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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Downtown: From Concrete Jungle to Glass Gallery

Recently Thomas Schielke (German architect who works for lighting manufacturer ERCO) wrote a piece for ArchDaily website titled “Veiled in Brilliance: How Reflective Facades Have Changed Modern Architecture.”  I was surprised when he started off his piece with the observation that “modern architecture promoted the monotony of large glass facades that have bored our urban citizens.” He then goes on to talk about how recently more unconventional reinterpretations of the glass façade has create more visually interesting jewel-like buildings.” 

Link: Veiled in Brilliance: How Reflective Facades Have Changed Modern Architecture

He points to Hamburg, Germany’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall designed by Herzog & de Meuron as perhaps the best example of the visionary glass culture in the way the building captures and distorts the perception of the city, water and sky.

The images of Elphi as it is nicknamed are impressive, but I would put Calgary’s collection of sparkling office towers up against any other city’s collection I have seen.

Perhaps we have an unfair advantage as we have more days and hours of sunlight than all most any skyscraper city and we have some of the cleanest air, which creates ideal conditions for sunlight reflections off glass facades.  We also have one of the most dense downtowns in the world with two, sometimes three towers on one block which further enhances the interplay of different architecture, facades and light into playful distortions.

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany by Herzog & de Meuron architects.

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany by Herzog & de Meuron architects.

Calgary's architectural surrealism is evident across its 50+ block downtown core.

Calgary's architectural surrealism is evident across its 50+ block downtown core.

Calgary Advantage 

Perhaps we have an unfair advantage as we have more days and hours of sunlight than all most any skyscraper city and we have some of the cleanest air, which creates ideal conditions for sunlight reflections off glass facades. 

We also have one of the most dense downtowns in the world with two, sometimes three towers on one block which further enhances the interplay of different architecture, facades and light into playful distortions.

Eight Avenue Place, Calgary, Alberta, Pickard Chilton and Gibbs Gage Architects

The Bow, Calgary Alberta, Norman Foster architects. 

My Favourites

Perhaps my favourite is Eight Avenue Place, which changes colour constantly through out the day and year as the sunlight reflects off of the various facades – one minute it is deep blue the next steely grey.

The Bow Tower because of its huge concave surface facing south captures the sky and clouds in unique ways.  The postcard shot is looking up into a blue sky and so the top of the building and sky merge - hence the name skyscraper.

I love to stand on the 9th Avenue side of Bankers Hall’s 9th and how it interacts with Gulf Canada Square’s flat glass surface. 

I also love the way the Calgary Tower gets twisted and distorted in the facades of various buildings, sometimes five and six blocks away.

Bankers Hall silver and gold towers reflected in Gulf Canada Square tower.

Outdoor Art Gallery

Each new building brings a whole new whole new interpretation of our downtown’s sense of place. 

The curved vessel-like shape of 707 Fifth Tower, designed by the highly regarded international architectural firm SOM (they designed the world’s tallest building Burj Khalif Tower in Dubai) is going to create some amazing new artworks. 

As will Telus Sky (designed by world-renowned BIG architects) with its pixelated façade that twists and narrows from the ground to the sky. I can’t wait to see how it interacts with our prairie sky and glass giants (The Bow and Brookfield Place), Suncor Place’s red granite and Bow Valley Square’s four concrete rectangles.

Calgary’s downtown is no longer an ugly concrete jungle, but rather is a playful outdoor art gallery.

Hope you enjoy this exhibition of art from our downtown….

Muncipal Building, downtown Calgary
Is it just me or does this look like what Lawren Harris would paint if he was trying to capture the spirit of Calgary's urbanism.  

Is it just me or does this look like what Lawren Harris would paint if he was trying to capture the spirit of Calgary's urbanism.  

Last Word

One of the biggest criticisms of downtowns in the 20th Century was that they became ugly concrete jungles.  However, by the ‘90s the emergence of glass facades for office and condo towers changed everything.  Douglas Coupland (Vancouver novelist and artist most famous for his book Generation X) nicknamed Vancouver “The City of Glass” as a result of the multitude of glass condos dominating their skyline by the end of the 20th century.

