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!”  

IMG_6511.jpg

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.   

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 11.34.27 AM.png
IMG_6512.jpg
IMG_6513.jpg
IMG_1159.JPG
IMG_1156.JPG

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

 

 

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive!

With the addition of several new condos – Kensington by Bucci, Ezra by Birchwood and Lido by Battistella – Kensington Village now has 10,000 people living within walking distance, a number considered by many urban strategists to be the threshold needed for street retail, restaurants and cafes to thrive. 

  Kennsington has a lively pedestrian animation year-round (especially when the sky is blue).

Kennsington has a lively pedestrian animation year-round (especially when the sky is blue).

Annie says…

Annie MacInnis has been the Executive Director of the Kensington Business Improvement Association (BIA) for the past 15 years. She recognizes the important role the new condos and their 1,000+ new residents have played not only in increasing the number of shoppers and diners, but also the new energy these newcomers have brought to the community.  She is looking forward to next wave of condos - Annex by Minto and Memorial Drive by Anthem Properties – that will add to the growing vibrancy. 

MacInnis has a long personal history with Kensington, living in the community when the LRT was first proposed in the early ‘80s and opposed by many in the neighbourhood.  

She laughs when she thinks about how today, the community’s LRT connection to the downtown and the University of Calgary is one of the community’s key attractions. 

One of the biggest changes she has noticed over the past 15 years is how the BIA and the Community Association are now working together to build a vibrant community. It wasn’t always the case.  

Fifteen years ago, the business district was in a decline, the public realm needed replacement, and the BIA and the community association were not working easily together.

 Another watershed moment happened in the ‘90s when the two anchors at each end of the village were established - Safeway renovating its store on the north end of 10thStreet NW and Shoppers Drug Mart opening its store at the west end of Kensington Road – together, meeting most residents’ everyday needs.  

Since the opening of Calgary’s first Starbucks in the mid ‘90s next to the independent café Higher Ground, not only have both survived, but together they’ve enhanced Kensington’s reputation as Calgary’s premier coffee house destination.

While The Plaza theatre has had its ups and downs, it is a key differentiator for the village and critical to it ongoing vibrancy. 

  Ezra on Riley Park is now completed and is expanding Kensington’s urban living west towards 14th St. SW  .

Ezra on Riley Park is now completed and is expanding Kensington’s urban living west towards 14th St. SW.

  Lido (foreground) and Pixel (behind) by Battistella Developments have transformed 10th Avenue into a more vibrant pedestrian street.

Lido (foreground) and Pixel (behind) by Battistella Developments have transformed 10th Avenue into a more vibrant pedestrian street.

  Battistella has plans to create a new condo project on this site, while retaining some of the elements of the church.

Battistella has plans to create a new condo project on this site, while retaining some of the elements of the church.

Reinvesting Parking Revenues

In 2015/16, MacInnis worked with the City of Calgary to manage the six million dollar makeover of Kensington’s public realm – new sidewalks, street lighting, furniture and replacement of all the unhealthy trees. The results have exceeded her expectations and will enhance the street for existing and new businesses for decades.  

In fact, the Kensington BIA won two international awards in 2014 for the innovative funding of the public realm improvements – “Best in the West” Excellence Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the BIABC/International Downtown Association Western Canada and Pacific Northwest US Conference, as well as a Merit Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the International Downtown Association conference. What particularly made the project unique was the securing of $4.5 million from the City of Calgary’s surplus parking revenues which opened the door for negotiations between Calgary’s Business Improvement Districts (BIA) and the City for an ongoing parking revenue sharing program for public realm improvements.  

In 2016, the City of Calgary, in partnership with Calgary Parking Authority and the BIAs developed an annual Parking Surplus Reinvestment Program, making monies available to any BIA or community with paid street parking for public realm improvements.   

  Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

  Pages Books’ enhances the sidewalk experience with its outdoor book displays.

Pages Books’ enhances the sidewalk experience with its outdoor book displays.

  Kensington still has its small town charm even with all of the new condos.

Kensington still has its small town charm even with all of the new condos.

