Mission is marvellous

I have always thought Mission would be a marvellous place to live.  It has a grocery store, two drug stores, banks, restaurants, galleries, fitness and medical services galore. 

It has charming old homes, as well as low, mid and high rise condos (new and old).  It even has its own elementary, junior and high school – not many City Centre communities in North America can boast that. There is a community garden and lovely pathways along the Elbow River too. 

Who could ask for anything more?

Mission is home to numerous charming walk-up apartments like the Avonlea.

Mission is home to numerous charming walk-up apartments like the Avonlea.

It is also home to lots of new low-rise condos.

It is also home to lots of new low-rise condos.

It is also home to multi-million dollar waterfront condos along the Elbow River. 

It is also home to multi-million dollar waterfront condos along the Elbow River. 

Walkability

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Fourth Street SW, Mission’s Main Street, extends from 26th Avenue to 17th Avenue SW and even beyond.  It has a lovely diversity of pedestrian-oriented businesses - independent cafes like Purple Perk and Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, upscale restaurants like Wurst and Mercato, neighbourhood pubs like Ducky’s and Joyce on 4th and one of Calgary’s oldest commercial art galleries - Masters Gallery.

The Walk Score website gives Mission a Walk Score of 84, making it the 11th most walkable neighbourhood in Calgary.

The only reason the score isn’t higher is because there is no LRT stop in the community otherwise, everything is within walking distance – downtown, Stampede Park, Memorial Park Library, 17th Ave shops and Repsol Sport Centre.

Mission's La Boulanderie Bakery Cafe offers a little bit of Paris in Calgary.   

Mission's La Boulanderie Bakery Cafe offers a little bit of Paris in Calgary.  

Purple Perk is one of Calgary's signature independent cafes. 

Purple Perk is one of Calgary's signature independent cafes. 

Frankly Heisler's Dream Fragment has weathered nicely outside the BMO branch on 4th Street SW.

Frankly Heisler's Dream Fragment has weathered nicely outside the BMO branch on 4th Street SW.

Architecture & History

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Mission is home to St Mary’s Cathedral looks like it has been there forever but in reality only since 1956. The original St. Mary’s Church was a massive sandstone building with twin-domed towers built in 1889 and consecrated as a cathedral in 1913.

The architect for the new cathedral, a modernist interpretation of Gothic architecture dominated by its 40-meter bell tower, was Maxwell Bates, best known as a highly respected painter whose art can be seen at Masters Gallery.

Not many Calgarians are aware that tucked away at 141- 18th Street SW sits St. Mary’s Parish Hall, built in 1905 and sold to the Canadian Northern Railway in 1911, who converted the building into a train station which operated until 1971. It is now home of Alberta Ballet and its dance studio.

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Mission was also home to Calgary’s first major hospital - the Holy Cross, built in 1892 and expanded in 1928 and 1950.  Though none of the original hospital remains, the NcNabb wing, with its distinctive pillars built in 1947, still exists right on 2nd St. SW.

In an ironic twist, while Mission’s history is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, Calgary’s Jewish community in 1930 acquired a site on Centre Street at 18th Avenue SW to build the House of Israel. However, it wasn’t until 1949 that the Art Deco building was finally completed and became the centre of Jewish life in Calgary. In 1960, the Tzedec Synagogue was built next door, but the “flight to the suburbs” in the late 20th century resulted in a new Jewish Centre in the community of Palliser in 1979.  After sitting vacant for several years the Mission buildings were sold and transformed into condominiums in 1998. 

I love that the former street names have been added to the street signs as reminder of the history of the community. 

I love that the former street names have been added to the street signs as reminder of the history of the community. 

The new St. Mary's church.

The new St. Mary's church.

Last Word

Built in 1973, the Mission Centre office building's curved architecture foreshadows that of the Bow Tower and has a better interface with the street.  

Built in 1973, the Mission Centre office building's curved architecture foreshadows that of the Bow Tower and has a better interface with the street.  

Mission is indeed marvellous and is an example of a Jane Jacob’s (late 20th century advocate for the importance of diversity and human scale development in creating vibrant inner-city communities) village in Calgary with its mix of old and new, affordable, modest and luxury homes along with shops that meet residents’ everyday needs.

It is also home to several old and new office buildings which help to give it a buzz weekdays, as well as evenings and weekends.

Watch for new Mission residential developments by Grosvenor on 4th St. at 17th Ave. SW and InDevelopments on the old Peking Dragon Site on 4th St. and 19th Ave. SW.

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

Marda Loop Madness

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth

Britannia's Urban Transformation

An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the January 2018 issue of Condo Living magazine. 

Everyday Tourist 2017 Retrospective: Fun Flaneur Finds

For most people the new year, is a time to reflect on what has happen over the past year and what they would like to happen over the next.  For me it is a time to edit the 20,000+ photos I have taken this year and decide which ones to keep. 

Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

It is also time to ponder what were my best experiences, adventures and discoveries? What was the best art gallery, art exhibition, artwork or architecture I experienced? Should I create albums of the best pieces of public art, best street art, buildings or street photos?

After much reflection, I decided the life of an everyday flaneur isn’t about the “best of” it is about surprises, chance encounters and the thrill of the unexpected. 

As a result this photo essay while in chronological oder is a hodgepodge of fun flaneur finds discovered over the past year wandering with my eyes and mind wide open. I hope you enjoy....

Yoga bound, Calgary

Yoga bound, Calgary

Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

Keys, Calgary

Keys, Calgary

Night Rider, Calgary

Night Rider, Calgary

Tree of Life, Berlin

Tree of Life, Berlin

Shopping Vortex, Berlin

Shopping Vortex, Berlin

Circus architecture, Berlin

Circus architecture, Berlin

Giant Red Tops, Berlin

Giant Red Tops, Berlin

Bitte Please, Berlin

Bitte Please, Berlin

Pedestrian, Berlin

Pedestrian, Berlin

Mannie, Berlin

Mannie, Berlin

Street Furniture, Berlin

Street Furniture, Berlin

Recycling Igloos, Berlin

Recycling Igloos, Berlin

Notes, Berlin  (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

Notes, Berlin (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

Magritte Lives, Berlin

Magritte Lives, Berlin

No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

11 disciples, Berlin

11 disciples, Berlin

Molecules, Berlin

Molecules, Berlin

Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

Green Eye, Berlin

Green Eye, Berlin

Confession, Berlin

Confession, Berlin

Word Search, Berlin

Word Search, Berlin

Fun School, Berlin

Fun School, Berlin

Mystery Box, Berlin

Mystery Box, Berlin

Stripes & Checks, Berlin

Stripes & Checks, Berlin

Eye Candy, Berlin

Eye Candy, Berlin

Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

Hungry, Berlin

Hungry, Berlin

Living Room, Berlin

Living Room, Berlin

Escher & Alexa, Berlin

Escher & Alexa, Berlin

 Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

 Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

Red River, Leipzig

Red River, Leipzig

Snail's Pace, Leipzig  (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall )

Snail's Pace, Leipzig (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall)

Three Sisters, Leipzig

Three Sisters, Leipzig

Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

Street Talk, Leipzig

Street Talk, Leipzig

Couple, Leipzig

Couple, Leipzig

Inside! Leipzig

Inside! Leipzig

Special, Leipzig

Special, Leipzig

Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

Follow Through, Leipzig

Follow Through, Leipzig

Partners, Leipzig

Partners, Leipzig

Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

No parking, Leipzig

No parking, Leipzig

Strings Attached, Leipzig

Strings Attached, Leipzig

Brutal Beauty, London, ON

Brutal Beauty, London, ON

Dressing Up!, London, ON

Dressing Up!, London, ON

Playful, Hamilton

Playful, Hamilton

Perspective, Calgary

Perspective, Calgary

Windows, Calgary

Windows, Calgary

Street Party, Calgary

Street Party, Calgary

Dance with me! Calgary

Dance with me! Calgary

My old backyard, Gleichen

My old backyard, Gleichen

Remnants, Sisika

Remnants, Sisika

Waiting, Calgary

Waiting, Calgary

Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

Hooped, Canmore

Hooped, Canmore

Really, Olds

Really, Olds

Blast From The Past, Olds

Blast From The Past, Olds

Statement, Calgary 

Statement, Calgary 

Upsized, Calgary

Upsized, Calgary

Too Much Information, Calgary

Too Much Information, Calgary

Musical Stairs, Calgary

Musical Stairs, Calgary

Legs & Pillars, Calgary

Legs & Pillars, Calgary

Dataport, Medicine Hat

Dataport, Medicine Hat

Love, Calgary

Love, Calgary

Rainbow, Calgary

Rainbow, Calgary

Buried, Canmore

Buried, Canmore

Happy Hour, Calgary

Happy Hour, Calgary

Elizabeth, Calgary

Elizabeth, Calgary

Failure, Calgary

Failure, Calgary

Stanley Guitar, Nashville

Stanley Guitar, Nashville

Oxymoron, Nashville

Oxymoron, Nashville

Euphony, Nashville

Euphony, Nashville

Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

Bus Rider, Nashville

Bus Rider, Nashville

Wisedom, Mesa

Wisedom, Mesa

Trophies, Calgary

Trophies, Calgary

Alone, Calgary

Alone, Calgary

Outer Space, Palm Springs

Outer Space, Palm Springs

Creative Space, Palm Springs

Creative Space, Palm Springs

Yard Art, Palm Springs

Yard Art, Palm Springs

Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

Whimsical, Palm Springs

Whimsical, Palm Springs

Corner, Palm Springs

Corner, Palm Springs

Blue Bird, Calgary

Blue Bird, Calgary

Juxtaposition, Calgary

Juxtaposition, Calgary

Twisted, Calgary

Twisted, Calgary

Fire, Calgary

Fire, Calgary

Pathways, Calgary

Pathways, Calgary

Thanks for scrolling to the end. 

