Iconic Canadian art hidden in YYC office lobby!

By Richard White, December 28, 2013

It always amazes me what you can find in downtown Calgary if you just explore a little bit - get off the beaten path.  A few weeks back I shared with you some artworks that I found in the lobby and hallways at Bow Valley College.  The place is a friggn public art gallery with art everywhere. Learn more at: Flaneuring Bow Valley College 

Another day I was flaneuring the east end of Stephen Avenue and while not off the beaten path there was the one of downtown's more successful public artworks - the larger than live famous five ladies.  Learn more at Famous 5 at Olympic Plaza

Today I had an appointment at Eight Avenue Place (EAP) and discovered paintings by Jack, Jack, Ray, Jean, Jean-Paul and Marcelle - all members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.  It is not everyday you find in an office lobby with museum quality artworks. 

But then downtown Calgary is not your average downtown, with over 40 million square feet of office space, it is one of the top 10 downtowns for corporate headquarters in North America.  Every new office building has wonderful art in the lobby and on the plaza making the downtown a 40-block contemporary art gallery.  Learn More: "Downtown Calgary giant outdoor art gallery"

Someday someone is going to create an app that will be a self guided tour of YYC's Downtown Art gallery. 

Iconic Canadian Artists

In the meantime, EAP has created a brochure for six masterpiece contemporary artworks by iconic Canadian artists:

  • Jack Shadbolt
  • Ray Mead
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle
  • Jack Bush
  • Jean McEwen
  • Marcelle Ferron

While I have been critical of Calgary's downtown in the past for being too corporate, too conservative and too minimal in its urban design, EAP and others have certainly contributed to making our downtown more visually interesting with literally hundreds of artworks.  

EAP's Lobby Art & Design....

As you enter from Stephen Avenue you are immediately welcomed by Jack Shadbolt's, "Wild Grass Suite - Quintet" (1979).  I love the fact that you can grab a coffee next door and sit and enjoy the art.  

In this close-up of one of the panels you can see that the image looks as if was inspired by the Alberta prairie grasslands where they meet the foothills.  The piece has a wonderful sense of playfulness and certainly adds lots of warmth and colour to an other wise stark lobby.

The next piece you encounter is Ray Mead's "Totem" (1986) which hangs above the concierge desk. Again it adds lots of colour and have an aboriginal quality to them in the simple mark-making and flattened stylized images.  The title also suggest an affinity with First Nations sense of place. 

Tucked away in one of the three elevator lobbies is this unusual Jack Bush painting "New York 55" (1955).  Unusual in that most of us associate Bush with bright primary colours, yet this piece is mostly blacks, browns and pinks. The piece definitely conveys New York's sense of place as the world's leading skyscraper city with its collage of vertical blocks, interspersed with smaller marks for windows and swirls for window reflections. This is probably the most literal Bush piece I have ever seen and certainly is museum quality. 

Definitely a good choice for EAP as it is one of Canada's best skyscrapers.  Did you know that Downtown Calgary is built at the same density as Manhattan or Chicago? 

Any public art gallery in Canada would love to have this piece titled "Oliviers" by Jean-Paul Riopelle in their collection.  I wonder if the EAP tenants who pass by it everyday even realize that they get to enjoy a painting by one of Canada's iconic artists everyday.  While other office buildings in North America have modern art in their lobby; there are very few that have iconic works of art. 

Jean McEwan's "Le Climat Rouge" (1957) invites contemplation, I want to grab the bench that is underneath the painting and move it to the middle of the elevator lobby and just sit and study it.  

It is obvious that the six artworks have been carefully selected to complement each other with a focus on use of colour, brush and mark-making and abstracting from nature. 

Marcelle Ferron's "Chile" (1973) combines elements of Shadbolt, Mead, Riopelle, Bush and McEwan in her work.  

Signature Furniture 

EAP lobby also includes modern office furniture by Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll.  The huge south facing two story atrium or winter garden would make a wonderful sculpture garden. While there are plans for a major piece of public art, it is most likely to go outside on 9th Avenue.  

Currently the lobby features numerous "ice bursts" suspended from the ceiling that add an element of surprise and elegance to the minimalism of the lobby design. 

The lobby offers dramatic views of Calgary southern sky.  

The lobby has several inviting areas to sit and linger each authentic modern furniture.  And yes over the holidays they had the TVs turned to the Shaw's burning fireplace. 

EAP's has one of the most dramatic office lobbies in Canada, perhaps North America.  

These "ice bursts" were created by Stephen Stefanou of Venue Arts.  Each point of the bursts is individually created by slowly pushing a metal rod through the heated plastic-like material, so each is unique. There are several "bursts" hanging from the ceiling  in the central lobby as well as the lobbies of the two towers. Flood lights are used to slowly change the colour of the bursts adding yet another element of surprise. 

While under construction EAP had over 20 reproductions of artworks by senior Calgary artists covering the construction hoarding along the side of the road.  It was literally a who's who of Calgary art. I have never seen this done before. 

On the second floor (+15 level) SQCommons has been operating a "pop-up" contemporary gallery both in the public areas and in a 6,000+ square foot future retail space.  The space has also been used for several special events including Burst Calgary. 

The unique design for Eight Avenue Place was inspired by the Canadian Rockies with their jagged, angular, shard-like peaks. The building's facade reflects Calgary's abundant sunshine at several different angles during the day and seasons creating an ever-changing facade. 

Last Word

Eight Avenue Place was designed by Pickard Chilton an international architectural firm based in New Haven, Connecticut and Gibbs Gage Architects from Calgary.  It was the first pre-certified LEED Platinum high-rise building in North Americia.  The first tower is 49 floors and the second tower which will be completed and occupied in 2014 is 40floors.  Combined they provide 1,800,000 square feet of office space on 89 floors. 

Kudos to AIMCo, SITQ and Matco the co-owners of EAP for their innovative use of art (both locally and nationally) to differentiate themselves from other major office complexes.  I can't wait to see the outdoor sculpture piece they will commission.

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Downtown's Udderly Art Pasture

Flaneuring Bow Valley College

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Readers' comments:

RW writes: Great article. Most of us, myself included might notice these things but do not tie it all together because we are on a mission aka meeting/lunch/deadline.  The thought of having art all around us sure gives another dimension to our corporate downtown. Keep up the increased pace of writing...I find your “investigative” sleuthing makes me re-think and re-examine my urban environment.  I sometimes find myself in a situation re-examining a streetscape or a public space and wonder how Richard might interpret the situation as compared to how I am seeing it. A recent example occurred when I was describing Stampede Trail  and the activities/signage and buzz we hope to create with a new entertainment district and thought back to your signage article and how you might view our approach (I think you will get excited).

GB writes: When I was a young man, I worked for Manulife and we operated Calgary House at 550-6th Avenue. The lobby has a full wall bronze of "Pan and the Three Graces". In 1972 I had a plaque put up describing the piece, but I think it is gone now. The amount of great public art in Calgary is amazing, but much of it is seldome seen or identified. Good for you for bringing some of it to our attention.

JB writes:Thank you! Viewing this blog this morning brought a burst of warmth into my office! All that lovely color! This definitely warrants a trip downtown.

Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek SK!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. Thanks for all the support in 2013 and looking forward to some interesting dialogue in 2014.

Thought I'd share with you some vintage Christmas decorations we found in downtown Maple Creek SK. outside their thrift store.  

If you are driving past Maple Creek on the Trans Canada Highway this Holiday Season (or anytime for that matter), Maple Creek is definitely worth getting off the beaten highway.  

Happy Travelling Everyone Everyday!

Found these fun lawn ornaments lined up on the wall outside the Maple Creek thrift store.  We had to stop and check it out.

Don't you just want to take these guys home with you?  Love the shape of the shadows.  

The classic Santa Claus!  

Sorry, can't stop now!  

Looking at the photos taken while flaneuring Maple Creek, thought some of you might like to see more  fun finds. 

We found this totem piece with the little buckaroo very fun!

Great welcoming entrance to the historic Jasper Colonial Hotel bar...

Howard's  Bakery was chosen as best bakery in Saskatchewan in 2013...loved the apple fritters and the maple glazed cinnamon buns.  

BC Cafe is the classic prairie restaurant - Chinese Western menu.  Definitely worth a try - grilled cheese and soup recommended. 

Yes they love their football?  

The new prairie sentinel! Brutalist architecture at its best? worst? 

For flaneurs there are lots of flashbacks to the past in Maple Creek!

Happy and safe holidays everyone!

 

If you liked this blog, click on these blogs:  

Ten Commandments of a Flaneur

Flaneuring Uptown Plaza  

Tale of Two Donuts!

 

Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard

By Richard White, 

I often wonder when developers and urban planners will wake up and see the light (pun intended), recognizing the importance of “lighting” in creating urban vitality - and I am not just talking about street lights.

When will they realize the bleakness of today’s city centers and urban streets is due in part to the absence of the colour, charm, playfulness and character that neon lights provided (day and night) to downtown hotels, restaurants, pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas and retailers.

