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Gilbert Bouchard, 26 July 1961 – 15 May 2009

By Todd Janes

It is June 27th, 2009 and I am thinking about the memorial service I attended today for Gilbert Bouchard who left us on May 15th of this year. Bouchard, a well known and respected Edmonton-based arts journalist, writer, poet and cultural commentator, wrote thousands of reviews, interviews, profiles and commentaries for numerous publications and comic culture into the mainstream years before radio programs.

At the celebration of his life today I was reminded how deeply entrenched Gilbert was in the visual arts, but also theatre, literature, poetry, and opera communities; it was the largest service ever at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton with over 500 people attending. At the service it was apparent that each of these artistic disciplines regarded Gilbert as their own—a true testament to his work and strong connections with people.

Gilbert was parched for knowledge and loved to share his thoughtful insights with friends-­old and new–and the many people he reached each week through his CBC Radio-Active commentaries and his weekly visual arts column for The Edmonton Journal. A staunch Post-Modernist, Gilbert was gifted with the ability to take complex ideas and break them down in ways that everyone could comprehend—while they might disagree with the theory, people appreciated his overtures to share knowledge and engage in deep, meaningful critical discourse.

Gilbert loved the way ideas intersected with people’s realities. Perhaps some of this came from his early childhood living on a farm in rural northern Alberta and being the first born of Franco-Albertan working class parents, who deeply appreciated hard work and education. Gilbert had a huge heart and was touched by the underdog. Over the years, he informally mentored close to 100 emerging artists, writers and cultural producers because he understood the importance of mentoring to the Edmonton region. Gilbert spent a considerable effort exposing independent arts to mainstream culture through his journalism and writing. This was fueled by his years spent in university and community media–he understood how vital it was to have alternative media sources and media that explored issues and ideas with an alternative mindset. He bridged worlds well, exposing mainstream audiences to alternative artists, and deconstructing complex ideas to audiences; from his work with the University of Alberta students’ newspaper The Gateway in the 1980s; to his ground breaking CBC radio feature for Ideas on coffee culture; to integrating graphic novels and other critics began to take comics seriously as works of literature. Gilbert worked tirelessly to place regional artists and independent arts in national arenas. He did all of this, as well as his volunteer work for arts and literary organizations, the Unitarian Church and other social justice collectives, with an unbridled passion and desire to engage with people in meaningful ways. All that, and Gilbert had a wicked sense of humour. Often, you knew that Gilbert was in a room by his unique laugh–a laugh that began somewhere in his stomach, rippled through his body and then filled up a room.

Today, when I watch a movie, or experience an exhibit or a play, I often hear that laugh. The first time I attended a movie with Gilbert he took out a pen and pad and afterwards we spent twice as long as the movie’s length deconstructing it. He insisted that there were good things in even that particular bit of Hollywood silliness. I differed. We discussed it passionately.

Gilbert, you were a great figure in the Edmonton arts scene, and a great friend. I will miss you deeply and remember you fondly.

Todd Janes is an artist, curator and cultural sponge. For over 13 years he has been executive director of Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture.

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