All the best in 2018. 

Palm Springs: Robolights Mash-Up!

While flaneuring Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood just east of their Design District we suddenly came upon three huge robot-looking creatures amongst the trees - one pink, one yellow and one orange. The pink robot was probably 30-feet high. Quickly the light bulb went on; this is the house with the bizarre Christmas light show I had read about. 

Peering over the bushes and the fence we could see hundreds of strange-looking creatures created out of recycled junk that looked like a surreal  mash-up of characters from Star Wars to Jurassic Park. Did a 21st century Dali or Duchamp live here?

We had to come back at night!

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Robolights 101 / Kenny's World

Basically, Robolights is a giant art installation with millions of lights and hundreds of giant creatures from various folklores and movies, as well as Christmas and cartoon characters that fill a two-acre residential lot in Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood. The work of artist Kenny Irwin Jr., it is billed as the largest, most spectacular residential light display in America, perhaps the entire world.”

What began in 1986 as a 9-year old boy’s dream has become Kenny’s altered reality (he still lives in the family house year-round surrounded by his installation).  He has built on almost every available square centimeter of the homestead – his childhood sandbox, the tennis court, the pool and the even the roof of the house. 

His first piece was a 10-foot tall wooden creature with a 1940s phone coming out of its chest.  Since then, he has continued to work on the display year-round using donated junk from friends and strangers (e.g. when a local casino was upgrading the slot machines, they donated all the electronic equipment and some old machines), as well as purchasing things on EBay.

Ironically while it is called Robolights, there are no real robots in the show and Irwin doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, having converted to Islamic many years ago.

Visitors are welcome year-round by donation, but it really comes alive from Thanksgiving to the first week of January when extra lights are added to make it more Christmassy. During this time it is open from 4 to 9:30 pm, donations are option and you can also donate a toy for children in need. 

Link:  Robolights

Robolights has captured national and international attention over the years, attracting 20,000 people last year. But, Robolights almost didn’t happen this year as the City of Palm Springs was concerned the two enormous inflatables on the roof of the house could blow off and damage houses, cars or people on the streets.

 

Somewhere in this display is the house.

Somewhere in this display is the house.

Enter at your own risk?

Enter at your own risk?

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

What we saw!

From the outside, it looks like a Christmas lightshow “gone wild” with a Santa and his reindeer along the street at the entrance made out of an assortment of recycled materials from old car parts to shopping carts. There are countless lights and the roof of the house is graced with two huge inflatables.  There are lots of people milling about but it was not crowded this Tuesday night (nor was it on the Sunday night when I popped by again).

However, upon entering the narrow passageway you quickly realized this is not an innocent Christmas show for children, but a weird, wacky and sometimes macabre art installation on a scale I have never seen before.  This art exhibition is full of fun, strange and bizarre surprises – a mash-up of Disneyland and the Stampede midway.

Many people were overheard saying, “WOW this is amazing/weird.” Another frequent comment was “Where does he get all this stuff?” Irwin estimates he had incorporated over 1,000 tons of recycled materials into the various displays.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of things for kids of all ages to see and enjoy. There are all the things you would expect in a Christmas light show - Santa Clause, reindeer, snowman, castles, candy canes, but all with a twist.

In fact we know of one family with a two and half year old who went with friends and said they all enjoyed the show for different reasons.  And there were certainly lots of families enjoying the show the night we were there.

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

Lego gone wild?

Lego gone wild?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

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Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

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Parents Beware

Parents be prepared to answer some difficult questions like “Why are those people sitting in toilets in shopping carts on the roller coaster?” Or “Why are those naked people painted yellow and have animal horns on their heads?”

There is Santa riding a military tank and hundreds of toilets incorporated into various artworks – what kid doesn’t like some toilet humor. Watch out for the dinosaur clutching a stuffie in its mouth. Fortunately, for the younger children they will be mesmerized by the lights, colour and everything going on to see the “devil in the details.”

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

Why?

Why?

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

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Nothing is sacred....

Nothing is sacred....

Contemporary snowwoman?

Contemporary snowwoman?

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

Last Word

In an LA Times interview in November 2015, Irwin stated  “My main intention is to provide people with immense pleasure through the work that I do. There's not really any deep meaning in my art. It's basically for the whimsy of it." He identifies four themes to his work – robots, extra-terrestrial, holidays and Islamic culture.  He has said publicly “nothing is sacred to him.”

From a curatorial perspective I loved the tension created by the juxtaposition of mythical and macabre characters. Given the number of toilets in various contexts, one can help but wonder if Irwin is a modern day Duchamp.  The monochromatic figures from recycled objects recall the sculptural work of Lousie Nevelson. Robolights is an ambitious art installation that builds on the work of the surrealist. It is a mash-up of Halloween and Christmas.

We were there for a good hour wandering the labyrinth of narrow pathways and could have stayed longer, but my camera’s battery ran out of juice. 

I would definitely go back again. 

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Palm Springs: Real & Surreal?

Why can't every retailer have great windows?  I am currently in Palm Springs staying at The Twist on Via Lola in the Design District. I am  loving the amazing windows full of mid-century modern (old and new) furniture, fashions, art and home accessories along N Palm Canyon Drive aka Main Street. They are the best I have seen since flaneuring Florence's Via Tornabuoni three years ago.  

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Where are the people?

In addition to great windows, Palm Springs' Design District has some great architecture and fun public art which combine to make for a great pedestrian experience.  Ironically there are very few pedestrians to be found, except at the night market on Thursday.  So much for the theory - if you create interesting pedestrian environments they will come.

It is surreal how empty Palm Springs' sidewalk and streets are - both the Design District and Downtown - given the temperatures day and night are ideal for strolling and window licking.

This photo essay combines real images of windows in both the Design District and Downtown with surreal ones (created using the app UNION to overlap two or more real images).  Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is surreal. 

Can you tell which ones are real and which ones are surreal? The answers are at the end. 

Enjoy the stroll aka scroll!
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Last Word

I thought it would be fun to see if people can tell which images are real and which are surreal. 

Answers:

#1 Real  #2  Real  #3  Real  #4  Real #5  Surreal  #6 Surreal  #7 Real  #8 Real  #9 Surreal

#10 Surreal  #11 Surreal  #12 Surreal #13 Real  #14 Real  #15 Real  #16 Real  #15 Real #16 Surreal    

#17 Surreal #18  Surreal #19 Surreal #20 Real #21 Real #22Real #23 Surreal #24 Real #25 Real #26 Real 

 

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

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

Window Licking In Chicago

Flaneuring Fun In Downtown Tucson

 

 

 

Public Art: Capturing a sense of time and place.

This guest blog, by architect Tom Tittemore (former chair Calgary Public Art Board) and a long time Everyday Tourist reader, looks at three public artworks that had a major impact on him on his recent European travels.

The Importance of Statuary (or, ‘Clothes make the man’, Mark  Twain)

John A. MacDonald statue smeared with red paint in Montreal. 

John A. MacDonald statue smeared with red paint in Montreal. 

Calgarians reside in a place where “statuary” (statues regarded collectively) is predominantly of the barnyard variety:  horses and cows mainly.  We also reside in a country where figurative honorific statuary is becoming increasingly scrutinized and ‘shamed’ through new cultural and political lenses. 

For example, this week’s vandalism of John A. MacDonald’s statue in Montreal by anarchists due to claims of his racism towards indigenous peoples. 

In contrast, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland offer a rich palette of statuary that portray key participants in their regions’ respective lengthy, complex, inspiring and tumultuous histories. Three statues within unique, specific sites resonated with me during my recent travels there.  Each reveres the individual’s notable contributions to Western thought, politics and culture.

Man on the Street (Dublin, Ireland – 1990)

 “James Joyce's fictional universe centres on Dublin, and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of the city.” (Wikipedia)
Detail of James Joyce statue.

Detail of James Joyce statue.

The commemorative statue of this avant garde 20th century writer by Marjorie Fitzgibbon is located on Talbot Street in a recently modernized, pedestrian-focused precinct of Dublin. 

Its ordinary street setting contrasts with the nearby formal O’Connell Street that honors many of the country’s political heroes instrumental in Ireland’s fight for national autonomy one hundred years ago. 

James Joyce’s roughly hewn bronze statue is human-scaled, approachable, tactile, haughty, stylish and proud.  

He stands slightly above the many passerbys, who are likely caught up in their own daily ‘streams of consciousness’ (or ‘interior monologues’ that typify Joyce’s writing style).

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce
Locals and tourists alike encounter Joyce as part of their everyday experience.

Locals and tourists alike encounter Joyce as part of their everyday experience.

Shifting Reason (Edinburgh, Scotland – 1997)

“David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism and naturalism.” (Wikipedia)

David Hume’s sculptural representation by Alexander Stoddart on the historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh evokes the spirit of pre-Christian society. Whilst balancing his seminal ‘A Treatise of Human Nature,’ his pose and simple adornment portrays to me the philosopher’s anti-rational moral philosophy grounded in causal determinism, sentimentalism and atheism.