Show me a street full of neon and I will show you a street full of life.  Human beings are attracted to neon like moths to a light bulb.  

Downtown Decline

The heyday for most of North American cities’ downtown was in the early to mid 20th century.  It was a time when downtown streets were full of bright, flashing neon lights. 

Perhaps the best articulation of the importance of neon light to creating great street life was in the 1964 hit song “Downtown” in which Petula Clark belted, “Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty. How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles; forget all your cares.” 

 In retrospect, the mid ‘60s was also the beginning of the rise of minimalism urban design that shunned “ornamentation and decoration,” including neon signage.

Neon signs are works of art and function much like public art in creating a more visually engaging public realm that invites people to stop, look around and linger.  Cities around the world spending millions of dollars on public art each year that rarely captures the public’s imagination and is soon forgotten or ignored in the new minimalistic urban landscape.

Perhaps we should be encouraging developers to create signature neon signage that are “works of art” while at the same time help brand the building and add to are part of an engaging downtown wayfinding system.        

 

In my mind, the Boneyard Park is a must see Las Vegas attraction, way more interesting than The Strip.  It is much more authentic and offers an up close and personal look at one of the iconic artifacts of urban design - the neon sign. 

The link between folk art and neon art becomes more obvious the more you explore the Boneyard Park.

I am not sure which came first Disneyland or Vegas but there is a strong link between the two i.e. the sense of play, fun and fantasy. 

A perfect example of how neon signage was critical to the branding of hotels in Vegas. The sign immediately said "Fun" even without the lights on. 

Another example of branding and signage.  Love that the signage is large and easy to read. Too many downtown and suburban buildings today have small signage that is hidden away making it very difficult to find them.

The Boneyard is like a grave yard or junk yard; this just adds to the fun of exploring.  The juxtaposition of the different signs is wonderful. You also get the sense of how sculptural the signage is.  These truly are works of art. 

The Boneyard entrance is a wonderful mid-century modern building that is very inviting and memorable.

Freemont street recalls the main streets of many cities from the mid 20th century when the streets were indeed brighter and more fun visually than they are today.  

The Silver Slipper is fun day and night, male or female, young or old.  

Love the link between cartoons and neon characters.  

A good example of how neon signage can be used to add fun and colour to an otherwise ordinary streetscape. 

Lighting can also used to create a fun facade in the evening, which is even more important in winter cities like Calgary. 

Las Vegas’ Boneyard Park

Being in the Neon Boneyard Park (a two-acre oasis with over 150 historic neon signs) is like being in a museum’s storage room, with the “museum” being outdoors in the middle of the city. See artifacts in their raw state, not polished, lit up or presented in isolation on a pedestal. Here you see them randomly mixed together in junk-yard like fashion, yet they are still  wonderful works of art.

Las Vegas Signs Project has been restoring signs from the Boneyard Park and installing them along Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Vegas since 1996. Several restored neon signs including the Horse and Rider from the Hacienda Hotel and the Silver Slipper can be enjoyed day and night by both pedestrians and those in vehicles. 

Access to the Boneyard is by guided tour only.  Our tour guide was very informed and informal, providing lots of information but allowing lots of freedom to explore on our own, take pictures and ask lots of questions. 

Guided tours are 7 days a week and reservations are recommended.  (Note: As tours can be cancelled due to inclement weather - especially wind storms - don’t wait until the last day of your Vegas vacation to visit).

The Neon Museum’s Visitor Center is the lobby of the old La Concha Motel Lobby designed by acclaimed architect Paul Revere Williams. It is like something right out of the Jetsons.  Built in 1961, it is an excellent example of the mid-century modern Atomic and Space Age design with its curvilinear arches.

See Appendix for history of neon.

The crowd gathers waiting for the Freemont Experience to begin.  

Age of LED

Today the most popular form of decorative lighting is LED light.  There are several reasons for this. While the initial price is almost the same as neon, once you have a neon sign there is no changing it, whereas LED lights can be updated as often as you like. 

Secondly and the biggest advantage of LED displays is that they use 5 to 10 times less power. Thirdly, neon tubes need their gases refilled periodically and the glass can break, while LED is maintenance-free. In addition, LED lights are brighter and can be seen from further away and even in daylight. 

Arguably, the best use of LED lighting is also in Vegas – The Freemont Experience, which began in 1995. Today, a 1,500 foot-long canopy (three football fields) covers Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas. It acts as a movie screen.  The canopy has 12.5 million LED lights, which when combined with 180 strobe lights and 8 robotic mirrors on each block plus a sophisticated computer system, can generate 16.7 million colour combinations. 

Combine this with the 555,000 watt sound system and you get an amazing light and sound show that attracts, on average, 25,000 people per night for the Freemont Experience.

While I realize not every downtown can afford this kind of nightly entertainment, more downtowns should seriously look at how sound and light shows can be part of their quest for 18/7 vitality. 

Another good example of use of LED lighting to enhance downtown vitality is “Crown Fountain” at Chicago’s Millennium Park.  Learn more: Putting the public in public art.

 

The Freemont Street canopy is washed with colour as thousands of people mill about waiting for the show to begin.  

Let the show begin...the canopy becomes a huge video screen for spectacular light and sound show.

Even at night the Crown Fountain attracts hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds to play and interact with the LED faces and the wading pool. 

Take away idea

Downtowns need to focus more, or as much on becoming entertainment districts as business districts.

They need to become a place where people, “Linger on the sidewalk. Where the neon signs and LED lights are pretty. The lights must be much brighter there, so you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.”   

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtowns need to be fun

Putting the public back into public art

Cruising in Chicago

The curse of minimalism

 

 

 

 

 

Neon History (excerpts from www.neonlab.com)

Over the last 150 years, the luminous tube industry has evolved from the simple laboratory experiments in the second half of the 19th century to an industry of world-wide proportions.

In the late 1800s, scientists developed reliable and somewhat safe high voltage supplies and began running high voltages through many things to observe what would happen. Often, they tested to see how wide of an air gap the spark could jump. It was discovered the spark gap was inversely proportional to the pressure of the air and that an evacuated glass tube was the ideal method for viewing light from gas discharges.

After British researcher William Ramsey discovered the five rare gases between 1894-1898 (receiving the Nobel Prize in 1904), it then became possible for French scientist, Georges Claude, to figure out that these gases could be made to produce light discharges when electrical discharges were passed through them. Finally, the long desired method that scientists had been looking for - a form of practical lighting by glowworm or phosphorescent light which emitted “light without heat.”

By World War l, Claude had acquired many patents, but he had more on his mind than strictly scientific knowledge. He envisioned a lucrative market for his tubes in lighting and signage. Because neon gas produced the brightest light, it was used almost exclusively and soon the generic “Neon Sign” was born. By 1924, “Claude Neon” franchises appeared in 14 major cities across the United States. And by 1927, 611 out of a total of 750 neon signs in New York City had been made by Claude Neon Lights, Inc.

A great period of creativity for neon took place in the years that followed, a period when many design and animation techniques were developed. Unfortunately, the economic conditions caused by the Depression slowed neon’s growth. However, one place neon continued to work its magic during this period was on the exteriors of movie palaces, providing a colorfully glowing invitation to the fantasy world within.

Then following World War ll and the advent of plastics, manufacturers began promoting Plexiglas shadow boxes with fluorescent lighting, neon’s cousin, behind lettering and graphics. Neon, by then considered old fashioned, was relegated to use as a hidden light source. Still today, 75% of neon is used in this way.

During the last decade, neon has seen a rebirth, as artists, architects and interior designers have begun to rediscover its exciting possibilities. Neon tube construction hasn’t changed much since the days of Claude Neon. It’s still a handcrafted medium where a glassbender heats and forms each letter, one bend at a time. However, state-of-the art components and much-improved equipment make the neon tube of today superior to its predecessor.

 

The Bee's Knees Experience

By Richard White, December 15, 2013

Spent last Wednesday night at 'in lovely downtown De Winton, Alberta listening to local musicians jamming.  It was a true grass roots experience, no egos here?

Perhaps it is the prairie version of an east coast “Kitchen Party” - instead of everyone gathering in someone’s kitchen and playing tunes, people gather at the neighbourhood café or bar and take turns playing for others.

Everyone is invited to participate at the Bees Knees Experience and stay as long as you want.  The lead cycles to whomever wants to play a song.  There is no sound system, no mics and no electric guitars - everything is unplugged.

A blast from the past

One can certainly picture nights and afternoons like this in kitchens of Canada's Maritime provinces or porches in the Mississippi Delta. Musicians playing for the pure enjoyment of it...any skill level is welcomed to join in.  The song selection is all encompassing - country, blues, rock or island music - anything goes. 

You don’t read about these jams in the newspapers or the magazines…they aren't all over social media….yet it is vital to creating a vibrant music scene.

Too often we think of culture as something that only happens downtown… in formal cultural spaces…but in reality much of it is happens in the churches, schools, cafes and bars in the ‘burbs. 

The big city jams are more orchestrate with a full stage and sound system. The performances are more polished as often the musicians have played together for years. Also, there is a formula, you get your three or four songs before its time for the next musicians.  There is lots of fun, often accompanied by dancing and a good bar room buzz.  