The More Art The Better

With the streetscape now upgraded, MacInnis is focusing her efforts on enhancing Kensington’s alleys and side yards. “More murals and more art” is her mantra today.  Building on the existing street art in the back alley along the east side of 10thStreet NW, she has several projects on the go.  Three alleys between buildings have been activated with murals and lighting - east side of Pulcinella, east side of Norfolk Housing Association, and east side of 10thSt by Charisma.  

She is also working on installing a 17-foot tall kinetic, wind sculpture that is also have an interactive seat for two at its base, as well as a bicycle that allows you to you to charge your phone as you pedal. 

MacInnis’ vision for Kensington is for it to be an “irresistible destination where people want to come because there is cool art and whimsical activations to charm and delight, as well as lots of interesting shops and places to eat and drink in between exploring all its nooks and crannies.”

  The summer Container Bar is great use of a side alley.

The summer Container Bar is great use of a side alley.

  The Oak Tree was way ahead of its time when it commissioned this mural many years ago.

The Oak Tree was way ahead of its time when it commissioned this mural many years ago.

  The back alleys in Kensington have become outdoor art galleries for street artists.

The back alleys in Kensington have become outdoor art galleries for street artists.

Last Word

MacInnis is very optimistic about the future of Kensington. With several more condos in the works, the future of Kensington continues to look bright, as a fun place to live, eat, drink, play and shop in Calgary.  

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

Kensington: One of North America’s Healthiest Communities

A Sunday Walkabout In Kensington

Kensington Legion: The Taller The Better?

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 (Beltline)

Do murals enhance neighbourhoods?   Do they foster community pride? Do they make people stop, look and ponder? 

  Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

 Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Do we expect too much?

This summer two major mural projects were undertaken in Calgary - one in the Beltline, the other in Northern Hills (a coalition of four communities), both with the goal of enhancing their community.  The Beltline Urban Mural Program (BUMP) was the more traditional model where professional artists were selected to create murals on blank walls throughout the community. The Northern Hills Mural Project (NHMP) was more community-based with hundreds of community members, as well as others from across the City and beyond helping to paint an 850 meter fence along a section of Country Hills Blvd. 

Both were successful in generating lots of social media and community attention, but how long before the thrill of the new murals fade, just as the murals themselves will?  This is not the first time and won’t be the last where murals and public art have been used to try to enhance a neighbourhood. 

Do we expect too much from public art to transform ugly, boring urban spaces into something fun and attractive?

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 2.00.59 PM.png
  Faith47’s BUMP mural

Faith47’s BUMP mural

  Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

BUMP

“Our vision is to use powerful, awe-inspiring, whimsical, thought-provoking and stunning art to create beautiful places, invoke dialogue, challenge ideas and foster connections,” says the BUMP website. Link: BUMP website

Those are lofty expectations for the 15 murals which range from the decorative to narrative, mysterious to indigenous and fantasy to illustrative.  There was even a BUMP Festival, Aug 30 to Sept 1stwith tours of the murals, artists talks and an alley party.  I participated in two of the tours which attracted about 100 people each and heard only positive comments about the murals and the project.   

One of the murals that stood out for me was Los Angeles, artist Faith47’s huge cougar with the words “Fortes et Liber” on the side.  Not sure I understand the context of the cougar which appears to be ready to pounce on an unsuspecting pedestrian, however, the Latin words for “strong and free” make some sense given Canada’s national anthem. The mural’s scale (10 storeys) and its monochromatic brownish wash gives it a dream-like quality that looks like it is already fading away.  

Montreal’s Kevin Ledo’s mural on the west side of the Calgary Parking Authority’s City Centre Parkade at 10thAve and 5thStreet SW was also well received.  This artwork, with its huge indigenous figure staring into the Beltline community has a look of contemplation. Only later, when I checked the website did I learn the title of this piece is “Sohkatisiwin” Cree for “Strength/Power.”

An interesting choice given Calgary is located in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Nation, not the Cree and the artist is from Montreal. Nor did I realize the figure is a real person - Angela Gladue, an internationally recognized dancer in both aboriginal and hip hop genres.  Not sure how this all relates to the Beltline or Calgary.

Although, BUMP’s website has a complete list of the murals and info on the artists, I found most of the jargon-loaded text not very helpful in understanding the context of the work to the Beltline’s sense of place.