Whoa! Yes, all heedy stuff here!!  However, this personage is a nadir of what I refer to as the “18th Century Enlightened Scottish Renaissance.”  Hopefully, some of the tourist throng exploring Edinburgh will discover, as I did, how Hume and his other Scottish contemporaries embellished our 21st century lives with increased knowledge, greater freedom, improved health and ample convenience.

“A wise man, therefore, proportions his beliefs to the evidence.”  David Hume
Statues often become urban meeting places and performance spaces for locals and tourists. 

Statues often become urban meeting places and performance spaces for locals and tourists. 

Protestation (Belfast, Northern Ireland – late 20th century)

OK, this example isn’t statuary, but should be considered a variation of my theme.

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

The political upheaval that took place during the ‘70s and ‘80s has left a perceptible residue of unease and tension that I perceived during my brief afternoon stay and Black Cab tour (a specially selected fleet of drivers who have intimate knowledge of Belfast storied history and will take you on a personal tour of the city). 

The two warring religious-based camps created homage to their respective heroes from this still unresolved event in the form of extensive mural art throughout the city.

The mural of Kieran Nugent, the first ‘blanket man,’ exists within a working class, predominantly Catholic neighbourhood.  Along with others of his generation – my generation – many of whom met a self-sacrificial fate, he speaks daily to pedestrians and motorists from an ordinary brick building.

Without question, this Black Cab tour of Belfast that provided my wife Carol and I with a personal tour of the city through the eyes of, in our case, a Protestant driver, was one of the most memorable events of my trip.

‘When sentenced to three years, Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform and said the prison guards would have to "...nail it to my back.”’
Murals can be very effective as reminders of a city's history. 

Murals can be very effective as reminders of a city's history. 

Conclusion

Appreciating public art, not unlike any other art genre, often takes effort in the form of curiosity and research – plus a good pair of walking shoes! If one subscribes to the notion that a purpose of public art is to tell, or reinterpret, a story of Place from the artist’s perspective, then one has to understand the Place in all its many facets.

As an avid ‘Urban Trekker,’ not unlike a flaneur, public art provides me with a source of wonder and fascination in understanding the culture of our cities.

The statues of Adam Smith, William lll of Orange, William Playfair, King George lll, Molly Malone, General Wellington, Robbie Burns and Dugald Stewart’s - and their stories - also contributed to my enjoyment of this unique region. A region that has strong historical and cultural affiliation with Calgary.

Everyday Tourist Rebuttal

While Tom thinks most of Calgary’s statuary art is of the barnyard variety, three of Calgary’s most popular and prominent pieces are in fact figurative and function much like what he experienced in Europe. 

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The “Famous Five,” an ambitious work by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson, celebrates the five women who successfully lobbied for womens' rights in the early 20th century. 

It is a lovely work that integrates well with Olympic Plaza and invites the public to stop and interact with it. 

Another popular statuary art in Calgary is “The Conversation” by William McElcheran, located in front of Hudson’s Bay department store on Stephen Avenue.  This piece depicts two businessmen engaged in a face-to-face discussion with strong hand gestures.  Given downtown Calgary has one of the largest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America, this work and its location (i.e. in the middle of our CBD) is very appropriate for our city’s culture.

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Finally, no discussion of statuary art in Calgary would be complete without looking at “The Brotherhood of Mankind,” known by some as “The Family of Man.” Created by Spanish artist Mario Armengol as part of the British Pavilion for Montreal's Expo ’67, these 10 huge (each approx. 6.5m tall and 680 kilograms) naked stick figures were purchased at auction and donated to the City of Calgary for tax purposes by Calgary businessman Robert Cummings.

Backstory: When the figures were first set up, the pieces weren't in the circle formation we see today. Rather, they were spread out as part of an exhibit called Britain in the World. The oversized figures were meant to suggest the dominance of man and stood next to what the Brits determined were their “gifts” to the modern world – things like language, government systems, law and traditions.  Ironically, when they arrived in Calgary there were no installation instructions so City staff decided they should be in a circle and thus became a family – perhaps reflecting Calgary’s strong family orientation.

Last Word

Tittemore is correct Calgary does have lots of barnyard statues, but many do reflect our history and culture which includes ranching and agriculture.

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Joe Fafard’s seven galloping horses in Hotchkiss Gardens and Richard Loffler’s Outlaw (the Calgary’s Stampede’s legendary bull that was only ridden once) are two good examples. 

I would also be remise if this blog didn’t recognize Don Begg’s statue of a very proud and welcoming Sitting Eagle (also known as John Hunter) located downtown at the corner of 7th Ave and 6th St. SW. 

Perhaps a blog showcasing Calgary’s statutory art is what I should be working on. 

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

Dublin Revisited in 36 Postcards

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza

Stampede Park sculpture becomes family playground

 

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

Over the past few weeks I have enjoyed exploring the streets and indoor +15 walkway of Calgary's downtown searching for dramatic lighting for black and white photos.  In addition, I was attempting to capture Calgary's unique urban sense of place.

Hope you enjoy this photo essay - feedback is always welcomed.

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Joane Cardinal-Schubert: The Writing on the Wall

If you go to one Calgary art exhibition this fall, I recommend the Joane Cardinal-Schubert exhibition at the Nickle Galleries in the Taylor Family Digital Library, at the University of Calgary. It is on until December 17th. This exhibition brings together 60 artworks from private and public collections across Canada.  

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Joane and I had many long and lively conversations about the contemporary art scene when I was the Executive Director/Curator at the Muttart Art Gallery (1984 to 1994) located in the Memorial Park Library building, now Contemporary Calgary.  Adamant she didn’t want to be known as a “Native Artist” but as a contemporary Canadian artist whose work comments on current Canadian issues, which just happened to be about racism, ethnicity, colonialism and residential school experiences. These were the things, she knew best.

And, in a 2002, article in Galleries West magazine, Joane said “I started on this road to paint about my personal experiences: but because I'm Aboriginal, my work has been considered political. I don't think of it as political:  I think of it as personal.” 

It is ironic that her personal artistic statements are probably more relevant and more political today than at the time of our discussions 30 years ago.

For me, the love of Joane’s work was immediate…I loved the intensity of the colour, the use of colour, images and words to communicate to the viewer.  I loved the narratives in her paintings and installations. 

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I share these images of the exhibition with you as a teaser, as a catalyst to encourage you if at all possible to see the exhibition for yourself.  Joane, who passed away in 2009, is one of Alberta’s most important artists. While she is a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, she deserves to be a household name among the likes of Lawren Harris, Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt.

I will let the art in “The Writing on the Wall” speak for itself.

Note:

  • You may (or may not) be aware of Joane’s work as she has a major sculpture at the Calgary International Airport in the domestic terminal immediately after you check-in. 
  • For those of you who don’t live in Calgary, unfortunately you will have to make due with these images.
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Calgary: Back Alley Envy?

One of the buzzwords in urban design these days is “back alleys” or “back lanes. For some, it is about laneway housing, for others, it is the animation of back alleys with murals, cafes and shops as a means of creating a unique urban experience.

Never liking to be left out of any new urban design trends, it was not surprising Calgary hosted a Backyard Alley Party on 17th Avenue SW, the last two September weekends.

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The Red Thread

Will Craig, Senior Associate with Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning, invited me to join him on a sneak-a-peek walkabout of the back alleys on the north side of 17th Avenue SW just before the first Backyard Alley party weekend.  I was shocked to find over 100 empty parking stalls on a late Friday morning just before lunch hour.  Furthermore, I was surprised at how peaceful it was without any traffic. 

However, seeing all the everyday clutter of that alleys with industrial-sized garbage bins, fences, poles and barriers, it was hard to imagine the alley could be turned into a fun people place for patios, games, vendors and movies.  But that is exactly what happened!

On the first Saturday, I was amazed by the amazing transformation of the back alley with artificial turf over most of the asphalt and the addition of picnic tables, bars and BBQs and various equipment for games. There was even a red line painted down the middle (aka red carpet), nicknamed “The Red Thread.” 

However, being a sunny Saturday afternoon, the alley on the north side of 17th Ave SW was in shade while the sidewalk (front yard) was beaming in sunlight.  So, not surprisingly, the back alley yard party was very quiet while the street patios were full of patrons. I understand the back alley animation picked up when the sun went down.

FYI: Craig actually spent some time in Melbourne, studying how that city adapted its alleys for commercial uses and upon returning to Calgary, was keen to pilot something in Calgary.  The 17th Avenue Backyard Alley Party was an experiment and will be tested a few more times as 17th Avenue SW businesses temporarily lose their sidewalk access due to construction. Lessons learned will help identify other City Centre alley experiments that might eventually lead to permanent commercial uses.

The back alley behind the Ship & Anchor on a normal day. 

The back alley behind the Ship & Anchor on a normal day. 

The Ship & Anchor back alley parking lot converted into s fun picnic games space. 

The Ship & Anchor back alley parking lot converted into s fun picnic games space. 

Ship & Ancho's 17th Avenue street patio on the same day as the back alley party. 

Ship & Ancho's 17th Avenue street patio on the same day as the back alley party. 

Melbourne’s Laneways

City Centre back alleys and laneways in Calgary (and most North American cities) are often seen as seedy places where illicit things happen, deliveries take place and garbage and recycling bins sit.  The same is not true outside North America - Melbourne’s City Centre has become a popular tourist attraction because of the fun things to see and do in their back alleys, called laneways.