A "music city" needs both grass root and professional jams. 

 Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Paul's trombone adds a unique sound to the Bees Knees experience. 

It doesn't take long before Merv (Smilie) joins in. 

The Bees Knees Experience

When a buddy suggested we check out the Wednesday jam at Bees Knees Café just off Highway 2 in De Winton I was skeptical, but the “flaneur” in me said “Why Not!”   Back story – for past 20 months three buddies (two play guitars, one gets beer i.e. me) had been getting together to jam in their respective houses and regularly attending jams at Mikey’s, Blues Can and other pubs. 

It was time for a pre-Christmas house jam at GG’s who happen to live in the De Winton area, so why not kick it up a notch by combining our jam and dinner with the Bees Knees jam. 

As we arrived the “OPEN” sign was flashing, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside and there were few cars around.  But, as we got closer we could see one guitar player…opening the door, we were surprise to find four guitar players and a trombone player jamm’n away.  What was missing was the audience?  Was this a private jam? 

We were quickly welcomed to sit and listen or join in - there was even an extra guitar if we wanted to use it.  We sat back enjoyed the music and our bottle of wine for a few songs. The trombone added a nice rich element to the jam that was unique. 

Jay takes the lead on this one...

Smilie loves to let others take the lead. He is life long learner! Take it away Ron and Ron.

GG finally joins in....he loves to pick...

Angry River

Soon Merv couldn’t resist the temptation! He grabbed the extra guitar and joined in. He was quickly assimilated into the group…singing and playing as if he was a BFF.  He was even encourage to play his “Angry River” song he had written about the flood – his first attempt at song writing.  Later GG joined in…the first time he has played in public!!!

As we left we found out the group wasn’t locals from the De Winton area but from Ogden to Okotoks.  Turns out the owner of Bees Knees Café lets them and anyone else who wants to join in use the space to jam Wednesday nights – 6 to 9 pm. There is even a small stage for more formal music events.

Explosion

It is just me or does it seem there has been an explosion of live music events in Calgary over the past few years.  Seems like every café and neighbourhood pub has some live music one or two nights a week.

Jay's guitar string art...

Tina's artifacts or Bees Knees Still Life

Last Word:

If Calgary is going to evolve into a vibrant music city, the development of places like Bees Knees Café is just as important as the multi-million dollar projects like National Music Centre and cSPACE.  

I encourage all of us to get out and support the local jams, open mic nights and other performances.   

I you like this blog you might like:

Cowtown's Budding Music Scene 

Are we too downtowncentric?

Cafe: Montreal vs Calgary 

Calgary North America's new "music city."

The Bees Knees Experience

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

By Richard White, December 3, 2013

Do you consider yourself to be a bit of an “urban explorer?”  Its literal meaning is “the exploring of off-limit urban places, often associated with abandoned sites and buildings or underground water and sewer systems.” 

Other terms for these activities are “urban spelunking,” “urban caving” and “building hacking.” While I and urbanists have often used the term, I don't think we have used it correctly.   

I think the term “urban pioneers” would be more appropriate…especially in Calgary given our long history of pioneering!  To me, urban pioneers are people who are willing to live, work or play in gritty urban places, fix them up and transform them into funky, friendly neighbourhoods that eventually get discovered by the masses.

Where would an urban pioneer hang out in Calgary?

Some place with urban grit and Calgary chic. Would it be East Village, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Bowness, Forest Lawn or perhaps Manchester?  My vote goes to 10th Avenue SW or what I like to call the “Rail Trail.”   

This is a Christmas window along 10th Avenue from a few years back.  There are lots of hidden gems along the rail trail if you keep your eyes open. 

Wrong side of the tracks?

For the past 100 years, 10th Ave has been the wrong side of the tracks. For many Calgarians, the area conjures up a picture of ugly parkades and empty gravel parking lots.  It is definitely not pedestrian friendly - no designer sidewalks or street furniture and no colourful banners or hanging baskets. 

Having recently become a big fan of Mikey’s Juke Joint (the new King Eddy) at 18th Street and 10th Avenue SW., I have slowly discovered the quirky charm of the area on the south side of the CPR rail tracks.

Mikey’s is tucked onto a corner in the underbelly of the Bow Trail/Crowchild Trail spaghetti over/under passes as well as the West LRT sky train.  The locale is the epitome of the urban landscape – freight trains go by regularly and lots of warehouses, empty lots and chain-link fences. This is where John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac or J.D Salinger would hang out if they were alive and living in Calgary today. 

If you are thinking you’d like to try some urban strolling in Cowtown, here is my suggested tour of the 10th Avenue Rail Trail.  You could do it in an hour or you could take a half day, have lunch, a drink or take in a blues jam session. 

One of the many ugly surface parking lots on the north side of 10th Avenue facing the CPR tracks. The Centennial Parkade is the building on the other side of the two fences and the tracks. 

Prairie Oysters & Beer

I’d suggest starting your stroll at 2nd Street SW with an early lunch or a beer at Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub.  They offer a unique Calgary experience - “Around the world in 80 beers!” While most pubs come and go, Bottlescrew Bill’s and the sister restaurant Buzzards have been around since 1980.

In June 2011, the Globe and Mail writer Robin Estrock listed “devour prairie oysters” at Buzzards Restaurant as #5 of “The 15 things to see and do in Canada before you die!”

Heading west, the next block has a north/south dichotomy with the north side being one of the many nasty surface parking lots and the backside of the Royal Canadian Pacific Railway shed. You would never know this is home to one of the best collections of heritage railway cars in the world. 

On the south-side is a collection of historic brick warehouse buildings that originally served the CPR freight trains and today house some noteworthy retailers (e.g. Roche Bobois one of the world’s most exclusive international contemporary furniture stores).  I wonder if 100 years ago they ever thought these buildings would one day be used to sell $15,000 sofas?

The next block offers up the same dichotomy with brick warehouses on one side and the City Center Parkade (CCCP - adding one more C would be fitting as this structure looks like a concrete bunker from Russia) on the other.  Did I say there are no hanging baskets on 10th Avenue?  I take that back as there are baskets at this parkade. 

This block also has the flagship CRAFT brew pub, with 100 beers on tap -  it has become an instant hot spot for the young and restless after work crowd.  The National is another larger playground for Calgary's GABEsters, with it Bourbon room and 8-lane 10-pin bowling alley. Who says Calgarians don’t stay downtown after work?

At the southwest corner of 4th Street is the shinny new Centre10 office tower that has risen out of the ashes of two failed condo developments on the site. A sister office complex is planned for the north side of 10th Avenue.

The alley between 10th and 11th Avenues is home the entrance to Metro Vino one of Calgary's oldest wine stores.  

Loft Living

At 5th Street, you’ll encounter the historic red brick Hudson Lofts; this was the first of the early ‘90s loft conversions in Calgary and the beginning of the renaissance in downtown living.  There are plans for more condos, hotel and another office building in this area over the next few years - the surface parking lots are quickly disappearing.

The next stop is the Uptown Bottle Depot, a “must do” stop for every urban explorer/pioneer.  If you want a truly unique Calgary experience, return your empties here; urban grit at its grittiness.

However, just across the street is the old Alberta Boot block, plans were recently announced for a new 360 Residence Inn by Marriott.  Lamb Development Corp. plans to build a 30 story, 230 unit condo building to the west of the Depot. 

Another just block west is the Commonwealth Bar & Stage, Montauk Sofa and Speed Theory (bike shop).  You are now on the edge of the Design District. 

Hudson Loft is one of many brick warehouse buildings along 10th Avenue a few of which have become loft condos.  

Centre Ice

Centre ice for the “Rail Trail” is 10th and 8th Street. It’s home to several retailers and restaurants including Mountain Equipment Co-op, Trepanier Baer Gallery, The Social Page, Bonterra Trattoria (best patio in the city), Bumpy’s Café, Café Mauro, Edo Sushi, Holly Grill, Decadent Desserts and The Ferocious Grape. 

The old West Canadian Graphics (WCG) building on the southwest corner will soon be the funky Mark on 10th condo by Qualex-Landmark.   Next to this site is the carcass of the Astoria condo (remember the plans for the $10,000,000 penthouse condo). This fenced off abandoned construction site would be a great place for true “urban explorers.”  

The eventual development of the WCG and Astoria sites will result in over 500 people living near centre ice.

Strolling further west, you pass by Vistek Camera store and quickly arrive at the Midtown Co-op grocery store block.  For those interested in what it might be like to live in the Rail Trail area, stop in at the Qualex Landmark condo sales centre on the northside of the Co-op block and find out about their latest project. Next door is Interior Living furniture store to help you furnish your new condo and Tri-Yoga a popular spot for young, hip and flexible.

The Mountain Equipment cooperative store (MEC) is the anchor retailer on 10th Avenue and was the catalyst for making 10th and 8th Centre ice. 