For decades I have loved the way Calgary’s glass towers capture our big blue prairie sky and neighbouring buildings to create wonderful surrealistic images.

To me it makes our downtown an ever-changing outdoor art gallery. 

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Perhaps my favourite reflective building to date is the EMP Museum in Seattle designed by Frank Gehry.  Not only does it have a wonderful concave and convex facade (inspired by him cutting up a guitar and using the shape of the pieces to create the design of the building) but it also has intense reds and blues also taken from the deconstructed guitar.  This photo captures the Seattle Space Needle peeking out from an ominous shadow.  

Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo 2016

While I am not into comics, action heroes, video games or fantasy, I was an early fan of the Big Bang Theory TV show.  As a result, by osmosis I have become very curious about cosplay and the comic-con culture.  

Calgary Expo (our comic-con convention and trade show) has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006.  Today it is the second largest in Canada with attendance exceeding 100,000 people.  

As an everyday tourist, how could I not go this year and see for myself what our Calgary Expo is all about.

Day 1

I was in "people watching" heaven with all of the costumes and displays. There were smiles everywhere and everyone loved to get their picture taken.  The Calgary Expo has many interesting elements - a mini film festival, educational workshops, autograph and photo opportunities with your favourite fantasy character.

After people watching for an hour or so, I headed to the lecture halls and found a Special Effects Cosplay Photography with Vancosplay workshop. This was way out the universe I operate in, but I did get a couple of good tips on some software that I might play with.  Always learn something! 

Next I checked out the short film "Downtime" about a frustrated husband desperate for some downtime, who heads out on an impromptu fishing trip.  It probably won't win any awards but it was interesting to watch.

I missed the "How to Nerd-provise! An Improve Workshop" which would have been fun, I have always enjoyed improv and have been curious about giving it a try. This would have been the perfect opportunity. 

I did attend the "Conversational Klingon: Express Yourself in a ConLand" class by Joseph Windsor  a University of Calgary PHD student.  I had no clue what he was talking about, but the audience loved it.  

The big surprise of the day was having Canada Post at the end of the Klingon lecture unveil two new Star Trek posters.  I am a sucker for surprises. 

It is all about the kids!

The highlight of day one were the children who seemed to be in awe at what they were seeing. 

Day 2 POW: Parade of Wonder 

Day 2 began with everyone gathering at the Eau Claire Plaza starting at 9 am to register, make final costume adjustments and to take lots of pictures.

Again, everyone was keen to have their picture taken, it was an urban photographer's heaven. 

The route went from Eau Claire Plaza, north on 3rd Street SW to Stephen Avenue Walk, where it proceeded east to Olympic Plaza for the Calgary Expo Official Opening by the Mayor. 

The parade lasted about 20 minutes and everyone seemed very pleased - those who watched and those who walked. I think the photos speak for themselves. 

The downtown air was electric with excitement!

The Parade on Stephen Ave.

Olympic Plaza Calgary Expo Opening 

Last Word

Day 3 and 4 were were amazing with thousands of colourful characters of all ages, shapes and sizes animating Stampede Park like I have never seen it before.  

The lectures and panel discussions were very interesting with talks about everything from the Zombie Apocalypse by two University of Calgary professors, to a discussion of Cosplay and body image.  The panel discussion with Jackie Cruz and Lea Delaria of Orange is the New Black to a standing room only audience at the Boyce Theatre, was one of the best improv comedy shows I have seen in years. 

For an urban guy who loves colour, street animation and people the Calgary Expo is now near the top of my list of my favourite Calgary festivals. I love that it attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life. 

I also love how it animated Stampede Park and demonstrated to me how the Park is truly a community park and not just about the 10 days of Stampede.   

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TELUS Spark sparks reflection

Shame on me! Why? Because until today (January 26, 2016) I had not visited the stunning TELUS Spark building which opened in October 2011.  In my defense, I have no children. Nor had anybody said to me “you must see TELUS Spark.”  

