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Ideas 'honour' Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Rod Nickel
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
May 22, 2004

Legendary musician and artist Joni Mitchell says she feels "honoured" by plans to build a Saskatoon attraction in her name, with at least two suitors now courting her.

The StarPhoenix has learned the Mendel Art Gallery has asked Mitchell to lend her name and paintings to a wing of the gallery, which will undergo a major expansion following a fundraising campaign.

A separate group has already gone public with its idea for a cultural centre bearing Mitchell's name on the Gathercole site, likely housing a new performance theatre and a room of mementos and photographs illustrating her musical history.

"If the town would warrant that much Joni Mitchell, I don't know," she said, laughing, in an exclusive interview with The StarPhoenix during a visit to the city. "You'd have to sit down and figure out who gets what.

"It's wonderful. I'm honoured."

The Saskatoon suitors have a rival in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which has asked Mitchell about featuring her academic papers.

"I'm getting old, so people are starting to be interested," she reasons. "I'm beginning to get requests of that nature. (Saskatoon) is the logical place as far as I'm concerned.

"If there's an interest here, we need to talk.... It's wide open."

Mitchell has never been shy about celebrating her roots. She moved with her family to Saskatoon at age nine.

Local symbols like the South Saskatchewan River, the Bessborough hotel and the provincial flower adorn one of her album covers.

"My time spent here was wonderful," she said. "The educators I met here were great. I made great friends here who I've kept. Definitely it is the place to receive all this."

Mendel director and CEO Terry Graff is coy about the gallery's expansion plans.

"We have something very exciting in the works related to Joni Mitchell, but we're not ready to reveal it yet."

Mitchell has close connections to the gallery. The Mendel family's collection first inspired Mitchell to become a visual artist, Graff said.

In 2000, a show of Mitchell's art became a tourism blockbuster for the gallery. In attracting many international visitors, the exhibition proved Saskatoon isn't "too remote" to become an attraction, Mitchell said.

She acknowledges the challenge of planning two like-themed attractions.

"It's kind of confusing to me. I feel split in two parts of the town.

"If the (Mendel) planned to display the paintings in an atmosphere of the music, then what would the centre display?"

The cultural centre is a less fully formed idea than the Mendel's gallery expansion. Between the two projects, Mitchell said three arts -- her music, art and poetry -- could be featured and intertwined.

Mitchell's collections of Indian baskets and art as well as clothing created by a Japanese designer and her mother's 40 scrapbooks could help fill the south downtown centre, she suggests. It should take an educational approach and encourage "the creativity of youth," she said.

"You could make two venues work as long as you figure out where the emphasis is."

The city is planning to demolish the 73-year-old Gathercole building to make room for the cultural centre, a hotel, restaurant and condos. Mitchell, who studied at the old technical collegiate for one year, is unmoved that its end may be near.

"It wasn't one of the buildings that had a lot of historic beauty to it," she said. "You could probably make a modern structure that would function better."

Saskatchewan will be hearing plenty from Mitchell in the next year. She's working on two albums as "curator," organizing her work into themes. One of those albums, Songs of a Prairie Girl, will feature songs about the province for the centennial next year.

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Added to Library on May 24, 2004. ( 1,536)

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