Confessions Of A Public Art Artist

Recently I was walking my sister’s dog Max in Calgary’s Signal Hill community when I came upon a piece of public art next to a children’s playground. I had often seen the piece in the distance when driving to my sister’s house, but thought it was part of the playground.  

  To me, from this angle all of the shapes look like houses a young child might draw. It looks very inviting for a child to run around and through it. It is also interesting to see how the shape of the artwork’s element echo those of the houses in the background.

To me, from this angle all of the shapes look like houses a young child might draw. It looks very inviting for a child to run around and through it. It is also interesting to see how the shape of the artwork’s element echo those of the houses in the background.

Village Fun

To my surprise the artwork was by Cecila Gossen who I have know since ‘80s when I was at the Muttart Art Gallery and she was doing her PhD in art at the University of Calgary.  

I immediately loved the titled “Village,” along with its bright colours and ambiguous shapes that looked both like houses and figures.  While it is a sculpture, it also make references to the line drawings young children make with their crayons.  

I thought “what a fitting addition to a playground.”

I have long thought playgrounds should be designed by artists so they can serve a dual purpose of being both a playground and a small art park. I couldn’t stop thinking about the piece when I got home so I contacted Cecila to find out more about the work and how it got there.  

She was quick to respond and most willing to share her experience

Backstory

Turns out the piece was originally proposed for the 4th Street SW in Mission as part of their Business Improvement Area’s sculpture program that started in the ‘90s as a means of enhancing the streetscape for pedestrians.  

FYI: There are several pieces along 4th Street SW from 13th to 26th St. SW.   

Cecila decided to submit to the 4th St. Sculpture Program back in 2005, so she built a little maquette and submitted it to the art jury, however her piece wasn’t chosen. Several months later, she received a call from Robin Robertson an art consultant who was one of the 4th Street jurors asking Cecila if she would be interested in a commission from the Signal Hill Community Association for a sculpture in one of their parks. 

The Association had a large piece land that had been set aside for a park and a possible future school and they wanted a sculpture on the site.  Cecila was thrilled and immediately said “Yes!”  

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Inspiration 

Cecila’s inspiration for “Village” was the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Remember the piece was proposed for a sidewalk along 4th St SW.  Her idea was people could walk through the different house shapes and perhaps it would become a meeting place on the street where people would gather and chat about the sculpture or life in general.

She loved the idea of creating a little village in the middle of Mission a historic community that was becoming an urban village. The bright primary colours were meant to remind us of our childhood, as was the size of the structures. 

Of course, being in a park next to a playground where there might one day be a school worked too. 

How $25,000 becomes $200

Shortly thereafter, she was told the budget was $25,000, so she calculated what she thought her costs to fabricate and install the piece might be and decided she had plenty of money to do a good job.

She had never done an outdoor piece before, but had done some large 8 ft by 8 ft indoor pieces and was aware of the safety considerations and the material needs and costs associated with larger works.

Then she received a copy of letter from City Parks to Robin, listing their conditions for the permit to install the sculpture in a public park. 

She needed: 

  • architect to produce ‘reproducible mylar drawings' of the sculpture 

  • engineer had to design the concrete base to support the sculpture

  • engineer’s stamp 

  • structural consultant’s approval 

  • contact utilities to mark the spot was safe for construction

  • re-plant the landscape as needed to original state

  • repair any damages to existing irrigation if needed

Out of the $25,000 she ended up having to pay for:

  • The excavation of the site

  • Pouring of an 8 ft by 8 ft by 8 inch concrete base for the sculpture

  • Fabrication of the steel pieces of the sculpture

  • Powder coasting

  • Sod, gravel, twelve wood railway ties for the perimeter

  • 7 guys from a local rugby team (more later)

She notes, “originally the base was to be a circle, but she couldn’t afford the pavers to form the circle, so I had to go with a rectangle, something that could be done with railway ties. She says “next time I would find somebody to help me with all the City regulations.”

When all was said and done she cleared about $200.

But that doesn’t include gas and mileage (every time anyone showed up at the site, I had to be present), postage, steaks and beer for the rugby team (more later). Fortunately, Signal Hill Community Association was able to get the engineer and architect services donated, and there was no damage to the irrigation system. 

  From this angle it looks like two adults, a child and a house.

From this angle it looks like two adults, a child and a house.

  From this angle it looks more like parade or a group of figures walking together on a sidewalk .

From this angle it looks more like parade or a group of figures walking together on a sidewalk.

Confession

Yes, Cecila would do it again. She did not do it for the money, but she was terribly worried it would end up costing her money.  She is very proud of the piece. 

She found, “Parks was a bear to deal with. I think they did not want the sculpture there. As a matter of fact, the original site for the sculpture was at the corner of Sirocco Drive and Signal Hills Heights. I would have loved the original site because the sculpture would have been visible from different approaches by more people.”

In the end, there was a party for the unveiling, lots of people came and everybody loved it.  Today kids use it as bit of a climbing structures, run around and through as they like to do and some use it as a bike rack. It still looks as fresh today as when it was installed in 2007. 

Over the years, many people who know Cecila and see the sculpture will call her or send her a text like I did, telling her how much they like the piece.  

I guess that is the only dividend for artists who create public art, it sure ain’t the money.   

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Rugby Team Connection  

Cecila and her husband attended a fund-raiser for her son Andy’s rugby team while the installation details were being worked out. One of the silent auction items was something like “Five Guys, One Afternoon: Clean out your basement, Do yard work!” whatever.  She bid on it and got it. 

She then told the guys her plan was to get them to help with the sculpture installation and promised them a beer and a steak dinner at her house when they finished. Seven players showed up and did a magnificent job of spreading pea gravel under the sculpture, putting the railway ties in place and sodded the entire area that had been disturbed. It was a very fun afternoon and a fun way to finish the project.

There goes the $200.  

Last Word

Cecila notes, “when we hear how much some public art pieces cost, I wonder what percentage goes back to city offices for the various permits and how much of the budget is spent in things other than the sculpture itself.” 

She still “laughs at the size and bulk of the concrete pad that was required. Someday, hundreds of years from now, some archaeologist will dig this huge concrete cube and try to figure out its purpose.”

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

Confessions of public art juror.

Do we really need all of this public art?

“Rodger That” says 12-year old Matt re public art

 

 

Halifax: Art & Artifacts

One of the things that impressed me most about Halifax was that there was interesting art and artifacts everywhere - often in the most unexpected places.

I thought it would be fun to share them with you and in the process hopefully give you a feel for Halifax’s unique “sense of place.”

  In Halifax telephone poles often became mini art galleries with their layers of weathered posters. I found this one particularly provocative.

In Halifax telephone poles often became mini art galleries with their layers of weathered posters. I found this one particularly provocative.

 The Kent Monkman exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery exhibition titled, “Shame and Prejudice” A Story of Resilience, was a very clever and thoughtful exhibition. Titled “The Scream,”this painting speaks to the pain and trauma caused by the Canadian government’s removal of children from their indigenous families to go to residential schools.

The Kent Monkman exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery exhibition titled, “Shame and Prejudice” A Story of Resilience, was a very clever and thoughtful exhibition. Titled “The Scream,”this painting speaks to the pain and trauma caused by the Canadian government’s removal of children from their indigenous families to go to residential schools.

 It was the best exhibition I have seen in 2018 and one of the most powerful and political I have seen in a long time. The use of symbolism, surrealism and realism to create contemporary narratives and commentary is very successful. The size of the paintings (approximately 10 ft by 6 ft) make them seem like billboards. I love the ambiguity of the Picasso’s cubist figure in this piece titled “Struggle For Balance,” is she being robbed or helped.

It was the best exhibition I have seen in 2018 and one of the most powerful and political I have seen in a long time. The use of symbolism, surrealism and realism to create contemporary narratives and commentary is very successful. The size of the paintings (approximately 10 ft by 6 ft) make them seem like billboards. I love the ambiguity of the Picasso’s cubist figure in this piece titled “Struggle For Balance,” is she being robbed or helped.

   The Daddies, 2016, 60” x 112”, acrylic on canvas, Kent Monkman is a play on Robert Harris’ famous group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. The nude in the foreground is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego.

The Daddies, 2016, 60” x 112”, acrylic on canvas, Kent Monkman is a play on Robert Harris’ famous group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. The nude in the foreground is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego.

 It was interesting to compare the Monkman depiction of early Canadian family life with the innocence and romanticism of the Tom Forrestall painting that I found in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital.

It was interesting to compare the Monkman depiction of early Canadian family life with the innocence and romanticism of the Tom Forrestall painting that I found in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital.

  Found these guys in the lobby of an older office building, with the words “Brave New World” over the doorway - of course I had to go in. I was surprise to find a mini-exhibition of goalie masks. Turns out they are from 2008, when artists were given a goalie mask modelled after Jacque Plante’s famous 1959 design and asked to create an original piece of art. There were two cases of masks like this one. It was a lovely hidden gem .

Found these guys in the lobby of an older office building, with the words “Brave New World” over the doorway - of course I had to go in. I was surprise to find a mini-exhibition of goalie masks. Turns out they are from 2008, when artists were given a goalie mask modelled after Jacque Plante’s famous 1959 design and asked to create an original piece of art. There were two cases of masks like this one. It was a lovely hidden gem.

   I was most impressed with the windows of Dugger’s Menswear shop, they could have easily of been an art installation in a contemporary art gallery.

I was most impressed with the windows of Dugger’s Menswear shop, they could have easily of been an art installation in a contemporary art gallery.

   Dugger window 2

Dugger window 2

   Dugger window 3

Dugger window 3

   Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

   Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

 The art of knot tying with the Citadel in the background.

The art of knot tying with the Citadel in the background.

   Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

   I am just guessing…the Seahorse Tavern has/has some wild parties.

I am just guessing…the Seahorse Tavern has/has some wild parties.

   A tangled web of wires along the side of an old houses was common in Halifax.

A tangled web of wires along the side of an old houses was common in Halifax.

   Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

  I was surprise at the number of Asian grocery stores in Halifax. I am always impressed at how artful they are inside.

I was surprise at the number of Asian grocery stores in Halifax. I am always impressed at how artful they are inside.

   Loved this traffic circle artwork along a quiet residential street. Would like to see more of this in Calgary and other cities.

Loved this traffic circle artwork along a quiet residential street. Would like to see more of this in Calgary and other cities.

  Titled “Lace Up” this artwork by Ilan Sandler was created 2013 next to the outdoor Emera Oval created for the Canada Games. Love that the City offers free rental of ice skates in the winter and rollerblades and bikes in the summer for anyone who wants to use the oval.

Titled “Lace Up” this artwork by Ilan Sandler was created 2013 next to the outdoor Emera Oval created for the Canada Games. Love that the City offers free rental of ice skates in the winter and rollerblades and bikes in the summer for anyone who wants to use the oval.

  The iron work at the back of Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church was a beautiful work of art.

The iron work at the back of Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church was a beautiful work of art.

  The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

  More telephone pole art.

More telephone pole art.

   Found this well weathered, faceless, wooden fire fighter monument next to downtown fire station.

Found this well weathered, faceless, wooden fire fighter monument next to downtown fire station.

   The Army & Navy Store on Agricola Street was fun to explore. Again this display of “War & Piece” could easily be an art installation in an contemporary gallery.

The Army & Navy Store on Agricola Street was fun to explore. Again this display of “War & Piece” could easily be an art installation in an contemporary gallery.

  The Nova Scotia Archives has an art gallery in the lobby that hosts local exhibitions. I was a bit shocked at the graphic nature of the work by Maria Valverde and Flavia Nasrin on display when we visited. These were not the pretty paintings or craftwork that you would normally expect in a government gallery. The works dealt with the grief of suicide, violence against women, divorce and death of parents in a very graphic way. The two artists held nothing back.

The Nova Scotia Archives has an art gallery in the lobby that hosts local exhibitions. I was a bit shocked at the graphic nature of the work by Maria Valverde and Flavia Nasrin on display when we visited. These were not the pretty paintings or craftwork that you would normally expect in a government gallery. The works dealt with the grief of suicide, violence against women, divorce and death of parents in a very graphic way. The two artists held nothing back.

  There wasn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Halifax but their new central library certainly makes a contemporary statement. I am not sure if it was the intent of the architects to create what looks like a shipping container balancing precariously on the roof - but that is what it look like to me. I am thinking the “shipping container” motif is appropriate given Halifax is a major port and has thousands of shipping containers stacked up along its waterfront at any given time. The architects for this building were the Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with the local office Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.

There wasn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Halifax but their new central library certainly makes a contemporary statement. I am not sure if it was the intent of the architects to create what looks like a shipping container balancing precariously on the roof - but that is what it look like to me. I am thinking the “shipping container” motif is appropriate given Halifax is a major port and has thousands of shipping containers stacked up along its waterfront at any given time. The architects for this building were the Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with the local office Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.

  At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the minimalist and forboding new athletic centre at Dalhousie University. It shares the same container-like aesthetics as the downtown library - perhaps some futuristic cargo ship. The Dalplex was designed by FBM and MJMA Architects.

At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the minimalist and forboding new athletic centre at Dalhousie University. It shares the same container-like aesthetics as the downtown library - perhaps some futuristic cargo ship. The Dalplex was designed by FBM and MJMA Architects.

  While flaneuring the campus of Dalhousie University we found this phallic piece by Robert Hedrick titled “Marine Venus” standing proudly in the boulevard of University Drive. Obviously, Dal (as locals call the university) is not afraid of a little controversial art.

While flaneuring the campus of Dalhousie University we found this phallic piece by Robert Hedrick titled “Marine Venus” standing proudly in the boulevard of University Drive. Obviously, Dal (as locals call the university) is not afraid of a little controversial art.

  Inside Dal’s Art Centre we found these stately aboriginal sticks from Australia  was tucked behind the staircase.

Inside Dal’s Art Centre we found these stately aboriginal sticks from Australia was tucked behind the staircase.

  The old post office which is now the Nova Scotia Art Gallery has some menacing looking figures.

The old post office which is now the Nova Scotia Art Gallery has some menacing looking figures.

   No trip to Halifax is complete without seeing Maud Lewis’ house that it at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. If you get a chance you should see the movie “     Maudie     ,” or check out the National Film Board documentary   Link:  Maud Lewis: A Word Without Shadows

No trip to Halifax is complete without seeing Maud Lewis’ house that it at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. If you get a chance you should see the movie “Maudie,” or check out the National Film Board documentary Link: Maud Lewis: A Word Without Shadows

  Lewis painted her entire house with colourful and cheerful images. It became a work of art. There are lots of other colourful houses in Halifax that made for charming and cheerful streetscapes, but nothing like this.