Street Ballet

Crossing 11th Street you will pass by some “no-name” office buildings and industrial buildings before you arrive at Community Natural Foods at 12th Street.  This has to be one of the liveliest places in the entire Centre City.

Not being part of Calgary’s granola gang, I am always surprised at the animation - an urban ballet of pedestrians, bikes and cars trying to get in and out of the too small parking lot.  The Korean Village restaurant in the strip mall next door is a hidden gem, I am told by a colleague who once lived Korea (could be a place to stop for lunch).

Those with a good imagination can envision how the next block would have changed if the proposed Lausanne and Montreau (two 50 storeys high-rises) condos had been built across from the Lighting Centre.  

This is a close up of the murals of LP records on the back side of Heritage Music store (museum) that can be seen from 10th Avenue. 

Rolling Stones meets Big Bang Theory

Some recent road changes mean you no longer have to go to 11th Ave to cross 14th street - pedestrians, bikes and cars. However, I’d suggest you do go to 11th to checkout Heritage Music - it’s the wooden shack with the Rolling Stones’ Tongue record mural on the backside.  Inside is a mind-boggling collection of vintage vinyl, Hollywood memorabilia, as well as CDs – well worth exploring.

At the northwest corner of 10th Ave and 14th St is All Season Rental Adventures.  Who knew that you can rent ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, scooters and even toboggans in Downtown Calgary?

Keep wandering past the Sunalta Community Association Building all the way to 18th Street and check out Sentry Box, Calgary’s premier fantasy, science fiction and military literature and gaming superstore (13,000 square feet).  It’s home to Calgary’s Dungeon and Dragon crowd and is where the Big Bang Theory boys would hang out if the TV show was based in Calgary. Along the way you will find a huge Western Veterinary Centre, one of the largest in Canada, as well as two surprising religion centres. 

Across the street is Mikey’s Juke Joint.  If you are strolling on a Saturday, try to arrive  about 3ish so you can experience the Saturday afternoon blues jam hosted by saxophonist and owner Mike Clark. 

Sleeping on the Rail Trail

The Calgary Mattress  Makers  at 19th St. is more of an old world arts and craft studio than a factory. Owner Dean Halstead encouraging people to walk-in and chat with him about your sleep needs.  He and his team then create a hand-tied, chemical free mattress custom made just for you and your partner with each side custom made to meet your individual needs.  After a day on the Rail Trail you may want to lie down for bit. 

Call me crazy - but in a few years, the “10th Ave Rail Trail” could well become Calgary’s hippest, coolest, hottest, funniest, liveliest neighbourhood!

 

The Sentry Box is a hangout for hipsters, GABEsters and families.  

Camera Buffs

The Rail Trail offers some unique views of some of Calgary’s modern glitzy architecture – Bankers’ Hall, 8th Avenue Place, Husky Oil Tower and Nexen Tower. It also offers some gritty views of urban industrial, warehouse and transportation design.

 Bring your camera!

This is an image of the Calgary Tower that I happened upon when flaneuring 10th Avenue several years ago. 

Found these beauties on the side of the Gulf Canada Square Parkade. 

Found these eyes staring at me as I headed into Mikey's just a few days ago.

The futuristic Sunalta station is a camera buff's paradise. You could spend an entire day they taking photos of the architecture inside and out as the light changes during the day.

The Rail Trail is full of surprises like this Kingdom Hall for Jehovah's Witness and not too far away is a Buddhist Centre.  

Freakn Fun Funky Quirky (FFQ) Bike Racks

By Richard White, December 8, 2013 (revised May 3, 2014)

Saskatoon's everyday tourists, Leila and Charles Olfert. recently sent me six photos of FFQ (fun, funky, quirky) bike racks in Nashville that inspired this blog.  I am hoping other readers will send me more images of FFQ bike racks so I can create a fun gallery.

A little research uncovered that Nashville’s bike rack program is not focused on downtown (like most programs), but in the residential neighbourhoods. I was also shocked to learn the budget is $300,000 for 30 racks. That’s, on average $10,000 to design, construct and install the racks – seems a bit pricy to me.

I learned funding for Nashville artists’ bike racks comes from the "Percent for the Arts" program, an policy that says 1 percent of all net proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for construction projects must be spent on public art. That made we wonder if this is art or decoration? 

Iconic?

The vision for these bike racks is to “be an iconic program for Nashville.” I am not sure I would visit Nashville just to see 30 bike racks, but if I was going, they would be a fun thing to checkout.  The racks being dispersed around the city is a great idea on one level, but it limits the ability for a tourist to see them all.  However, a map of where all the bike racks are, with the best cycle route to see them and a bike rental program would make for a fun a fun Bike Trail.  This raises the question - what does iconic mean?

Do we use the word to loosely today? 

This quirky corn stalk bike rack on a quiet residential street are a good example of "urban surprise."  Credit: L. Olfert 

Now this is fun...note the air pump posts, I missed that at first glance. Credit: L. Olfert

Who would of thought of a sliced tomato as a bike rack.  Where exactly do you lock your bike up? Form vs Function? Credit: L. Olfert

A city is a city…

 A quick check in with Leila who informed me... 

The bike racks are indeed located all around the city -  a map and bike trail would have been really handy.  In fact, it would have been handy if the local people knew about the racks and where they were!  Probably because of their obscurity and uniqueness, Charles and I made it a mission to find all them!

Some of them were in pretty obscure places but it allowed us to explore parts of the city we would not have ordinarily gone to.  In some places, we had to go around the block several times before we figured out where the rack was!  It was a real treasure hunt.  We enjoyed each and every one of the bike racks.  

Some of them had us wondering just how we would lock our bike up to them though!  

 We have not seen anything like this in our travels and thought it was great!  A city is a city and has all the 'city things,' so when we find something peculiar to a city, we latch on to it and run with it.  Seeing the bike racks should definitely be on your must-see list. They are pretty cool!

Future Dividends?

As I continued to do my research I found out program favours younger artists, which is an interesting policy.  The easiest way to create an iconic art program would be hire a famous artist or architect to design them and get immediate recognition.

The idea of giving young artists an opportunity to have their work on permanent public display and to experience the public artwork design process provides an invaluable lesson that will pay dividends in the future. 

And, you might just find that you have a real gem if one of the artists becomes famous, and you would have one of his/her’s early works.  

You have to smile when you see this rack.This looks to me like something  This looks to me like something Claes Oldenburg might have done in the '60s as part of the "pop art" movement. Credit: L. Olfert

This one seems pretty tacky to me...very contrived. Credit: L. Olfert

Portlandia has FFQ bike racks too…

A little more digging and I found that Portland also has an FFQ Bike Program.  The Portland Mercury’s Blogtown did a fun piece on The 10 Craziest Bike Racks in Portland. 

Art / Decoration / Tacky?

When I look at the photos of these bike racks I smile and then I wonder. Are these more decoration than art? They are clever and fun, but I don’t see a personal statement in any of these racks.  To me, they are a quick, “look-see” experience, not something that makes me ponder.

Is this art or decoration or just tacky? Does it matter? Can’t help but wonder if $300,000 could buy one or two nice piece of more thought-provoking public art in higher traffic areas. but that's just me.

This is very appropriate for Nashville which I am told is home to about 20,000 aspiring singers and songwriters. Credit: L. Olfert 

Found this fun bike rake in Downtown Boise's Linen District this fall. I think it would fit well with Nashville's bike rack program. 

This is just one of 10 FFQ bike racks in Portlandia.  Love the title Cupcake.  Credit: Travel Portland 

How sweet is this? A covered bike rack at the Shaganappi Point LRT Station on Calgary's new West LRT line.Credit: David Peyto 

This set of dentures that also works as bike rack is located in Calgary's Beltline district outside a dentist's office.  Credit: David Peyto

Found these fun bike racks in front of a grocery store in downtown Salt Lake City. 

Love this custom bike rack in front of Bozeman's downtown library. 

Send us photos of your your favourite bike racks and we will add them to this blog.

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Tri-cities 

FFQing Udderly Art Pasture

Downtown Fun: Spokane 

Window Licking in Chicago

Moosomin's Motel 6 is full of surprises!

By Richard  White, November 30, 2013

A good road trip is one that is filled with surprises  - pleasant surprises!  Recently, we had such surprise when we checked into the Motel 6 in none other than Moosomin, Saskatchewan (population 2,500) on the TransCanada Highway. 

We arrived with no real expectations other than the online reviews were good and given we couldn’t find anything in Brandon and Virden didn’t seem much better, so I booked it online. The last thing you want on a winter road trip through the prairies in the “great white north” is to be stranded at -30 and discover there’s “no room at the inn.”

Immediately upon checking in we noticed something was different, very different. Marina, with her attractive northern European accent had a charming way about her  (elegant and refined, yet down to earth and authentic) that was immediately infectious. 

She was very professional in informing us about the various amenities including the workout room, guest laundry and the complementary 24/7 coffee/tea/hot chocolate bar.  

The Moosomin Motel 6 has a contemporary design that is a nice urban design surprise for a small prairie town. 

Saskatchewan is a magnet!