There is a printable map of the murals, which would make for a fun walkabout on a nice fall or winter afternoon.  

The funding for the murals came from the Beltline Community Investment Fund, City of Calgary Parking Revenue Reinvestment Program and mural sponsors - Battistella Developments and Hotel Arts. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 12.41.42 PM.png
  Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

  Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Last Word

This is not the first time Calgary’s City Centre communities have tried to use public art to make them a more interesting place to live and visit. 

In the ‘90s, the Uptown 17thBusiness Revitalization Zone (BRZ) organized a series of murals created by well-known Calgary artists on the side of buildings to create an outdoor art gallery.  Unfortunately, after many years, they were removed as “mother nature” had gotten the better of them.

The 4th Street BRZ commissioned sculptures to be located along the street also in the 90s. While many of them are still there, I doubt anyone would say they have become valued community icons.  

I hope the BUMP murals will indeed become an attraction for more people to want to live and visit the Beltine. 

Below are some other murals in the Beltline….

  In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

  Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

  I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.22.47 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 9.59.36 AM.png

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!  

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.13.59 AM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.23.19 AM.png

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.   

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.14.39 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 9.58.54 AM.png
 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.    

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.00.32 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.06.52 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.06.06 AM.png

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 

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.14.20 AM.png

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.04.21 AM.png

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.  

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.06.33 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.16.14 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 1.25.31 PM.png

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)

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.21.09 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.10.12 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.21.44 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.22.01 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.09.55 AM.png

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.

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

I love flaneuring through the books in thrift stores and used bookstores to see if I might find a hidden gem.  That is exactly what happened recently at J.H. Gordon Books on King St. E in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Often, I find books I didn’t even know existed, like Jan Morris’ “City to City” which is subtitled “through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day.” I have a couple of Morris’ books in my collection but had never seen this one.   

A quick check found it was published in 1990 and the cities ranged from St John’s and Saskatoon to Yellowknife and Vancouver, as well as a few cities in between. I thought it would be interesting to see how an outsider saw Canada and our cities almost 30 years ago (a generation). Needless to say, I bought the book.  

  This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

Jan Who?

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.05.27 AM.png

Jan Morris, born in 1926, is a Welsh historian, author and travel writer who has written extensively about cities around the world since the ‘60s. She has an amazing ability to observe, ask questions and articulate her thoughts on the underlying character of a city – good, bad and ugly. These are not fluffy travelogues, but urban character studies.   

She first visited Canada in the early 1950s, getting to know its cities and its people better than many Canadians ever do.

Her comments about Canada and Canadian cities are often not very flattering and sometimes I wonder how, in such a relative short visit, she can feel so confident about her ability to capture the pulse and sense of place of a city accurately.  Perhaps I am jealous?

By the end I was amazed at how many times she used the word “prosaic” to describe Canada, and our cities. However, that being said, she does make some very thought provoking observations.

Over the next few months I will share excerpts from her essays that were commissioned for Saturday Night magazine.   

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

Morris’ Toronto essay was written in 1984 when she visited the city for its sesquicentennial. She acknowledges the city has become more metropolitan now (i.e. 1990) more Americanized and more assertive as evidenced by….wait for it… “the increasing number of jay-walkers!” 

In her opinion, Toronto is one the most highly disciplined and tightly organized cites of the Western World.  Morris also notes she had never heard of the word “multiculturalism” or “heritage language” until she visited Toronto.  She writes “Far more than any other of the great migratory cities, Toronto is all things to all ethnicities. The melting-pot conception never was popular here, and sometimes I came to feel that Canadian nationality itself was no more than a minor social perquisite.”

She thought the word multiculturalism is to Toronto, what “ooh-la-la” is to Paris, “ciao” to Rome, “nyetto” Moscow and “hey you’re looking great” to Manhattan. 

But she also noted “Toronto was not all brotherly love and folklore, saying wherever she went she heard talk of internecine (destructive to both sides) rivalries, felt a darkly conspiratorial side to multiculturalism and that one could easily stumble into cafes in which plotters organized distant coups.”  

  Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

One of the main themes of the essays is the role of the transcontinental train as Canada’s iconic experience, as evidenced by this paragraph:

“And best of all, early one morning I went down to Union Station to watch the transcontinental train come in out of the darkness from Vancouver. Ah, Canada! I knew exactly what to expect of this experience, but still it stirred me: the hiss and rumble of it, the engineers princely in their high cab, the travel-grimed gleam of the sleeper cars…the grey faces peering out of the sleeper windows, the proud exhaustion of it all, and the thick tumble of the disembarking passengers, a blur of boots and lumberjackets and hoods and bundled children, clattering down the steps to breakfast, grandma, and Toronto, out of the limitless and magnificent hinterland.”

Oh, how Toronto and Canada HAS changed. The transcontinental train is iconic no more, and Union Station is filled with day commuters, with briefcases, backpacks and coffee cups from edge cities, not people from the hinterland.

Hard to believe the west was still thought of a Canada’s hinterland in the mid ‘80s by outsiders.

  Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Destination

I love the strange and insightful questions Morris asks of cities. In the case of Toronto, it was “What were the intentions of this city?” She then links this question to her observation of the “mural sculpture on the wall of the stock exchange ‘Workforce” by Robert Longo and she begins to contemplate its significance. The mural has eight figures, ranging from a stockbroker to what seems like a female miner, none of which look happy.” Whereupon she exclaims, “the pursuit of happiness, after all is not written into the Canadian constitution.”   She also notes, “Nor do they look exactly inspired by some visionary cause…. they are marching determinedly, but joyously, arm-in-arm, upon an undefined objective. Wealth? Fame? Security?”  Interesting contradiction here, as earlier she says they don’t look happy but later they are “joyously, arm-in-arm.”

Morris then poses the question, “Do cities have to have destinations?” And answers with “Perhaps not, but most of them do, if it is only a destination in the past, or in the ideal. Toronto seems to me, in time as in emotion, a limbo-city. It is not, like London, England obsessed with its own history. It is not an act of faith, like Moscow or Manhattan. It has none of Rio’s exuberant sense of young identity. It is neither brassily capitalist or rigidly public sector. It looks forward to no millennium, back to no golden age. It is what it is, and the people in its streets, walking with that steady, tireless, infantry-like pace that is particular to this city, seem on the whole resigned, without either bitterness or exhilaration, to being just what they are.”

Morris also perceived, “Among the principal cities of the lost British Empire, Toronto has been one of the most casual (rather than the most ruthless) in discarding the physical remnants of its colonial past. In Sydney, in Melbourne, in Wellington, even in Capetown, not to mention the cities in India, where the imperial memorials remain inescapable, sometimes even dominant…

Nobody, could possibly mistake this for a British City now.” “There is no mistaking this for a city of the United States, either….it is not a free-and-easy, damn Yankee sort of city – anything but,” she adds later.

  Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

  Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

  Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Nuclear Attack

Morris observes that while government authority is strong and respected in Toronto you could hardly call it “Orwellian – it seems without malevolence; but at the same time nobody can possibly ignore it, for it seems to have a finger almost everywhere (she hates the Liquor Control Board stores).”

She notes how public art is not only the work of the artist, but has to be authorized and approved by several government bodies before it is installed, or how it is the government that sells you a bottle of scotch and how well-mannered we are addressing criminals in course as “sir.”   

She postulates that if a nuclear bomb was to go off nearby, Torontonians would wait for the lights to change before running for cover.

Later she notes “Only in Toronto, I think, will a streetcar stop to allow a pedestrian to cross – surely one of the most esoteric experiences of travel in the 1980s? (Hmmmm, in Calgary cars stop all the time to let pedestrians cross the street, I wonder what she would make of that) Only in Toronto are the subways so wholesome, the parks so mugger-less, the children so well behaved.” 

She also recognizes Toronto isn’t a “provincial city” describing it as a huge, rich, splendid city, a metropolitan in power, a money centre of universal importance.