Lewis painted her entire house with colourful and cheerful images. It became a work of art. There are lots of other colourful houses in Halifax that made for charming and cheerful streetscapes, but nothing like this.

   You would never know that there is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design at the waterfront as their is no signage and even though it is right along the sidewalk you can’t see in as the building is literally a huge blank wall. What a shame? What were they thinking? Luckily we like to explore even when it looks like there is nothing there. The security guard was more like a gallery docent, willing to chat about the art, his thoughts on it and those of visitors.

You would never know that there is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design at the waterfront as their is no signage and even though it is right along the sidewalk you can’t see in as the building is literally a huge blank wall. What a shame? What were they thinking? Luckily we like to explore even when it looks like there is nothing there. The security guard was more like a gallery docent, willing to chat about the art, his thoughts on it and those of visitors.

   There were not a lot of murals in Halifax, but there were a few and they were not just decoration or upscale graffiti.

There were not a lot of murals in Halifax, but there were a few and they were not just decoration or upscale graffiti.

   Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

   Cliff Eyland’s huge mural titled “Library Cards” located in the lobby of the Halifax Central Library consists of hundreds of small artworks the size of a library card. The paintings cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are fun to look at. There is even a window in the middle where you get a glimpse of librarians working behind the wall.      Eyland has a similar piece in the lobby of the Winnipeg’s Central Library that is 24 ft by 28 ft. In order to see the pieces at top binoculars are available to borrow, or you can bring your own.

Cliff Eyland’s huge mural titled “Library Cards” located in the lobby of the Halifax Central Library consists of hundreds of small artworks the size of a library card. The paintings cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are fun to look at. There is even a window in the middle where you get a glimpse of librarians working behind the wall.

Eyland has a similar piece in the lobby of the Winnipeg’s Central Library that is 24 ft by 28 ft. In order to see the pieces at top binoculars are available to borrow, or you can bring your own.

   Close up view of Eyland’s “Library Cards.”

Close up view of Eyland’s “Library Cards.”

   The recycling bins at St. Mary’s University have a pop-art element to them.

The recycling bins at St. Mary’s University have a pop-art element to them.

Last Word

Hope you have enjoyed this photo tour of Halifax’s art and artifacts. If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Frankfurt: Found Street Art

Staircases As Art

Berlin Wall Artifact: Best Flaneur Find Ever!


2018: The Summer of Murals (Northern Hills Mural Project)  

While NHMP isn’t as catchy acronym as BUMP (the Beltline mural program I shared with you last week), it has more community buy-in than any public art / mural program Calgary has ever seen.  The idea for the mural came from Kim Walker an artist living in the community who saw the 850 meter six-foot high blank residential fence along several blocks of Country Hills Blvd as a blank canvas.  

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History of Calgary

Walker thought what if the fence, instead of being a barrier, brought the community together and became a source of community pride?  

Working with the City of Calgary and 40 individual homeowners who each owned part of the fence, she and another volunteer Laura Hack, were able to get everyone onside to create what would become Canada’s longest outdoor mural.  

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A Northern Hills Mural Project Committee was formed to manage the project and conduct extensive community engagement.

They obtained funding to allow them to hire an experienced artist to help create the design based on the theme “History of Calgary.”

Local artist, Mark Vazquez-Mackay was chosen from an open request for proposals, based on his painting expertise and teaching skills. Vazquez-Mackay’s role was to develop the mural design and paint a template (think huge colouring book) of the various icons and images identified by the community to trace Calgary’s history from the glaciers to the present in small sections along the along the 850 meter fence.  

Walker and Vazquez-Mackay then organized volunteer artists to oversee 150 foot sections the fence to help guide individuals and families in painting specific section based on their interests, to paint in the details of Vazquez-Mackay sketch.

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The fence was painted in 3 days over the August long weekend as hundreds volunteer muralist mostly from the community, but with some help from Calgarians from other communities and even outside the Calgary.  

Most had little or no painting experience but that didn’t deter them.

And finally, with a little touch up by Vazquez-Mackay, Walker, Makenna Millot and Josh Chilton the mural was completed and unveiled on Sept 22, 2018 at a community celebration.  

Images range from Calgary’s first train to the 1886 fire, from Fort Calgary to the ’88 Olympics, from the Stanley Cup to the Grey Cup, from VIVO Centre to whiskey traders. 

The community raised a total of $63,000 in cash and in-kind donations in three months to pay to repair the fence (some boards were rotting) and to scrape and pressure wash the fence.  Then approximately 415 gallons of paint products (paint, three coats of UV protection and one coats of anti-graffiti protections) were used to ensure the mural stays looking fresh for at least the next eight years.

Everyone is invited to come and see the, bring visiting family and friends to learn about history of Calgary and or our city’s amazing community spirit.   

  It truly was a community effort.

It truly was a community effort.

Last Word

Indeed, the summer of 2018 will be remembered as the “Summer of Murals,” not only for the Beltline and Northern Hills projects but for several other mural projects.  

The Downtown West community also initiated a mural program with two provocative pieces on the side of buildings (two more are in progress) and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation commissioned a mural for the 4th Street SE underpass linking East Village to Stampede Park.

It will be interesting to see how all of these murals age. Will they become valued community icons or will they just quietly fade away.  

If so, perhaps that is OK, public art doesn’t have to be permanent. 

While some public art has received a negative reaction from the public, all of the murals have been well received by their community. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here i.e. let the community initiate and manage the public art program.  

I truly hope the Beltline, Northern Hills and the Downtown West mural projects meet a better fate than previous attempts in Calgary to use murals and public art to create a sense of community.  

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

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

Vancouver: Mural Festival Fun & Fantasy

Doug Driediger: Public Art That Is Uplifting!

Jan Morris: Saskatoon: The Wonder, HUB, POW City?

This blog is another excerpt from Jan Morris’ 1990s book “City to City,” subtitled, Canada through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day. The book is a series of essays commissioned by Toronto’s, Saturday Night Magazine. Link: Jan Morris

The title for Morris’ Saskatoon essay is “The happy surprise” and her first sentence is “Saskatoon struck me as Canada’s best surprise,” followed by “I expected the worst.” She said her 10-day visit taught her a lesson not to jump to conclusions.  Having recently visited Saskatoon I was surprised at how her observations rung true even today. 

  I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

Prosaic Names

Morris found Saskatoon in the early ‘90s to be “intellectually vivacious, physically it was invigorating, and aesthetically I thought it, in certain lights as least, in certain moods, very beautiful.”

She loved the name Saskatoon, loved enunciating it, but otherwise she thought Saskatoon and most Canadian cities have “too many prosaic imported names e.g. European saints names that have no reference to Canada or names inherited from Scottish estates or other European places.” She liked that Saskatoon is “allegedly derived from the Cree word for a local berry, misaskwatomin, it is as indigenous a name as one could wish for, besides being euphonious, exotic and slightly comical.” Overall, Saskatoon struck her as the “most thoroughly Canadian of Canadian cities” but doesn’t really say why.

She then lists Saskatoon’s various monikers over time – The Wonder City (in its youth), the Hub City (when the railway arrived), the Fastest Growing City on Earth (which it once claimed to be) and City of Bridges (it has seven). 

It is one city in Canada that “does not seem greatly interested in the affairs of the United States.”  

  The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

Tyranny   

Saskatoon reminded her of Aberdeen, Scotland given its role as the powerhouse of the Saskatchewan hinterland, sustaining the economy of hundreds of thousands of square miles (its own terrestrial ocean) not just for the wheat fields but for potash, uranium, and gold mines. 

Morris acknowledges “while there is a majestic beauty to Saskatoon’s lonely per-eminence, there are cruel oppressions, too.  As artists in particular have observed before me, that infinite horizon is a kind of tyranny – one feels that even trying to challenge it, in soaring art or architecture….would be no more than a senseless impertinence.”

She recognized 21stStreet at an “architectural gem” where you can see a fair cross section of local society, economically and socially. The street is home to the chateau-style Bessborough Hotel, the modernist Canadian National building, the Saskatoon Club and the old Eaton’s store that is now an Army & Navy store.  

“Saskatoon is a patchwork of rich and poor, rough and smooth. Its history has fluctuated from boom to bust and back again, and its social fabric is correspondingly interwoven.”

  Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

  The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

 The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

PhDs

“Nearly all the people, it seemed, rich or poor, scholar or scavenger, Scottish, Russian or Cree by origin, had something specifically Saskatonian in common. During my 10 days in this city, I experienced no single instance of unfriendliness – not a single annoyance.  Saskatoon claims to have more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in Canada, is full of lively theatre, and is a very hive of gifted writers.”  

  Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

 “Saskatoon also has a powerful instinct for communal duty, communal purpose. An almost intimate sense of fellowships seems to characterize the city.

Its public institutions are often named for still living local worthies and its University Bridge built by local engineers.

The Mendel Art Gallery is not only open 363 days of the year, twelve hours a day, but attracts an annual attendance almost as great as the entire population of the city (note the Mendel is now closed having been replaced by the controversial Remai Modern which is not open 363 days of the year or twelve hours a day.)  

If you build a new house, the city gives you two free trees. And everywhere there are commemorative plaques.”  

  The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

  Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

  Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Restaurants

Morris was not big fan of Saskatoon’s restaurants saying “seldom have I eaten more depressingly” even though the city claimed to have more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. She thought the city was cosmopolitan, with its fertile ethnic melange and constant infusion of outsiders, but remarkably introspective.

Saskatoon’s restaurant scene has changed significantly since Morris’ visit with award winning chef Dale Mackay’s three signature restaurants - Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks & Stones. If you don’t believe me check out this link: 17 Bucket List Restaurants You Need To Try In Saskatoon.

The River

  Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

She notes, “Physically the place depends for all of its charm upon the river, and this Saskatoon has used magnificently. The seven bridges do give a noble flourish to Saskatoon, while its river banks have been fastidiously exploited as trail and parkland, unobtrusively equipped with the standard educational displays, and mercifully embellished, as far as I discovered, by only two pieces of sculpture – one depicting a gambolling group of Saskatonian adolescents, some of them upside down, the other depicting a Metis slumped on his horse.”  

Morris observes, “almost everything seems new in this mise en scene, and this is hardly surprising, because Saskatoon is one of the most sudden of all the world’s cities….The thirty-odd blocks of downtown are like the rings of a chopped tree…the solid red-brick emporiums of the early boom years, the years of the Wonder City.

Here is the glass and steel of the 1970s, when a spurt in several of Saskatoon’s industries made it POW City, meaning the city riding the boom in Potash, Oil and Wheat.  And in between these emblems of success are the symptoms of successive relapses, stores that never quite made it, building lots never quite built upon.”  

Later she laments about the removal of the rail yards and train station from the City Centre, “To this day the absence of the yards gives the city centre a sense of lacuna and deprives it of symbolism.”  

  The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

  Splash park along the river.

Splash park along the river.

  Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Verandering?

She also comments about the suburban development “thousands of houses built in the first half of the century create a ring around the city centre with hardly any two alike as they have been embellished with every kind of decorative caprice, equipped with all permutations of gabling, pillaring, shingling and verandering, ranging from mock Tudor to glimmering modernism.”

  There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

Pioneer vigour 

I was surprised when she commented that the boom of the 1970s that created the sprawling malls, industrial estates and housing developments is “where one still feels a sense of pioneering vigour.”  She adds, “If you really want a sensation of the frontier in Saskatoon, probably the best place of all to go is to the big industrial zone in the northern part of town, which looks as though it has just been off-loaded piecemeal from a container train and is remarkably like photographs of pioneer Saskatoon in the earliest days of Wonder City.” 

I love Morris’ sense of urban humour. “Saskatoon is short on bravado, and, in its social being as in its contemporary architecture, seems anxious not to shock, or even surprise…while all this does not make the city feel disappointed, exactly, it does make it feel a little resigned – like a woman in middle age who, contemplating her husband across the dinner table, realizes without rancour that life’s romantic possibilities have come and gone.” 

  This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

  While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

  This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

  This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

  Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

  I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

Heroic to banal

Near the end of the essay she summarizes her feeling about the city, “But then excitement is not what Saskatoon purveys. It is part of the civic genius – part of the Canadian genius, too – to reduce the heroic to the banal.” 

  13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

Last Word

I recently visited Saskatoon and found it was a great long weekend getaway, not sure how I would spend 10 days there.  I am happy to say the restaurant scene has improved, as it has in most Canadian cities since the ‘90s.  Saskatoon, like most North American cities, has caught the craft beer bug with the north industrial area providing some fun beer tasting spots. The City Centre is currently undergoing a slow renaissance with new shops, restaurants, bars, fitness studios and condos popping up everywhere. The river valley continues to be a popular public place for people of all ages with new publics spaces, trails and events.    

From an architectural perspective, the University of Saskatchewan has perhaps the best blend of old and new architecture in Canada. The new Remai Modern art gallery is a definite attempt to create a modern architectural statement with its cubist, container-like design.

The architecture and programming are diametrically opposed to what the Mendel Art Gallery used to offer.  Like it or not, it is a move away from the banal, the prosaic towards the “bravo” that Morris’ said was missing in Saskatoon’s sense of place.  

I agree with Morris that Saskatoon has a lot of commemorative plaques, statues and monuments. However, what impressed me most were the provocative murals and street art - some of the most thoughtful and appropriate images that I have seen anywhere. 

  This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

  The entire mural from across the street.

The entire mural from across the street.

Hamilton: SuperCrawl is Super Fun


Hamilton’s SuperCrawl has evolved over the past 10 years into one of Canada’s biggest and best music/street festivals.  It is a great success story. 

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Grass Roots

It all started when a group of fledgling art galleries along James Street North (aka Little Portugal) decided to host an Art Crawl the second Friday of every month. This was not a particularly novel idea - most cities across North America had such event in the ‘90s and ‘00s. In Hamilton’s case, it started as an experiment to attract more people to downtown’s new arts district.  However, soon new restaurants, cafes and boutiques were popping up along James Street North and wanted to join in the fun. 

Each month, the Art Crawl grew in popularity. 

Then in 2009, as an experiment, the James Street North merchants convinced the City to close the street for their September Art Crawl so they could add stages for music and create a real street festival - hence the name “SuperCrawl!” The first year attracted 3,000 visitors; today SuperCrawl is an annual 3-day festival the second weekend in September that attracts over 200,000 visitors from across southern Ontario and beyond (i.e. more than the Tiger-Cats attract all season). 

In many ways, SuperCrawl has put Hamilton on the art scene map!  