With our encouragement, she shared a bit of her personal story as if we were family, telling us about her adventure moving to Saskatchewan from the Ukraine with her husband and two kids.  She couldn’t hold-in how happy she was to live in Moosomin where “the sun shines most of the time, not like in the Ukraine” (although the day we arrived, it was cloudy, windy and freezing cold – the image most Canadians have of the prairies).

She also finds the “people are so friendly” not like in the Ukraine, where everyone wears a frown.   She also shared with us how business in Ukraine are so corrupt and people are oppressed. We don’t know how lucky we are.

When asked “why Saskatchewan?” she said because she liked Canada more than the other places around the world she had visited and Saskatchewan made it easy to immigrate.  She proceeded to tell us that the Motel 6 staff is like a mini United Nations with staff from Korea, Philippines, Honduras and of course, Ukraine.  Who knew Moosomin was a magnet for new immigrants?

She loved Moosomin’s schools for her two children and both she and husband Roman Chernykh had been hired by Motel 6 owner Josef Tesar, himself an immigrant, from Czechoslovakia.  

Roman Chernykh hotel General Manager and his wife Marina.  Gotta love a hotel manager who isn't wearing a suit and tie.  Their happiness and enthusiasm is shared by all the staff i.e. leading by example.

Orange

And the surprises didn’t stop at check-in. When we opened the door to our room arrived at our room we were nicely shocked to find a minimalist boutique hotel-like room (there is no art or photographs on the walls).

The floor looked like bamboo - we later found out it was made from recycled boxes.  The pallet was white and burnt orange walls, with orange and taupe bedspread. A corner workstation with banquet seat that was perfect for my laptop, complete with mini fridge built into the wall above (convenient for a beer). 

The bathroom was modern with a fun yellow, built-in towel holder that also served as a towel warmer and light.  The flush-to-the-wall TV had an easy hook-up for an Xbox.  This was certainly as nice as the any of the hotels we have stayed in recently in big urban centres!

The first thing we loved about our room was the comfortable workstation.  It was like having a cafe in our room.  The black box is the fridge.  The interior designers got this design right it was function, comfortable and looked great. Good use of space. 

Green Keys

When heading out for dinner, we ran into Roman, the General Manager.  Just as friendly, he shared more of the story of the hotel.  I quickly found out that it had won 3 green keys for being an environmentally-friendly construction including solar panels on the roof that resulted in heating bill of $50 in October for the 76-room hotel with 76 rooms. 

He was proud that they had sourced as much of the materials locally as they could, including 80 televisions from the local Moosomin electronic dealer.  (Back story – the storeowner was so shocked/excited by such a large order the order that he literally had a “heart attack” shortly afterwards and had to be taken by air ambulance to Regina).

He too loves the lifestyle that Moosomin offered him and his family (he also had travelled the world as a waiter on cruise ships).  This unassuming family could well be THE poster family for Saskatchewan economic development and tourism. 

The bathroom was also very contemporary with the yellow towel holder/warmer/light reflected in the mirror. 

No room at the motel

In the morning, when checking out, the front desk clerk greeted us with a bright smile, a “good morning” greeting and immediately directed us to the coffee and Tim Horton muffins.  She too couldn’t be happier living and working in Moosomin.  So much so, she willingly shared with us her story of immigrating from Korea with her husband and young child and has never looked back.

This is the view of the room as you enter. The lighting is great to read by, something many posh hotels don't have. The design is warm, inviting and contemporary. Love at first sight! 

Book Ahead!

So, if ever in the area, consider an overnight stay in Moosomin, SK at the Motel 6 – you won’t be disappointed.  But book ahead, word has gotten out about the hot property so sometimes “there is no room at the motel."

Reader's comments:

GM writes: Awesome tie!

DF writes: My girlfriend and I spent our summer vacation in Saskatchewan (Batoche between Saskatoon and Prince Albert, then south to the East block of Grasslands National Park, where we stayed in a tipi, then to a former convent in Val Marie in the West block). I’ve been to the Cypress Hills a couple of times, too. There’s much to be said for the prairies.

DB writes: read the article and saw the pics – charmingly modern for sure. Can see how you would have been surprised. Reminded me a little – at least interior design-wise, of a boutique hotel I stayed at in Frankfurt one time. Similar furniture and colour scheme. Piece had a Stuart McLean feel to it and that’s a compliment. Good to hear from new arrivals how good we have it here in Canada. Sometimes we just plain forget.

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Everyday Tourist Transit Tales

Stairways to heaven 

Lyon Sidewalk Ballet

Meeting Creek Ghost town meets Art Town 

This tie is made out of pheasant feathers and as a tie collector (over 500 ties) I have always coveted this one.  I first saw it in the Red Barn restaurant in Moosomin Saskatchewan 25 years ago.  

Recently the Trans Canada Highway was diverted around the city, and the Red Barn restaurant had to be rebuilt.  Today it is a popular spot with locals, bus tours and others.  When I asked about the tie, sure enough to my SURPRISE It hangs in a prominent place in the new lounge.  Maybe after a few drinks I will find a way to add it to my collection. 

FFQing in Downtown Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture!

By Richard White, November 21, 2013

Next time you are downtown and between meetings and looking for something fun to do head over to the Centennial Parkade along 9th Avenue from 6th to 5th Street and checkout the Udderly Art Legacy Pasture.  Or bring the family down on sunny but cold winter day and enjoy the warmth of the greenhouse-like pasture.  It is a great place to just let the little ones run. Weekend parking is just $2. 

Here you will not only find a dozen or so fun, funky, quirky cows basking in the sun, but also the history behind one of Canada's biggest and best public art projects.  There are several large didactic panels that tell the story of how the project came to being,  a well as background on some of the most famous bovine beauties. 

You will find some interesting factoids like:

  • Did you know that $1,234,896 was raised for 76 local charities?
  • Or, that each virgin cow was 54" tall head to hoof and 84" long from nose to tail and weighs 90 pounds.
  • How about the fact that 800,000 people visited the website from 36 different countries (that was before iPhones and iPads).  
  • You can learn more by visiting the pasture which is open 7-days a week and its Free.

Kid Friendly

Kids will love to have their picture taken with famous beauties like "Jingle Belle" (great christmas card opportunity), Cow Belle with a working Fisher Price musical instrument that kid's can actually play.  

This is the entrance to the pasture from 5th Street. As you can see it is a wide open space for kids to run in the sun. 

There are several huge information panels that explain the story behind some of the more popular bovine beauties. 

Moony Trader is one of the first cows you encounter. Damien Manchuk from ACAD was the artist, the piece was commissioned by Hugh McGillvary of CIBC Wood Gundy who had an idea to dress up a cow as a stock-trading pit trader.  Hugh took Damien to men's clothing store to see what well-dress cows were wearing in 2000 and let his imagination go to work.  The result was a pin-stripped hind quarters, a bright yellow striped power tie and the now antique looking computer strapped to his nose so he could keep up with the TSE quotes 24 hours a day. 

Chew-Choo was also done by artist Damien Manchuk and was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway. 

Another large information panel gives the history of the project and has a picture of each of the more that 100 cows commissioned for the project. 

The Udderly Art Pasture is a great place to meet friends or even have lunch together.  Too bad there weren't a few tables and chairs.  

Be careful to look closely as there are lots of subtle details that can be missed at first glance. 

One of my favourite pieces was Chewing the Cud by Evelyn Grant commissioned by the Calgary Downtown Association (yes I am bias as I was the Executive Director of the CDA at the time).  The piece was a wonderful bronze bovine schmoozing with the two "fat cats' on Stephen Avenue. Unfortunately the piece was often vandalized not only when it was on the street but even in the pasture.

 

Today all that is left is this photo of Chewing the Cud and The Conversation on Stephen Avenue but it is hard to view with the reflections.  

This is Clayton Kaplar's photograph of the Chewing the Cud on Stephen Avenue from the book "Udderly Art Colourful Cows for Calgary." 

FFQing is the act of finding fun, funky and quirky things as you flaneur the urban spaces and places! 

There are fun bits of humour everywhere you look.

Jingle Belle is a great kodak moment for any family.  

Cow Belle invites visitors to play a song or two. 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

By Richard White, November 19, 2013

Recently I have been a bit obsessed with the idea of how to add more fun into the “everyday” urban experience.  One of the most unexpected and fun experiences we’ve had recently was the discovery of “Freak Alley” in downtown Boise, Idaho.   As a former artist who initiated the “Street Art for Gleichen” project in the early ‘80 and later as public gallery curator, art critic and reviewer, Boise’s outdoor art gallery was very intriguing to me.  Freak Alley is accessed from Bannock Street and runs between 8th and 9th Streets.

There was some serendipity involved as we arrived around the same time as a dance company of young teens and preteens who were using the space for a photo shoot.   Good urban spaces are incubators for surprises!

While almost every city (large and small) now has a “First Thursday or First Friday” art program and lots have historic mural programs, Boise’s “Freak Alley” is more unique and makes a contemporary statement about Boise’s emergence as an urban playground.