Australian Tourism’s website describes Melbourne’s hidden laneways as, “ Today you can escape Melbourne's modern-day traffic in these charming backstreets. Let the aroma of good coffee and gourmet outlets tempt you to Degraves Street and Centre Place. Stop in at housewares stores along each. There's more great café culture along Crossley Street, as well as stylish boutiques and small, popular lunch places.”

It doesn’t stop there. “Check out the funky boutiques and flagship stores clustered around Little Collins Street. Hunt down a piece by a local fashion designer in Manchester or Flinders Lane, where the city's rag trade began. For true retail elegance, visit the heritage-listed Royal and Block Arcades, with their mosaic-tiled floors and opulent finishings.”

Melbourne's laneways have also become spaces for artistic expression. “See colourful, constantly-changing graffiti murals in Hosier Lane and along Union Lane. Cocker Alley features the work of graffiti artist Banksy.”

After reading this, it was all I could do to resist immediately booking a flight.

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Calgary Back Alley Experiments

Perhaps Calgary’s best back alley hot spot was in the historic Grain Exchange Building where in the ‘80s, the basement Beat Niq jazz club (later it became Wino’s and now vacant) was a popular nightspot. With the entrance from the alley on the south side of Stephen Avenue, it had just the right amount of seediness that you would expect of a New York City back alley jazz club - especially with the Pic Niq restaurant upstairs. 

Metrovino opened in 1996 (and is still open) as part of the redevelopment of a common Beltline warehouse building in the middle of the 700 block of 11th Avenue SW (once known as the Design District). The building included Metovino, The Cookbook Company, Paul Kuhn Art Gallery, a restaurant (currently Decadent Brulee) and offices (CityScope Magazine, now Avenue Magazine and Sturgess Architecture).  It predates the East Village’s mixed-use Simmons Building by 20 years and was a private entrepreneurial enterprise.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Though you can access Metrovino from 11th Avenue SW by walking through the Cookbook Company store, the front door actually is in the alley at the back of the now metal-cladded industrial-looking building.  Most days owner Richard Harvey’s bike sits in the alley on what was once a loading dock, magnifying the urbanity of the alley.

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream is yet another success story, opening up in 2012 in an unused space at the back of an Engineering Office at the end of 10th Avenue SE in Victoria Park.  Talk about off the beaten path!  However, it has been so successful, two new locations have since opened – one in Britannia and the other in Marda Loop.

Then recently, I stumbled upon Art of Vintage - in the back alley of a small non-descript commercial building at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 29th Street SW in - of all places - Killarney. It is an intimate space full of curated Western Canadian artifacts – some for sale, some for rent (yes, you can rent them for your next theme dinner party).

I believe it is exactly the kind of place you would find in a Melbourne laneway.

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

As is The Brewer's Apprentice a new craft beer store in East village that is located in the alley between N3 condo and St. Louis Hotel.  In fact the entrance of the N3 condo is in the alley so the entire building could be considered laneway housing.  

It is easy to miss the entrance to the Brewer's Apprentice in East Village. 

It is easy to miss the entrance to the Brewer's Apprentice in East Village. 

Last Word

Calgary has experimented with some back alley establishments over the years, but all have been “one-off” initiatives.  What is needed is a comprehensive back alley plan that would create a critical mass of things to see (murals) and do (cafés, bistros, boutiques) that create a unique urban experience and make living in our City Centre more attractive. 

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on October 28, 2017 titled "Back Alley Envy: City Life In The Lane." 

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

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

Is Calgary Really Ready For Urban Living?

Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

 

Must See: cSPACE & I Am Western

If you haven’t been to the renovated three storey, sandstone King Edward School (1720 – 30th Ave SW) in Marda Loop you must go. The handsome building was completed in 1913 and was one of 19 sandstone schools built by the Calgary public school board between 1894 and 1914.

cSpace is currently hosting the provocative "I Am Western" art exhibition which is a "must see" for anyone interested in the visual arts and social commentary.  

cSpace is currently hosting the provocative "I Am Western" art exhibition which is a "must see" for anyone interested in the visual arts and social commentary.  

Old vs New

While cSPACE is still a work in progress (the school renovation is finished and 29 artists and art groups are all in, but they are still constructing the new performance space and completing the front yard landscaping). You can already see how the juxtaposition of the old and new is creating something very special both for Calgary’s creative community and the public.

The majestic King Edward School is getting a new life as a creative hub.  The construction on the left side is the new performance space.  The site will also include luxury condos on the west side and a seniors complex on the east. 

The majestic King Edward School is getting a new life as a creative hub.  The construction on the left side is the new performance space.  The site will also include luxury condos on the west side and a seniors complex on the east. 

Free

There is a bit of an urgency to go before Oct 1st 2017 as the well worth seeing exhibition “I Am Western” closes then.  I hope these postcards from our recent visit will entice you (and maybe bring some friends) to visit both the space and the exhibition before the end of September.  It’s FREE!

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Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba, The Space Between Cities, 2011 is a mixed media installation that resembles a small tool or garden shed.  It includes fossils, wasp nests, antlers, furniture, digital images, pelts, grain seedlings, paddle, bird nest, bird wing, sunflower roots and much much more. The artists intent is for the viewer to "meditate upon the constant transformation of our world." 

Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba, The Space Between Cities, 2011 is a mixed media installation that resembles a small tool or garden shed.  It includes fossils, wasp nests, antlers, furniture, digital images, pelts, grain seedlings, paddle, bird nest, bird wing, sunflower roots and much much more. The artists intent is for the viewer to "meditate upon the constant transformation of our world." 

Loved this shed-like structure full of fun everyday artifacts from the farm. Especially liked this beehive made from old matchbooks. 

Loved this shed-like structure full of fun everyday artifacts from the farm. Especially liked this beehive made from old matchbooks. 

John Freeman, Now You See It Soon You Won't, 2011, inkjet in on translucent polyester fabric. This tryptic that combines image word association "Rye-Food," "Grain-Same" and "Canola-Same" with images of prairie agriculture.  

John Freeman, Now You See It Soon You Won't, 2011, inkjet in on translucent polyester fabric. This tryptic that combines image word association "Rye-Food," "Grain-Same" and "Canola-Same" with images of prairie agriculture.  

Be sure to check out the stairwells, as they are full of fun artworks - don't take the elevator. Kids will love these.

Be sure to check out the stairwells, as they are full of fun artworks - don't take the elevator. Kids will love these.

People of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy the Chagall-like mural.

People of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy the Chagall-like mural.

Kelly Johner, The Three Sirens: For The Love of Bling, Prairie Song, Belle of the Bale, 2014. The artist's materials relate to the land or to activities on the farm but are given new purpose and meaning - saddles become female silhouettes, bale twine is crocheted into a dress by her mother and horse tack and heel rope become a hoop skirt.    Below are some close-up views of The Three Sirens.

Kelly Johner, The Three Sirens: For The Love of Bling, Prairie Song, Belle of the Bale, 2014. The artist's materials relate to the land or to activities on the farm but are given new purpose and meaning - saddles become female silhouettes, bale twine is crocheted into a dress by her mother and horse tack and heel rope become a hoop skirt.

Below are some close-up views of The Three Sirens.

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Hot Tip

Maybe plan your trip on a Saturday, so you can stop by the Marda Loop Farmers’ Market (at the nearby Community Centre parking lot) and pick up a coffee and perhaps a treat (there is no café at cSPACE) before heading to the school.  Also note the Alberta Craft Council gallery isn’t open until noon; so don’t get there too early.

Alberta Craft Council's boutique is a great place to find a unique gift.  They also have an art gallery the showcases the work of Alberta craft persons. 

Alberta Craft Council's boutique is a great place to find a unique gift.  They also have an art gallery the showcases the work of Alberta craft persons. 

Love this magazine rack with a sample of the many great magazines published in Alberta.  It provided us with good reading for the rest of the weekend.

Love this magazine rack with a sample of the many great magazines published in Alberta.  It provided us with good reading for the rest of the weekend.

Even if the studios aren't open you can still look inside and see some of the interesting art being produced.

Even if the studios aren't open you can still look inside and see some of the interesting art being produced.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

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

King Edward Village

Marda Loop Madness

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin: East Side Gallery Gong Show

Whenever I tell people we went to Berlin, they always ask what I thought of the Berlin Wall fragments and the East Side Gallery (ESG).  Berlin’s East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved as an international memorial celebrating freedom. It is the longest open-air gallery in the world. 

This is the most famous artwork at the ESG...it is not the original. Link:    The Stolen Kiss

This is the most famous artwork at the ESG...it is not the original. Link: The Stolen Kiss

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Must See?

Immediately after the wall came down, in November 1989, hundreds of artists began painting sections of the wall in celebration of their newfound freedom.  The East Side Gallery opened as an open-air gallery on September 28, 1990 featuring the work of 118 artists from 21 different countries.  Today, the wall continues to feature the work of street artists and muralists from around the world. 

Given my interest in graffiti and street art since the mid ‘80s, this was a “must see” for me.  Perhaps my expectations were too high as it was probably the biggest disappointment of my 6-week stay in Berlin.

In a city filled with street art, I was expecting artwork that was provocative, poignant, politically charged. Though some pieces were well executed, most were mediocre, messy and moronic. 

In addition, the area has become a tacky tourist trap with tour groups, buskers, cheesy souvenirs and stupid selfie sticks.  It was a gong show.

Link: East Side Gallery History

The East Side Gallery gong show of people, clutter, construction and fences is not a great experience - IMHO!.

The East Side Gallery gong show of people, clutter, construction and fences is not a great experience - IMHO!.