That is until Erin Christensen, TELUS Spark’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator emailed me an invite last week to ask if I might be interested in doing a blog about their new exhibition, BODY WORLDS Vital.

I jumped at the chance. 

Close up image of the incredible intricacies of the human body. It will be a long time before we forget this exhibition.  Yes in some ways human flesh does  look like bacon.


On a grey winter day TELUS Sparks blends into the sky and the parking lot.

I do love the tension created by the various angular shapes of the building’s exterior seemingly piled on top of each other.  The steel grey skin seems a little dull by day but becomes a wonderful canvas for the nightly illuminated colour show that makes the building look like a brilliant gemstone to those travelling by on the adjacent Deerfoot Trail.  

Once inside the building, it is very bright, open and very functional, not distracting like so many contemporary, “weird & wacky” buildings.  The entrance is spacious and inviting without being overwhelming. I loved the fact that immediately upon entering, the joyous voices of children playing and having fun could be heard.  It was alive.

The gallery spaces also seem spacious and synergistic with the programming and exhibitions.  As a former public art gallery executive director and curator, this is exactly what you want. Kudos to Calgary’s DIALOG architects.

At the entrance I found this strange juxtaposition of shapes, colours, angles and letters. 

Body WORLDS Vital 

TELUS Sparks bills Vital as “One of the world's most ground-breaking travelling exhibitions at Calgary's science centre. BODY WORLDS Vital celebrates the living human body in its optimal state - healthy, vibrant, vigorous and in motion. The exhibition presents the leading health concerns of contemporary times, the causes of these conditions and diseases and ways to prevent or manage them.”

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

Upfront, they caution visitors this exhibition is not for everyone given the exposure of complete, real bodies including genitalia, prenatal development, (including embryos and foetuses) and on Thursday nights “a representation of sexual intercourse.”

Erin explained that, “we do have a coupling exhibit at BODY WORLDS Vital. It’s open on Thursday evenings starting in February. This includes the Thursdays we have Adults Only Night as well as the Thursdays we are open for extended hours from February to May for all ages.


The exhibit is placed in its own room with a door that can be closed. There is carefully placed signage noting that this is a discretionary section. We wanted to make the coupling exhibit available, while also being mindful of our regular family visitors and school groups. We do not have any photos of this exhibit as there is a photography ban put in place by BODY WORLDS on this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition consists of real human bodies that have been skinned allowing viewers to see every bone, muscle, nerve, organs etc.  In many cases, parts of the body cavity have also been “peeled back” so one can see deeper inside.  The end result in many cases is a very abstract perspective on the human body.

This head reminded me of some of the Inuit sculptures I have seen. 

For some, I can imagine this could be very disturbing, hence their wise warning, but for me, I was simply left wondering what all the fuss was about. And, I did not hear anyone gasping in horror at what they saw.  Because of the process called plastination everything looks plasticized; there is no sense of the messy blood or guts, and it all seems very sanitized.  As a former artist and contemporary art curator, it looked more like art than science.  This is not a bad thing.

I loved the athletic shapes the bodies were placed in - from ballet dancer to soccer player – giving them a sculptural sense of shape and form. Some of the cut-aways looked like something by Picasso or his cubist colleagues or works by one of the surrealists artists or maybe the work of an Inuit carver. 

The first full figure you are confronted with is this jumping male ballet dancer in mid-air. The piece is held up by the peeling back of the spinal cord to reveal all of the inner organs and muscles. It is a very powerful piece. 

I spent about 90 minutes in the exhibition and could have spent more.  We’d recommend getting the audio guide as we found many of the information panels a little light on information. However, there is a roving educator on site to answer questions that enquiring minds might have.

Though I am not sure of the scientific or educational value of the exhibition (most of the information being readily available and with videos much more explicit and realistic).

At the same time, it does provide a unique and amazingly 3D visual look at the almost infinite intricacies and complexity of the human body.  






Up Close And Personal

This close up further documents the astounding/mindboggling complexity and fragility of the human body. 

It was enlightening to see how all of our internal organs fit together so neatly and compactly.  

This is the body of a female gymnast on the pommel horse.