While at first glance most would see the space as “graffiti gone wild,” once you take some time to look and ponder the art you realize it is a contemporary exhibition with strong political and personal artistic statements. 

Freak Alley wall facing the parking lot. The exhibition has the feeling of a salon show with artworks hung side-by-side. 

This was my favourite, I liked the hybridization of cartoon and surrealism.

The alley was full of animation with all of these dancers and their parents prancing about.  The costume designs seemed to fit right in with the artwork.  

This drawing-like painting was also a favourite of mine.  

History

As I understand it, Freak Alley began in 2002 when local artist Colby Akers painted a doorway in the alley. It was well received so he asked other building owners if they would allow artists to paint their doors and wall and when they agreed he asked other artists join in the fun!

Today, Akers still manages Freak Alley reviewing proposals from both local and out-of-town artists to have their artwork exhibited for one year. Perhaps it is the temporary nature of the artwork that allows it to be seedy and edgy, as opposed to the refined work seen in public galleries and juried public artworks.  There was definitely more excitement at “Freak Alley” then when we checked-out BAM aka Boise Art Museum. 

"River Sculpture" by Alison Sky is a 50-foot high relief made of granite, fused glass, neon, painted aluminum and fog misters on the corner of a building which offers great sight lines.  It is a celebration of water and light. 

Found this little guy playing with a piece of public art depicting children playing marbles.  Urban playgrounds should appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. It isn't just about the restaurants, shops, festivals, museums, attractions and performing arts.  

Sanitized Street Art

Downtown Boise is also home to several more traditional street art/murals.  The one we enjoyed the most was “Penny Post Cards” by Mark Baltes, which is a collage of images from actual penny postcards from the late 19th Century.  These postcards depicted the beautiful buildings and streets of downtown Boise. It is interesting to see how the downtown's sense of place has evolved over the past 100 years ago.  The mural is a dual-faced artwork that changes as you walk around it evolving from abstraction to realism depending on your perspective.  The artwork is prominently located on the north wall of Boise’s City Hall on Idaho Street, between Capitol Blvd and 6th Street.

You can find more information about Boise’s extensive collection of public art, as well as its architecture and history at Boise Art and History  - everything from Egyptian Revival architecture to pagoda turrets. 

 

 

Mark Baltes mural "Penny Post Card" captures the history of downtown Boise with a bit of contemporary interpretation with its collage of images from old postcards. 

From a the side the image is of an actual post card in its entirety.  

Traffic Box & Transit Shelter Art

Many cities have decorated their ugly grey utility boxes with local artwork or images of the city’s history.  But the art on Boise’s boxes is not just for beautification purposes, while some look a little amateurish and are not much more than decoration, many had a punch and an edge you don’t often find with this kind of street art.

I was personally impressed with a “pop art” piece I found in the Linen District depicting a bear, an elephant, a young girl and a weight lifter.  It has an interesting ambiguity that I found puzzling and intriguing at the same time. I like art that makes me think - work for an understanding. Click here to learn more.  

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Last Word

For a city of 212,000 people (600,000 metro), Boise has an impressive downtown that is quickly evolving into a fun urban playground with a strong culinary and café culture, as well as interesting art scene.  If you are in the area it is definitely worth exploring.   

This mural Les Bois, 1992 was created by Bruce Poe and Dennis Proksa.  It consists of 24 white steel plates with a random pattern of cut leaf images against a black wall in a parking lot at street level. As you walk past the leaves evolve from whole to fragmented.  

Calgary Civic Art Gallery: Do we dare to be different?

While flaneuring last week I wandered past Calgary’s funky old Science Centre next to Mewata Armouries in downtown Calgary’s West End.  The concrete Brutalist designed by Calgary architect Jack Long has been funked up over the years with some bold yellow and red elements that together definitely give it a modern art gallery look.

One of the proposals for the future of the building is indeed to be a public art gallery - to become Calgary’s Civic Art Gallery.  For over 50 years, Calgary’s visual arts community has lamented the fact that we don’t have a civic art gallery. Even smaller Alberta cities like Lethbridge and Grande Prairie have civic art galleries.  I understand the future of this building will be announced soon.  

The old Science Centre looks like a modern work of art with its crayola colours and mix of angular and dome shapes.  It is like a mega cubist sculpture. 

West Village Catalyst

I would be surprised if the City didn’t choose to convert the Science Centre into an art gallery.  The City has ambitious plans for the creation of West Village utilizing the land to the west of Mewata Armouries.  Using the same thinking as in East Village, the Calgary Civic Art Gallery would function like the National Music Centre and the new Central Library serving as an anchor or catalyst for converting a harsh underutilized urban environment into an attractive place to “live, work and play.”  It could work.  If we could convert Mewata Armouries into a public farmers’ market then we might have something.  Stranger things have happened? 

The Science Centre is easily accessible by transit, by bike and by car.  

Artists Incubators vs. Gallery

I am guessing it will take $150 million to convert the building into a public art gallery, approximately the same cost as building the National Music Centre.  I can’t help but wonder if this is the best use of $150 million to enhance the visual arts or the arts in general in our city.  What else would $150 million buy?

One of the biggest issues facing artists living in Calgary today is affordability.  Artists don’t make much money and Calgary is not a cheap place to live. Calgary has no old tired warehouse areas with cheap rent that artists can use as “studio/apartment” spaces.  Places like Inglewood, Bridgeland, Sunnyside and SunAlta are all becoming more and more upscale as GABEsters (geologist, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) move in. 

I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be investing in more spaces like C-Space King Edward that would be incubators for young artists – visuals, performing and literary – to live and work.  Perhaps we could create an artist’s village or better yet what about affordable housing project for seniors and artists – multi-generational. 

What is cSPACE? 

This is a CADA (city's Calgary Arts Development Authority) and Calgary Foundation) project that will see the 100-year-old King Edward School (South Calgary, 1720 – 30th Ave SW) converted into a hub for creativity.  Ten anchor tenants will create a 45,000 square foot space with studios, offices, production, exhibition and rehearsal space.  The cost of this project is expected to be about $30M (land and renovations).

CADA is also partnering with International Ave BRZ to create temporary presentation, studio and workshop space at 1807 42nd St. SE.  

In Beddington, a group of theatre companies have come together and converted the old community centre into a 200 seat theatre, 4 studio spaces and offices for its two resident theatre groups - Storybook Theatre and Front Row Centre Players.    

For $150M we could build numerous artists spaces around the city.  I expect places like Bowness would love to have a multi-purpose arts centre as part of their revitalization plans and I expect it could be done cheaper than $30M.  Land isn’t cheap in South Calgary, nor are renovations of old buildings.

Perhaps we could create fun, funky and affordable “container villages” for young Calgary artists to “live, work and play” across the city.  We are currently experimenting with one in Sunnyside that might help us understand how this might work!

 

Shaw Millennium Park's use could be enhanced by the addition of an art gallery or creative hub that would bring more events and activities e.g. out door art fair, concerts, dance etc.  

Why do we need a Civic Art Gallery?

One of the most often touted reasons we need a Civic Art Gallery is that we don’t have a facility to host block-buster travelling exhibitions that Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa get.  You know those one’s with the big name artists like – Picasso and Rembrandt!

Another reason would be to have a place to showcase Calgary’s civic art collection, which is an important piece of our history and our sense of place.  Do new Calgarians need another place where they can discover Calgary indeed does have a history - we have the Glenbow, Fort Calgary and Heritage Park?

Do we need a civic gallery to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of art? The downtown is full of art, there is public sculpture on almost every block, the office lobbies are full of public art, Hotel Arts, the Hyatt and Bow Valley College are like a public gallery with their extensive collections on public display almost 24/7.

It would also give local artists another opportunity to exhibit their work, in addition to Art Gallery of Calgary, MOCA Calgary (old Triangle), Glenbow, as well as galleries at ACAD and University of Calgary and artist-run-centres – New Gallery, Stride and Truck.  

Edmonton's Art Gallery of Alberta and Churchill Square in February. 

Link vision with reality?

The cost of a civic gallery isn’t just to build it - there is significant annual operational cost.  The Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton) has had an operational budget deficit since it moved into their new building.  A major civic art gallery needs an operational budget of over $5 million annual if it is going to provide exciting and engaging programming.  And that is a conservative number!

Interestingly, a $150M foundation with a 4% yield would generate a $6M annual rate of return – enough to support public gallery. I can’t help but wonder what the chronically underfunded Glenbow might do in the way of new programming with a $6M increase in its budget. 

The Art Gallery of Calgary and MOCA are struggling to find the ongoing operational funding for their spaces. How do we think we are going to fund the operations of another public art gallery? 

Perhaps the problem is not that we don’t have a civic art gallery, but that we have too many smaller public art galleries.  Are we too fragmented?

Maybe now is the time for the creation of a Calgary Civic Art Galleries, which would include the Glenbow, MOCA and the Art Gallery of Calgary spaces, staff, membership and volunteers.  Perhaps what we need is a good visual arts merger? 

Remember the motto: “working together to make a great city better?”  