In a city filled with street art, I was expecting artwork that was provocative, poignant, politically charged. Though some pieces were well executed, most were mediocre, messy and moronic. 

In addition, the area has become a tacky tourist trap with tour groups, buskers, cheesy souvenirs and stupid selfie sticks.  It was a gong show.

Link: East Side Gallery History

Tourists are more interested in selfies than looking at the art.  Perhaps you can't blame them when you have to look through a fence to see the art. 

Tourists are more interested in selfies than looking at the art.  Perhaps you can't blame them when you have to look through a fence to see the art. 

Last Word

Is it only me or does everyone see the irony that the East Side Gallery a remnant of the Berlin Wall which is suppose to be a memorial to freedom actually has a fence around it to protect it from vandals.   

Checkout this photo essay from ESG and let me know what you think or the art and the sense of place.

The ESG is a popular spot for professional photographers and models. 

The ESG is a popular spot for professional photographers and models. 

Across the street is a very loud construction site.  

Across the street is a very loud construction site. 

Torrington: Kitsch Capital of Alberta

Finally! We made the trek to the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. And, we weren’t disappointed. 

For years, friends have been saying this quirky museum would be right up our alley.  The museum has attracted lots of media attention - including Huffpost calling it “Alberta’s Most Insane Hilarious Destination” to Calgary’s Avenue Magazine proclaiming, “You must see it to believe it.”

Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Summer Only!

And, we weren’t disappointed.  Since 1996, this grassroots museum has been attracting 6,000+ visitors every summer (it is only open from June 1st to September 30th, when the gophers go into hibernation). 

Arriving shortly after it opens at 10 am on a recent Saturday, we were the first to arrive, but by the time we left, there were several visitors and a motorcycle caravan was expected later in the day as part of a scavenger hunt. 

So popular with visitors, a great unofficial website guide to the museum was created by fans as a tribute.  Very professional and comprehensive, the website has lots of fun information. I loved the “Meet The Team” link.

Link: Gopher Hole Museum

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Gopher Hole Museum 101

The museum is located in Torrington, Alberta on Highway 27 just 15 minutes east of the QEW II highway, about an hour’s drive north of Calgary. 

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Housed in an unassuming, cottage-like former house just off of Main Street, it is not an iconic building designed by a star international architect as we have become accustomed to in big city museums. 

Murals on the west side of the building let you know you have found it.  You can park right next to the museum at no charge. Try that in the big city.

Speaking of cost, the museum admission fee is $2 for adults and 50 cents for children under 14. How good it that?

Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

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Very Welcoming!

Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Once inside, the friendliest person we have encountered at the front desk of a public museum or art gallery in a long, long time welcomed us.  

Dianne Kurta, the museum’s curator since it first opened in 1996, greeted us. She seems as proud and enthusiastic today as if the museum had just opened.

After a hearty welcome, you are free to explore the single exhibition room that houses the 47 dioramas with 77 mounted gophers.

They look like old box televisions, with the innards replaced by miniature scenes from early 20th century rural life in a small Alberta town, the “twist” being the humans are represented by (real!) stuffed gophers. 

The result is hilarious; there is a clever tongue-in-cheek sensibility to each of the scenes. 

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This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale.  

This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale. 

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Gift Shopping!

Local artist Shelley Barkman who lives on a farm west of Three Hills painted the murals for each of the dioramas.  She had become well known in the community for her work painting animal portraits as well as farm scenes.  When asked if she was interested in painting the murals for the Gopher Hole Museum, she jumped at the chance. Working inside a box was a bit more challenging that painting scenes of the flat surface of a canvas but she was up for the challenge. And she did a great job!

You will probably spend 20 to 30 minutes looking at the dioramas, depending on how many photos you take and there is lots of documentation on the history of the museum to read as well.

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Like all good museums, you exit (you also enter) through the gift shop which is full of a wide variety of souvenirs, hand crafted by the volunteers. It has the feel of a good old-time church bazaar.

No mass-produced, made in China junk that ends up in garage sales here! They even have their own postcards.

Whether you buy or not, make sure you vote on your favourite diorama and also make sure your town or city has been identified with a pin on the world map hanging on the wall.  This is truly an international tourist attraction.    

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Kitschy Fire Hydrants?

As you leave the museum, you are invited to tour (an easy walk) the town to check out the 12 kitschy fire hydrants, all painted to look like a gopher, each with a name and story. 

Grab a copy of the Torrington Tourism Action Society’s map to guide the way.  You can easily spend another 20 minutes or so wandering the town, taking selfies with the likes of Butch, Gramps, Tubby and Peggy Sue and reading their life stories. 

You will also pass by the huge Clem T. GoFur statue at the entrance to town – great family selfie opportunity.

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Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Why A Gopher Museum?

The museum idea was in response to the decline of the small agricultural towns in the late 20th century, as large-scale agricultural farms gobbled up the 100-year old family farms across Prairies, including Torrington.

Many once thriving small towns with a post office, school and a few stores became almost ghost towns.  In Torrington’s case, it couldn’t compete with larger towns nearby – Olds, Trochu and Three Hills. Soon, the gophers began to take over the town and local folklore says a town council member suggested, “we should stuff them and put them on display.” 

While the museum and fire hydrants are fun, there is a sadness that permeates the town as you enter and wander the hamlet of about 200 people. Many homes lack a pride of ownership and there are only a few businesses left. Gone are the school, post office, general store, bank and other businesses you would expect in a bustling community.

Like lots of towns and cities, down and out on their luck Torrington looked to tourism to rescue a declining economy.  (Perhaps the most famous example being Bilbao, Spain who hired Frank Gehry, a famous international architect to create an iconic art gallery for them. It captured the world’s imagination and today, what was a dying city is a mega tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, Bilbao is the exception not the rule.)

Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Last Word

After 21 years, the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum is still going strong, but as you wander around the hamlet you have to wonder about its long-term future. Will anyone have the same passion for the museum as Kurta? While she has endless optimism and pride in the town, will there be a next generation to carry the gopher torch?

I really hope so. The world needs more kitschy fun that everybody can enjoy!

Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Public Art? Rocks, Keys, Dog & Bone?

Controversial public art raised its ugly head again in Calgary recently with the commencement of the construction of the Bowfort Tower artwork on the off ramp of the TransCanada Highway and Bowfort Road NW.  Yes, it is a strange place for public art. Yes, it is a strange name for a public artwork - sounds more like a new downtown condo or office tower. 

And yes, it seems like a strange choice as the NW gateway to Calgary. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Change of heart?

When I first checked the City of Calgary's website to see what information they had posted about the piece, it included a statement about how the artwork referenced Calgary's Indigenous culture however that statement has been removed.  Link: City of Calgary, Bowfort Towers

Also since all of the controversy Mayor Nenshi and Chiefs of Treaty 7 have issued a joint statement saying that the piece was never intended to reference Calgary Indigenous Culture. Link: Nenshi Treaty 7 Chief's Joint Statement

However, on August 3, 2017, CBC posted the following statement as part of their coverage of the newly installed public art: 

The Bowfort Towers on the south side of the interchange were designed by artist Del Geist, who is based in New York, N.Y. Sarah Iley (Manager Arts & Culture, city of Calgary) said Geist drew inspiration from the Blackfoot people, and the towers capture the "essence, personality and history" of the area. "Those four towers relate to the Blackfoot cultural symbolism that talks about the four elements, the four stages of life (and) the four seasons," Iley said.

Link: CBC: Gateway to the City: Art Installation

Sorry I don't think you can just now say the piece doesn't make reference to the Blackfoot culture after saying it was. 

Blackfoot burial platform

Blackfoot burial platform

Calgary we have a problem

As a former public art gallery curator and frequent public art juror, I have often wondered why modern public art seems to be skewed towards the conceptual and minimalist genres, rather than just being fun.  I think this is especially true for what I call “drive-by public art,” i.e. public art that the public can’t get close, or have a chance to take some time to examine it, reflect and ponder its meaning, its concepts, which is critical to understanding and appreciating conceptual art.

When I saw the Bowfort Tower, I immediately knew we were in for another round of public art outrage. I passed by it almost everyday for a week waiting to see how it was going to look, but it just stayed the same – eight iron or wood pillars (hard to tell the difference when driving by) with flat rocks floating in the pillars.  It looked unfinished. It looked like part of the construction site. And yes, is did remind me of indigenous burial sites.

Perhaps, before any public artwork is installed, it should be vetted by a larger public than just a jury and administration. Perhaps, City Council should have final approval of all public art works just like they do all secondary suites. Just kidding!

Obviously, the current open invitation, which is short-listed by administration, with the final decision being made by a different jury of art professionals, community representatives and administration for each piece is isn’t working. In fact, many experienced artists won’t submit to juried competitions because they know the process is flawed. Sad, but true!

However, not all is lost when it comes to public art in Calgary…or is it? Depends on who you are talking to. Read on...

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW.  

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW. 

UNLOCKED 

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While Bowfort Towers was getting all the attention by public art zealots, over the past two weeks, few were commenting on Calgary’s other two new public artworks – Boney, located in SETON at the entrance to the new Medical Professional Building and UNLOCK, in the middle of the sidewalk on the 200E block of 17th Ave SE.  

UNLOCK, while also visually fun, is a more thought provoking piece.  It consists of a wire mesh archway (12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet high) located on the sidewalk on 17th Ave SE, between Centre Street and 1 Street SE in front of a new apartment block.  Artist Joanne MacDonald sees keys as a signifier of personal memories – first bike lock, first car keys, first keys to your apartment.  In a letter to local businesses along 17th Ave SE, she asked them to donate keys to be installed on the archway.  It is also her intention to encourage the public to participate at upcoming community events by donating keys as well.

