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On March 7, the Centennial Planetarium, now the permanent home of the Contemporary Calgary art gallery (a 25-year lease has been signed), was the brutalist backdrop for a dinner and party, which saw more than 1,000 people from Calgary and beyond gather to raise funds to support the gallery’s exhibitions and public programs. The evening, during which $500,000 in net proceeds was raised, also served as a reminder of sorts to big givers and cultural movers that Contemporary Calgary is back and better than ever.

Festivities kicked off with a dinner for 450 hosted by Holt Renfrew that saw, mid-meal, a handful of top models, all Alberta-born, including Heather Marks, Meghan Collison, Hannah Donker and Julia Dunstall, emerge from a cube-shaped structure and sashay their way between tables wearing looks from the retailer. The models were all discoveries of Kelly Streit, the evening’s event chair and boisterous head of Mode Models, who from his quiet corner in Calgary has discovered some of the biggest names to hit runways globally. His be-who-you-are approach to life, which he extended to this latest event, was a hit with guests, who lapped up all things bold and fabulous. I saw philanthropist Ann McCaig surrounded by a gaggle of drag queens posing for photos, and fellow philanthropist Morris Dancyger learning to snap a fan.

One might wonder, as I did at moments throughout the evening, what fan snapping and drag queens have to do with contemporary art in Calgary, but for Look2020, the message was all in the feeling of optimism and in the mix of people, styles and types of art and art making, which increasingly is becoming more blurred. It all felt like a reflection of what Contemporary Calgary hopes to be: a place for all to engage with myriad art forms, while having the chance to express themselves.

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As dinner came to a close and big-givers took their seats for the live auction, the planetarium swelled with revellers who snapped up $20 tickets to join the after party. Raising a majority of that half-million-dollar net sum were the live and silent auctions, with the live portion consisting of 30-plus lots, No. 1 being a work by Michael Davidson, straight from the wall of honorary event chair kd lang and her partner, Heather Edwards. The work was auctioned by fashion entrepreneur Jeanne Beker and fetched $16,000 for the cause.

Others out: co-chairs Jade Davis and Jean Merriman and lang’s fellow honorary chairs Adrian Burns and Gail O’Brien; my seat-mates, the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, and his Honour, Doug Mitchell, and artist Omar Ba, who is scheduled to have a solo show at the gallery come May; Katherine Piquette, vice-president of National Bank Private Banking 1859, the event’s lead sponsor; artists Katie Ohe and Chris Cran; Elizabeth Carson, chair of the gallery’s board of governance; and of course, David Leinster, CEO of Contemporary Calgary.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Ann McCaig with drag queens.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Kelly Streit.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Gail O’Brien, kd lang and Adrian Burns.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Omar Ba.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Perla Coddington and Jean Merriman.

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