Perhaps Calgary could dare to be different when it comes to how we support the arts and our artists.  We were one of the first cities to build a major skate park, perhaps it is now time create something just as edgy for our artists. 

Last word!

Here’s a radical idea!  Maybe we should just turn the Science Center over to art groups and let them see what they can do with it - forgo the huge renovation and operational costs of a major civic art gallery? 

Artists did a great job of turning the old Billingsgate Market building in East Village into a fun, studio, exhibition and event space.  Perhaps with a little seed money visual, performance and literary artists could transform the Science Centre into a wonderful creative incubator/hub.  Do we dare to be different?

If you like this blog you might like:

Poppy Plaza Review

Flaneuring Bow Valley College Art Collection

Olympic Plaza Needs a Mega Makeover

Rise of Public Art / Fall of Public Art Galleries 

Reader Comments:

SB writes: Give it to artists with rules about protecting the building. Perhaps it could be a below-market version of Art Central.

CO writes: Food for thought! 

 

1600 km "shoe shopping" weekend road trip...

Guest blog by: Sarah (shoe addict) Lucas, November, 16, 2013

I think it started as kind of a joke. The store My Sole Addiction (located in downtown Grande Prairie on 100th Ave and 99th St.), has a great Facebook page and every day they post a picture of a fabulous shoe that you just want to own (I did actually buy one of the pairs of boots currently in their cover photo).

And my cousin Lisa, her sister-in-law and I were joking that we should go there to check it out (Grande Prairie is a city of 55,000 people four and half hours from Edmonton a city of over one million and home to the West Edmonton Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the world).  Then the “yeah sure” comments turned more serious and we were picking travel dates.  Next we booked a hotel room, and before we knew it we had actual plans!

Sarah and Scapa modelling her new acquisitions. 

It had better be worth it!

On the way home on Sunday after it was all said and done, Lisa and I actually admitted to each other that we were expecting the other person to cancel at some point! But we didn’t and now we have a great story!

Anyway, Lisa drove up to Edmonton from Okotoks on Friday (337 kilometers) after work. Then first thing Saturday morning we headed to Grande Prairie (462 kilometers) in my all-wheel drive SUV, which was good since it was “winter driving conditions.”  

We stopped at Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s for those who don’t live in Canada is a coffee donut shop with over 3,000 locations and yes it was started by a hockey player), in Whitecourt to refuel (car and people) and made the decision to keep going - we were halfway between Edmonton and GP. We both said “IT HAD BETTER BE WORTH IT!” 

Lisa (bag lady) Brown and her new found friends.  

Not Cheap!

Luckily when we go to the store, we realized “the rumors are true” (that’s the sign on their window). The store was super busy, but beautiful shoes were everywhere so it’s no surprise. We both talked on the way there about how much we would spend, what we were expecting, etc. but after the long drive we felt we deserved to splurge a little. Of course they don’t sell “cheap” shoes, or else why would you go (you can get cheap shoes anywhere).

We only spent about 1.5 hours there (otherwise we would have risked our marriages with extravagant shoe spending). But they had everything so we did our best to do our due diligence.

Yes they carried brands that we can get in Edmonton or Calgary, but we also saw shoes the same as my Mom bought in Europe last year. They had everything from funky, unique boots that not everyone can pull off, to cool, stylish boots and everyday black pumps.

Sarah's foot fetish foreplay fun! 

Yes we are addicted! 

It was so much fun to try shoes and since I am short and run a lot, I have a hard time finding knee high boots that comfortably fit my calves, however I had lots of options at Sole Addiction, so there was lots to try!

Staff were super helpful and even brought suggestions, which was hard since Lisa and I have different style preferences, but they managed to find things we both liked (luckily it didn’t come down to the same pair)! Even other shoppers were offering feedback and comments on the boots they preferred on us.

I settled on a plum colored, 13” tall boots, which I have of course worn every day since I got home. Then when I thought I was done I came across a vibrant red shoe with cute buckle and strap details that had a higher heel but only came up just above the ankle.  I had previously shown restraint and said no to a $300 pair of heeled tan boots. Well I had it in my head that I needed a red pair, but thought knee high was too much of a statement (for me anyway) so settled on the lower pair!

The ones that got away! Mom likes these also but is not willing to contribute to their purchase. 

Yes we are crazy! 

Now before Mom points out, or you notice yourself, yes they do ship online… but you never know if it’s worth it until you actually see a shoe in person. And with so many brands how do you know which ones will fit, every shoe style fits differently. Needless to say I will be exploring the online option when I have some time (and disposable income), but there is something to be said for the whole shopping in person experience.

We are already talking about our next trip (not winter driving conditions and hopefully during a sale), but it is definitely an experience worth repeating. Of course I would not have gone without my cousin and it wouldn’t have been the same without her. 

 

A road trip in northern Alberta in November brings with it the challenges of winter driving. Some would say a road trip in winter is CRAZY!  

Yes we know we are crazy, but I actually enjoy telling people the story when they say how much they love my boots, and where did I get them? I was too busy ogling the shoes, but I wished I had asked other people about their journey to Sole Addiction. 

 

This was the catalyst for the iconic shoe shopping road trip.  It truly must be those with an addiction! 

Sarah looks like one happy addict! 

FFQing in Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland)

The first question we ask ourselves when doing travel research is "Does it have a fun, funky or quirky potential." Sometimes it is harded to tell and we have to take a chance, other times it is obvious and sometimes you just stumble upon "a find" by taking the sidewalk less travelled. 

A recent trip to Kennewick, Richland and Pasco Washington, otherwise known as the Tri-Cities had obvious FFQ places like Spudnuts and Cheese Louise (names are almost always a tip off if a place is going to be fun, funky or quirky). 

Other places like Tulip Lane sounded a bit hokey, but in chatting with locals and other tourist you begin to get an idea aht maybe it is more interesting than you think. 

We thought it would be fun to share with you a random selection of photos of the FFQing places we found during our fives days of flaneuring in the Tri-Cities.  

We found these green ladies in historic downtown Kennewick handing out green M&M as part of the First Thursay art walk event. We also found a couple of ducks! 

We did get to Spudnut Shop to sample their donuts (made from potato  flour) and the fun ambience, but the quirkiest thing was the coffee with a straw.  Not sure what that is all about? 

Wandering Richland's Uptown Mall where Spudnuts is located we discovered Desserts by Kelly the "Home of the Atomic Bombe" Cake.  We were told they see about 4 a day.  We reallly regreet not buying one. 

The store was definitely quirky - part bakery, part sports memorbilia. 

  Cheese Louise fun starting at the front door with an invitation I couldn't refuse. 

Cheese Louise fun starting at the front door with an invitation I couldn't refuse. 

 Probably one of the quirkiest places we have ever visited is the LIGO Handford Observatory outside of Richland.  I took lots of notes and I thought I kinda understood what they were doing but I am not even sure the boys on Big Bang Theory could totally comprehend the idea of measuring the existence of gravitatinal waves that was first postulated in 1916 as part of Einsteins theory of general relativity.  Even in my ignorance it was facinating.  If you'd like to try check out their  website.

Probably one of the quirkiest places we have ever visited is the LIGO Handford Observatory outside of Richland.  I took lots of notes and I thought I kinda understood what they were doing but I am not even sure the boys on Big Bang Theory could totally comprehend the idea of measuring the existence of gravitatinal waves that was first postulated in 1916 as part of Einsteins theory of general relativity.  Even in my ignorance it was facinating.  If you'd like to try check out their website.

Terra Blanca is the gateway to the Red Mountain AVA, offering spectacular views from their patio restaurant.  This is what happens with a Napa geologist discovers a special place, with special soils and a special climate in Washington.  A fun tour also includes opening the largest wooden doors we have ever seen! 

Tapteil Vineyard is almost at the end of the Red Mountain road but it is worth it for its sunny patio and sweeping views.  They also have two guest houses Spilya and Bella Luna for those who want to soak up the sun, tranquility and wine. 

Wandering along the river pathway we heard some music and wandered in that direction to find a saturday afternoon "sock hop" at Rosy's Ice Cream & Diner. Fun was being had by all.

Country Mercantile began as a humble roadside fruit stand. Today it is a roadside tourist attraction, part farmer's market, part candy store, part chocolatier and part bistro.  We were there in the Fall so it was part Fall Fair with rides, hay stack climbing walls, corn maze adn this hay bale maze.  Fun, Funky and Quirky all in one. 

Downtown Pasco is known for having one of the best the framers' market in Washington - sorry we missed it.  But we did find a downtown filled with dress shops like this one with quirky windows and fashions.  It is a photographer's paradise. 

The Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery was a great find.  We were there are on Sunday night and the place had a good buzz with locals hanging out and some playing games. No TVs showing Sunday night football. But they have lots of board games for you to play and lots of great beers with great names based on Richland's atomic culture. I liked it so much I bought the t-shirt! 