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SuperCrawl 2018

After attending a regular Art Crawl a few years back and being impressed, I added the Super Crawl to my list of things to see.  This was the year.    

In 2018, this eight-block festival, had two major stages (75+ music and theatre performances), hundreds of artists’/makers’ tents, 15 fashion shows, a block of food trucks, several art installations and a family fun zone.

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Music

The music program is very eclectic. This year’s program ranged from Broken Social Scene to Ian Thomas with the Hamilton All-Star Blues Band in the middle. Over the years, the festival has featured groups like Hamilton’s own Arkells (in 2014), to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (the late Jones being called the “female, James Brown” (in 2015). Other notables over the years - Sheepdog, Sam Roberts, Tanya Tagaq and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.   

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 Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Fashion Shows 

One of the festival’s hidden gems is the fashion shows that showcase local designers.  I discovered this stage late on Saturday night. I loved the Cosplay Masquerade and was sorry to miss the Hamilton Vintage Community and The Thrifty Designer shows. Other interesting shows included Madjita: Indigenous Stories and Design and TroyBoy Drag Show.    

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Tents

I was surprised at the number of tents that filled up not only the street but every nook and cranny, creating a fun, flea market-like atmosphere.  From the usual artisans to people selling used records and books – there were treasures to be found.  

  By day…

By day…

  By night…

By night…

Food Trucks 

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In addition to the many restaurants along James St. North, there were 35+ food trucks.

The food trucks ranged from Hamilton’s famous Gorilla Cheese to one called The Flyin’ G’Nosh.  

I was intrigued by Buster’s Bloomin Onion Company’s truck with its huge multi-level trays each holding hundreds of whole peeled onions waiting to be battered, fried and served with Buster’s own chipotle mayo, peppercorn ranch dipping sauce or nacho cheese drizzle.  

I didn’t try them (I hate long lines) but given the long line-up, I bet they were good. 

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SuperCrawl also showcases how downtown Hamilton’s King William Street (one of the adjacent side streets) has evolved into a restaurant row with lovely patios.

In the evenings, it was like being on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue or perhaps in Montreal’s Plateau on a warm summer evening.  

And of course, there was candy floss (it wouldn’t be a street festival without it) and Tim Horton’s Coffee.  Kudos to Timmy’s for sponsoring the entire block that hosted the family fun activities.  

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Art Installations 

The art installations this year were a big disappointment.  I had seen photos of some of the past installations and was ready to be wowed.  Perhaps my expectation’s “bar” was set too high.  However, I was not alone in thinking the art installations looked junky - I overheard many people saying “this just looks like a pile of junk,” and in several cases, that literally is what they were. 

  Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

  Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus.  There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus. There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

 Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

  Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

  Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement.  They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement. They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

  Members of    Flagship Gallery    (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

Members of Flagship Gallery (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

  One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you.   I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you. I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

Circus Orange 

For the past four years, SuperCrawl has showcased Circus Orange, a local performance group that combines acrobatics and pyrotechnics into a fun family evening event. Think Cirque du Soleil up close and personal.  I was able to stand by the fence next to the performers on both nights with great views of the behind the stage warm-up and set-up, as well as watching the performance ringside.  A “front row seat” for FREE!

“It is not every company that can say they have a forensic gun expert working alongside a clown. Or, dancers who are also licensed pyrotechnicians and actors who happily dangle 80 feet in the air from industrial cranes. It is this kind of diversity that is our greatest asset and truly represents the Circus Orange company culture.” (Circus Orange website)

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Urban Renewal Spark

SuperCrawl is a good example of how festivals can serve as the catalyst for change - helping transform a tired and forgotten street and neighbourhood, to a trendy, vibrant urban playground.  

And, while James St N still has a long way to go, there is evidence of revitalization. New condos are being built; new shops and restaurants are joining the traditional Portuguese ones that have been there for many years.

There is a new fully leased WilliamThomas luxury student residence that will add 350+ students to the neighbourhood.  This 21-storey, 169-unit residence is named after the 1850s WilliamThomas building that was on the site until it had to be demolished in 2010 as it was falling down.  The four-storey façade of the original building along James St N was saved and reconstructed as part of the new student tower to enhance the pedestrian-friendliness of street.  At present, it is looking for a couple of new retail or restaurant tenants.  

  One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

  The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

Last Word

If you are in the Hamilton area on the second Friday of any month, check out Art Crawl.  And if you love music/art festivals, I highly recommend you plan a weekend vacation in Hamilton and take in the entire festival.  And did I mention it is FREE!

While there you can also check out the Hamilton Art Gallery and the Cotton Factory two other fun art adventures.

  There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

Hamilton: Mulberry Street Porchin' Band

I love porches. I love live music. I love rock & roll and the blues. I love urban surprises. Combine all these and I think I have died and gone to heaven. This is exactly what happened when I attended Hamilton’s Super Crawl Sept 13 to 16th, 2018. 

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Too Much Fun!

There I was, Friday night wandering aimlessly, getting the lay of the land on James St N.  Hearing music coming from a side street (where there was no stage), I headed into the darken street was where I was treated to a brightly lit porch with six guys playing and singing their hearts out.  I just love it – and so did the other people watching, listening and dancing to the music.  People would come listen to a few songs and then move on, but there always seemed to be 50 or so people enjoying the free show.  

I decided to see if they were there on Saturday night after the Circus Orange performance at 10ish and sure enough the band was still in full swing.  There was even a larger crowd and more people dancing.  Too much fun!

Turns out this was not an impromptu porch performance for Super Crawl, but something that happens every Friday night from 6 to 9 pm, spring, summer and fall (weather permitting) and has been happening for the past 9 years.  

Yes one of the band members owns and lives in the house. 

  Some liked to listen, some liked to dance the guy with the cane was in a trance.

Some liked to listen, some liked to dance the guy with the cane was in a trance.

How did I not know this? 

Also turns out the band has an official name “Mulberry Street in’ Band,” a Facebook page and a CD. I also learned they even had the porch enlarged to make room for themselves and all of the equipment.  There are even groupies who show up regularly to listen and some love to dance.  

How cool is that?

More Info: Mulberry Street Porchin’ Band

Last Word

I was told the neighbours are all very supportive, even the 90 year old neighbour who lives next door. There is even a spot on the driveway where neighbours bring their chairs and beer so they can sit and listen to the music for the entire night if they wish.  

However, the porch performances may not last much longer as a large condo complex is under construction across the street.  I can’t imagine that all the new residents will love having loud music and noisy people dancing and playing in the street every Friday evening. They say all good things have to come to an end.  I hope “they” are wrong. 

But until then, if you happen to be in Hamilton on a Friday night (spring, summer or fall), check out the porch party near the corner of Mulberry and James St. N.  You can’t miss it.

PS. I wonder if I could use my porch for a music venue on Friday nights next summer? I will have to think about this over the winter.

  This is the Mulberry Street porch house by day. You could would never suspect it could be a fun live music venue by night.

This is the Mulberry Street porch house by day. You could would never suspect it could be a fun live music venue by night.

Bark Art: Calgary & Boise?

After visiting the Basque Museum and Cultural Centre back in the spring of 2014, I have become intrigued by tree bark wherever I go.  

Backstory: Idaho is home to one of the largest populations of Basques outside of Spain. Numbering around 30,000 today, they have inhabited the region since the mid to late 1800s, first coming for mining, then as shepherds. Today the Basque Block in downtown Boise, where the museum is located, is a must visit.  It is in the Basque museum that I discovered "Arborglyphs," i.e. carvings on the bark of aspen trees that tell sheepherders stories and give a unique window into their solitary existence.

Link: Arborglyphs 

  Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

  Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

Photo of Idaho Basque arborglyph. 

  This arborglyph was taken from Fisher Creek area of the Stanley basin, in the Sawtooth National Forest.  It is an image of a church carved into the tree. It took about 20 years for this aspen tree to mature enough to reveal the carving when it was alive. The tree had been dead for a number of years when this section was removed for preservation. (museum notes). To me it looks like a angle or  perhaps  even a Thunderbird from North  American   indigenous culture.  

This arborglyph was taken from Fisher Creek area of the Stanley basin, in the Sawtooth National Forest.  It is an image of a church carved into the tree. It took about 20 years for this aspen tree to mature enough to reveal the carving when it was alive. The tree had been dead for a number of years when this section was removed for preservation. (museum notes). To me it looks like a angle or perhaps even a Thunderbird from North American indigenous culture.  

Mother Nature's Art

Ever since my Boise visit I have been photographing interesting tree bark wherever I go.  This summer while wandering the Redwood Meadows golf course (yes I often wander off the fairway) I have discovered some very interesting "bark art." Or at least that is what I call it.

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Last Word

I love the textures, colours and sense of mystery that is evoked in each of these photographs.  I am always amazed at what if find almost everyday by just looking for interesting and intriguing things. 

If you are in the Boise area be sure to check out their downtown it is work a visit and if you do be sure to check out the Basque Block. 

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

Boise vs Calgary: David vs Goliath 

Boise: Freaking Fun In Freak Alley

MBAM: The Human Hand

Staircases as art?

Saskatoon Stories: Picasso Birdhouses & Gory Puppets 

Everywhere we go, it’s “eyes wide open!”  We are always on the lookout for something different, something off-the-beaten path, something you won’t find (at least not easily) online. Saskatoon didn’t disappoint. 

  You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

  The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise.  

The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise. 

Picasso Birdhouses

On our first evening, we were invited to a friends’ house for dinner where we enjoyed a great evening, highlighted by their quirky art collection and great backyard.  Yes, the one with the amazing pavilion! But what impressed us most were the Picasso-inspired birdhouses.  We had to have one. Well, maybe two.

Turns out we could – and did. And so can you!

They are made by John Remai (if the surname sounds familiar, it could be because his brother’s wife donated big bucks for Saskatoon’s controversial new Remai Art Museum, but that is another story) and he makes them in his parking garage studio in the downtown Saskatoon riverside residential tower where he lives.  

  John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

Once a builder always a builder?

Remai, now in his ‘80s, was one Saskatoon’s biggest developers before retiring a few years ago. As a philanthropist, Remai has been a big supporter of various Saskatoon charities, as well as the local Children’s Hospital.  However, he wanted to not only make personal donations but help encourage others to also give back to their community.  As a result, he decided in retirement to design and build birdhouses to sell to the public with all proceeds going to the Saskatoon’s Children’s Hospital.  Who could resist buying one or perhaps four (our host now has four) birdhouses, three at home and one at work?   

The public can buy a Remai birdhouse Monday through Thursday in the basement of the office building at the corner of Spadina and 20thStreet.  Depending on design, the birdhouses sell for $75 to $100, which is great value given the craftsmanship and complexity of designs.  

Given we were in town on a weekend, we were fortunate our host knew Remai and was able to arrange a downtown studio visit to see the birdhouses actually being built and meet Mr. Remai, a very cordial host and unassuming gentleman.

Indeed, the Remai’s huge workshop (probably the size of quadruple car garage) is located in the underground parkade of a residential tower.  It is neatly divided up into three spaces, one with all the While we were there, two volunteers from the building were painting pieces of his latest design, a “parrot birdhouse” in preparation for assembly.

A lovely sense of order and calmness filled this windowless, grotto-like studio.  Here are some photos, which I hope will convey the scale of the operations and the diversity of the birdhouses being produced.  

  JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

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  Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

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  The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

  JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

For more information: JR's Designer Birdhouses 

U of S: Timeless

  The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

Whenever we are in a new city we make a point of exploring the postsecondary campuses.  They are often full of interesting, under-the-radar places.

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is no exception as it is home to an Antiquities Museum, a Natural History Museum and three art galleries.  

The campus is an architectural gem as the facades of almost all of the buildings have been built with sandstone or Tyndall stone facades giving it a timeless quality I have not experienced anywhere else. 

From a design perspective, it may well be the best campus in Canada! 

  The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

A-Mazing Campus

The U of S, like most campuses, is a maze of seemingly randomly placed buildings.  Note: I often wonder why postsecondary campuses never used the grid street system, which is so much easier to navigate. The grid street design has been around since before Christ for heaven’s sake, you’d think one or more universities would have used it. However, the good thing about the maze system is you often get lost and in doing so, you see things you might not have if you knew where you were going.  For us, getting lost lead to finding artisans making puppets for this summer’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (River). 

  The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

Gory Puppets 

While trying to find our bearings, we noticed some quirky-looking objects in the basement windows of a building we had no intention of going into. However, they became the impetus for us to head in. Once inside, we immediately peeked into a large studio with three people working away making puppets. We were invited in come in dozens of puppets at various stages of completion.  Turns out they were making all of the 44 puppets for this summer’s production of TITUS A. Puppet Revenge, July 12 to August 19th.

Backstory: TITUS A. Puppet Revenge will tell the story of the most violent and bloody tragedy ever performed at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival.  Dismemberment, disembowelment and cannibalism will all play out with an amazing set of carefully crafted rod puppets in a small tent tucked into a corner of the site.  It is billed as a delightfully disturbing romp for mature audiences. Due to the detailed nature of puppets, I recommend attendees bring opera glasses or binoculars. 

Turns out we were welcomed by Kristi Friday of Stumped Productions who along with some hired hands were building all of the puppets. After looking around and chatting a bit, she asked if we wanted to come with her to the basement where they had set up a small rehearsal stage to test out the puppets and we could see the finished puppets.  We said “Hell Yes!” It was fun to get a behind the scene tour and an up close and personal look at the puppets.  

  Puppets in various stages of completion.  

Puppets in various stages of completion. 

  An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

  The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

  Taking a break....

Taking a break....

  Hanging out....

Hanging out....

  The rehearsal stage...

The rehearsal stage...

Secret UofS Museum

Next door to the rehearsal stage, was the basement room that attracted us to go inside the building in the first place. Here we were rewarded with the opportunity to see some of the fun stage costumes other production from bubble wrap dresses to vintage hat boxes.

It was like finding a buried treasure or an unknown museum. 

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Lessons Learned

#1 Always travel with your eyes and mind wide open.  

#2 Always leave extra time to explore unexpected opportunities. 

#3 Don't be shy!

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

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Footnotes: University of Arizona 

University of New Mexico: A-Mazing 

Playground as Sculpture Park?

For as long as I can remember, I have thought playgrounds should do double duty as sculpture parks. To my delight, while exploring Atlanta’s large and lovely Piedmont Park recently, I discovered they have a playground designed by renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

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Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 and during his lifetime (he died in 1988), he designed a vast array of art - from abstract sculptures to gardens, to furniture and fountains, to parks and plazas.