In her letter to businesses along the block, she hoped UNLOCKED would “promote discussion on themes like accessibility, opportunity, privilege, employment, ownership and gentrification.” I think this is a big leap to think the keys will be the catalyst to promote discussion, however the archway does create a fun pedestrian experience whether you walk through or around it.   

We visited at twilight and the setting sun sparkled off the metal keys created a lovely ambience while we lingered for a few minutes before moving on.

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Personally, I like the way the artist’s references the wire mesh fences that are used at construction sites everywhere in her arch. I think it is great when public art can connect with its site in some manner. I like the simplicity of the structure and to me, the archway visually creates a pageantry-like experience that enhances the everyday sidewalk experience.

What I didn’t see in the artist’s statement or city explanation is the that artwork is an interesting spin on the world wide phenomena of lovers (often as tourists) placing locks in public places as a declaration of their love for each other.  When I first read about the piece, I assumed the artist and the City were encouraging couples and families to come to the archway and add their keys to the artwork as a symbol of their love of each other – a modern love-in you might say.

I love interactive public art.

Backstory: Unlocked is one of four public art pieces being installed this August as part of a new program called The cREactive Realm developed by Blank Page Studio in collaboration with The City of Calgary. It is seen as a way to support businesses along 17th Avenue while streets are torn up to replace water and sanitary lines, repair and rebuild the road and make public realm improvements – new sidewalks, benches, trees and streetlights. The goal is to create interactive, playful experiences using public art that will draw Calgarians to the blocks while they are under construction.  The total budget for the four artworks is $50,000.
This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you.     Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you. 

Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

BONEY 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

Boney is a whimsical 9-foot tall purple dog consisting of nine bone shaped pieces designed by the German arts collective Inges Idee (yes, this is the same collective that brought us Travelling Light, better known as the Giant Blue Ring), fabricated and installed by Calgary’s Heavy Industries, who have been responsible for the fabrication of many of Calgary’s new public artworks.  Adding, to add to the whimsy, the dog is looking up to the top of the building where another bone is on the roof. 

Trevor Hunnisett, Development Manager of Brookfield Residential says, “the response to date has been excellent. Given the piece’s location across from the South Health Campus and at the front door of our new medical building, we wanted something that would put a smile on a person’s face regardless of age and personal circumstances.”  In this case, the piece was chosen and paid for by Brookfield Residential - no jury, no City money and no controversy.  Hunnisett wouldn’t divulge the exact price of the artwork but did say it was less than 1% of cost of the building.

Before the snarky public art purists say something like “Sure, all Calgarians want are fluff pieces of horses and other kitschy art,’ I would like to remind them that Jeff Koons has become one of the world’s most famous artists creating artworks that look like the balloon animals pone would see at a child-oriented event. His work is collected by many knowledgeable collectors and is in the collection of art museums around the world. 

If I had one criticism of Boney, it is that it is derivative; one could even say plagiarizes Koons’ work. It is the polar opposite of Bowfort Towers in that it has no hidden meaning, concepts or social statements.  

It is just plain fun – and what’s wrong with that? In my mind Calgary’s new public art is too skewed to obscure conceptual art; sometimes public art can (should) just be fun!

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????     I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????

 I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Last Word

Sometimes I think artists and curators expect too much from public art. While it can be a catalyst for discussion and debate, in most cases, the public glances at the art, likes it or doesn’t like it, and moves on. There is not a lot of thinking, pondering and reflecting on its meaning, concepts, social or political statements. 

What it does do in subtle and subliminal ways is make the pedestrian experience more interesting. To me, urban places are often defined by the diversity and quality of their public art, even if we don’t always realize it.

Personally the best NEW piece of public art in Calgary was a grassroots one in the LRT pedestrian underpass from Sunnyside to 10th Street at Riley Park. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.      I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.  

I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

Calgary: What's our colour...drink...animal..car...movie character?

Recently, I was invited to a focus group by Tourism Calgary, so they could pick my brain (along with another 15+ Calgarians) about Calgary’s identity and brand.  Always game to be a guinea pig (that’s how I met my wife…another story), so I quickly said, “YES!”

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Same Stories?

I was intrigued by one of the introductory remarks – “this not going to be about picking a new logo or new moniker, but more an open discussion about Calgary’s identity and unique sense of place.” Interesting.

One of the take-away ideas from the facilitator’s introduction was that almost every city around the world is telling the same stories to tourists - how great their festivals are, bragging about their new museums, parks and plazas and boasting about their culinary culture and craft beers. 

A related key message was - what cities are not doing is understanding and/or communicating what makes them different, unique or special.  Note: Something I hope I am trying to do with my blogs from Calgary or other places I visit, I am always looking for something unique.

We then were divided into three groups of about 6 people each for some group exercises.  Here are two that I found both interesting and strange at the same time.

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians are colourful.

Calgarians are colourful.

First Exercise:

Answer this question: What would the world miss if Calgary didn’t exist? 

Yikes…my immediate thought was “nothing.”  In fact I would hazard a guess 80% of the world probably doesn’t even know Calgary exists and if they do, they know very little about us.  An obvious answer is “energy” but in reality that doesn’t come from Calgary.  Then there is the Stampede, but not sure the world would really miss it if it didn’t happen, anymore than the world would miss Carnival, Marda Gras or Oktoberfest.  I don’t think the world would miss our museums, public art, restaurants, shopping or fishing on the Bow River either.

Our group didn’t come up with anything and neither did the other groups. I am not sure how productive this question was. Love to hear from readers if there is something they can think of.

We love our public art? 

We love our public art? 

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Next Exercise

What _________ (fill in the blank with the following words - colour, drink, animal, car, movie character) would best describe your city? Again, interesting but wondered what possible insights this might reveal.

What’s OUR colour?

Two of the groups chose blue. One group picked Sky Blue to reflect the warm blue skies Calgarians enjoy every month of the year.  One person pointed out that even when is -30 degrees C in the winter, our bright blue sky, makes it seems warmer.  Try telling that to someone from Vancouver or Southern Ontario.  I pointed out that because of our clean blue skies, our downtown skyline and the mountain vistas are much more vivid than in other cities I have visited.  I remember once reading a letter-to-the-editor from an overseas visitor gobsmacked by the quality of light in Calgary, describing it as “celestial.”

The second “blue” group picked Twilight Blue, pointing out that as the sun sets in Calgary, the light becomes quite magical.  Ah yes, I miss those golden sunsets on Bankers Hall that we used to have before the rise of Eighth Avenue Place.

The third group picked red, the colour associated with all our sports teams, the Calgary Tower (20th century icon) and Peace Bridge (21st century icon).  Nobody said it, but I am sure a few thought it - many Canadians also think of Calgary as a haven for “rednecks.”

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Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Yes we love red.

Yes we love red.

In fact we love lots of colours!

In fact we love lots of colours!

What’s OUR drink?

Two of the groups picked “beer” which seems a bit cliché as every city in North America has been infected by the craft beer craze.  See above comment on take-away ideas i.e. “all cities tell the same stories.”

Our group picked beer originally, then talked about the Caesar, (invented in Calgary) and finally settled on Vodka. The rationale - you can drink it straight or mix it with anything.  We all immediately grabbed onto the notion that while Calgary is very clean and white, we are Canada’s third most ethnically diverse City, and an interesting mix of Canadians from East Coast, West Coast, Central Canada and the Prairies.

As I like to say, “Calgary is the most Canadian city in Canada as we are a mix of Canadians who hail from all regions of our country.”

Calgarians love their beer...

Calgarians love their beer...

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

What’s is OUR animal?

I quickly picked Magpie. Beautiful and exotic upon your first glance, they become very loud and brash the more you see it. As well, magpies are considered to be one of the most intelligent animals in the world; as well they are intensely social with a strong sense of community.  I thought this described Calgary to a T.

Overruled, our group ultimately chose “dog,” for it’s friendliness and loyalty, which we all felt were Calgary qualities.  One person was even specific, suggesting a herding dog (border collie), as we love to work hard.  I have often said that Calgary is the place where Canadians come to “work hard and get ahead.”   Someone also pointed out we have some of the best dog parks in the world.  Point well taken.

The group sitting right behind me actually did pick the Magpie – I think they overheard my pitch and bought it. 

The third group picked Bison. Though, originally picking the horse, one person in the group pointed out that in a storm, horses run away while bisons charge into the storm, which is what Calgarians do when faced with a challenge.  That received applause from the entire room. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

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What is OUR car?

This is a great question for Calgary as our city has one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world.  One group chose the SUV, an obvious choice given Calgary’s demographics are dominated by families.  A hybrid between a sports car and a sedan, it is a good metaphor for our city that combines fast living with family life.

Our group unanimously chose the Ford 150. It is a well known Calgary is the pickup capital of Canada. One members pointed out he knows a billionaire in Calgary who drives a Ford 150.  It nicely references our rural roots, our connection with the land and our strong work ethic. 

Being the contrarian (surprise, surprise) I suggested the Car2Go smart cars as Calgary has one of the highest Car2Go memberships, pointing our it references Calgary’s growing “sharing culture” as well as our aspiration to be a “smart city.”

As luck would have it, the group behind me did choose Car2Go – I do think I was in the wrong group!

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

What’s OUR movie character?

