Do we really need all of this public art?

By Richard White, May 16, 2014

It hurts me to say this, but “do we really need all of this public art?” Over the past year, I have visited dozens of cities making a point to always seek out the public art wherever we go.  I have seen literally hundreds of public artworks, big and small, abstract and representational, local and international artists.  I have served on a jury for selecting a public artwork for a Calgary LRT station and I have written several blogs and columns on the pros and cons of public art.

In all of my travels (dozens of cities across North America) I have only experienced four public artworks that I feel have captured the public’s imagination enough to make them stop, look and interact with the art.  Sadly, most public art within a few months quickly becomes just a part of urban landscape.  More often than not, public art doesn’t really add to the urban experience by creating a unique sense of place or a memorable experience.   

 While I love art, I appreciate that I am in the minority; that for many, there is not much public appeal in public art that is being installed around out city (and other cities).  It is therefore not surprising that many Calgarians as well as many in other cities, question the value of spending tax dollars on art that adds little value to their life.

Found this public public art piece in downtown Portland the "Bike Capital of America." What do you think? Does Calgary need more bike art? More horses? You can't please everyone. 

Fun & Interactive 

Of the four pieces of public art that did engage the public, two were in Chicago’s Millennium Park – Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa and Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. These were by far the most successful with hundreds of people actively engaged by their intuitive playfulness.   

In Vancouver, “A-maze-ing Laughter” by artist Yue Minjun in a small pocket park (Morton Park) next to English Bay beach seems to always have people young and old wandering around the 14 (twice life size) bronze cherub-like, laughing figures.  The park is full of laughter and smiles, something urban spaces need more of.

The fourth piece is Jeff de Boer’s “When Aviation was Young” at the Calgary Airport West Jet waiting area. This two-piece, circus-looking sculpture with toy airplanes that spin around when you turn the large old-style key is a huge hit with young children waiting to board a plane.  Like most successful public art, it is fun, and encourages public interaction.

In Calgary’s downtown the two pieces I see the public most often stop, take pictures and interact with are “The Famous Five” on Olympic Plaza and “Conversation” on Stephen Avenue Walk.  Interesting to note that they are both figurative, pedestrian scale and located in an active public space.  Downtown Calgary boasts over 100 public artworks, but none of them are a “must see” attractions (at best they area a “nice to see” and get a walk-by glance).

For all the hoopla over Jaume Plensa’s “Wonderland” (big white head) when it was first installed on the plaza in front of the Bow Tower, today it sits alone attracting only a few visitors a day.  

This is not just a Calgary dilemma. Even in Chicago, major public artworks by the likes of Picasso, Calder and Miro (three of the 20th century’s most respected artists) situated on office plazas just a few blocks from Millennium Park, are devoid of any spectators outside of office hours.

Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" is so popular with the public that it has a nickname - THE BEAN! When the public gives an artwork a nickname you know they like it!

"Root Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza" by Acconci Studio graces the corner in front of the Memphis Performing Arts Center.  It has many of the qualities of Kapoor's "Cloud Gate," it is fun and there are interesting reflections and places to sit, yet it attracts no crowds.  

Juame Plensa's "Crown Fountain" is popular day and night. It is a wonderful place to linger.  It attracts thousands of people most days spring, summer and fall.  

Jaume Plensa's "Wonderland" located on an office plaza in downtown Calgary attracts only a few visitors a day. 

Come on admit it, even this photo of "A-maze-ing Laughter" brings a smile to your face.

Calder's "Flamingo" was unveiled in 1974.  It is fun, colourful and playful piece, but it doesn't invite any interaction. Over the years it has become less and less a magnet for tourist and locals to visit.  

William McElcheran's "Conversation" on Stephen Avenue Walk is very popular with the public.  Often people will place a coffee cup in their hand or add a scarf to one of the figures.  The public loves to have their picture taken with the two businessmen. 

Barbara Paterson's "Famous Five" sculpture in Calgary's Olympic Plaza invites the public to come and sit with them, have your picture taken and some even like to leave a tip.

Big Names / Big Deal 

Commissioning a big name artist clearly doesn’t guarantee the artwork will be successful in capturing the public’s imagination. 

Claus Oldenburg’s “Big Sweep” sculpture in front of the Denver Art Museum or “Roof Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza” by the Acconci Studio on the plaza of the Memphis Performing Arts Centre are both major pieces by established artists, yet they have done nothing to animate the space around them. 