“Toronto is Toronto and perhaps that is enough….it is a city clean, neat, and ordered, built to a human scale, unhurried and polite. It has all the prerequisites of your modern major city – your revolving restaurants, your Henry Moore (today, that might be a Santiago Calatrava Bridge or a Jaume Plensa sculpture or a Norman Foster or BIG building), your trees with electric lights in them, your gay bars, your outdoor elevators, your restaurants offering deep fried pears stuffed with ripe camembert on a bed of nutmeg-scented spinach.”

Yet, by and large it has escaped the plastic blight of contemporary urbanism. 

  The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

  Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

  The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

Futuristic

She adds later “Everywhere has its galleria nowadays, Singapore to Houston, but none is quite so satisfying as Toronto’s Eaton Centre – just like one of the futuristic cities magazine artists like to depict in the 1930s.”

Morris says “Only the greatest of the world’s cities can outclass Toronto’s theatres, cinemas, art galleries, and newspapers, the variety of its restaurants, the number of its TV channels, the calibre of its visiting performers. Poets and artists are innumerable.” 

“What has not happened to Toronto is as remarkable as what has happened. It ought by all the odds to be a brilliant, brutal city, but it isn’t. Its downtown ought to be vulgar and spectacular, but is actually dignified, well proportioned, and indeed noble. Its sex-and-sin quarters, are hardly another Reeperbahn, and the punks and Boy Georges to be seen parading Yonge Street on a Saturday night are downright touching in their bravado, so scrupulously are they ignored.” 

  Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

  Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Escape Tunnels

Morris is not a big fan of the city’s street life, “Toronto is the most undemonstrative city I know, and the least inquisitive. The Walkman might be made for it. It swarms with clubs, cliques, and cultural societies, but seems armour-plated against the individual. There are few cities in the world where one can feel, as one walks the streets or rides the subways, for better or for worse, so all alone.” 

She likes Toronto’s underground PATH walkway better than the streets saying “Among the innumerable conveniences of Toronto, which is an extremely convenient city, one of the most attractive is the system of tunnels which lies beneath the downtown streets, and which, with its wonderful bright-lit sequences of stores, cafes, malls and intersections, is almost a second city in itself. I loved to think of all the warmth and life down there, the passing crowds, the coffee smells, the Muzak, and the clink of cups, when the streets above were half-empty in the rain, or scoured by cold winds; and one of my great pleasures was to wander aimless through those comfortable labyrinths, lulled from one Golden Oldie to the next, surfacing now and then to find myself on an unknown street corner far from home, or all unexpectantly in the lobby of some tremendous bank.” 

She adds, “But after a time, I came to think of them as escape tunnels. It was not just that they were warm and dry; they had an intimacy to them, a brush of human empathy, a feeling absent from the greater city above our heads.” 

  Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

  Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

No Joie de vivre

She later says, “Sometimes I think it is the flatness of the landscape that causes this flattening of the spirit – those interminable suburbs stretching away, the huge plane of the lake, those long grid roads which deprive the place of surprise or intricacy. Sometimes I think it must be the climate, numbing the nerve endings, or even the sheer empty vastness…Could it be the underpopulation; ought there be a couple of million more people in the city, to give it punch or jostle? Could it be the permanent compromise of Toronto, neither quite this or altogether that, capitalist but compassionate, American but royalist, multicultural but traditionalist.” 

When Morris asked immigrants what they thought of Toronto they said the “people are cold…they just mind their own business and make the dollars…neighbours don’t smile and say hullo (sic), how’s things…nobody talks.” 

To this she adds her own observations “in the course of its 150 years of careful progress, so calculated, so civilized, somewhere along the way Toronto lost, or failed to find, the gift of contact or of merriment…even the most naturally merry of the immigrants, the dancing Greeks, the witty Poles, the lyrical Hungarians seem to have forfeited their joie de vivre when they embrace the liberties of this town.”

In the end she concludes, “Your heart may not be singing, as you contemplate the presence around you Toronto the Good, but it should not be sinking either.

Cheer up! You have drawn the second prize, I would say, in the Lottario of Life.” 

  Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

  Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

  Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Last Word

Toronto the “Capital of the Ice Kingdom” is Morris’ term, not mine. However, it would seem to capture her view of Canada and our cities as cold, conservative and controlled places with little merriment. Hence the prolific use of the word “prosaic.”

