amateur. There is nothing wrong with being a dedicated amateur and lots of people in that range are very good at what they do. So, for instance, when I retire I expect to continue as a professional member of the Alberta Craft Council!

Mary-Beth: Is there a distinguishing feature of how the ACC serves its member artists?

TOM: There is a mutually inclusive notion that the Alberta Craft Council is important to members and members are important to the Council – and that the two should be able to grow together Aside from exhibitions, marketing, exposure, referrals, etc. the most distinctive activity or function of the ACC, compared to other arts organizations or other craft councils, is the Advisory Committee and its services. This can be a one-time friendly evaluation or an on-going relationship that looks at all aspects of career growth. The process can include a six page survey, submission of samples, committee feed-back, follow-up meetings, studio visits, and various other pieces of personalized assistance. Often members, or new members think this is about whether or not their work is ready for the ACC retail program. But more often, the advisory committee activity prompts conversations about their career path, creative opportunities and business ideas opportunities ACC can offer, what networking ACC can do for them, and… well the idea generation can be almost limitless.

Several hundred members, and non-members, have had some contact with the advisory committee, sometime over the last twenty years. For many, ACC has made a big difference in whether they have a career at all.

Another distinguishing feature… the Alberta Craft Council is the last craft council in the country to produce a magazine. And, this magazine is probably ACC’s most popular member service.  We try to make it newsy enough to attract a larger audience, while also acting as a catalogue of current member’s work, a record of exhibitions and other ACC activity, and a promotional piece, even internationally.

My final “most distinguishing feature” will be the opening of the Alberta Craft Gallery – Calgary. With craft, we are dealing with a material art form that needs to be presented and experienced physically. The Alberta Craft Council’s highest profile public activity is this space here in Edmonton, with Feature, Discovery and Retail Gallery spaces (with 25,000 to 30,000 visitors annually). This is why ACC doing something about a permanent gallery in Calgary has been so urgent for so long, even though it is more expensive and more difficult to do it there.  It’s taken five years to get the Calgary [c-SPACE King Edward] proposal into a physical form that is appropriate to ACC’s goals and ACC members’ needs. This wasn’t planned, but coincidentally the opening of the Alberta Craft Gallery – Calgary in June will also be my retirement party.