And yes, even playgrounds.

The Piedmont Park playground entitle “Playscapes,” was commissioned to honor Atlanta’s bicentennial and opened in 1976.

The playground is spacious with lots of room between the different sculptural elements which is what gives it a sculpture park look - each piece having its own space that allows you to walk around it. 

While Playscapes has traditional playground equipment, i.e. slide, swings and sand box – they all have a contemporary sculptural twist.  Each piece has a dominant shape – cylinder, rectangle, triangle and square which remind me of the infant toy that you have to fit different-shaped blocks into the right holes. 

I love that children get to climb into the lighthouse-like slide and can see through or crawl through some of the pieces.  While Noguchi uses bright colours, they are more somber than the bold, neon-like colours of the cookie-cutter new playgrounds across Canada today. 

Have a look. Let me know what you think?
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Other Cities

Here is a collection of photos taken in other cities of public art and playground structures that could easily be integrated to create a playground that is also a sculpture park. 

  Everybody loved this temporary installation of hammock swings in Mexico City's Central Plaza. They would make a great addition to a community park. I love the idea of moving them every few weeks. 

Everybody loved this temporary installation of hammock swings in Mexico City's Central Plaza. They would make a great addition to a community park. I love the idea of moving them every few weeks. 

  Found this sculpture in downtown Hamilton, that looks exactly like a child's toy. Wouldn't it be fun in a playground? Wouldn't it be great as an interactive piece of art? Too bad it is located in a place devoid of any sense of public animation.

Found this sculpture in downtown Hamilton, that looks exactly like a child's toy. Wouldn't it be fun in a playground? Wouldn't it be great as an interactive piece of art? Too bad it is located in a place devoid of any sense of public animation.

  Found this fun playground in Berlin. It a whimsical fairy tale appearance that was both sculptural, functional and playful. 

Found this fun playground in Berlin. It a whimsical fairy tale appearance that was both sculptural, functional and playful. 

  This chair/sculpture in downtown Palm Springs would make for a fun playground element.  Kids would love to climb it, sit on it and crawl under it. I know some of you are saying "what about the sharp corners?" Well our Grand Trunk Playground has a playground piece with similar corners and it was Canadian Standards Approved.  

This chair/sculpture in downtown Palm Springs would make for a fun playground element.  Kids would love to climb it, sit on it and crawl under it. I know some of you are saying "what about the sharp corners?" Well our Grand Trunk Playground has a playground piece with similar corners and it was Canadian Standards Approved.  

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This public artwork by Calgary artist Jeff de Boer at the entrance to the ENMAX Park at Stampede Park would be a fun addition to a playground. I have often wondered what Jeff would create if he was commissioned to design a playground. 

  Calgary's Westmount Park has several sculptural elements like these two in its playground. 

Calgary's Westmount Park has several sculptural elements like these two in its playground. 

  Calgary's Grand Trunk Park's teeter-totter has some nice sculptural characteristics. 

Calgary's Grand Trunk Park's teeter-totter has some nice sculptural characteristics. 

  This contemporary teeter-totter could easily be a work of art. 

This contemporary teeter-totter could easily be a work of art. 

  Many of the new playgrounds have artistic qualities to them if viewed from the right angle.  

Many of the new playgrounds have artistic qualities to them if viewed from the right angle. 

Last Word

On the Playscapes plaque, Noguchi is quoted as saying, “When an artist stops being a child, he stops being an artist.” I am not sure I totally agree with that statement, but I do agree some artists function best when they “think and feel like a child.”

Personally, I try to live everyday with the curiosity of a child.

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

Public Art vs Playgrounds

Playgrounds Gone Wild?

Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

Atlanta vs Calgary: Coca-Cola vs Oil & Gas

Whenever I told people I was going to Atlanta for 14 days of flaneuring, I was warned I would need to rent a car. Not true! Even on Day 14, I was discovering new fun things to see and do within walking distance of my Midtown Airbnb. 

Metro Atlanta, the fifth largest U.S.A. city with 5.8 million residents is the primary transportation hub of the southeastern U.S.A. It boasts the busiest airport in the world.  Home to the headquarters of Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, Delta Air Lines and Turner Broadcasting; it is the business capital of southeastern U.S.A. It hosted the 1996 Olympic Summer Games.

While Calgary is obviously a much smaller city (1.3 million), we share many of the same characteristics – a major transportation hub, business capital of Western Canada, and former Olympic host city. I found myself often comparing the two cities.

  Atlanta's midtown skyline, with Piedmont Park in the foreground.

Atlanta's midtown skyline, with Piedmont Park in the foreground.

  Downtown Calgary with Prince's Island Park in the foreground.

Downtown Calgary with Prince's Island Park in the foreground.

Atlanta’s Midtown vs Calgary’s Downtown

  Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

Over the past few decades, many of the amenities you would expect in a traditional downtown have migrated from Atlanta’s old downtown to Midtown, about 3 km north. Today, Midtown has over 20 million square feet of office space (Calgary’s downtown has 43 million) with over 23 new office buildings in the past 15 years. 

The 41-storey Symphony Tower, completed in 2005 by Pickard Chilton Architects is a sister tower to Calgary’s Eighth Avenue Place, designed by the same firm.

Midtown is where you will find the Woodruff Arts Centre (5 performance spaces; 3,400 seats), and High Museum of Art.  Calgary’s equivalent would be Arts Commons (5 performance spaces; 3,200 seats) and The Glenbow. 

Midtown also is home to the historic 4,665-seat Fox Theatre, as well as 14th Street Playhouse, Museum of Design Atlanta and Centre for Puppetry Arts.   Calgary’s Theatre Junction GRAND, Lunchbox Theatre and Vertigo Theatre and Palace Theatre would match Atlanta’s performing arts scene.

Midtown is also home to 24,000+ postsecondary students attending Georgia Tech, Emory University Hospital, Savannah College of Art & Design, John Marshall Law School and Westwood College.  Calgary’s equivalent would be Bow Valley College, and SAIT/ACAD with about 10,000 students in all.

Advantage: Calgary (office vitality); Atlanta (student vitality)
  Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center, combines theatre, concert hall and art museum. 

Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center, combines theatre, concert hall and art museum. 

  World Events is a 26-foot high sculpture by Tony Cragg at the entrance to Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center's concert hall.  

World Events is a 26-foot high sculpture by Tony Cragg at the entrance to Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center's concert hall.  

  Calgary's, Wonderland, by Jaume Plensa on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower designed by Norman Foster. 

Calgary's, Wonderland, by Jaume Plensa on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower designed by Norman Foster. 

  Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

  While most of downtown Calgary's streets are lined with office towers like Atlanta, Stephen Avenue Walk is a pedestrian mall by day and road at night. It is  a very popular place for office workers to stroll at lunch hour. It is lined with patios and street vendors in the summer, creating a festival like atmosphere.

While most of downtown Calgary's streets are lined with office towers like Atlanta, Stephen Avenue Walk is a pedestrian mall by day and road at night. It is  a very popular place for office workers to stroll at lunch hour. It is lined with patios and street vendors in the summer, creating a festival like atmosphere.

  While Atlanta's Midtown does have two subway stations, it has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and it 7th Avenue SW Stations.  Atlanta also can't match Calgary's FREE fare zone in the downtown. 

While Atlanta's Midtown does have two subway stations, it has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and it 7th Avenue SW Stations.  Atlanta also can't match Calgary's FREE fare zone in the downtown. 

  Altanta's MARTA subway stations are dark and dingy. Note the street is lined with above ground parkades vs Calgary's underground parkades.  

Altanta's MARTA subway stations are dark and dingy. Note the street is lined with above ground parkades vs Calgary's underground parkades.  

Piedmont Park vs Calgary Urban Parks

Midtown’s 200-acre Piedmont Park is the South’s greatest park and Atlanta’s “backyard.”  It encompasses the Atlanta Botanical Garden, a huge playing field area, a lagoon, outdoor swimming pool, pub/restaurant, paved pathways, trails, two dog parks (one for large dogs; one for small dogs) and lots of places to sit. It hosts several signature festivals – Dogwood, Jazz, Food & Wine, Road Race, Arts, Music Festival, Gay Pride and Kite. A lamppost banner said there are over 3,000 events annually in Midtown.

Calgary could counter with its four signature urban parks - Prince’s Island, St. Patrick’s Island, Riley and Central Memorial Parks.  Add in Stampede Park and Shaw Millennium Park with all of their festivals and events and Calgary matches Atlanta’s Midtown for parks and festivals.

Advantage: Tied
  An outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park, is a popular annual family event.

An outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park, is a popular annual family event.

  Piedmont Park is also a popular place for people to read, picnic and play.

Piedmont Park is also a popular place for people to read, picnic and play.

  Calgary's Prince's Island Park is transformed into a huge "love-in" during the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

Calgary's Prince's Island Park is transformed into a huge "love-in" during the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

  Calgary's St. Patrick's Island has recently been transformed into a popular public space for Calgarians of all ages. 

Calgary's St. Patrick's Island has recently been transformed into a popular public space for Calgarians of all ages. 

 Murdoch Park in Bridgeland is a popular family park even in Calgary's winter.

Murdoch Park in Bridgeland is a popular family park even in Calgary's winter.

  Shaw Millennium Park is one of the best skate parks in North America. It also has a festival area, beach volleyball and basketball courts.   

Shaw Millennium Park is one of the best skate parks in North America. It also has a festival area, beach volleyball and basketball courts.  

Atlantic Station vs East Village

Like Calgary, Midtown is undergoing an urban living renaissance with 8,000+ new mid and highrise homes under construction or about to break ground. 

On the northwestern edge of Midtown sits Atlantic Station, a mega 138-acre redevelopment of an old steel mill.  It includes a multi-block midrise condo town center with ground floor retail above a mega 7,200-space underground parking garage. It has grocery store, Dillard’s department store, 16-screen Regal movie theatre, as well as 30 other retail stores and 20 restaurants.  It also includes office and hotel towers, with a Target and Ikea store nearby.  When completed, it will have 12 million square feet of retail, office, residential and hotel space as well as 11 acres of public parks.  It will be home for 10,000 people.

Calgary’s equivalent would be the 120-acre redevelopment of East Village, which will also be home to about 10,000 people when completed.  It too will have a grocery store, retail and restaurants and hotel. Instead of office towers it will have two major public buildings – New Central Library and National Music Center.  It includes the 31-acre St. Patricks’ Island, 40-acre Fort Calgary Park and the 2-km RiverWalk.

While Atlantic Station is further advanced development-wise than East Village, it is not as well connected to its neighbouring communities and its public spaces are not as attractive.  It has nothing to match East Village’s Bow River. 

Advantage: Calgary
  Sunday morning church service in Atlantic Station's Central Plaza

Sunday morning church service in Atlantic Station's Central Plaza

  One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

  Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

  Atlantic Station and Georgia Tech are both separated from downtown and midtown by huge highway. However, the overpasses have very large pedestrian sidewalks. 

Atlantic Station and Georgia Tech are both separated from downtown and midtown by huge highway. However, the overpasses have very large pedestrian sidewalks. 

  Calgary's East Village is a massive master-planned urban village project on the eastern edge of the downtown.   

Calgary's East Village is a massive master-planned urban village project on the eastern edge of the downtown.  

  Roof-top dining on the Simons Building on the banks of the Bow River in East Village.

Roof-top dining on the Simons Building on the banks of the Bow River in East Village.

  In addition to East Village, Calgary's City Centre has several other major condo projects along the Bow River in Eau Claire and West Downtown, as well as Kensington, Beltline, Inglewood and Bridgeland. 

In addition to East Village, Calgary's City Centre has several other major condo projects along the Bow River in Eau Claire and West Downtown, as well as Kensington, Beltline, Inglewood and Bridgeland. 

Shopping & Dining

Atlanta is missing a main street like Stephen Avenue in its urban core (25 sq. km.). Other than Atlantic Station and Ponce City Market, there is no retail in downtown or midtown. Calgary's Eau Claire Market pales in comparison. 

However, Atlanta has nothing to match Calgary’s mega downtown shopping mall - The Core - or the main street shopping and patio dining of  Kensington, Inglewood, Beltline or Mission.   

Advantage: Calgary
  Ponce City Market is a massive Sears Roebuck & Co. retail store, warehouse and regional office.  Today it is home to restaurants and shops.  It is surrounded by new condo developments.

Ponce City Market is a massive Sears Roebuck & Co. retail store, warehouse and regional office.  Today it is home to restaurants and shops.  It is surrounded by new condo developments.

  Ponce City Market is a popular place on weekend to meet up with friends.

Ponce City Market is a popular place on weekend to meet up with friends.

  Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

  Calgary's The Core is a three-block long retail centre with The Bay and Holt's department stores anchoring the two ends.  It also has a major indoor park. 

Calgary's The Core is a three-block long retail centre with The Bay and Holt's department stores anchoring the two ends.  It also has a major indoor park. 

  The historic Hudson's Bay department store in downtown Calgary.  

The historic Hudson's Bay department store in downtown Calgary. 

  Calgary's 17th Ave SW is lined with patios, cafes and shops from 2nd to 14th Street.

Calgary's 17th Ave SW is lined with patios, cafes and shops from 2nd to 14th Street.

Rivers & Pathways

Atlanta also has nothing to match the natural beauty of Calgary’s Bow and Elbow Rivers and their lovely multi-use pathways.  However, Atlanta does have an old abandoned railway line called the BeltLine, which has recently been converted into a promenade attracting tens of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists on weekends. It has already been a catalyst for several mid-rise condo developments and mega pubs.  It has a huge potential to create a vibrant urban corridor.

Advantage: Calgary
  Atlanta's BeltLine is a popular multi-use pathway that has been a huge catalyst for development. 

Atlanta's BeltLine is a popular multi-use pathway that has been a huge catalyst for development. 

  There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

  In summer, Calgary's Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a special place to stroll. 

In summer, Calgary's Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a special place to stroll. 

  The Peace Bridge is a popular spot to cross the Bow River for cyclist, runners and walkers.

The Peace Bridge is a popular spot to cross the Bow River for cyclist, runners and walkers.

Centennial Park vs Olympic Plaza

Atlanta beats Calgary when it comes to creating a tourism legacy from the Olympics.  Their 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park located downtown includes the Fountain of Rings, a dancing fountain that families love to run through, a Ferris wheel and playing fields.

In addition, it is surrounded by the World of Coca-Cola museum, Georgia Aquarium, CNN Centre and National Centre for Civil and Human Rights. It is a huge year-round tourist attraction.