I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Toronto, but then most Canadians other than those living in the metro Toronto area seem to despise the city that thinks it is the “centre of the universe.”  I am probably even more anti-Toronto than most as growing up in Hamilton we hated “Hogtown!”  I was surprised on a recent visit to Hamilton how much the anti-Toronto sentiment still exists.  

While reading the essay I couldn’t help but wonder what she might think of Calgary with our indoor +15 walkway, our brutally cold winters, beautiful icy rivers and huge parks.  What would she think of Stephen Avenue, the Calgary Tower or our iconic recreation centres? I got a sense of what she might have thought in her essay on Edmonton, entitled “A Six-Day Week!” 

  Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








Calgary: Saturday Afternoon Bike Ride Fun

I love Calgary’s summers – warm days, cool evenings, no humidity, no bugs and big blue skies.

What’s not to love? 

  River surfing on the Bow River at the 10th St Wave is not easy....but fun to watch!

River surfing on the Bow River at the 10th St Wave is not easy....but fun to watch!

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 10.57.18 PM.png

46 Minutes Took 4 Hours

Last Saturday, I took a bike ride to enjoy Calgary’s great urban outdoors along the south shore of the beautiful Bow River, to check out the reopened Harvie Passage.

 It was a lovely ride - along the way I encountered the Nat Christie sculpture park, Shaw Millennium Park, Eau Claire Promenade, Prince’s Island Park, Eau Claire Plaza, Sien Lok Park, Riverwalk, East Village Plaza, St. Patrick’s Island, Fort Calgary Park, Calgary Zoo on St. George’s Island, Harvie Passage, Bow Habitat Station and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  I am sure I missed something.

It is a 7-km ride that Google Maps says should take 23 minutes each way - it took me four hours round trip. 

Here’s why:

  The Eau Claire Plaza and the bridge to Prince's Island is still the most popular spot along the Bow River pathway from 14th St. bridge to Harvie Passage.

The Eau Claire Plaza and the bridge to Prince's Island is still the most popular spot along the Bow River pathway from 14th St. bridge to Harvie Passage.

  The new West Eau Claire park is a great place to sit, chat and catch some rays.

The new West Eau Claire park is a great place to sit, chat and catch some rays.

  The Centre Street Bridge provides a sense of history, as well as a great view of the Bow River and city skyline.

The Centre Street Bridge provides a sense of history, as well as a great view of the Bow River and city skyline.

  The Simmons Building in East Village is a popular gathering place as it is home to cafe and bakery. There is also a lovely roof-top patio. 

The Simmons Building in East Village is a popular gathering place as it is home to cafe and bakery. There is also a lovely roof-top patio. 

  There is public art scattered all along the Bow River's edge, including this one that has become home to nesting pair of Osprey. 

There is public art scattered all along the Bow River's edge, including this one that has become home to nesting pair of Osprey. 

  Found this lovely playground in Inglewood as the pathway winds its way through some century-old streets with large and small century homes and new infills. 

Found this lovely playground in Inglewood as the pathway winds its way through some century-old streets with large and small century homes and new infills. 

Shaw Millennium Park

  Millennium Park combines a mega skate park, with a concert bowl, basketball courts and beach volleyball. 

Millennium Park combines a mega skate park, with a concert bowl, basketball courts and beach volleyball. 

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 11.07.44 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 11.07.55 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 11.08.48 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 11.29.26 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 11.06.05 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 11.30.33 PM.png

Harvie Passage Fun

Harvie Passage has both a Class 2 and Class 3 rapids for public use. 

  • Eastern (river left) passage: This is considered a Class 3 passage. This passage should not be used by inexperienced or less-experienced boaters as the risk is significant. Experienced boaters should still exercise caution while navigating this passage.
  • Western (river right) passage: This is a Class 2 passage. The waters are slower moving; however, caution is still required when navigating through this passage.

There are also opportunities for less-experiences boaters to exit the river before the passage and portage the major water features.

Additional benefits of the project include the new shoreline spaces along the passage that have been developed for people wishing to enjoy the beauty of the Bow River from land. There are tree-lined walkways and pebble beach areas for the public. 

The passage recently opened up after being destroyed by the 2013 flood. 