Perhaps we need to thing differently about commissioning public art.  Nashville has a program, which commissions local artists to create bike racks that serve a dual purpose. Some are very clever and some I think are tacky, but at $10,000 each you can afford to have a few duds. 

In the early ‘90s the Calgary Downtown Association initiated the “Benches as sculpture” project, commissioning local arts to create sculptures that also serve as benches. The artwork (benches) have become a valued addition to the downtown landscape, so much so that the Provincial judges lobbied to make sure the “Buffalos” were returned to the courthouse plaza after it was renovated to add a parking lot underneath.

Claus Oldenburg and Coosjevan Bruggen's "Big Sweep" sits outside the entrance to the Denver Art Museum. It is fun, but static, and there is signage next to it with several rules that restrict how you can interact with it. 

This piece sits outside the Tucson Public Library in their Cultural District.  I couldn't find information on the artist or the title.  We passed this piece several times and never saw anyone stopping to look at it. 

The City of Calgary allows office developers to build taller buildings in return for pubic art on their plazas like this one. The developers get more space to rent and in theory the public gets a better quality urban space to enjoy. In reality this space on the southwest plaza at Bankers Hall is enjoyed by only by a few smokers a day. 

Nashville's fun bike racks as art program adds some whimsy to this streetscape. 

Lessons Learned

It hurts me to say this, but Calgary is not being well served by the millions of dollars we have invested in public art, both publicly and privately.  In my opinion, what would be best is if we pool all of the available public art money (bonus density and 1% for public art) and create dedicated art parks.  I am thinking we could have sites in each quadrant and perhaps a couple in the greater downtown that are designated for new artworks. When a new project is approved the public art contribution would be designated to the closest art park. 

The current, “democratic” approach of placing public art of all shapes, sizes and subject matter randomly throughout the city (parks, LRT stations, bridges, plazas) simply fragments and isolates the public art experience.  What was supposed to be a program to humanize and make the urban environment more interesting and attractive, has only served to outrage many and create rifts in our community.

The time has come for Calgary and most cities to rethink their public art policy.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Public Art Love It or Hate It

Putting the public back into public art

Confessions of a public art juror

Desert Botanical Garden: Right Place, Right Time

Brenda White, April 3, 2014

It all started when I hopped off the Red Lion (Tempe's) shuttle bus at Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) entrance at 9:15 am.  

Dollar off coupon in hand, I was expecting to get in for $19 and had my money ready.  Except, I was intercepted by a ticket scalper of sorts, who turned out to be a mid-50s, university women's group member who had an extra ticket as one member couldn't make it. She was willing to sell me the extra ticket for $12. I was a bit hesitant so I asked if I could go in with the group and pay her once inside - she agreed.  All went smoothly, so I paid her $12 and pocketed the other $7. Right place; right time. I was invited to join the group for their tour, but chose to say "goodbye" to my new university friends and went off on my merry way. 

It was quiet even though the garden opened at 8 am and I was quickly (and nicely) intercepted by a DBG volunteer who graciously offered to advise me on how to best make use of my two hours (I had arranged for a shuttle to pick-up at 11:30). She told me what loops to take and to make sure I went to all of the sculpture icons on the map as they indicated the location of the Chihuly glass sculptures. Again, right place; right time.

Dale Chihuly is one of the world's best known glass artists. He has one permanent artwork in the garden from his previous exhibition at DBG but I was fortunate to arrive while his second exhibition of 20 new works was on (it closes May 18, 2014).  Chihuly's large scale, neon-like abstract sculptures are definitely inspired by the colour and shape of the many different cacti and wild flowers in the gardens.  The synergy between art and nature was amazing. Once again, I was in the right place, at the right time. 

For one who has suffered from a lifelong case of being navigationally challenged, I impressed myself with not getting lost amongst the many loops and trails in the 140-acre garden site, luckily only 55-acres are in use for the trails. The reason - great signage and an insider tip from a stranger to always look for the paved path.  She said, "the paved path is the main one, so always default to if you lose your way."  The gravel paths are not long and are circular so just keep going and you "hit" pavement again. For a fourth time, right place; right time. 

I was also told by another local that early April is probably the best time to come as many of the wild flowers and cacti are in bloom.  Early morning is also the best time to visit, as it is cooler, less windy and fewer people. I also lucked out that the weather the day I chose was warm and sunny with almost no wind (that is not always the case I was told). Right place; right time.

I felt a little silly taking 150+ photos but it just seemed everywhere I turned, I was in the right place at the right time to capture the interplay of the intense colour, the early morning light, and shadows that make the garden so special.  I have never taken 150 pictures in one month let alone one day in my life.  