Two groups chose Woody from “Toy Story.”  This was too obvious as Woody dresses up like a cowboy but isn’t really a cowboy; how perfect is that.  But the references go much deeper - Woody is Andy’s favourite toy and the leader of all of his toys, but his status as the favourite is challenged.  Indeed, for much of the late 20th and early 21st century, Calgary had to fight to be recognized as one of Canada’s leading economic engines, a budding urban playground and the favourite city for Canadians to move to. 

The other group chose R2D2, however I can’t recall what their rationale was. Perhaps it reflects our position as a high tech, future-oriented city or our love of cosplay.

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Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Kinda like R2D2....

Kinda like R2D2....

Viral Video?

Upon reflection, I wonder if Tourism Calgary was soliciting ideas for a fun viral tourist video about Calgary. 

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

I can see it now. It will have a couple of redneck cowboys in a blue Ford 150 with their border collie in the back, while two cowgirls hop into a Car2Go and suburban family all in Star Wars attire (one as R2D2) jump into their red SUV while a murder of magpies play in the trees.

The redneck cowboys head to the Red Mile’s Trolley Five (via Memorial Drive so they can pass by the red Peace Bridge (with hundreds of walkers and cyclists and then up Centre Street for a shot of the red-topped Calgary Tower) for a vodka martini with a Beltline lager chaser and a bison burger on a lively patio while their loyal dog (a blue heeler) waits on the sidewalk being admired by a parade of pedestrians (beside him, a blue bowl labelled “fresh Bow River water.”)

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Meanwhile, the blue jeaned-attired cowgirls head to Inglewood (passing by the bison at Fort Calgary), to do some shopping and checking out the new exhibition at the Esker Foundation before meeting up with friends for dancing at the Saturday blues jam at the Blues Can hosted by Tim Williams (winner of the International Blues Competition in 2014).  

The Star Wars family heads to the nearest LRT Park & Ride in their red SUV (with a shot of some public art along the way), then hop on Little Ralph’s Train (on which, to their surprise, a couple of young aspiring singer songwriters are jamming some tunes) to the Stampede Red LRT Station where they become part of tens of thousands of people enjoying the annual Calgary Expo (aka cosplay) with huge posters for Big Rock, Village and Wild Rose breweries in the background.

It ends with a shot of the magic blue twilight sky and setting sun on the Bow River full of rafters and paddlers with Downtown skyline glowing in the background and the byline: 

Imagine Being In Calgary!

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Last Word

I can't help but wonder if this exercise will be any more successful than those that generated the "Heart of the New West" or "Be Part of the Energy." I didn’t get to pitch my idea that Calgary’s moniker should be the:

“City of Parks & Pathways.”

Rationale: We have 5,200+ parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world (Nose Hill and Fish Creek), two great festival parks (Prince’s Island and Stampede Park), a park-like zoo, great family parks, great dog parks (e.g. St. Patrick’s and Bowness), the world’s longest elevated indoor walkway (+15), 700+km of pathways city wide and new the 133km Greenway that encircles the city.  Need I say more?  OK - Banff National Park (many tourists already think of Calgary as the gateway to Banff), Kananaskis and Dinosaur Provincial Parks are a few just hours away. 

Who wouldn’t want to visit the City of Park & Pathways? Who wouldn’t want to move to the City of Parks & Pathways for a job?  Works for both tourism and economic development, don’t you think?

Do I have a seconder?

Calgarians love their parks....

Calgarians love their parks....

Reader's Feedback

Vanessa Gagon, Tourism Calgary's Brand Manager writes:

I love how you weave photos of all the awesomeness in our city into your post! 

The response to this project has been really great, people are excited! Over the last few weeks we've conducted a residents survey (800 Calgarians - with approximately 200 from NW, NE, Central and South Calgary), 4 workshops (81 participants) and focus groups with community leaders (29 participants), that's 910 people who have been involved! Oh and we did a staff workshop so 930 people! Folks have been so gracious with their time and are eager to help in any way they can, confirms we live in the best city in Canada! :) 

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Urban Design: Does the public care?

Does the average Calgarian really care about urban design? David Down, Architect and Chief Urban Designer at the City of Calgary thinks we do.

SETON Gateway structure is just one example how Calgary developers are paying more attention to the importance of urban design. The Gateway was designed by Allen DeBoer at Calgary's Gibbs Gage architects and paid for entirely by Brookfield Residential. 

SETON Gateway structure is just one example how Calgary developers are paying more attention to the importance of urban design. The Gateway was designed by Allen DeBoer at Calgary's Gibbs Gage architects and paid for entirely by Brookfield Residential. 

A good example of Calgary's improved urban design can be found in the Beltline with Barb Scott Park (12th Ave and 9th St SW), designed by Calgary's Scatliff+Miller+Murray landscape architects.   The park includes Chinook Arch ($370,000) a public artwork by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock from Tucson, AZ.   Kudos should go to the Beltline community who spear headed the development of this park (cost $3 million).    Across the street are two colourful modern apartments designed by NORR's Calgary office, and are good examples of the enhance urban design of residential towers in Calgary today.  

A good example of Calgary's improved urban design can be found in the Beltline with Barb Scott Park (12th Ave and 9th St SW), designed by Calgary's Scatliff+Miller+Murray landscape architects. The park includes Chinook Arch ($370,000) a public artwork by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock from Tucson, AZ. Kudos should go to the Beltline community who spear headed the development of this park (cost $3 million).

Across the street are two colourful modern apartments designed by NORR's Calgary office, and are good examples of the enhance urban design of residential towers in Calgary today.  

The new 8th St SW underpass ($8.8 million) transformed a tired and crumbling old pedestrian corridor used by over 8,000 pedestrians a day to a hip, modern walkway. The lead desinger was Renee Daoust at architecture et urbaniste, in Montreal, working with a local team consisting of Marshall Tittemore, Scattlif+Miller+Murray and Watt Consulting.    Toronto artist David Rokeby created "Calgary Scroll" the electronic sign board that connects one side of the sidewalk to the other with rolling text of stories from Calgary's past.  You can text to 587-318-0092 key word and see what stories come up. 

The new 8th St SW underpass ($8.8 million) transformed a tired and crumbling old pedestrian corridor used by over 8,000 pedestrians a day to a hip, modern walkway. The lead desinger was Renee Daoust at architecture et urbaniste, in Montreal, working with a local team consisting of Marshall Tittemore, Scattlif+Miller+Murray and Watt Consulting. 

Toronto artist David Rokeby created "Calgary Scroll" the electronic sign board that connects one side of the sidewalk to the other with rolling text of stories from Calgary's past.  You can text to 587-318-0092 key word and see what stories come up. 

Public art has become an important part of all suburban LRT stations in Calgary.

Public art has become an important part of all suburban LRT stations in Calgary.

Critical Mass

Down feels the level of public interest in urban design has increased significantly over the last decade and it is not just an interest in mega projects like the Peace Bridge, Bow Tower or TELUS Sky, but at the residential level as well. “There is now, more than ever, a critical mass of residential buildings, both single and multi family, designed by both large and small local architectural firms, which are pushing the design envelope in a way that didn’t exist in the late 20th century. 

In addition, new public forums focussing on urban design like Dtalks and Baconfest are attracting capacity crowds,” points out Down.

“Calgary has undergone significant positive physical change over the past ten years in the quality of the design of its buildings, streets and public spaces and the improvements are continuing to occur,” he notes. 

“Also Calgary’s improved urban design is beginning to be recognized globally” adds Down, “for example, Calgary will be hosting the prestigious Walk21 September 19 to 22 (previous locations for this conference include Vienna, Berlin, Melbourne and Hong Kong).” Calgary will also host the International Play Association World Conference September 13 to 17th.

Poppy Plaza was designed by Caglary's Marc Boutin Architcture Collective.     Learn More:   Poppy Plaza Review Revisited

Poppy Plaza was designed by Caglary's Marc Boutin Architcture Collective.

Learn More: Poppy Plaza Review Revisited

RiverWalk was designed by Stantec's Calgary office as one of the kick off projects to the transformation of East Village from a derelict to a dynamic community. This project cost $23 million.

RiverWalk was designed by Stantec's Calgary office as one of the kick off projects to the transformation of East Village from a derelict to a dynamic community. This project cost $23 million.

“Urban Design” Defined

Urban design is the design of individual buildings, groups of buildings, master planning of new communities, redevelopment of established communities, as well as the design of parks, plazas, pathways, public art and streetscapes. It is an inter-disciplinary practice that includes architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers and community engagement.

Denver based Civitas, and New York based W Architecture, have transformed St. Patrick’s Island into a charming urban playground with a pebble beach, picnic grove, pathways, playgrounds, plaza and private places to sit. Cost of the redevelopment was $45M, which includes $25M for a new pedestrian bridge to the island.     Learn More:   St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice

Denver based Civitas, and New York based W Architecture, have transformed St. Patrick’s Island into a charming urban playground with a pebble beach, picnic grove, pathways, playgrounds, plaza and private places to sit. Cost of the redevelopment was $45M, which includes $25M for a new pedestrian bridge to the island.

Learn More: St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice

Backstory

The first evidence of the rise in importance of urban design in Calgary came in 2003 when the City created an “Urban Design Review Panel” to review major City Centre projects to ensure they would enhance the quality of living for Calgarians.  Then, in 2005, the City hired David Down as Senior Architect/Urban Designer to advocate for better urban design within the Planning Department. 