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 11.02.02 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 11.00.06 PM.png
  Kids love climbing on Lorna Jordan's artwork that reminds me of a log jam in the river.  I am thinking all public art should be designed in a way that kids can climb on them or at least so people can touch it.  

Kids love climbing on Lorna Jordan's artwork that reminds me of a log jam in the river.  I am thinking all public art should be designed in a way that kids can climb on them or at least so people can touch it.  

  Just a few meters inland from Harvie Passage is the Bow Station Habitat which has a free fishing pond for kids.  I didn't see anyone catch anything but there were some very big trout in the pond. 

Just a few meters inland from Harvie Passage is the Bow Station Habitat which has a free fishing pond for kids.  I didn't see anyone catch anything but there were some very big trout in the pond. 

Bow River Living

Since the mid '90s new condos have been completed every few years along the Bow River from West Downtown to East Village. It is hard to believe that in the mid 20th century the Bow River's shoreline was almost completely ignored as a place to live and play - both Eau Claire and East Village were best known for their prostitute strolls. 

  Bow River looking east with West Downtown condos in the foreground.  The white dome is the old planetarium/science centre which will be converted into a contemporary art gallery hopefully by next year. 

Bow River looking east with West Downtown condos in the foreground.  The white dome is the old planetarium/science centre which will be converted into a contemporary art gallery hopefully by next year. 

  Bow River looking west with condos lining the shore and office towers in the background.  

Bow River looking west with condos lining the shore and office towers in the background. 

  Those living along the River enjoy some spectacular sunsets. 

Those living along the River enjoy some spectacular sunsets. 

  The ever changing Bow River is a very cool place summer or winter.

The ever changing Bow River is a very cool place summer or winter.

Last Word

This ride confirmed my view that Calgary has ONE of the best and most unique urban river edges in the world. I love the fact that it has three outdoor concert venues, while at the same time has numerous lovely places to be alone and just sit and relax.  I love that it is a place where locals of all ages and means can bike, skate, board, fish, surf, float and paddle. It is an urban recreational paradise.  

Yes some cities might have more touristy restaurants, bars and hotels, including floating ones along their river, but I love the fact our river isn’t “tarted-up” for tourists. 

And it is getting better every year!

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

East Village: A Billion Dollar Work of Art!

A brief history of the Bow River Islands

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City

Postcards From Saskatoon: Public Art Capital of the Prairies?

We recently spent an extended weekend in Saskatoon and were most impressed by the public art that was seemingly everywhere from street art to murals, from bike racks to art parks and lots in between.

Check out these postcards and see if you agree!

  "Art imitates life" or is it the other way around.  I love how these girls were inspired to climb and play with this piece by Saskatchewan artist William Epp titled "Tribute to Youth" created in 1989.  Public art should engage the public. 

"Art imitates life" or is it the other way around.  I love how these girls were inspired to climb and play with this piece by Saskatchewan artist William Epp titled "Tribute to Youth" created in 1989.  Public art should engage the public. 

Making A Statement 

  I was gobsmacked by this nine storey tall mural on the side of the First Nations Bank building in downtown Saskatoon.      The mural was painted by Saskatchewan artist Emmanuel Jarus. I loved the tenderness that is depicted in such a large work.  While the child is obviously of indigenous descent, the parents are more ambiguous which allows for different interpretations.     Is it about new beginnings? Is it about the importance of family? Is is about love? Is it about dependence? Is it a contemporary interpretation of the "mother and child" image that has been part of painting history for centuries.   

I was gobsmacked by this nine storey tall mural on the side of the First Nations Bank building in downtown Saskatoon. 

The mural was painted by Saskatchewan artist Emmanuel Jarus. I loved the tenderness that is depicted in such a large work.  While the child is obviously of indigenous descent, the parents are more ambiguous which allows for different interpretations.

Is it about new beginnings? Is it about the importance of family? Is is about love? Is it about dependence? Is it a contemporary interpretation of the "mother and child" image that has been part of painting history for centuries.  