Here are a few of my favourite photos.  Now I will focus my attention on finding a funky $7 Spring Break 2014 road trip souvenir - hopefully I can be in the right place, at the right time again.    

desert red flower.jpg

Chihuly: Abstracting from nature

desert yellow flower close up.jpg

Saks: Art Gallery or Department Store

Richard White, April 1, 2014

I rarely purchase anything at an upscale fashion store but I do love to wander them as they are more like art galleries than stores for me.  I love the way items are placed with the precision of a curated exhibition. Like an art installation, each vignette is carefully organized to exploit synergies of colour and composition, of line and shape and of passion and sensuality.   

In fact, I often find visiting a high end retailer more interesting than many contemporary art exhibitions. Too often the latter are more cerebral and than visual for my tastes. 

The images below are from a recent visit to Saks Fifth Avenue in the Fashion Show shopping centre on the Vegas strip.  I will let the images speak for themselves.  

Saks shoes 2.jpg

UMCA images

I thought it would be interesting to compare the images from Saks with some that I took just a week ago at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) in Salt Lake City.  

A close up of a mixed media collage.

A still image from a video.

A photo taken of a large drawing on the wall, taken from the side. 

A close up of a didactic display of books and artwork.  

Window Art Exhibitions

Over the years, I have also amassed an interesting collection of retail storefront windows that I also find competitive with public galleries in their visual statements.  All of these images are from a single trip to Europe where the importance of storefront windows as a visual art form is much more advanced than in North America.

Shoe store front window

Eyewear store

Bridal Shop

Last Word

As an everyday tourist, I don't have to go to a museum or an art gallery to get my daily visual art fix. I can find it almost anywhere - from a storefront window or back alley graffiti. Love to hear your thoughts.  Send me a photo your favourite non-gallery artwork and I will post it.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Window Licking In Paris

Rise of public art Decline of public galleries

Window Licking In Chicago 

Confessions of a Public Art Juror

By Richard White, March 16, 2014

Recently, I was involved in a jury for a major public artwork (budget $500,0000+) being commissioned by the City of Calgary. Though I am not at liberty to give specifics, I thought EDT readers would be interested in knowing what happens when a City of Calgary public art jury is sequestered for a day to choose a public artwork.

Of the 17 people I counted involved in the jurying process, six had votes; the others consisted of eight engineers and three from the City of Calgary’s Public Art office.  The engineers were there to provide the jurors with technical information as need and to ask questions of the artists regarding installation and maintenance.

Of the sic voting members, there were three people from Calgary’s arts community, one from the City and one “shared” vote from the community (there were actually two community representatives, as the site linked two different communities, but their scores were combined to create one vote between them). 

This meeting followed one held in Fall 2013, when the same jurors reviewed over 50+ submissions from which three artists were chosen to present concepts for the site.  If memory serves me correctly, we were unanimous in our decision on the three short-listed artists.

Given the recent controversy over the Travelling Light (aka Blue Circle) sculpture on the Airport Trail Bridge, I think we were all very anxious about ensuring we chose the right work (whatever “right” means).  While all juries discuss the public accessibility of the work being considered, in this case there was a heightened awareness that this piece had to have widespread public appeal while still having artistic integrity.

The Drop, by inges indee, 2009, is a 65 foot raindrop on the plaza next to the Vancouver Convention Centre.  This is the same team of artists who created "Traveling Light" in Calgary. 

Family of Man, by Mario Armegol (1967) is ten 21-foot nude figures located on the plaza of the old Board of Education Building in downtown Calgary.

Homage, by Derek Besant (1989 is a 20 foot by 18 foot by 10 foot sculpture located on the campus of Mount Royal University, in Calgary.

The Process

Jurors were given background material on each of the artists a week before this second meeting to refresh our memories.  At the beginning of the jurying session, we were also reminded of the goals of the project and why we had chosen these artists.  I won’t bore you with all the details and needless to say the goal was to choose an artwork that would capture the imagination of Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds.

The City’s Public Art Manager then reviewed samples of each artist’s previous public artwork followed by each artist making a 20-minute presentation of their proposed artwork for the site, as well as the rationale for how it would enhance the site’s sense of place and capture the public’s interest and imagination.  The artist presentations were followed by 40-minutes of open “questions and answers.”