Also in 2005, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) instituted the Urban Design Awards program, inviting Canadian cities to participate in a two-tiered (in odd years there is a local award competition; in even years the local winners are eligible for national awards) Urban Design Award program to recognize excellence in urban design in Canada and demonstrate its importance to the general public at both the local and national levels.  Both David Watson, then General Manager of the City’s Planning Department and then Mayor Dave Bronconnier were supportive of the staff’s request to join the RAIC program.  

Calgary became one of first cities to join the program.

Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall which dates back to 1970 was one of Calgary's first attempts in modern times to employ the new urban design philosophy of "pedestrians first."  

Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall which dates back to 1970 was one of Calgary's first attempts in modern times to employ the new urban design philosophy of "pedestrians first."  

Past National Award Winners

In 2016, Calgary’s The Bench Project won the National Award for Community Initiatives (after winning the local award in 2015). This grass roots initiative involved an anonymous group of Calgarians leaving colourful handmade benches around the city with the intent of“creating spaces for Calgarians to have a seat and enjoy our city.”

Two years earlier, in 2014, The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative Inc. won the national Civic Design Projects Award for “The Landscape of Memory: Poppy Plaza” project. 

And in 2012, Broadway Malyan with Roland Berger Strategy Consultants won for their East Village Master Plan in the same category.  In 2010, Stantec Consulting Ltd. won a national award in the category of Urban Design Plans for The River Walk Master Plan.

The futuristic looking new Rocky Ridge Recreation Center is a absolutely stunning was designed by Calgary's GEC architecture, who also designed the Saddledome and Olympic Oval. Cost $191M.

The futuristic looking new Rocky Ridge Recreation Center is a absolutely stunning was designed by Calgary's GEC architecture, who also designed the Saddledome and Olympic Oval. Cost $191M.

How the Mayor’s Urban Design Awards Program Works?

David Down, the City of Calgary’s Chief Urban Designer, in collaboration with the Mayor’s office, manages the program.

Anyone can make a submission for consideration by the jury, but it is usually someone from the project team who submits. Detailed submission requirements are on the City of Calgary website (link http://calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Pages/Mayors-Urban-Design-Awards/Mayor-Urban-Design-Awards.aspx?redirect=/muda).  In any given year, about 50 to 60 submissions are received.

Suggestions for jury members are solicited from a group of design industry “advisors” and a list is created of experts from the fields of urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, planning, community advocacy, arts and media.

Jury members are from Calgary and elsewhere to ensure a balance of local knowledge and “outside” best practice experience.  

Not all new public art is controversial, this piece by Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard is the centre piece for the Hotchkiss Gardens. Below the garden is a 700 stall parking garage. This artwork and installation cost $500,000 and was paid for by donations from an individual and corporation.

Not all new public art is controversial, this piece by Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard is the centre piece for the Hotchkiss Gardens. Below the garden is a 700 stall parking garage. This artwork and installation cost $500,000 and was paid for by donations from an individual and corporation.

Funny Jury Story

Down says it is fascinating to watch the jurors in action - some are quick to make their selections, while others are slower and more considered.  The best example was in 2007.  “The late Bing Thom, arriving late from Vancouver, made all of his choices in less than 10 minutes; others took two days,” says Down adding, “the jurying process can be both entertaining and exhausting as juries often ask to tour their shortlist of winners and in a few cases, have been convinced for or against a selection by seeing it in situ.” 

Over the past 15 years, Calgary's SAIT campus has added numerous modern buildings like the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre designed by Calgary's Gibbs Gage Architects. 

Over the past 15 years, Calgary's SAIT campus has added numerous modern buildings like the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre designed by Calgary's Gibbs Gage Architects. 

Strange Categories

The RAIC determines the categories, which includes some strange and ambiguous names like Civic Design Projects, Approved or Adopted Urban Design Plans, Conceptual/Theoretical Urban Design Projects, Urban Fragments, Student Projects and Urban Architecture.

Fortunately, Calgary has added some additional categories to better reflect our City’s unique urban design culture and simply make more sense.  These include:

The Mawson Urban Design Award

Building(s) that achieve urban design excellence and creativity through awareness of the Calgary culture.

City Edge Development

Urban design plans, architecture and landscape designs that respond to needs in newly developing areas of the city (This award was created to encourage more suburban projects submissions as in the past, the awards were very City Centre-centric).

Great City, Great Design

Building and infrastructure designs, urban design plans, landscape designs, planning studies and individual site elements that contribute to the quality of life in Calgary.

Green City

Building(s) that achieve sustainable design while seeking to reduce energy and resource consumption of buildings.

Housing Innovation

Residential design projects, constructed or approved, of any size or scale, which demonstrate innovation in the areas of accessibility, affordability, and “aging in place.” This is a new category this year

I am told there will also be a People’s Choice award this year, but the City is still working out the details. The deadline for all submissions is September 5, 2017, with the gala awards ceremony happening on November 15, 2017. 

The SAIT Parkade is definitely not your typical parking garage, it has a playing field on the roof and a stunning metal mural on the facade.  The Parkade was designed by Vancouver's Bing Thom Architects and Calgary's MTA Architects, while the mural was done by Vancouver's Roderick Quinn. Learn More:   Calgary's Stunning Parkades Get No Respect

The SAIT Parkade is definitely not your typical parking garage, it has a playing field on the roof and a stunning metal mural on the facade.  The Parkade was designed by Vancouver's Bing Thom Architects and Calgary's MTA Architects, while the mural was done by Vancouver's Roderick Quinn. Learn More: Calgary's Stunning Parkades Get No Respect

Last Word

Down thinks (and I agree) that over the past decade, Calgary’s local urban design community - with the assistance of signature international designers - have created a critical mass of good urban design projects that have captured the attention of the international design community.   

Diverse projects, like the futuristic Rocky Ridge Recreational Centre, the stunning SAIT Polytechnic Parkade, the glowing SETON Gateway feature, the playful Alberta Children’s Hospital and St. Patrick’s Island all demonstrate how Calgary’s suburbs, inner city and City Center communities are all experiencing enhanced urban design projects.  The days of the public accepting a boring concrete box building are history.

It will be very interesting to hear what urban design professionals from around the world think of our city when they visit this September.  Stay tuned!

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a "design city!"

Beautifying the Beltline

Design Wars: It's Edmonton vs Calgary for the Urban Design Cup

 

Vancouver: Mural Festival Fun & Fantasy

I love it when Everyday Tourist readers send me information and photos of places they think would interest me while travelling in other cities.  Recently Harry Hiller, an urban sociologist professor at the University of Calgary, send me some photos he took while exploring a mural festival that took place in the back alley along four blocks of Vancouver's inner city community of Mt. Pleasant.  

Hiller loved the fact the murals are permanent so you can enjoy them even when there is no festival.  

He was impressed by the thousands of people over the course of the day walking the back alley with food trucks, music, and even skate board performances.  

He loved the creative use of back alleys which are often perceived as ugly and unsafe places.

He liked how parking stalls, garbage bins and containers all became canvases for artworks. 

 

No Angst!

One thing I noticed is that all of the murals are bold and colourful -  more decorative than provocative. There didn't seem to be any political or social angst that is often associated with street art - just good clean fun.

Nobody is going to confuse these works with the great muralists of Mexico City - Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro. However, they do have lots in common with the Psychedelic and Op Art movements of the '60s.  

Link: All You Need To Know About The Mexican Muralist 

VMF

In fact, what Hiller experienced was the second year of the Vancouver Mural Festival, which involved numerous sites in the city's east side communities.  A total of 50 new murals were created from August 7 to 12th, attracting an estimated audience of 100,000 people. It was billed as Vancouver's biggest free art event.   

In fact, they looked a lot like the back alley artworks I saw in Montreal's in December which were left over from their annual mural festival. This year's festival happened in June and more than a dozen new murals were left behind for everyone to enjoy.  I was told that in Montreal, murals have become so popular many festivals include creating a mural as part of the legacy of the event.  As a result, Montreal's inner city has become one giant outdoor art gallery.  A fun and free tourist attraction with mass appeal. Just what Hiller was talking about. 

Hmmm...I am thinking this could be a great new weekend event for the Calgary Downtown Association and the Alberta College of Art to collaborate on.   For that matter mural festivals would be a great annual event for many of Canada's downtowns - Hamilton, Winnipeg, London or Edmonton - adding a sense of play and colour would make them more attractive places to hang out for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

As I wrote, I received a tweet that Calgary's Beltline Community is indeed going to host something called BUMP (Beltline Urban Murals Project) this fall. This reminded me that Calgary's 17th Avenue had a mural program in the '80s and '90s, however due to maintenance cost they are all gone.  

Wouldn't it be great if Calgary could get a mural like this one as part of BUMP?

Wouldn't it be great if Calgary could get a mural like this one as part of BUMP?

Last Word

I also couldn't help but wonder if there isn't a link between the fact Vancouver, like Montreal and Berlin have fostered a strong street culture (murals, street art, graffiti, outdoor festivals, food trucks) and the fact they have also become three of the most attractive cities in the the world for young entrepreneurs and creatives who are roaming the planet looking for interesting places to live, work and play.   

More and more, I am thinking cities like Calgary should be fostering a free, improv street art culture, rather than a formal, expensive, controversial public art program as a means of making their city centre more attractive to the next generation of innovators who will create the economic engines of the early 21st century.  

Perhaps a policy of "No Blank Walls!" should be park of Calgary's urban design policy. 

Harry's Postcards From VMF 2017