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!

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Austin's Wonderful, Wacky & Weird Outdoor Art Gallery

I had read about and seen pictures of Austin’s Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG), but they did not prepare me for the three-storey outdoor graffiti gallery located on an abandon inner-city lot on the side of hill over-looking downtown.

Backstory: I love graffiti art. I even travelled from Gleichen, Alberta to New York City in the early ‘80s to experience graffiti art in its heyday - from subway cars to upscale art galleries. I came back and created several graffiti murals on the sides of buildings in Gleichen as well as incorporated it into my studio painting.  That was another life.

The view from the top gives you a sense of the height and scale of the project.  

From The Top

Found this spray can at the top of the Gallery, inviting me to contribute.  I am tempted to go back. 

We entered from the top of the gallery, which is not the usual entrance, which is at the bottom along Baylor Street at 11th Street. We were walking from our Clarksville Airbnb apartment so I knew we could get there taking the back route, but couldn’t quite find it. 

Knowing we were close and seeing a fireman getting out of his car at a charming historic fire station we asked him how to get to the outdoor gallery. He pointed and said, “Go to the end of the No Outlet (aka cul de sac) street that we had just passed and you will be at the top.” He also warned us to be careful if we tried to walk down as the area is badly washed out. Oh those fireman, they are always looking out for everyone’s safety.

Heading down the street we first came upon a wonderful castle-looking estate over looking the city. We soon found out its the offices of Castel Hill Partners and wondered how they liked being next to a graffiti park?

Fast-forward: When I got back to do some more research on the park, turns out Castel Hill Partners own the land, are land developers and are obviously just waiting to develop it.  I could help but wondered why they aren’t worried about the liabilities associated with letting people climb up and down their property. Somebody could easily get hurt and there are no signs saying, “use at your own risk.”

Jackson Pollock & Graffiti Art

Once we reached the edge it wasn’t as dangerous as the fireman suggested, but yes you have to be careful.  The view of the city was spectacular and the park is a kaleidoscope of colour.  It is definitely more of a graffiti park than a street art park as there are only a few areas where an individual artist’s work has been left untouched. Rather it is just layer upon layer of lines, squiggles and words in a cacophony of random colours - a Jackson Pollock-like mega 3D painting.

This was my favourite spot as you could play with the perspective of the window opening in the concrete foundation.

The intensity can be a sight for sore eyes.

Found this young lady hiding in the shadows. One of the few artworks that hadn't been covered with graffiti. 

Perfect place to sit and chat.

Found this artist putting some final touches on his contribution.

Perfect place to meet friends for a picnic.

The Gallery has many walls to create lots of different galleries. Note you can see the castle in at the top in the background.

This is the proper entrance to the Hope Outdoor Gallery on Baylor St. at 11th St. 

Better Than Public Art

I loved the scale, the energy, unique sense of place and randomness of the Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG). While we were there a street artist was being interviewed about his work, there were lots of people milling about and even friends having a picnic.  We went by the next day which was a Saturday and it was even busier. It is heaven for urban photographers.

HOG is better than most public artworks that quickly become just a part of the urban landscape and ignored by pedestrians. HOG is an ever-changing artwork that challenges people to literally explore it and to participate.  I have now visited three times and each time I have discovered something new and always there are a dozen of so people actively looking at the art and trying to make sense of it. 

I am thinking it would be a wonderful and weird place for wedding pictures. Hey this Austin, I am thinking it has happened more than once.

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