FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kirstin Evenden
November 7, 2017
There is so much to learn about our history – how the Lougheed-Hardisty story connects to the broader Alberta story, how the Senator-to-be James Lougheed taught Sunday school, met his bride-to-be Isabella Hardisty – she was the piano player – at church. Two iconic families were united and the wedding was recently reenacted at Lougheed House – Sept. 16, 2017. A connection of history, Hudson’s Bay Company, Canadian Pacific Railway, politics, money, furs …
But the place is not the subject of this interview – it is the person; in this case Kirstin Evenden. She’s Executive Director of Lougheed House. If you have not visited this piece of history, get over there and check it out – or better yet, book it as a venue for something special. If you are lucky you’ll feel what it might have been to grow up ‘Lougheed’, and you might see its executive director around the place.
We met in her quiet office in what was once the attic of one of Calgary’s great grande houses. She runs a National Historical Site – an iconic piece of Calgary’s history, once the centre of social and political goings-on of the most influential folk in Western Canada, family home of one of our most respected premiers and just a stunning place to visit for anyone in or near the buildings industry to be in awe of the place …
This story begins in the American state of Georgia – her parents met there, before settling into life and academia in Edinburgh, Scotland where Kirstin was born. Then, at the ripe old age of six-weeks, she was transported to Canada. Dad’s Ph.D. in Geography landed him a Professorship at Simon Fraser University – so off to Vancouver they went. Mom was an educator too, later teaching pre-school teachers how to teach pre-school – but first she raised Kirstin and her two siblings who’ve also pursued academic careers.
Back to Kirstin – attended an early ‘experimental’ alternative school, a good student who focused on skating, field hockey and singing – church choir and ‘Dorothy in The Wiz’. Mediocre violin player, not so good in math – then off to University of Victoria. First year at U Vic, residence – and Art History 101 shifted her focus, for wanting something more. A friend investigated an exchange program – learn French - at Laval. Off they went to Quebec City. Of course they stayed, and Kirstin earned her B.A. – major in Art History, minor in French. Home to Vancouver, summer jobs and later full-time working in the planning department in North Vancouver. Back to school – UBC for an M.A. in Fine Arts, travel in Europe, thesis on 17th century pop culture in Europe, learned German, toured museums, volunteered at Vancouver Museum – desire to be a curator, contract positions at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary – projects in southern Alberta working with youth, art, curating collections – and “unexpected consequences” left her wondering, “what else is there?”. “The internet was exploding, new media, projects, applications for funding, met my husband (Chris Heazell; they have a son), then roles with Canadian Heritage getting Canadian history on-line”. Then VP of Access, Collections and Exhibitions at the Glenbow, The President left, and she succeeded him – spending four years as Pres. of the Glenbow, then a break – then Lougheed House in 2013. I got winded just listening to the pace of all that – which Kirstin explains without taking too much time for breathing – clearly her passion for art and history, clearly she is a teacher. Her work instructs … and through it all, the challenge of funding all that worthy work is key. Not bad for a kid not keen on math!
She took a break, spent time with family, between Glenbow and Lougheed House. “I’d applied for jobs, spent time focused on our son – and this seemed like a good fit. I’m a builder, re-thinking things, re-thinking strategy – this is exciting! We’re just getting going.”
Conversation drifted into a new three-year plan, exhibition program – and I got a guided tour of the mansion. The restoration was completed in 2005. It really DOES deserve all its awards.
Why are you successful? “I’ve been very fortunate to work in a field that allows me to make connections with better people, better ideas, working through projects – building something out of nothing, something that wasn’t there before. And the opportunity to do those things, to stand back and say WOW. I think, more than anything, because I am interested in things ‘that have not yet been said'. And, I like to keep my options open.”
What has held you back? “Whatever I do has to work for me and my family – because without that you can’t have a successful life. But no, nothing is holding me back …”
Any final comments? “We don’t have a city museum in Calgary. But we could!”
How do you see your business – heritage/museum business – going forward over the next quarter?
… we’re doing well, but many organizations have been struggling with the financial downturn. Stable funding is key so we are constantly re-inventing for tomorrow – evolving and growing with some staff additions around fundraising.
And over the next five years?
… true community engagement and partnerships are changing. We’ll be examining new needs that fit with community (in our case, more relevant use of our gardens and growing capacity), inviting community organizations to come in and be part of what we do. Museums are no longer the only source of history, culture and research. So, what does that mean in the future? For example with truth and reconciliation? Who are we including? It’s not just symbolic … the museum business needs to get better at getting more people involved in the conversation – connection with community.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I like to work with people who are honest and up-front, who want to have fun and who are reliable. People willing to go out on a limb – people who will tell you what you need to hear even when you don’t want to hear it …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kirstin Evenden, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’m willing to look at things as they are – not to have a default perception that everything is black or white. Most things are grey. I’m about what is in the organization’s best interest.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… we are a close-knit group; eight staff, 12 board members – transparent, communicative. Making sure everybody knows all sides of the issues.
… it’s a work in progress …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… what’s not to worry about? I want to realize the potential of things – so I worry about ‘doing the right things’. And how do we make things we are doing relevant to help people understand – for example, how does each thing we are doing connect to climate change?
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… three important people – Sandra Morton Weizman helped me get my first work at The Glenbow – she gave me a chance and was a great mentor. Betsy – Dr. Elizabeth Tumasonis, my Art History prof at U Vic, she really got me excited about art and art history; and Mrs. Wilson – a sunday school teacher who included art examples as teaching aids in her lessons …
… I spend time with my family and extended family, travel, opera, theatre, things 13-yr. olds like to do, soccer mom.
What do you read?
… two categories – books about being a better leader; I’m reading Dan Gaynor’s The Heart and Hands of Leadership. And, I read historical fiction – love P.D. James – I’m reading The Private Patient right now.
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