Do murals enhance neighbourhoods? Do they foster community pride? Do they make people stop, look and ponder?
Do we expect too much?
This summer two major mural projects were undertaken in Calgary - one in the Beltline, the other in Northern Hills (a coalition of four communities), both with the goal of enhancing their community. The Beltline Urban Mural Program (BUMP) was the more traditional model where professional artists were selected to create murals on blank walls throughout the community. The Northern Hills Mural Project (NHMP) was more community-based with hundreds of community members, as well as others from across the City and beyond helping to paint an 850 meter fence along a section of Country Hills Blvd.
Both were successful in generating lots of social media and community attention, but how long before the thrill of the new murals fade, just as the murals themselves will? This is not the first time and won’t be the last where murals and public art have been used to try to enhance a neighbourhood.
Do we expect too much from public art to transform ugly, boring urban spaces into something fun and attractive?
“Our vision is to use powerful, awe-inspiring, whimsical, thought-provoking and stunning art to create beautiful places, invoke dialogue, challenge ideas and foster connections,” says the BUMP website. Link: BUMP website
Those are lofty expectations for the 15 murals which range from the decorative to narrative, mysterious to indigenous and fantasy to illustrative. There was even a BUMP Festival, Aug 30 to Sept 1stwith tours of the murals, artists talks and an alley party. I participated in two of the tours which attracted about 100 people each and heard only positive comments about the murals and the project.
One of the murals that stood out for me was Los Angeles, artist Faith47’s huge cougar with the words “Fortes et Liber” on the side. Not sure I understand the context of the cougar which appears to be ready to pounce on an unsuspecting pedestrian, however, the Latin words for “strong and free” make some sense given Canada’s national anthem. The mural’s scale (10 storeys) and its monochromatic brownish wash gives it a dream-like quality that looks like it is already fading away.
Montreal’s Kevin Ledo’s mural on the west side of the Calgary Parking Authority’s City Centre Parkade at 10thAve and 5thStreet SW was also well received. This artwork, with its huge indigenous figure staring into the Beltline community has a look of contemplation. Only later, when I checked the website did I learn the title of this piece is “Sohkatisiwin” Cree for “Strength/Power.”
An interesting choice given Calgary is located in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Nation, not the Cree and the artist is from Montreal. Nor did I realize the figure is a real person - Angela Gladue, an internationally recognized dancer in both aboriginal and hip hop genres. Not sure how this all relates to the Beltline or Calgary.
Although, BUMP’s website has a complete list of the murals and info on the artists, I found most of the jargon-loaded text not very helpful in understanding the context of the work to the Beltline’s sense of place.
There is a printable map of the murals, which would make for a fun walkabout on a nice fall or winter afternoon.
The funding for the murals came from the Beltline Community Investment Fund, City of Calgary Parking Revenue Reinvestment Program and mural sponsors - Battistella Developments and Hotel Arts.
This is not the first time Calgary’s City Centre communities have tried to use public art to make them a more interesting place to live and visit.
In the ‘90s, the Uptown 17thBusiness Revitalization Zone (BRZ) organized a series of murals created by well-known Calgary artists on the side of buildings to create an outdoor art gallery. Unfortunately, after many years, they were removed as “mother nature” had gotten the better of them.
The 4th Street BRZ commissioned sculptures to be located along the street also in the 90s. While many of them are still there, I doubt anyone would say they have become valued community icons.
I hope the BUMP murals will indeed become an attraction for more people to want to live and visit the Beltine.
Below are some other murals in the Beltline….