The vitality of Calgary’s Olympic Plaza pales in comparison except when the Calgary International Children’s Festival or some other major event is happening.

Advantage Atlanta
  Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

  Even though there was nobody on the Ferris Wheel, it creates a playful sense of place.

Even though there was nobody on the Ferris Wheel, it creates a playful sense of place.

 Gotta love the Coca-Cola sponsored funky information booth at Centennial Olympic Park, that looks like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture. Note the cafe and aquarium in the background. 

Gotta love the Coca-Cola sponsored funky information booth at Centennial Olympic Park, that looks like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture. Note the cafe and aquarium in the background. 

  Calgary's Olympic Plaza has little urban vitality except when an event is taking place, despite being surrounded by a major library, City Hall, municipal building, arts center, museum and convention centre. It has limited tourist appeal. 

Calgary's Olympic Plaza has little urban vitality except when an event is taking place, despite being surrounded by a major library, City Hall, municipal building, arts center, museum and convention centre. It has limited tourist appeal. 

Arena, Stadium & Convention Centre

Atlanta has clustered their new Mercedes Benz Stadium, Phillips Arena and World Congress Center (convention center) around a large plaza just south of its Centennial Park. Unfortunately, it is not well connected to either Centennial Olympic Park or downtown. And with no everyday amenities, it was like a ghost town the April afternoon we visited. 

Calgary’s equivalent is Stampede Park with its two arenas, Grandstand and the BMO exhibition centre. Hopefully, the new Stampede Entertainment District Plan will create a mix of everyday uses and connect the district with its neighbours – 17th Ave, East Village and Inglewood.

Advantage: Tied
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  Atlanta's lovely plaza that links the stadium, arena and convention centre is devoid of any animation most of the time.    Clustering large single use special event facilities is a big "No No" in Jane Jacob's book.

Atlanta's lovely plaza that links the stadium, arena and convention centre is devoid of any animation most of the time.  Clustering large single use special event facilities is a big "No No" in Jane Jacob's book.

  Calgary's Stampede Park is amazing public space during the 10 days of Stampede.  It is also home to numerous other major events.   

Calgary's Stampede Park is amazing public space during the 10 days of Stampede.  It is also home to numerous other major events.  

  Stampede Park can be a desolate place when there are no events happening.   

Stampede Park can be a desolate place when there are no events happening.  

  Calgary's Saddledome arena with downtown skyline in the background.

Calgary's Saddledome arena with downtown skyline in the background.

Last Word  

While Atlanta might be five times bigger than Calgary, its urban core (25 sq. km) is no match for Calgary’s. Almost all of its large buildings have huge multi-floor, above-ground parkades that destroy street life on three sides.  Calgary is fortunate most of its urban parking is underground, sometimes even with a park on top e.g. James Short Park.

Calgary is also fortunate its urban core is compact. Olympic Plaza Arts District, Stephen Avenue National Historic District, Financial District, Music Mile, urban parks and shopping districts are all within easy walking distance.

What Atlanta’s City Centre does have that Calgary could definitely use more of is postsecondary school campuses. What a great use for downtown’s empty office space. I am sure somebody is on it!

  One of dozens of above ground parkades in Atlanta's urban core that destroys the street life. 

One of dozens of above ground parkades in Atlanta's urban core that destroys the street life. 

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University of Calgary’s Public Art Gets No Respect!

With 80+ Jane’s Walks to choose from in Calgary, it was tough to decide which one(s) to participate in.  After much deliberation, we chose the University of Calgary’s Public Art tour, as we love exploring university campuses AND we love public art. 

Marina Fischer, Collection Specialist, Numismatics at the University of Calgary was our very personable host.   She has an art history and classics background, specializing ancient art. Fischer has been teaching art history courses for continuing education for over ten years and received an award for Continuing and Professional Education, from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Her tour was more of a layman’s look at the University’s public art collection than academic which was fine with us. 

What I found interesting was her identification of a common theme to the university’s public artworks i.e. a link between art and science. It was an astute observation; one the university might want to focus on when considering future public art pieces.  In my opinion, public art collections benefit when there is a focus to the collection that adds a synergy to the art i.e. when the sum is greater than the parts. 

 Plato, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos, marble, University of Calgary 

Plato, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos, marble, University of Calgary 

 L- Straddle, Marc Mellon, bronze, University of Calgary  

L- Straddle, Marc Mellon, bronze, University of Calgary  

 Nature is an Eternal Mystery (close-up), brozne, Reinherd Skoracki, University of Calgary

Nature is an Eternal Mystery (close-up), brozne, Reinherd Skoracki, University of Calgary

Self-Guided Tour

 I have tried to format this blog so it can be used as a self-guided tour. Our tour started slowly and built to a crescendo….here we go.

 (FYI: I have tried to document the tour in a manner where those interested can use this blog for a self-guided tour.

(FYI: I have tried to document the tour in a manner where those interested can use this blog for a self-guided tour.

Bear / Just outside west entrance Libary

As we left the Taylor Family Digital Library building, our attention was immediately drawn to a huge black bear standing in a small grotto of trees.  Created by local artist Brian Cooley, it became more interesting the closer you got as you could see the etched texture of the surface.  Cooley is well known internationally for his creation of life-size life-like dinosaurs, at 1,600 lbs. and 11 ft. high, this is probably one of Cooley’s smaller pieces.

I immediately wondered, “Why a bear?” Given, the University of Calgary sports teams are called the “Dinos,” and given Cooley’s experience creating dinosaurs, it would have made more sense to have a “Dino” in the grotto.  We were told Don and Ruth Taylor, huge supporters of the University’s current transformation donated the Bear.  Guess I will have to ask them!

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Olympic Arch / Kinesiology Building B

Next stop - Colette Whiten, Paul Kipps and Jack Diamond's 1988 sculpture "Olympic Arch” in front of the Physical Education complex. The arch is a huge plate of steel, bowed up in the center seemingly by the efforts of the four life-sized bronze humans on either side pushing and lifting. The tension reflects the struggles and efforts not only of athletes, but all humans. 

Is there a political statement here? Are the figures competing against each other - or are they cooperating towards the same goal? The piece might even foreshadow the current struggles Calgary’s oil & gas companies are encountering to build or expand pipelines – the arch being the pipeline. Ironically, the piece is also known as the Trans Canada Pipeline Arch, in reference to the company who paid for the commissioned piece.

The arch sculpture has had three homes - originally it was at the entrance to the Winter Olympic athletes’ village on the University of Calgary campus, then it was moved to downtown’s Eau Claire Plaza, before landing at its current location as part of the university’s 25th anniversary in 1991.

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L-Straddle / Kinesiology Building A

Walking from the Olympic Arch to the Kinesiology Building A, we stopped to admire Marc Mellon’s bronze sculpture of a gymnast jumping over a pommel horse. Called “L-Straddle,” the title references how the human figure creates a perfect “L” shape.  Mellon is a well-known American sculptor who is fascinated by the shape and form of the human body in various athletic pursuits, including various gymnastic events.  His work is on 40 campuses across North America.  Backstory: He left a pre-medical studies program to become a sculptor; hence, his interest in the human body as art.

Once inside the Kinesiology Building, we stopped at the easy-to-miss small display case with two modest bronzes of athletes – The Athlete (1903) and The Javelin Thrower (1923). Robert Tait McKenzie, a Canadian physician, educator, sculptor, athlete and soldier, who was a pioneer of physical fitness programs and huge supporter of the Olympic games, created both.  His inclusion in the University of Calgary’s art collection is very appropriate as was the artwork’s location. 

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Brothers of the Wind & Skate Marks / Olympic Oval

I have been in the Olympic Oval many times but before this tour I had never gone up the stairs from the lobby where a 10-foot long bronze relief titled “Brothers of the Wind”- also  by McKenzie created in 1925 is mounted in the middle of the stairwell.  Depicting 8 speed skating athletes drafting behind each other, it is one of McKenzie’s largest artworks and appropriately donated to the University in 1986 by a private donor. 

Note: An image of Brothers of the Wind is engraved on all gold rings given to athletes who have set a world record in the Olympic Oval

But what really impressed me were the two glass windows facing south and north in the atrium by Vancouver artist, Brian Baxter.  Combining both manufactured and hand-blown glass, the shapes and lines are mean to reflect “skate marks on ice.”  On a bright sunny day (which Calgary has many), it creates a bright, contemporary - dare I say “church window-like” abstraction that I found uplifting.

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The Spire / North Entrance, The Oval

The Spire by Charles Boyce was also created for the 1988 Olympics and serves as the grand entrance to the Olympic Oval from its north side.  This huge, 20-meter-high (the equivalent of a 6-storey building) consists of five U-shaped pipes that for many, looks like a twisted paper clip – hence the nickname “The Paperclip.”  Others see it as a dinosaur skeleton or mountains, while Boyce sees it "as a spaceship, symbolizing man's reaching out to explore the galaxy, and a steeple, symbolizing man's discovery of the universe within.” Personally, I love art with the ambiguity to be the catalyst for different people to see and feel different things.

For me, the U-shapes could also be seen as A-shapes, reflecting the “A” in athletes of the Olympics. The piece evokes a powerful thrust as it emerges from the ground much like a skater’s thrust from the ice (speed, figure or hockey skate).  The bright red colour symbolizes passion an athlete must have to make it to the Olympics or a student to become a scholar.

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Le Patineur de Vitesse / South Entrance, The Oval

Rather hidden, tucked away on an unused plaza on the east side of the Olympic Oval is Le Patineur de Vitesse (i.e. French for “speed skater”) by Germain Bergeron, a former Quebec monk turned artist.  This simple whimsical metal sculpture – more a scribble drawing than a sculpture - is playful and graceful and deserves a more prominent location.  It is a great hidden selfie spot.

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Goddess of Democracy / MacEwan Student Centre Lobby

In 1989, Chinese students erected a 30-foot Statue of Liberty replica out of white plaster over a metal armature and styrofoam in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square facing Mao Tse-tung.  A crowd of 150,000 turned out to welcome the statue. It became the symbol of the Chinese people’s desire for democracy and eventually resulted in the death of 10,000+ students when Chinese soldiers tried to remove it. Several replicas of the statue have since been created by university students around the world in sympathy with the Chinese students. 

The University of Calgary’s replica (created by American artist, Thomas Marsh), is slightly larger than life-size and prominently located in the lobby of the MacEwan Student Centre. 

Erected in 1995 by the Chinese Students Society, the Students’ Union, the University of Calgary and the Alliance for a Democratic China, it serves as a reminder of the “power of the people.”

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Nature is an Eternal Mystery / South Entrance,  EEEL Building

The Energy Environment Experiential Learning building (EEEL) is one of the University’s newest buildings and perhaps one of Calgary’s most contemporary and striking buildings architecturally. Located in a prime location at the front entrance is Reinhard Skoracki’s (born in Germany, a University of Calgary graduate) 16-foot tall bronze sculpture titled, “Nature is an Eternal Mystery” is a nude male figure (complete with genitalia) shrouded with two triangular flat planes over his head and torso, leaving only the butt and legs exposed.  The leaves and tree branch sticking out of his head reference man’s needs to think more about nature. The covering of the head is perhaps a comment about humans’ blindness to our impact on nature. 

Until this point, tour leader Fischer spoke very positively (often glowingly) about the university’s art collection. But in this case, she was honest in saying the piece offended her (not by the nudity), but rather she felt the obvious maleness of the figure was an inappropriate representation of humanity as equally male and female especially in relation to the new and progressive interdisciplinary science structure hosted in the Energy Environment Experiential Learning Building.

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Inside EEEL Building

Once inside the EEEL building, you could easily miss the public art as they are hung in obscure spots.  For example, Angela Leach’s two colourful rainbow-like paintings titled “AR Wave, Yin Yang) are hung almost at the ceiling on either side of the doorway, two floors above the ground, making it really difficult to appreciate them.

Then, there were Marjan Eggermont’s soaring steel panels etched with a delicate tree formation that hug the corner of the 3+ floor high open grandstand-like lecture hall incorporated into the building’s grand lobby.  Titled “one-way ticket,” it is made up of 12 panels that combine to create a 48 ft. tall and 16 ft. wide site-specific elegant artwork that cleverly covers the elevator shaft.  Though its mysterious black and white presence from the lobby floor invites you to climb the stairs to get a better look, you can never seem to quite find a good viewing point. Frustrating, but perhaps intentional given humans are always struggling to find the “right perspective” to view the world we share with each other and nature. 

There is a third piece inside, David Burdeny’s two large back-lit photographs titled “Icebergs Generating Fog, Antarctic Sound,” (2007/2011) hung at the top of the wide staircase which depicts the isolation, beauty and fragility of Antarctica.  Because of its location, most visitors to the building will never see it.  In fact, it was not even included in our tour.

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The Unknown Artist(s) / Earth Sciences & Math Sciences Buildings

Our tour then headed over the hallway on the main floor where the Earth Sciences building meets the Math Science building where a floor to ceiling artwork wraps around the corner.  The wooden elements reminded me (and at least one other of the tour participants) of pieces of picnic tables.  The deconstructivist, perhaps cubist arrangement of wooden elements could be a metaphor for the shifting of totemic plates of the earth over time.  The spherical ceramic elements not only echo earth in colour and texture, but also seem to serve as a microscope’s eyepiece inviting one to look more closely at the art and earth.   It is thought that some students made and installed the piece back in the ‘80s, but nobody knows for sure its origin.

  After posted this blog, Wanda Rottenfusser contacted me to say this piece was created by John Crate and Bog Spaetgens and it was the wining entry for a Student Art Competition in 1976.  

After posted this blog, Wanda Rottenfusser contacted me to say this piece was created by John Crate and Bog Spaetgens and it was the wining entry for a Student Art Competition in 1976.  

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Zipper / Lobby Science Theatres Building

Katie Ohe's "Zipper" has been a mainstay on the University of Calgary campus since 1975.  This kinetic art sculpture consists of two, zipper-like cylinders that revolve around each other merging and separating at they spin, similar to how a zipper does up and undoes as you move it up and down.

"Zipper” has become a good luck charm for students since its placement in the foyer of the Science Theatres over a quarter of a century ago. Rumour has it that the it is brings peace to the students, allowing them to concentrate on the ever-important studies or test writing that takes place in the adjacent classrooms. The Zipper has been stolen twice, disassembled once, coated in plastic wrap and had a car constructed around it. 

