Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

Hillhurst/Sunnyside (H/S) community is Calgary’s equivalent to San Francisco’s Haight–Ashbury - a haven for artists, hippies and hipsters.

While every other community surrounding downtown Calgary has been overtaken by new condos and infill homes (i.e. gentrified), much of H/S still is early 20th century cottage homes and small apartment blocks. Especially Sunnyside (east of 10th Street NW and west of Centre Street bridge).  A walk through H/S is a walk back in time. 

Calgary Street Art

One thing I love about flaneuring H/S is the funky street art you find there - in a back alleys, on abandoned buildings, community centre, schools, the side of a retail building and especially in their container park (Yes, they have a park with sea containers used for various performances and events). 

Every time I wander the community I seem to discover another piece of street art.

Link: Calgary graffiti: The good, the bad and reason it’s not all bad. 

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

Street art gained popularity during the graffiti art boom in New York City in the ‘70s.  It was then that graffiti evolved from small scribbles or tags to large murals, mostly with cartoon and fantasy-like characters, some with incredible skill and detail.

Originally, street art was often on blank concrete walls in rundown communities, on train and subway cars in derelict spaces.  Today, street art has become trendy.  It is often done with the approval of the landlord and is sometimes done as an anti-graffiti initative (given graffiti taggers often respect the work of street artists and don’t paint over them). 

Street art is to the late 20th early 21st century what murals by artists like Mexico City’s Diego Rivera were to the early 20th century. However, they will never last as long - often disappearing in less than a year. 

Today’s street art is also not considered to be public art as that artist has not received public funds and it is not sanctioned by a public authority. 

Despite/or in spite of this, street art can become a tourist attraction - if there is a critical mass of quality art for visitors to check out. 

Link: History of Train Graffiti

Link: 10 New York Graffiti Legends Still Kicking (Ass) 

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

I LUV Street Art why?

Street Art is usually colourful and playful, two key ingredients that appeal to my eye. As well, I love the sense of surprise, as they are often off-the-beaten path, which is synergistic to my love of flaneuring. I also love the immediacy of street art. While the technique can sometimes be refined, most often they are loose, gestural, drawings.

Street Art Calgary


I went to NYC in 1982 to experience street art first hand. It was a time when I was an aspiring artist and felt a strong kinship with the work I was seeing in publications like ARTnews (my bible at the time). 

I came back inspired and created a series of graffiti-inspired paintings over the following two years and also organized the Street Art for Gleichen project, which eventually lead to my becoming the Director/Curator of the Muttart Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) for a 10-year stint. 

It was a fun time. Thinking back, exploring those back alleys and vacant spaces of NYC was my first introduction to flaneuring!   

Last Word

Perhaps it is time for someone in to organize an outdoor art (street art, murals and public art) festival that would encourage Calgarians to get out and see, contemplate and question our outdoor art. I'd love to hear what children and teens think of the art. It is not all about just the grown ups!

If you like this blog, you will like:

Frankfurt's Found Street Art

Austin's Amazing Outdoor Graffiti Ruins

Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Rome & Florence

Stampede Park: Calgary's best children's playground?

Call me crazy but I have always thought contemporary public art could make great playground equipment. From time to time I have seen children interacting with public art by climbing, sitting and sliding on it.  Imagine if “Wonderland (aka the big white head)” on the plaza of the Bow Tower was part of a playground and people could climb up and over it. Now that would be exciting public art!

I have talked to some artists and playground designers about my idea of commissioning public art for playgrounds across the city, but always got shot down by them saying, “it would be too expensive and time consuming to get it approved from a safety perspective.”

Until this past Sunday I didn’t realize Calgary already has a wonderful piece of public art that also serves as a playground.  “By the Banks of the Bow” is a giant artwork that includes 15 horses and two cowboys, located in a small park in front of the Agrium Western Event Centre. In the past I have seen families interacting with the piece, but it was nothing like I experienced this year on Family Day at the Stampede.

People of all ages and backgrounds were swarming around what is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Kudos to the Stampede for not posting signs everywhere saying don’t climb on the sculpture or a fence around keeping people out. 

By the Banks of the Bow 101 (Stampede website)

“By the Banks of the Bow celebrates one of mankind’s greatest living treasures; its wildness and spirit, strength, speed and dependability. It supported the people of the First Nations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, farmers, town folk, prospectors and adventurers, cowboys and ranchers.