I couldn’t help but think maybe we had too much information.  Most people will just see the artwork and immediately decide if they like it - or not.  They won’t have access to or knowledge of the artist’s previous work. They won’t be privy to the artist’s rationale for the work. Sure, some may read about the rationale later or maybe even before they see it, but the majority won’t. Public art is usually a gut response.

Lack of colour 

It is always interesting to hear public art artists talk about their work.  Unlike artists who exhibit primarily in galleries, they are used to talking about their work, as going through a rigorous jurying process; it is part of what they do.  It is a bit like an RFP (request for proposals) process i.e. you are lucky if you get short-listed 25% of the time and selected 5% of the time.

I am also always amazed by their passion, depth of knowledge and the way they connect elements from a diversity of fields of study like mathematics, physics, poetry, history and current events. It is like they flaneur intellectually the many divergent parameters of the public art commission; site, community, city, their work and the work of others to come up with the idea, the metaphor and the materials which become their concept, their statement.  It is a fascinating journey.

I was particularly intrigued by how “out-of-town” artists see our City.  One told us his piece had lots of colour because when he visited Calgary in October (each of the short-listed artists visited the site before coming up with their concept), he was surprised by our lack of colour.  This resonated with me, as I love colour, but one juror didn’t like the colours chosen so while I loved it, another didn’t.  It is impossible to please everyone – even if it is just seven jurors.

Another artist talked about how “sunny” Calgary is and that is why the city is so “optimistic.”  We all smiled.  He also talked about Calgary’s magnificent vistas, something I think we too often take for granted.  It was these elements that inspired him and his team’s proposal.

One artist was asked if he had considered using recycled materials and objects given his piece could be interpreted as an environmental statement.  He explained that uniform elements and materials were critical to his work and added, “people will see what they want in the art.  If you are an environmentalist, you will look for a statement about the environment. If you are a banker or accountant, you will probably look at the cost. The engineer will usually look at how it was constructed. I can just make the best art I can. I can’t worry about what the different publics will think and say.” 

Sadko (red) and Kabuki (yellow) were created bySoel Etrog in 1972. These twice life-size sculptures add much needed colour to downtown Calgary's 2nd Street SW and Bow Valley Square. Downtown Calgary is home to over 100 public artworks, making it one of the world's largest art parks. 

THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER, by Ron Moppett (2012) is 110 feet long and 13 feet high mural constructed out of .  956,231 unique tiles.  It too adds colour and fun to the downtown Calgary's landscape. 

"The Field Manual: A compendium of local influence," by Light & Soul (Daniel j. Kirk, Ivan Ostapenko and Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher) consists of several murals along the River Walk in Calgary's East Village.  This is a temporary installation that was completed in the summer of 2013 and will remain for 24 months.

The Great Debate

Following the question and answer period, the jurors debated the three proposals for over two hours. We talked about each work from many different perspectives. 

The top ten questions I heard were:

  1. Is it stimulating? Engaging?
  2. How does it relate to the history of the site, the community and the city?
  3. Is it innovative?
  4. Is it durable? What about maintenance?
  5. Will it create a meeting/gathering place?
  6. How will it be seen from afar and close up?
  7. Will it create a sense of place?
  8. Is it accessible? Will it work for school tours?
  9. Is it feasible for the proposed budget? (the artists were asked to present a budget)
  10. What are the installation problems and other challenges?

We talked about “quiet” or “silent” art, i.e. art that is minimal or subtle (i.e. doesn’t shout-out “look at me!”).  We used terms like “the vernacular in art,” “mathematics and art” and “engineering aesthetics.” We looked at the universe from the macro and molecular level.  The proposals made links to Stonehenge, the Rockies, Vancouver airport, Ford 150 trucks, pickup sticks, teepee poles and cell towers. We even managed to work in urban sprawl, cycling and nesting sites for birds into the debate.

The Decision

In the end, we had to choose one artwork. Each juror independently evaluated each proposal using a 1,000-point rating system developed by the City of Calgary.  All of the jurors’ scores were added up and the artist with the most points was chosen. In the end, five of the six votes selected the same piece as their number one pick, making it almost a unanimous decision again.

I should also note, all jurors acknowledged all three were strong proposals and all three could have been successful as public artworks for the site.   Hopefully, the one chosen will capture the imagination and the heart of the residents in the communities near where it will be installed, as well as all Calgarians and visitors.  Hopefully too it will stand the test of time, becoming something cherished for generations to come.