 

Porcelain Mural  / Social Sciences Building

Further along the hallway we discover a porcelain mural by Edward Drahanchuk, an Alberta College of Art and Design grad who became one of Canada’s leading ceramic artists of the late 20th century. It blends into the dark brown, earth-like brick wall it is hung on. From a distance the artwork has a primal feel with a primitive human figure surrounded by birds and other imaginary animals, but as you get closer the artwork is like a jigsaw puzzle made of hundreds of pieces. 

The wall plaque says “This Wall Mural donated to the University by Hudson Bay Oil & Gas in 1976.”  A little digging and a call to Drahanchuk who now lives on Quadra Island, B.C. and it turns out the piece was originally commissioned by Hudson Bay Oil & Gas for their downtown Calgary office.  I was told it would have had a title, but the artist couldn’t remember what it was.  In doing this research, there was also a reference to Drahanchuk being commissioned by the University in 1970 to create a piece called “Rhythm One.” I am still trying to track down where that piece might be. 

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Untitled (aka Prairie Chicken) / Swan Mall

Unfortunately, we did not get to see one the University’s other signature artworks, as it has been temporary removed for restoration.  “Prairie Chicken” by George Norris, (a well-known Canadian artist who also did the “Crab” outside the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver) has been located on a hilltop in Swan Mall since 1975 in what was then the center of campus. The 18-foot high, 4.5-ton, stainless steel sculpture is officially “Untitled” but most everyone calls it the “Prairie Chicken,” as it has the look of a prairie chicken ruffling its feathers.  

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Atrium Awkwardness / Administration Building

Lastly, as we ended our 2-hour tour, Fischer treated us to a private viewing of the Administration Building’s Atrium (the building is normally closed on weekends) where we discovered a lush topical oasis.  One of the University’s oldest buildings, it has a lovely garden atrium with funky places to sit and at the far end, a mini sculpture park with three larger-than-life statues of Socrates, Plato and Crito by Greek sculptor, Nikolaos Pavlopoulos. The plaque says “a symbol of the continuity of ancient wisdom and modern learning dedicated to the Canadian students by the Greek Canadians Jimmie and Maria Condon.”  The ghost white marble figures stand proudly looking at each other as if in conversation.  

The Atrium has an awkward sense of place with the modern, playful, colourful seating contrasting with the sober classical philosophers and pastoral plants.  But perhaps a fitting end to our 2-hour tour given the sometimes awkward juxtaposition between the University’s art, the architecture and site selection. 

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There is more...

While we were on our tour, I noticed several other artworks that could have been included in our tour.  The yellow structure was very interesting, but probably isn't considered to be part of the public art collection, as the plague stated it was by Calgary Steel Fabrication Association, Canada Institute of Steel Construction (Alberta Region) and Iron Workers Local #725 not by an exhibiting artist.  I could not find any information on the other two pieces nearby.  

Wanda Rotterfusser also identified the abstract painting in the middle photo as those of Gerry Hushlak who still teaches at the University.  

Last Word

Indeed, after 50 years, the University of Calgary is still trying to define its sense of place.

Backstory

Throughout the tour, Fisher often apologized for the lack of documentation on the University’s Collection.  While we were told an art committee has been formed to try to document the collection, it is surprising that a university in this day-and-age would accept artworks without getting all available documentation.  It is also disappointing that often there is no information panel with the artwork - a common problem with many public collections - and disrespectful to the artist and the donor. 

Documenting the art collection would be a great summer student project - or perhaps senior thesis project for an art history major. We were told a self-guided walk brochure has been in the works. Hopefully it will be completed soon.   

While the University of Calgary has some interesting public artworks, my most vivid memory of the Jane’s Walk 2018 will be how poorly the University of Calgary has treated and still is treating its public art.  

Below is a short video of University of Calgary's art, architecture and urban design the summarizes our tour. 

"Trio" & "Fish" / A Missed Opportunity?

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) recently announced “Trio” and “Fish,” by German artist Christian Moeller as the newest additions to its growing public art collection. Both were met with unanimous approval by the 150 or so Calgarians at the unveiling held at the Dutton Theatre (soon be the old Calgary Central Library) and I saw only positive comments on Twitter. In chatting subsequently with several Calgarians everyone seems to like “Trio” and “Fish.”  

  Moeller's computer rendering of what the Trio creatures will look like. 

Moeller's computer rendering of what the Trio creatures will look like. 

Once a curator, always a curator!

Having spent 10 years the Executive Director/Curator of the Muttart Public Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) in another life, I look at art projects with perhaps a different eye than most.

I also liked the pieces at first glance, but as Moeller was presenting the background on his two pieces of art, I began to think they are cute more than clever, more playful than provocative.  

I started to ask myself some questions.

  • Doesn’t Calgary already have enough cute, playful public art?
  • Do we need more thought-provoking pieces? 
  • Do we need more interactive and engaging public art?
  Does Calgary have too much cute public art? Boney is a nine-foot high purple pooch.  This whimsical piece of art located in SETON, was designed by Inges Idee and has become a welcomed addition to SETON's urban streetscape.  Inge Idee also create the Blue Ring (aka Travelling Light) lamppost that is not well liked. You win some, you lose some?

Does Calgary have too much cute public art? Boney is a nine-foot high purple pooch.  This whimsical piece of art located in SETON, was designed by Inges Idee and has become a welcomed addition to SETON's urban streetscape.  Inge Idee also create the Blue Ring (aka Travelling Light) lamppost that is not well liked. You win some, you lose some?

Best Library In The World?

Then Bill Ptacek, Calgary Public Library’s CEO gave a passionate speech saying his vision is to “create the greatest public library in the world” and how public art is critical to that vision. He was emphatic the new library will have a strong indigenous presence as part of its placemaking.  (Councillor Druh Farrell, in her welcoming comments also made a point of referencing the role of the indigenous people in Calgary’s history.)

The light bulb went on! 

Why instead of an international competition for a public artwork, didn’t CMLC commission one or more indigenous artists to create art for the new library?

I am not aware of any major public artwork in Calgary by an indigenous artist.  A missed opportunity?

In chatting with a few visual art professionals, they wondered why Moeller was commissioned to create art for both the outdoor and indoor sites.  CMCL could have easily conducted an international competition for one of the sites and conducted an invitation competition to Canadian artists with an indigenous background for the other. 

But I digress.

  Brian Jungen is an Canadian artist with an indigenous heritage who exhibits internationally. This piece is from an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. His work is very thought provoking and visually stunning.

Brian Jungen is an Canadian artist with an indigenous heritage who exhibits internationally. This piece is from an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. His work is very thought provoking and visually stunning.

CMLC / Library Update

After posting this, CMLC contacted me to say that Brian Jungen was actually one of the five finalists for the new Central Library commission. Calgary Public Library also commented on Twitter that they have three artists in residences (one dedicated to indigenous art) and Indigenous placemaking within the new library. 

Just by chance I also visited the new Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.  I was very impressed by its design and the funky studying and learning spaces provided.  But what really caught my attention was that some of the signage was in English and Blackfoot.  I am wondering if Calgary Public Library is thinking that they might do that also.  

  Just one of many examples of the use of Blackfoot words at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.

Just one of many examples of the use of Blackfoot words at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.

 

What is "Trio?"

Moeller told the audience “Trio” is three, 10-meter tall cartoonish, alien-like characters inspired by the plastic Dunking Birds (aka Drinking Bird) that bob up and down to mimic the motion of a bird drinking. FYI: The heads and necks of Trio will oscillate back and forth by 25 degrees (20 degrees forward and 5 degrees back). Two of the sculptures will be located at the new Central Library’s west entrance and the other at the east entrance.

CMLC’s news release describes “Trio” as “a band of sisters engaged in an endless back and forth motion. Reminiscent of a cross between a hockey player and a ‘drinking bird,’ they perform a visual dialogue or choreography, rocking their tall upper bodies like an upside-down pendulum swinging through the open sky.”

 The science behind the drinking bird dates back to Germany in the 1760s. More info:    Drinking Bird

The science behind the drinking bird dates back to Germany in the 1760s. More info: Drinking Bird

  Street view of Trio (duo) at the west entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (duo) at the west entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

  Street view of Trio (solo) at the east entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (solo) at the east entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

What is “Fish?”

Moeller’s second commissioned a huge artwork (45 ft. by 10 ft.) is made up of approximately 10,000 “books.” Well they are not actual books, as they don’t have titles, authors or writing in them.  The artist had the blank looks custom manufactured in 12 different coloured spines. Each quasi-book is strategically placed to create a pixelated close-up of the head of a huge reddish-orange fish staring back at you.   

I wonder if this work is a comment on the meaninglessness of books in our digital world and the changing role of libraries.  I also wondered if the artist considered adding an interactive element – for example, allowing people to take out the books, write in them and return them.

  The Fish, located on the far wall in the cafe area of the Calgary's new Central Library.

The Fish, located on the far wall in the cafe area of the Calgary's new Central Library.

The Selection Process

CMLC went to great effort to explain the comprehensive process involved in selecting Moeller for this commission – one that began with a “Request for Qualifications” from local, national and international artists, back in 2014.  This created a list of 239 artists, which was narrowed to 35 by a Volunteer Art Committee comprising of representatives from the community-at-large, ACAD, Glenbow, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Arts Development and an artist. 

Five artists were then chosen by the Committee to meet with the New Calgary Library (NCL) project team; Library staff and a local historian so they could better understand the NCL vision and Calgary’s sense of place. The five artists then developed their concepts and presented to the Committee. Moeller was ultimately chosen for the $2 million public art commission, a sum which is inclusive of all fees, expenses, fabrication, delivery and installation costs. 

CMLC is an arms length organization of the City and as such, is not bound by the City of Calgary’s Public Art Policy. However, they have always conducted a very professional and fair selection process for their public art, with the result being artworks enjoyed by the majority of Calgarians.

Cute? Clever? Captivating?

Susan Veres, senior vice president of strategy & business development describes the new public art as “a colourful, captivating concept that brings a playfulness to the library experience – a delightful sense of arrival and wonder for all visitors to enjoy, especially children.”

Moeller’s playful pieces will compliment CMLC’s existing permanent public art in East Village, which are also colourful and playful.

  • Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,” a colourful and delightful mosaic of 956,321 (no I didn’t count them) colourful tiny glass tiles (made in Germany) reflecting Calgary’s history. 
  • Julian Opie’s “Promenade,” which features several cartoon figures on an LED screen representing everyday Calgarians, as they stroll in endless circles around what looks like a mini downtown office tower. Ironically the piece is more accessible to those driving over the 5th Avenue flyover than to pedestrians on the street.
  • Michel de Broin’s “Bloom” which is made up of retro streetlights arranged to look like a giant flower located in St. Patrick’s Island on the banks of the Bow River.
  Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,”in East Village.

Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,”in East Village.

As well, “Trio” and “Fish” will also fit nicely with Calgary’s other fun, funky and quirky downtown public art – Plensa’s “Wonderland,” a big white wire mesh head, the tall skinny naked dancing figures titled “Brotherhood of Man” by Mario Armengol, Sorel Etrog’s aliens, Sadko and Kabuki, as well as the folk art cows in the Centennial Parkade’s +15 Udderly Art Pasture.

  Sadko and Kabuki on the street on the southwest corner of Bow Valley Square. 

Sadko and Kabuki on the street on the southwest corner of Bow Valley Square. 

Backstory

This is not the first time Moeller has been short-listed for a public art commission in Calgary.  Back in 2014, I was a juror for a public art piece to be commission for the Crowfoot LRT Station. One of the submissions was Moeller’s.  Ironically, his proposal was my choice for the site, but all the other jurors voted for Bill Pechet’s tree-like lampposts with yellow warning lights “leaves.” Not a bad choice, I just liked Moeller’s better.

I was surprised to see a version of Moeller’s Calgary’s proposal installed in the middle of a traffic circle in downtown Nashville this past October. I loved the piece, but the location wasn’t appropriate - the public couldn’t get up close to the 35 cedar poles, each 85 feet tall, that looks like a game of pick-up sticks with references to First Nation tent poles.  What I liked about Moeller “Stix” piece was I imagined kids at the LRT Station running around the poles playing tag and hide-and-seek. This could not happen at the Nashville traffic circle!

  Moeller's "Stix" installation in Nashville. Public art needs to be in public spaces!

Moeller's "Stix" installation in Nashville. Public art needs to be in public spaces!

 "Roger That" artwork at Crowfoot LRT Station by Bill Pichet. 

"Roger That" artwork at Crowfoot LRT Station by Bill Pichet. 

Chicago Envy

I am still envious of Chicago’s Millennium Park and its two iconic public artworks – Cloud Gate (by Anish Kapoor ) and Crown Fountain (by Jaume Plensa).  Both attract thousands of people daily to come, stay and interact with them. They are destinations in themselves, not just something to glance at and move on. 

However with a price tag of $23 million for Cloud Gate and $17 million for Crown Fountain, I expect I won’t see a work of art on this scale and scope in Calgary in my lifetime.  But we do have two special pedestrian bridges with similar price tags - the Peace Bridge at Prince’s Island and George King Bridge at St. Patricks’ Island.

Link: Putting the PUBLIC back into PUBLICart!

  Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park attracts thousands of people of all ages to sit, play and splash. 

Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park attracts thousands of people of all ages to sit, play and splash. 

  George King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island and Memorial Drive is like a work of art.

George King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island and Memorial Drive is like a work of art.

Last Word

I expect Moeller’s “Trio” and “Fish” will be loved by Calgarians.  While some will complain about the $2 million budget and some will complain “why wasn’t a Calgary or Canadian artist selected?” I think that will always happen.  You can’t make everyone happy and than includes me!

However, I do think we missed an opportunity to do something special by not working with Canada’s indigenous visual arts community to create a monumental work of art. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary's Top 10 Public Artworks?

Calgary's Audacious New Library

Calgary: East Village A Billion Dollar Work Of Art?

 

 

 

Flaneuring Fun in Hamilton!

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog know I love to flaneur i.e. wander aimlessly the streets, alleys, parks and pathways of Calgary or any other city where I might be.  

Recently I was in Hamilton, visiting my Mom and found some time everyday  to flaneur the streets of what use to be Steel Town but is now affectionally known as The Hammer.  

As I wandered, I was surprised at how often I felt like I was back in Dublin, Nashville, Memphis, Leipzig (Germany) or Kreuzber (Berlin).

  I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

Streets of Hamilton 

While visually you couldn't get two City Centres more different than Calgary with its glittering glass office and condo towers and Hamilton with its redbrick low-rise buildings, surprisingly there were lots of similarities. 