Today the horse retains a pride of place in the Calgary Stampede. In rodeo, the chuckwagon races, the heavy horse competitions or in the show ring, the horse is as iconic as the Stampede itself and is woven into its cultural fabric.

Created by local artists and ranchers Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, By the Banks of the Bow is a narrative in bronze that depicts our past, present and future, and reflects the Stampede’s many relationships with our community.”

Fun Facts

  •  From inspiration to installation, the sculpture took four years to complete.
  • The piece was cast in a foundry in Kalispell, Montana.
  •  Ten of the horses represented actually competed at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.
  • The lead cowboy, Clem Gardner, was the Canadian All Around champion in the first Calgary Stampede Rodeo in 1912.
  • The total sculpture weighs approximately 14,500 pounds (seven tons).

Last Word

It is too bad this type of public art, i.e. art that invites you to interact with it, stop and take pictures of it, isn’t more prevalent in Calgary and elsewhere. 

I also noticed this week the big bronze sculpture of “Outlaw,” the Calgary Stampede’s iconic bull is back on the plaza of 5th Avenue Place but with a big sign saying don’t climb on it.  Too bad…a missed opportunity to add some fun to the downtown experience!

Hmmm…I wonder how I might get some playground public art for Phase two of Grand Trunk Park. The kids would love it!

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Public Art vs Public Playgrounds

The End Of Grand Trunk Park Playground Envy

Putting the PUBLIC back into public art!

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Public Art / Street Art photos

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

Tony Oursler's "Braincast" sculpture is installed inside the wall along the escalator of Seattle's Central Library. It consists of a series of three videos cast on to eye-ball like forms. I had to ride the escalator several times to watch the videos. 

Bad Editor...

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Art in unexpected places...

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places. 

The glass canopy at the 6th Street LRT station on 7th Ave in downtown Calgary has been converted into a work of art by Stuart Keller.  Titled "SWARM" it consists of thousands of images of winged seeds (also called keys, helicopters, whirlers, twisters, whirligigs) produced by some trees.  The pattern of the seeds was inspired by the swarming of birds taking flight at dusk.  I liked the interplay with the art, sky, building and construction crane.   

The glass canopy at the 6th Street LRT station on 7th Ave in downtown Calgary has been converted into a work of art by Stuart Keller.  Titled "SWARM" it consists of thousands of images of winged seeds (also called keys, helicopters, whirlers, twisters, whirligigs) produced by some trees.  The pattern of the seeds was inspired by the swarming of birds taking flight at dusk.  I liked the interplay with the art, sky, building and construction crane.   

The juxtaposition of the colourful and temporary Day of the Dead skeleton figure with the permanent, dark winged-horse and figure statue captured my eye.  Located in the plaza in front of Mexico City's Bellas Artes concert hall. 

This colourful and complex collage of images is from a piece of playground equipment in the West Hillhurst in Calgary.  I love it when I find images like this in unexpected places. 

"By the Banks of the Bow" is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Create by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, it consists of 15 horses and two cowboys crossing Calgary's Bow River.  I love public art that allows the public to interact with it. 

Strange Reflections

These three mirage images of female faces are reflections in the window of the +15 hallway next to Holt Renfrew looking out to the LRT station in downtown Calgary. 

This image  was taken looking into the window of the Out There store on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary.  There is a wonderful narrative in this artwork.

Ballard is a suburban of Seattle with a wonderful Main Street that hosts a vibrant Sunday street market.  This artwork is one of the many wonderful reflections of Ballard's street life in the store windows.    

Loved the surrealism of this jail-like image created in a pedicure shop window in Seattle's tony Belltown.

"Reflections," inside the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. 

This window reflection is a visually stunning collage of architecture and facades in a downtown Calgary window. 


Found this still life image along Calgary's 7th Avenue transit corridor. 

Wake , Richard Serra, 125 feet long weathered steel, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. 

"Wonderland", 39 foot sculpture by Jaume Plensa, (plaza in front of The Bow office tower, downtown Calgary) 

"Echo" 46 foot sculpture by Jaume Plensa  (Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle) 

Typewriter Eraser, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. 

From the sidewalk

Street art in Calgary's Sunnyside community. 

Street art in Victoria, BC. 

Found this abandoned piano key board while walking to a Goodwill store on the outskirts of Seattle's City Centre.  It had a found art quality for us - wonderful colour, shape, pattern and rhythms.  If we could have brought it home we would have. We did bring home a single key as found artwork which we have added to our home collection.