Other On-site Fun

While on-site, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly explore other parts of TELUS Spark.  I loved the other exhibition areas. And we weren’t alone as there were many enthusiastic (some squealing with delight) children both with their parents and school groups. I was pleased to see lots of Calgary/Alberta-centric information especially on our oil, gas and wind power industries. 

This climbing object is full of climbing "holds." It is very sculptural and can be used by kids of all ages, as well as adults.

What really surprised me was the space and content devoted to young adults and adults.  It was nice to see so many young couples in the galleries on a Tuesday afternoon.  I had been told by parents that TELUS Spark really only appealed to children aged 4 to about 10 and while would agree that is the “sweet spot” for visiting, there is something for almost everyone. 
Erin told me, TELUS Spark routinely attracts 2,000 visitors for their Adult Only nights! We did not take in the films in the Dome Theatre, which would have no doubt added another dimension to our experience.

I love the Top Ten Tips for Saturdays on TELUS Spark’s website which outlines an entire day of activities.  Though it was posted November 2015, I expect it is still valid and might even work for a Sunday.

I was also impressed by the unique outside playground for kids aged 5 and up. It has none of the traditional equipment and seemed a lot more challenging than the colourful, cookie-cutter playgrounds you see around town. I liked the fact that while it would interest toddlers, it would also be challenging and fun for teens, something missing from most playgrounds.

Love this contemporary teeter totter. 

Value For Money

I think you might need a science degree to figure out all of the pricing for TELUS Spark. I have two science degrees and I am not sure I understand it.

Regular Price

Adult (18-64) $19.95 | Senior (65+) $17.95 | Youth (13-17) $15.95 | Child (3-12) $12.95 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I believe there is normally and additional charge for films in the Dome Theatre but couldn’t find the price online.  I believe that if you want the “full meal deal” and see two films (they are short), the cost for an Adult would be in the $30 range, Senior $25, Youth $20 and Child $18 depending on the film.

BODY WORLDS Vital + other exhibitions + one Dome show

Adult (18-64) $30.00 | Senior (65+) $28.00 | Youth (13-17) $26.00 | Child (3-12) $23.00 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I won’t even try to explain how the membership works and what is included in the various options. But I expect it is the best deal if you have kids and plan on visiting on a frequent basis.

For context purposes, the regular prices are pretty much in line with similar Calgary venues such as the Calgary Zoo and Glenbow. Scotiabank Theatre Chinook charges $16.25 for a regular film and as much as $24.25 for a D-Box UltraAVX movie (whatever that is).

Gas Exchange - Cross Section of the Thoracic Cavity. 

Last Word

Upon reflection, the best lesson learned from this exhibition is an appreciation for how well my old body works given all the things that could go wrong. 

Erin tells me TELUS Spark is hoping to attract 100,000+ to this special exhibition. If you are into science or art, you are in for a treat.  Body WORLDS Vital is on exhibit at TELUS Spark until May 31, 2016.

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2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Playground 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.

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.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.


I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

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 like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.


Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

Making Roads, Grand Trunk Park playground

Peek-a-boo. King George School, Calgary

Colour and Shadow Fun, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Another Day At The Office, West Hillhurst Community Centre Playground, Calgary

Oasis, Inglewood, Calgary

Artwalk maze playground, Victoria

Colour & Shadow Play, Hillhurst Community Centre, Calgary

Look what we found. West Hillhurst, Calgary

Bucket Seat Swings, Seattle

Bucket Seat Swings, Seattle

Alien space craft? West Hillhurst, Calgary 

Interplay: Sky, Tree & Playground, Riley Park, Calgary

Learning to tightrope walk, St. Patrick's Island, Calgary

Who needs a playground when you can play under the LRT bridge in Eau Claire?

Who needs a playground when you can play under the LRT bridge in Eau Claire?

The plaza behind the McDougall Centre makes for a great skateboard park. These guys travelled all the way from Edmonton to check out downtown Calgary's hot skating spots. 

Snowboarding near 14th Street across from the Jubilee Theatre. Another hidden gem playground.

This sure beats my Fisher Price garage at home. 

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