  • Hamilton's Locke Street had many of the elements of Calgary's Inglewood, before it became gentrified.  
  • Hamilton's Durand with is charming brick mansions reminded me of Calgary's Mount Royal, without the new mega homes.  
  • Hamilton's Corktown with all of its live music venues had many elements of Calgary's Inglewood.  
  • Hamilton's International Village with its colourful storefronts reminded me of colourful facades and a doors in Dublin.
  • Hamilton's James Street North had elements of Calgary's 4th Street and  Kensington Village, as well as urban grit of Kreuzberg. 

I thought since I had so much flaneuring fun I would share it with you as a photo essay.  

Streetscapes 

  Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

  There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

  Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

  Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

  Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

  One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounte r.   They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounter.  They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

  Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Window Wonderland 

  I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

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  I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

  Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

  This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

  I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Corktown: Hamilton's Music District

  If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

 The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

  Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

  If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

  The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

  I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

  In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

Night Walks

  Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

  Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

  There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you.  

There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you. 

  Hommage to Edward Hopper.

Hommage to Edward Hopper.

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  I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

Colourful Store Fronts

   The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem.  

 The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem. 

  Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

  Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

  The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

 Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

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Art & Architecture 

  All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

  Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

  This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that.  

This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that. 

  Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

  Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

 This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

  I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

  When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church.  

When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. 

Hamilton vs Kreuzberg & Leipzig 

  This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

 Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

  Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

 Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

  I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

Last Photos

  This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

  And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

Wanted: Artist-Friendly Downtown Office Building Landlords

On Sunday February 18, 2018, CBC Calgary posted as part of their Road Ahead initiative my opinion piece suggesting some of the 15 million square feet of vacant downtown office space could/should be rented out to artists and other creative individuals.

  There is over a million square feet of empty office space in various older buildings that could be used by artists as work spaces, exhibition spaces etc....

There is over a million square feet of empty office space in various older buildings that could be used by artists as work spaces, exhibition spaces etc....

  Many of the smaller, older office spaces in downtown Calgary have vacant space that could be converted into affordable and attractive work space for artists and other creative individuals. 

Many of the smaller, older office spaces in downtown Calgary have vacant space that could be converted into affordable and attractive work space for artists and other creative individuals. 

Sunday Blogs

While I post a new blog every Sunday morning, I have never had such a tremendous response. Almost immediately the piece was being read by thousands of people, some times more than 500 at the same time. 

Soon I was receiving retweets from places like Madrid and Linkedin comments from New Zealand and personal emails from artists about their experience of leasing office space in other cities.  

Here are some of the comments, and for those of you who didn't see the CBC post titled: Why we should turn Calgary's empty office space over to the creative economy? 

David Alexander wrote:

I am an artist who lives in Lake Country, B.C. but originally from Vancouver and worked out of repurposed office buildings for years. I also lived in Saskatoon where I rented in the downtown for 9 years in a building that would have stood empty until it became economical to knock down for new and bigger towers for higher rent. We always worked in reused spaces in cities.  

I know Calgary artist Chris Cran and think Calgary would be a perfect place for an artist in the towers project. My artist friend in NYC had a studio on the 91st floor of the twin towers before their destruction. There are many empty office towers in every city and they would make great temporary studios of all kinds. New York city hall lets artists use them as studios as it takes months years to sell and renovate to suit a new renter. My friend was in the twin towers for 3 years.

Artists are adaptable to most spaces and you realize they can add to the advance of culture in a meaningful way. This could be a win win situation in Calgary.

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Blog: Wanted: Artist-Friendly Downtown Office Building Landlords 

Could some of the 15 million square feet of vacant downtown Calgary office space (the equivalent of 7,500 suburban homes) be converted to studio/work space for creative individuals (painters, writers, musicians, sculptors, architects, 3D animators, fashion designers).

This was one of the ideas suggested by an Everyday Tourist reader a few weeks ago after I posted the blog on how the City might spend $100M to help fill up vacant downtown office space.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought “Why not?”

Artists as catalysts

For centuries, artists have moved into vacant buildings, especially old warehouses, converting them into studios and lofts. Why not office buildings? In cities like Berlin, New York, London and Paris, artists have been the catalyst for urban renewal of hundreds, if not thousands of buildings.

Why not Calgary?

Speaking of Berlin, last year I saw firsthand how artists routinely transform vacant buildings into funky workspaces for various artistic endeavours. For the past 20+ years, artists from around the world have flocked to Berlin to make art – including my 20-something nephew (an oil patch engineer turned electronic music composer – sidenote: his idea, not the result of layoffs) partly because of affordable studio/living space. 

Today, Berlin is one of the world’s leading art cities with hundreds of art galleries and thousands of artists creating a vibrant city 24/7. In Berlin, the arts are a major economic engine.

And, in Leipzig, Germany (2 hours from Berlin)I  toured Spinnerei, a 10-hectare old cotton mill industrial site transformed into 10 galleries, a huge art supply store, a communal arts centre and studio spaces for 100+ artists.  It was a wonderful place for the public to explore, experience, learn and buy art.

  Entrance to Spinnerei an artists colony with dozens of galleries, studios and other related small businesses in a former cotton factor in Leipzig, Germany.  

Entrance to Spinnerei an artists colony with dozens of galleries, studios and other related small businesses in a former cotton factor in Leipzig, Germany. 

Demand

Currently, Calgary is home to a number of co-operative artists’ studios in off-the-beaten-path older buildings – including Burns Visual Arts Society (Ramsay) and Artpoint Gallery & Studios (Inglewood) and Untitled Art Society (Beltline). Each has a waiting list.

In 2004, Art Central (at the corner of 7th Ave SW and Centre Street) David Neill, President of Encorp converted an old two-storey building into a funky mix of commercial galleries and studio spaces.  In its heyday, it was a bustling place and home of the first Deville Café. It was torn down in 2016 to make way for Telus Sky office/residential tower.

Recently, the $30 million cSPACE opened in the former King Edward School in South Calgary with its gallery and performance space, as well as 30-luxury studio spaces, which were all quickly snapped up. 

The demand for studio space is not surprising given 100+ students graduate from the Alberta College of Art & Design each year with the dream of becoming an artist.

  Along Chabanel Street in Montreal several older office buildings have become home to fashion designers and warehouse outlet stores. 

Along Chabanel Street in Montreal several older office buildings have become home to fashion designers and warehouse outlet stores. 

The Economics

Given the 15 million square feet of downtown office space is not likely to all get filled up for 10+ years perhaps there is an owner(s) willing to lease some of their space to artists and creative individuals to cover their operating costs. Operating costs for older buildings are in the $15 per square foot range so a 250 square foot studio would cost $3,750/year or $315/month (including utilities). A quick chat with a few artists indicated this would be attractive to them. 

Some of the open office concept space also might be leased to commercial galleries and/or small architectural/design firms or other creative types who don’t need or want walls.

  Did I mention there is millions of square feet of empty office space in downtown Calgary, that will probably be empty for many years? 

Did I mention there is millions of square feet of empty office space in downtown Calgary, that will probably be empty for many years? 

Feasibility

Architect Tom Tittemore, responsible for the retrofitting of the 8th and 8th Medical Center into the University of Calgary’s downtown campus, thought the idea of converting vacant office space to studios/workspaces was an excellent proposition.  Here are some of his thoughts:

  • Art studios are ideally located in simple spaces, with high unadorned ceilings (i.e. not T-bar as in office space) and exposed sealed concrete floors;
  • Exposed mechanical, electrical and structural systems are usually appreciated and provided in unfinished office towers;
  • The views from all directions could serve as an inspiration to any artist;
  • Corners usually allocated for “higher-food chain” employees would make excellent exhibition areas, as would the wall spaces comprising the central service cores.

Gord Menzies, former General Manager of Eighth Avenue Place and huge supporter of the arts, loves the idea but warns that “any artist working in oils is going to be impacted by the quality of the building’s HVAC system as other tenants are notoriously touchy about smells and fumes. It would require visionary ownership.”

James Midwinter recently retired, Executive Vice President at GWL Realty Advisors, in Calgary thought it would work best if an artists’ cooperative or non-profit umbrella organization committed to leasing a floor at a time and then offering it to artists.  

Calgary Arts Development (CAD) also identified the need for a key space operator or key leaseholder to manage a multi-tenant arts space way back in their 2007 “Arts Space Strategy & Capital Plan” study. Joni Carroll, Arts Spaces Consultant with CAD says, “in 2018 we will be sharing information with people who are interested in taking on spaces and then subletting those spaces to create multi-tenant arts hubs. And downtown office space at low rates with a suitably long lease length will likely be really attractive to people looking to start these hubs.”

And lastly chatting with a few experienced property owners, they thought one barrier might be when the economy recovers and rental rates go up or the owner wants to redevelop the building, there would be a backlash about kicking out the artists.

Reid Henry, the founding President and CEO of cSPACE  points out, “artists’ studios are not a one-size, fit-all scenario. Designer-makers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers all require different spaces based on floor-to-ceiling height, ventilation, natural light, access to the public, sound attenuation, floor area configuration and loading and robust interior materiality.” 

Henry also thinks there could be a bit of a culture clash, saying there isn't exactly a shared world view between the artistic community and Calgary's downtown corporate culture.

So, if you surround 'art' types with 'suit-and-tie' types, Henry says, “keep in mind the nature of artists is to question the status quo, challenge our thinking, engage us in critical dialogue. I'm not convinced embedding them in our corporate office towers would provide an environment to nurture that role successfully.”

“Attracting artists isn’t solely about cheap space,” he says. “It has to have the qualities that support creation in all its complexity and provide a canvas creatives can 'imprint' their values onto, and feel empowered to build community within.”

While Henry is obviously not a big fan of the office-to-studio conversions, former landlord Gary Nissen and artist Chris Cran are.

Been There, Done That

Renting vacant downtown office space to artists can be a win-win in the mind of Gary Nissen who owned Sierra Place (a 10-floor office building at 706 - 7th Ave SW) in the early ‘90s (when office vacancies were at an all time high) and rented out vacant space to several Calgary artists including Chris Cran who recently had a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. 

“I did exactly what you are describing and it worked well for a few years to recover costs.  Small floor plate, class C buildings likely work best for this concept” said Nissen.  “I would look at it again if I still owned property with vacant space. I felt like I was helping the arts community, met lots of cool people and covered some of my costs.” 

Ironically, I recently ran into Cran at an art gallery opening and he fondly remembers having a whole floor (8,000 square feet) that was a perfect studio for making art for several years, including some of the work in his National Gallery exhibition.

  Huge art supply store located at Spinnerei art campus, Leipzig, Germany

Huge art supply store located at Spinnerei art campus, Leipzig, Germany

Imagine

Imagine the impact on Calgary’s downtown if 100,000 square feet (less than 1% of the current vacant office space), which is likely to still be vacant five even 10 years from now, was converted into studio/work space for creative endeavours over the next year.

Imagine hundreds of creative types invading the downtown seven days a week at all times of the day.

Imagine the publicity Calgary would get if we launched a national or international ”We Have SPACE for YOU!” campaign, inviting creative individuals of all types to move to Calgary for affordable studio space. 

  Imagine if downtown Calgary had thousands of artists calling it home. The Burns Visual Arts Society started downtown in the Burns Building, but has to move outside of the downtown as the result of the building being redeveloped. 

Imagine if downtown Calgary had thousands of artists calling it home. The Burns Visual Arts Society started downtown in the Burns Building, but has to move outside of the downtown as the result of the building being redeveloped. 

Last Word

This is not as far fetched as one might think.  In Montreal, Chabanel St (aka the Garment District) is home to many fashion importers, designers and outlet shops located in old office buildings. 

What is needed is a landlord who can “think outside the office.” Someone who would allow the artists some liberty to use their sweat equity to transform the space into viable studio space.   We are not talking about hiring interior design firms to create luxury spaces; this is going to be guerrilla spaces – a “Halt & Catch Fire” space.

Perhaps some of the City of Calgary’s $100M Downtown Help Fund could be used to hire a coordinator to work with landlords to market and facilitate the conversion of office space that is past its due date to become work spaces for creative individuals and organizations.

Perhaps Calgary should be fishing for creative individuals and not just corporations to fill its vacant downtown office space.

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

Calgary's CBD is unique!

Save Downtown: Office To Residential Conversion Won't Work

Fixing Calgary's downtown ghost town

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Locals and visitors often ask me “what is Calgary’s coolest neighbourhood?”  My reply is, “It depends on what you like to do.” 

Just for fun I thought I would do a series of blogs on what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods (Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Eau Claire, Downtown West, Downtown Core, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission) all cool depending on your perspective.

  You know a neighbourhood is cool when you find kids playing on a mini plaza in front of retail store along its Main Street.    This is 9th Ave aka Atlantic Ave in Inglewood. 

You know a neighbourhood is cool when you find kids playing on a mini plaza in front of retail store along its Main Street.  This is 9th Ave aka Atlantic Ave in Inglewood. 

What makes a cool neighbourhood?

My template of what I think are the key elements of a cool neighbourhood is:

  1. Festivals/Events
  2. Shops
  3. Cafés
  4. Restaurants
  5. Art/Architecture
  6. Parks/Plaza/Pathways
  7. Fitness/Recreation
  8. Pubs/Clubs/Beer
  9. Fun/Funky/Quirky
  This is one of two barns that still exist in Inglewood - how cool is that.  

This is one of two barns that still exist in Inglewood - how cool is that. 

Inglewood

Inglewood’s boundaries are difficult to share in words as you can see by this illustration from the City of Calgary’s website.  It is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and was once known as Brewery Flats as it was home to the mammoth Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site which is now closed and waiting for redevelopment. Given the rise in popularity of craft beer around the world, Inglewood might want to use Brewery Flats as part of its branding.

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Festivals/Events

Inglewood is home to not one but three signature events every summer.  The Inglewood Night Market will take place on June 8, July 13, August 10 and September 14 this year.  The Calgary Fringe Festival takes place from Aug 3 to 11, while Sunfest happens Saturday August 24.

Shops

Inglewood has an ever-changing array of eclectic shops from exquisite Circa Vintage Art Glass to bibliophile’s Fair’s Fair Books’ with its 7,000 used books. 

  Fair's Fair and Galleria share a building on the western edge of Inglewood. 

Fair's Fair and Galleria share a building on the western edge of Inglewood. 

But wait. It gets better.

Two "must visits" are Crown Surplus store where you can find some very interesting outdoor and tactical gear (maybe even a surplus military tent) and Recordland where you can hunt for that elusive vintage record you have always wanted (one of the largest collections of used records in North America.) 

  Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles.  

Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles. 

  Tea Trader's has the charm of an old world warehouse.

Tea Trader's has the charm of an old world warehouse.