Cloud Gate aka The Bean is by Anish Kapoor and was installed in Chicago's Millennium Park in 2006. This giant bean-shaped polished stainless steel sculpture attracts thousands of visitors everyday, who love to look at and manipulate their reflections in the concave and convex mirror surface.  Everyone is smiling and laughing; people of all ages and from around the world are sharing the space in and around this work of art.  The public is engaged, which is what good public art should do. 

A-maze-ing Laughter, by Yue Minjun, was installed in a small park in Vancouver's West End in 2009 as part of the Vancouver Biennale.  It has now become a permanent part of the community and is very popular with tourist walking along the waterfront at English Bay.  It is still very popular with locals and tourist five years later. This piece of art has definitely capture the imagination of the public.  The public loves art that they can touch and interact with. 

Wonderland, Jaume Plensa, 2012, sits on a plaza in front of The Bow office tower in downtown Calgary.  It is a 37 foot high head, made of painted stainless steel.  The piece invites people to climb it as this young office worker decided to do on his lunch hour in his business clothes.  A security guard is now on duty to prevent anyone from climbing the sculpture in the future.  I understand the issue of liability, however, the artist should have know that it is important to allow the public to participate and interact with his work. The piece is too static, you look at it for a few minutes then what?  Plensa's "Crown Fountain" piece in Chicago's Millennium Park is one of the most successful public art pieces in the world today, because the the public is allowed to play with it. 

Last Word

The jurying process for choosing City of Calgary-commissioned public artworks is one of the most rigorous I have ever experienced in my 30 years as a visual arts curator, freelance writer, artist and juror. 

Though it is comprehensive, fair and professional, I can’t help but wonder if there is overthinking and overanalyzing to the extent that the sense of surprise, spontaneity and immediacy that is central to the public art experience is lost to the jurors. 

I wonder too if jurors are sometimes too influenced by the artist’s passion, presentation and personality.  Maybe it would be best if jurors were just given visuals of each artist’s proposal upon which to make the decision.  That way we’d be judging the art and only the art; just like the public.  I once heard “art should speak for itself.” 

If you like this blog, you might like:


The rise of public art / The decline of public art galleries

Public Art: Love it or hate it?

Putting the public back into public art!


Cowtown: The GABEster Capital of North America

By Richard White, January 2, 2014

Given my love of acronyms, I created the term “GABEster” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) as a bit of a joke in my Calgary Herald Neigbours column (titled White House) where I profiled Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

"Calgary’s hipsters are unique as they are more likely to be clean shaven, Armani suit wearing, geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers, than bearded, skinny jeans and plaid shirt artists, writers and musicians.  But let it be understood they definitely love their Saturday music jams, bowling alley, craft beer drinking, gallery strolls, food trucks and festival fun as with any hipster. Perhaps we need to coin a new term  “gabesters” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers/Brokers and Engineers)." Calgary Herald Neighbours, October 31, 2013.

The column reflected on my recent trips to Chicago’s Wicker Park and Bucktown, as well as Portland’s Pearl District – all three considered to be amongst the best hipster communities in the USA and how Calgary’s Beltline district was as good if not better than not only those three trendy urban villages, but also ones in Vancouver, San Francisco and San Diego.

I pointed out while Calgary has lots of hipsters (counter culture or bohemians types), our urban villagers are more likely to be professionals i.e. geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers than bohemians. 

Since then I have used the GABEster in various social and business circles, getting very positive responses suggesting that indeed the term is very useful in helping understand and articulate Calgary’s unique urban culture.


Calgary's GABEsters take over Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour to stroll the street, grab some lunch or people watch. Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

The pocket protector is history!

 For several generations, Calgary’s oil patch has been a magnet for attracting the best young GABEsters from across Canada and more recently internationally.  A quick check of Calgary Economic Development’s website finds that Calgary currently has 22,500 engineers, 16,700 accountants and 5,300 geologists (though I couldn’t find any numbers for bankers and brokers, it has to be at least as many as the engineers i.e. 20,000+more) - and there is a critical need for lots more. 

 The Hill Strategies Research Inc. study of “Artists in Large Canadian Cities” (March 2006) identified that Calgary had 4,575 total artists based on 2001 census figures.  This number had increased by 46% since 1991 so the number today might be 7,000+ range, about 1% of the workforce.  

Obviously, Calgary’s GABEsters, outnumber hipsters by about 10 to 1.

Many of Calgary’s young GABEsters live in the residential communities surrounding the downtown core where the majority work in the 40+ million square feet of office space.  The common stereotype of engineers and high tech workers is that they lack social skills, have no fashion sense and are pragmatic loners.