Saw this intriguing looking trailer with a white picket fence parked on the edge of parking lot and thought we have to investigate.  Sign said "Boomer on Wheels." see next photo

One of the fun finds was Tulip Lane right in the city of Kennewick.  It is home to not only serval winneries but DB Glass Studio which is attached to Barnard Griffin Winery.  It has to the most artsy winery in the region with live music and its own in house artist. Loved this FFQ glass clouds suspended from the ceiling in the wine tasting event room.  Glass classes are offered along with wine tastings - how fun it that! 

Bookwalter Winery on Tulip Lane was a fun find with its great JBistro. The menu is fun with dished divided into Preface, Prologue, The Epilogue and The Archives rather than appetizers, salads, entrees and dessert. Too  bad we couldn't take back more wine the 2006 Red Roan case special at $60 would have been a nice addition to our cellar. We are looking forward to being back for one of their Winemaker's 6 course dinners. More Info

Before we left we had to visit Spudnuts at least once more for a coffee and donut for the road.  They had our order waiting for us when we arrived. 

We'd love to hear about your FFQing places and experiences.  Leave a comment!

If you liked this blog you might like:

Flaneuring Richland's Uptown Plaza 

Flaneuring Pendleton Oregon 

Thrill of the Hunt in Portland 

Everyday Tourist Transit Tales 

Flaneuring Bow Valley College

This past week I had some time between meetings downtown so I decided to start flaneuring to see what I might find.  It took only minutes to stumble upon Bow Valley College’s (BVC) new South Campus building, which I am embarrassed to say I had not visited. 

As soon as I opened the door the ambience changed with lots of students milling about - sitting around chatting, studying, reading on their computers, chatting on the phone or wandering the halls.  It definitely had the feel of a campus…very different from Calgary’s corporate world.  I also noticed the ethnic diversity of the students – it didn’t feel like downtown Calgary! 

As I had just come from the announcement of the design/build team for the new Central Library, who promised to create a people-gathering place, I couldn’t help but think GEC Architects and the BVC building committee has created a wonderful space where people of all ages and backgrounds fell comfortable hanging out.  There is even a Tim Horton’s on the ground level, which had a long line-up – love the street animation!

BVC students are surrounded by contemporary art where ever they go. 

Just one example of how all of the walls have been designed to accommodate art. 

What probably impressed me the most though was the art – it is everywhere.  And, I’m not just talking pretty pictures for decoration; this was serious art – Joanne Cardinal-Shubert, Ron Moppett and Colleen Phillipi and Maureen Enns.  Not sure why I was surprised, as the original North Campus building always had lots of interesting contemporary art, but somehow this seemed more impressive. 

As I continued to flaneur, down the hall, up the stairs, past the food court there was art in every nook and cranny.  I loved the fact that there were large didactic labels for each work with information on the artist and the art. It was also obvious that the art had been installed strategically to allow the viewer to make connections between the works. In one area there is a series of works by artists with First Nation heritage that make a very interesting mini-exhibition.

Joan Cardinal-Schubert drawing is just one of several pieces by major Calgary and Canadian artists. 

Painting by Richard Emery Duck Chief from the Blackfoot Nation of Siksika is just one of many pieces that celebrate the First Nation culture. The piece is titled "Spirt N Spirit." 

I was also intrigued by the light box sculpture in the main hall of the South Campus, which reaches up two floors. I later found out it is titled “Chromatic Light Column” and was commissioned by the AFA for the new Calgary Courthouse, but is now in BVC’s permanent collection (there must be a story there).  It was completely refurbished with the participation of the artist, Nicholas Roukes and is a great addition to the building’s impressive main hall. 

Given I have recently been advocating for more fun things in downtown, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two Franz Spohn Gumball Mosaics, one of Mayor, Nenshi and one of Premier, Alison Redford have a place of prominence on the second floor.  And, yes these portraits are made from coloured gum balls – kind of pointillism gone wild!

The space definitely had the feel of public gallery, but was much more animated, which is a good thing. 

Franz Spohn's gum ball portrait of Mayor Nenshi captures the mayor's signature smile with the iconic Calgary Tower in the background.  There is a wonderful sense of optimism in this artwork that is at the root of Calgary's sense of place and BVC's place in that culture. 

 

Background

 

A quick email to Carol Ryder, who I remembered has been involved in the “mega makeover” of BVC for years got me lots of information about the art and plans for the future.

The Art Committee was formed over four years ago to celebrate art and the importance of exposing BVC students, as well as the public to contemporary art and the statements it makes about time and place.  

The Committee Members include BVC Staff:  Sharon Carry (President, BVC), Val Hoey  (Associate Vice President College Advancement, BVC), James Holroyd (Artstream BVC), Charlene Tomlinson (Director, Ancillary and Facilities Services) and Tina Overwater (Stewardship Officer).

Public members are:  Daniel Doz (President ACAD), Margo Helper (Board Member AGA), Robin Murphy (artist and City of Calgary Public Art Consultant), Helen Zenith (artist and owner of NewZones Gallery), Kelly Jones (artist) and Carol Ryder - Founding Chair.

I also found out the Committee has hired, Katherine Ylitalo on contract as the Curator of the BVC Collection. Ah! That is why the art is hung so sensitively and that there are museum like labels. 

Currently, BVC has over 150 pieces of art installed on campus and will have more on display once the North Campus renovations are completed.  The art has been chosen from various public collections – Alberta Foundation For The Arts, City of Calgary’s Civic Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art MOCA and the BVC Collection. Several local collectors have also donated or loaned work like Paul Ziff, Ted Washington and Patrick Windle to name a few.  As well, artists have also donated works.  Obviously, it has been truly a community initiative. 

Yes those are gum balls! This is a close up of Premier Redford's smile.  

 

Yes you can donate!

 

Yes, BVC is in the final steps of a public art policy that will be used as a criteria and guideline for future donations and additions to the BVC Collection, both permanent and temporary.  

BVC welcomes individuals and corporations to donate art within their guidelines to the collection and tax receipts are issued for the professional appraised value of the artwork donated

 

Public Art Commission

 

I found out BVC is the planning stages of posting an RFP for a major art piece to grace the NE entrance to the College. It will serve as a gateway piece into East Village for those travelling east and into downtown for those travelling west.  

This is grand hall of the South Campus building which is a bee-hive of activity and serves as a wonderful public art gallery. 

 

Last words

 

In the May 2010 edition of BVC’s “The Current” (employee newsletter) I found the following quote from Hoey, “For many years, it has been the vision of our President Sharon Carry to create an art collection that replicates the mosaic and diversity of the College.” 

In the same article Ryder states, “Public art will energize our public spaces, arouse our thinking and transform the halls and walls of the College into a welcoming and beautiful environment that invites interaction. Public art can make students and faculty talk and ask questions. It adds calm to a hurried life and offers a sense of place and community.”

I think they have been very successful. This left me wondering; “Does Calgary really need a civic art gallery?” But that is a topic for another day.

 

If you like this blog you might like:

Calgary Civic Art Gallery: Do we dare to be different? 

Poppy Plaza Review

Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover

Rise of Public Art / Fall of Public Galleries

Ron Moppett's "Moonlight"  is contemporary painting that fosters a sense of thought and contemplation which is perfect for a post-secondary campus. 

Louis L'Amour: Education of a Wandering Man

By Richard White, October 26, 2013

One of the things I love about browsing the bookshelves of thrift stores is that you never know what you will find.  Recently, I picked up Louis L’Amour’s “Education of a Wandering Man.”  I’m not sure why I picked it up, as I have never read a L’Amour book and I am not a big fan of the western novel, thinking they are the male version of a Harlequin Romance novel.  I am looking for something more thought provoking.  I am not against novels. I spent my 20s reading everything from Camus, Satre, Hemingway, Maugham and Steinbeck et al.

It is only recently I have started to read biographies, mostly as a result of my recent interest in blues music and trying to understand that culture as it relates to the beat and existentialism cultures I am more familiar with.  This has lead me to become more interested in the pioneer and frontier culture of early North American. It is fascinating how one’s interests evolve (another blog).

When locating a book in a thrift store or used bookstore that might have some interest, I often find myself thinking “why not it’s only a buck or two,” so the barrier to buying is low.  Sure the library is cheaper, but you have to know what you are looking for. Also I love to write in my books.  I would never have thought to check-out L’Amour’s biography.  

Photo of Louis L'Amour c. 1939

That is one of the great things about thrift store book collecting you get exposed to lots of different genres and authors you would never look at if you went to a bookstore or to a library.   Often when Brenda says I need another 15 minutes, I will wander back to the book shelves and did even deeper to see if I have missed something during my first look - that is often when I take a look at something different.

Sometimes these “off the beaten shelf” books sit on my shelves at home for years and end up in our next garage sale unread. But for some reason, as soon as we got back from our Washington, Idaho and Montana road trip the first thing I did was pick up the L’Amour bio and start reading.

Boy was I wrong.  Almost immediately the book had captured by attention. L’Amour was a kindred spirit with his life long commitment to self-learning and the role books played in his life.  The format of the book is to share with the reader his experiences and philosophy on life and living through the thousands of books he has read. In 1939, he read 115 books and plays, my best year was 52 books in 52 weeks in 2005. 

Partial list of books and plays read in 1934, in author's own handwriting.