Teetotallers will want to check out Tea Traders’ large selection of teas that they import directly to Calgary their world headquarters.

Foodies won’t want to miss The Silk Road either for its huge collection of spices, herbs and seasonings from around the world.

Knifewear offers Canada’s largest selection of Japanese knives - $2,500 is their most expensive knife; it is a work of art.  And, Kevin Kent (aka El Presidente) is one of North America’s leading authorities on knives.

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Kent of Inglewood (El Presidente’s other store) is a walk back in time, as not only is the building over 100 years old, but the products are a “blast from the past.” 

This is a “man’s man” shop where their “passion is classic shaving equipment, cocktails, axes, and all things fantastic.”

It even has an in-house barbershop.

When in Inglewood you must stop in “espy” women and men’s fashion boutique.  They are well known for their selection of denim jeans (1,000 jeans in stock) and for their professional denim fitting i.e. they are 100% honest about what looks good on you and what doesn’t!

The espy experience is not to be missed.
 Cira Vintage Art Glass with its mid century modern glass pieces is a one of kind gallery in Canada. It is an engaging kaleidoscope of colour and light.  Great for souvenir or gift shopping. 

Cira Vintage Art Glass with its mid century modern glass pieces is a one of kind gallery in Canada. It is an engaging kaleidoscope of colour and light.  Great for souvenir or gift shopping. 

  Now doesn't this look tasty....

Now doesn't this look tasty....

  I really wanted this clothes peg bench at Le Belle Arti, but I don't have a house big enough for it.  Wouldn't it be great in a children's playground? 

I really wanted this clothes peg bench at Le Belle Arti, but I don't have a house big enough for it.  Wouldn't it be great in a children's playground? 

Cafés

Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar, opened in 2012, has quickly established itself as the Inglewood hangout spot, not only for the espresso and wine but for its live music featuring local musicians every Friday and Saturday evening. 

The new kid on the block - ROSSO Coffee Roasters, named the ATB Small Business of the Year in 2017, by Calgary Chamber of Commerce is also worth a visit.

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Restaurants

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While restaurants come and go, Rouge Restaurant in the historic 1891 Cross House has been rated one of Calgary’s top 10 restaurants since 2001.

In fact, in 2010, it was ranked #60 in the world by San Pellegrino Awards. 

In 2014, Michael Noble (one of Canada’s leading chefs) opened The Nash and Off Cut Bar in the historic National Hotel (1907).   And in 2016, Sal Howell (one of Calgary’s best restaurant owners) reopened the Deane House (1906) next to Fort Calgary complete with an edible garden. 

If you are into dining in historical settings, Inglewood is definitely your place.

If you are looking for an authentic Calgary dining experience, you can’t do much better than Spolumbo’s family restaurant (owned by three former Calgary Stampeders players) using old world family recipes to create the perfect sausages. 

No community can be cool without a “go to” pizza place. In Inglewood’s that would be Without Papers Pizza.

  Funny Story: Kevin Kent a former chef started his Japanese knife importing business to sell knives to Calgary chefs our of his backpack.  It become so popular he opened up a store in Inglewood, which also became successful and today he has Knifewear stores in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Some of the knives are like works of art, that you could hang on the wall, which in fact he as done in Inglewood store. 

Funny Story: Kevin Kent a former chef started his Japanese knife importing business to sell knives to Calgary chefs our of his backpack.  It become so popular he opened up a store in Inglewood, which also became successful and today he has Knifewear stores in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Some of the knives are like works of art, that you could hang on the wall, which in fact he as done in Inglewood store. 

Art/Architecture

Inglewood is Calgary’s live music district, home to the Blues Can, Ironwood Stage & Grill (both have music 7days a week) and Festival Hall (operated by the Calgary Folk Festival).  

Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition for best solo/duo and best guitarist, hosts a blues jam every Saturday (no cover) at the Blues Can.

  The Blues Can has just the right amount of grit to be an authentic blues bar.

The Blues Can has just the right amount of grit to be an authentic blues bar.

  The Garry Theatre aka Ironwood Stage & Grill offers everything from blues jams to Big Band brunches.   

The Garry Theatre aka Ironwood Stage & Grill offers everything from blues jams to Big Band brunches.  

  Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Inglewood is home to the Esker Foundation/Contemporary Art Gallery, a privately funded, non-commercial, free gallery that curates three exhibitions per year – fall, winter and spring/summer. Challenging yet accessible, they are accompanied by educational programs and publications.

It is on the third floor of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, an architectural work of art in itself with its wavy roof and how it integrates the historic red brick warehouse architecture with contemporary urban design. 

  Esker Foundation Art Gallery is a "must see" when you are in Inglewood. (photo credit: screen shot from website)

Esker Foundation Art Gallery is a "must see" when you are in Inglewood. (photo credit: screen shot from website)

Other art galleries in the neighbourhood include Galleria, Van Ginkel Art Gallery, Inglewood Fine Arts and Collector’s Gallery.   And, just a short walk up 12th St SE under the rail tracks lies the Artpoint Gallery and Studios Society with its three galleries and 23 studios.

History buffs will love walking along Inglewood’s New Street and you will discover a charming mix of heritage and contemporary homes.  One of the reasons Calgary’s City Center neighbourhoods are so vibrant is the hundreds of new infill homes being built every year.

Link: Calgary is the Infill Capital of North America

  Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

With the northern boundary of Inglewood being the Bow River, Inglewood has a lovely walking and cycling pathway to downtown, St. Patrick’s Island, the Calgary Zoo, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Harvie Passage. 

Inglewood is also home to Calgary’s original Main Street, aka 9th Avenue (as it is now called) aka Atlantic Avenue (its original name). The three blocks from 11th St to 14th St SE is a charming collection of early 20th century red brick buildings that house an eclectic array of shops today.   

Inglewood is also home to Bow Passage Overlook artwork by Lorna Jordan located along the Bow River pathway at the Harvie Passage where the Bow River takes a sharp turn south.  This large artwork looks like a typical log jam along the shore of the Bow River, except it has been carefully constructed so you can walk up to the outlook viewing platform or explore and sit amongst the rocks and rectangular man-made logs. 

  The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a delightful place to meander, reflect and take photos.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a delightful place to meander, reflect and take photos.

  Inglewood is home to a small art park at the corner of 9th Ave & 8th St SE across from the Dean House. 

Inglewood is home to a small art park at the corner of 9th Ave & 8th St SE across from the Dean House. 

Fitness/Recreation

For those looking for adventurous water sports you can float, canoe or kayak on the Bow River.  Harvie Passage is currently closed but will reopen in this summer (it was severely damaged in the 2013 flood) is one of the best urban kayaking spots in North America with channels for beginners and experts.

Lawn bowling in Calgary dates back to the late 1800s and is enjoying a resurgence today. The patch of grass at the corner of 8th Ave and 12th St. SE has been home to the Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club since 1946.  Don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of hipsters lawn bowling as you walk by.  And yes you can work up a thirst lawn bowling.

Heads Up: Watch out for cyclists as 8th Ave SE can be a busy cycling street.
  A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

  The Bow Passage Overlook, in Pearce Estate Park, by Lorna Jordan offers a spectacular view of the Bow River with lots of places to sit and climb. 

The Bow Passage Overlook, in Pearce Estate Park, by Lorna Jordan offers a spectacular view of the Bow River with lots of places to sit and climb. 

Pubs/Clubs/Beer

In addition, the Blues Can and Ironwood, Inglewood is home to one of Calgary’s best pubs -  The Hose & Hound Neighbourhood Pub located in a 1906 firehouse.  

Inglewood is also home to two of Calgary’s best craft breweries. Cold Garden Beverage Company Tasting Room since January 2017 has become a popular place for locals to chill, as has High Line Brewery that opened in December 2016. .

Fun/Funky/Quirky Factor

The Nest is a funky, 500-square foot meeting space that not only looks like a nest but it is suspended from the roof in the middle of the main gallery space of the Esker Contemporary Art Gallery.  Very cool!

Not only is Nerd Roller Skates a quirky niche shop that specializes in roller derby skates and equipment, is also the hub for Calgary’s roller derby community.

And the long standing Friday Night Circles of Rhythm drum circle at the Inglewood Community Hall regularly attracts over 100 participants (no experience needed, they supply the drums, perfect for everyone from 5 to 95). Drop-in are welcome.

If you have a chance you must experience Carly’s Angels the riotous drag show in the quaint Lolita’s Lounge that has been entertaining Calgarians and visitors for 10 years.  Some shows sell out 4 to 8 weeks in advance and no minors allowed as it can get more than a little raunchy.

Last Word

Inglewood has just the right mix of old and new, highbrow and lowbrow things to see and do.  No wonder Inglewood was crowned “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2014 - and it has only gotten better since then. 

The ultra chic new AVLI on Atlantic condo (currently under construction) designed by Calgary’s own Jeremy Sturgess could be just what makes Inglewood not only one of Calgary’s coolest neighbourhoods, but North America’s.

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs examining Calgary’s City Centre Neighbourhoods.

Note: My apologies to Calgary’s 200+ other neighbourhoods. While you may have a cool park or playground, a great recreation centre, maybe even a lake with a beach, or a few special shops, you don’t have the history and diversity of walkable things to see and do that makes for a cool urban neighbourhood from a tourist’s perspective. And after all, this is an every day tourist blog. That being said, I am open to changing my mind. So feel free to contact me and tell me why you think another neighbourhood(s) should be on my list of cool Calgary Neighbourhoods. 

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Everyday Tourist: Double Exposure

Recently I posted a blog summarizing Calgary’s impressive list of festivals for 2018. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t include all of the 100+ festivals that take place in Calgary each year. 

However, there is one I should have included, that being the Exposure Photography Festival, Feb 1 to 18, 2018.

  Prayers, Calgary

Prayers, Calgary

Must See

For photography buffs (isn’t everyone these days?) this is a “must see” festival.  Indeed, photography has become a key element of everyday life, around the world.  Today, thanks to smart phones being camera toowe communicate with photos as much as we do words. 

Why write it down when you can just take a photo? After all, isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?

  Fair, Beltline/Sunalta

Fair, Beltline/Sunalta

Fun Begins At Eau Claire Market 

The Exposure Photography Festival 2018 kicks off at Eau Claire Market at 10 am on Saturday, February 3, when two former retail spaces, transformed into temporary Exposure Galleries, open to the public.  The two galleries will feature three exhibitions - Open Call exhibition (juried by Andrea Kunard, Associate Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Canada), Emerging Photographers Showcase (EPS) and a solo exhibition by Blake Chorley, the 2017 winner of the EPS.  

At 1 pm there is a walking tour of The FENCE, led by the creators of the project Sam Barzilay and Dave Shelley from Brooklyn, New York.

Backstory: The FENCE is a large-scale traveling photography exhibition is seen by four million visitors annually through open-air exhibitions in seven cities across the United States: Brooklyn, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Santa Fe, Durham, and Denver. Calgary’s The FENCE will be the first time the exhibition has travelled outside the USA. It will be installed on construction fencing starting at the Peace Bridge and working its way east towards Exposure’s Eau Claire Market Festival Hub. Pop-up fences will also appear along Stephen Avenue.

Link: The Fence 

  The Fence in Calgary will be along the Eau Claire Promenade from the Peace Bridge to Eau Claire Market. (photo credit: The Fence website)

The Fence in Calgary will be along the Eau Claire Promenade from the Peace Bridge to Eau Claire Market. (photo credit: The Fence website)

Then from 6 to 10pm that day, Exposure will hold opening receptions for the Emerging Photographers Showcase, Open Call, and 2017 EPS Winner's Solo Exhibition at Eau Claire Market.

And that is just Day One! A full line up of exhibitions and events can be found at www.exposurephotofestival.com

  Coiffeur, Calgary/Berlin

Coiffeur, Calgary/Berlin

About Exposure

Exposure is an annual showcase for Calgary’s photography community 25,000 people. First launched in 2004, its goal is to engage and connect the public with local photographers, as well as provide workshops and lectures and networking opportunities for photographers.

This year’s festival includes 38 exhibitions at various venues across the city, as well as 13 workshops and talks.

Everyday Tourist: Double Exposure

In honour of Calgary’s Exposure 2018, I have self-curated an exhibition of “street” photos titled “Double Exposure” as each of the images is a synthesis of two images.  I have given each piece a title and an indication of where the photos were taken.  In some cases, it will be two cities, or if taken in Calgary it may be two different communities.

Hope you enjoy!

  Winter Thoughts, Calgary/Palm Springs

Winter Thoughts, Calgary/Palm Springs

  Change, Nashville

Change, Nashville

  Peek-a-boo, Downtown/Beltline

Peek-a-boo, Downtown/Beltline

 Barbie, Montreal/Calgary

Barbie, Montreal/Calgary

 See Through, Leipzig

See Through, Leipzig

  Directions, Leipzig

Directions, Leipzig

 Buggy, Berlin

Buggy, Berlin

  Mask, Berlin

Mask, Berlin

  Sit, Leipzig/Berlin

Sit, Leipzig/Berlin

 Crystal Ball, Calgary/Berlin

Crystal Ball, Calgary/Berlin

  Caution, Calgary/Berlin

Caution, Calgary/Berlin

  Queen, Calgary, Inglewood

Queen, Calgary, Inglewood

  Postcard, Hamilton/Calgary

Postcard, Hamilton/Calgary

  Language, Berlin

Language, Berlin

 Patina, Hillhurst, Calgary 

Patina, Hillhurst, Calgary 

  ah, Nashville

ah, Nashville

  Big Heads, Calgary/Nashville

Big Heads, Calgary/Nashville

  Diversity, Calgary, Downtown/Sunnyside

Diversity, Calgary, Downtown/Sunnyside

  Spotlight, Calgary, Beltline

Spotlight, Calgary, Beltline

 Fallen, Calgary, Sunnyside/Marda Loop

Fallen, Calgary, Sunnyside/Marda Loop

Last Word

With the proliferation of smart phones (or should I say smart cameras), is estimated that over one trillion digital photos were taken in 2017, that is 1,000,000,000,000. Snapchat users share 8,796 photos every second.  Who knows how many more are posted on Instagram, Twitter and Apple’s shared photos?

It is totally mind-boggling how much visual information we process (skim, surf) every day. Exposure 2018 is an opportunity for everyone to take a step back, then stop, look, ponder and reflect - on the role photography plays in our everyday life. I know photography plays a huge role in my life every day!

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

Everyday Tourist Street Art Photos 2015

Everyday Tourist Photo Collage Fun 

The Art Of Gardening