Bankers, brokers and accountants may have a little more fashion sense with the suits and ties, however, more and more the tie has been lost and the suits are more trendy that traditional. 

They may all be right brain thinkers by day, but many of the current generation of GABEsters are just as much into fashion, music and street life as the so-called creative class. And yes, they are also just as likely to be wearing skinny jeans and funky glasses – maybe not at work, but after hours.

The days of the pocket protector have long disappeared! 

GABEsters are big bikers...Bow Cycle in Bowness is one of the largest bike shops in the world. 

Definition of a hipster (Urban Dictionary)

“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively.”

“Although "hipsterism" is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store and local boutique-inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick- rimmed glasses.”

“Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hairstyles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. Such styles are often associated with the work of creative stylists at urban salons, and are usually too "edgy" for the culturally-sheltered mainstream consumer.” 

Calgary is home to 60+ live music venues.

GABEsters checking out CUFF! Cowtown's Underground Film Festival. 

Cowtown's Counter Culture / Indie Activities 

Calgary’s downtown supports a café culture superior to both Portland and Chicago with independent cafes on almost every corner.  While some are upscale, tony places, others are more grass roots with some being off the beaten path.  Café Rosso, located on an old industrial site next to a chicken-processing factory in the southeastern edge of Ramsay, is perhaps the best example of Calgary’s GABEster coffee klatch culture.   

Calgary is also quickly becoming North America’s next great “music city” with numerous weekend afternoon jams, 60+ live music venues, one of North America’s best international folk music festivals and the increasingly popular Sled Island indie-music festival.  Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams  will be participating the Memphis International Blues Competition in Jan 2014.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

Calgary is also home to the world’s second largest collection of keyboard instruments including one of Elton John’s first pianos and the first MOOG synthesizer. And our city will soon be home to Canada’s National Music Centre - 2015.  How cool is that.

Shaw Millennium Park’s was one of the first big outdoor skate parks in North America. Today, it is still one of the largest (75,000 square feet of skateable surface) and best. It doesn’t get more counter-culture than that.  

Inglewood’s Recordland houses between 500,000 to 1,000,000 records and is a regular stop for visiting DJs and bands. Just a block away, the Crown Surplus store has supplied equipment to the film industry for over 45 years – Little Big Man, Superman, Brokeback Mountain to name a few. Cher has also been known to shop there. It doesn’t get more hipster (whoops GABEster) that this. 

If looking for some music memorabilia, look no further than Heritage Posters and Music in Calgary’s newest trendy district SunAlta.  It is an easy spot to find, as the back wall is a mural of the Rolling Stones tongue logo made with actual records.

Flea Market 

The trendy Hillhurst Sunnyside community just north of the downtown core is not only home to many traditional hipsters given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design, but is also home to an experimental container village. It is also home to a Sunday flea market, which has been operating for over 40 years.


If yoga studios are a key indicator of hipsters, Calgary’s may have one of the highest concentrations in North America. Within 5 kilometers of downtown, there is an estimated 30 to 40 yoga studios.  

I saw way more yoga mats being carried on the streets of Calgary than I did in either Chicago or Portland. 

GABEster fashions Cowtown style.

Lukes Drug Mart is part cafe (Stumptown Coffee), part record store, part grocery store and a post office.

Last Word

Cowtown has been called “a city built by engineers” in reference to the fact that much of our architecture and urban design from the ‘70s to the ‘90s was dominated more by function than form. 

Recently however, the tide has changed with projects like the Calatrava Peace Bridge, The Bow and Eight Avenue Place office towers, as well as the redesign of 7th Avenue LRT stations and the futuristic design of the West LRT stations. 

Cowtown's city centre has indeed become one of North America's gabest places to "work, live and play."

Don't believe me - check out Josh Noel's travel piece on Calgary in the Chicago Tribune: Calgary: Pedal to the metal Poutine at 3 am!!!

Pictures below don't lie...Calgary has a very vibrate GABE community. 


GABEsters playing Bocci Ball at lunch at the Courthouse Park. How cool is that? Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

GABEster climbing Plensa's "Wonderland" scultpture at lunch...public art as urban playground for adults? 

Amy Thiessen and friends at Ironwood.  GABEsters love their local music scene. 

GABEsters at the folk festival.

GABEsters love their patio culture even in the winter. 

GABEsters heading to work...

GABEsters love Shaw Millennium Park and the new condos just across the street....

GABEsters love indie films...and festivals.

GABEsters love yoga...

GABEsters love to paddle! Undercurrents in Bowness is just one of many paddle shops.