  I think it is also very fitting that the piece is on the side of the First Nations Bank building given its First Nation references.  The red ribbon in the mother's hair is meant to commemorate missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.    Note: The piece is part of the City of Saskatoon's Placemaker program for public art.  It cost $15,000.  Yes this is a real family from the Yellow Quill First Nation, 195 km east of Saskatoon. 

I think it is also very fitting that the piece is on the side of the First Nations Bank building given its First Nation references.  The red ribbon in the mother's hair is meant to commemorate missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.

Note: The piece is part of the City of Saskatoon's Placemaker program for public art.  It cost $15,000.  Yes this is a real family from the Yellow Quill First Nation, 195 km east of Saskatoon. 

  The City Centre Church mural in Riversdale also captured my attention. Too often street art is more decorative with little in the way of an artist's statement.      In this case the imagery is very hard hitting, with references to the struggles of justice, alcohol and religion faced by indigenous people past and present.     There is a very strong presence in Saskatoon of indigenous people are using contemporary art genres to express their plight.  

The City Centre Church mural in Riversdale also captured my attention. Too often street art is more decorative with little in the way of an artist's statement. 

In this case the imagery is very hard hitting, with references to the struggles of justice, alcohol and religion faced by indigenous people past and present.

There is a very strong presence in Saskatoon of indigenous people are using contemporary art genres to express their plight.  

  I loved clever hybridization of graffiti painting with realism in this mural.  

I loved clever hybridization of graffiti painting with realism in this mural.  

  The impact of this mural is amplified by the fact the Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral is located across the street.

The impact of this mural is amplified by the fact the Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral is located across the street.

Signature Public Art 

Every city has a signature piece of art, in Saskatoon that is probably Doug Bentham's "Unfurl"  located in the middle of a busy intersection at the west side of the University Bridge.  One of the benchmarks of a good piece of art is that people still like it and are talking about it 10+ years later. 

In a recent Saskatoon StarPhoenix piece, Bentham notes people still stop and talk to him about the piece (yes, Bentham lives just outside of Saskatoon) and tell him how much they like the piece and how it changes with the weather.  He was also quoted as saying "Unfurled" taught him "it's OK to consider the public when conceiving a sculpture."  

  "Unfurled" is locate in the middle of an intersection, not exactly the best site for the public to view the artwork.  I had to dodge a few cars to get to the base of the piece where the information panel is located. 

"Unfurled" is locate in the middle of an intersection, not exactly the best site for the public to view the artwork.  I had to dodge a few cars to get to the base of the piece where the information panel is located. 

  From this angle is looks a bit like a pelican which ironically are found in the Saskatchewan river just a few feet away.  

From this angle is looks a bit like a pelican which ironically are found in the Saskatchewan river just a few feet away.  

  Move just a few feet and it looks like scissors and thread.  I love ambiguous art that has reference to reality, but lets the viewer interpret the piece in infinite ways.   

Move just a few feet and it looks like scissors and thread.  I love ambiguous art that has reference to reality, but lets the viewer interpret the piece in infinite ways.  

University of Saskatchewan Art Park 

  Hidden away on the edge of the University of Saskatchewan campus is an artpark. Head to the Diefenbaker Centre (FYI the Centre's facade is in poor shape, and the plants next to his grave are all dead - shame on whoever is responsible) and then go towards the river and you will find an unmarked art park near the pathway.  

Hidden away on the edge of the University of Saskatchewan campus is an artpark. Head to the Diefenbaker Centre (FYI the Centre's facade is in poor shape, and the plants next to his grave are all dead - shame on whoever is responsible) and then go towards the river and you will find an unmarked art park near the pathway.  

 Public art should be made to climb on. 

Public art should be made to climb on. 

 Most of the art in UofS's sculpture park has no didactic information i.e. name of artist, title, date etc.  It looks like anyone can just install their art here.  While the grass has been cut, some whipper snippering around at the base of the pieces is badly needed.   Turns out it is called the U of S sculpture garden and it was founded in 1993 as part of a sculpture symposium.  It could also use some curatorial direction as some of the pieces look pretty amateurish.  

Most of the art in UofS's sculpture park has no didactic information i.e. name of artist, title, date etc.  It looks like anyone can just install their art here.  While the grass has been cut, some whipper snippering around at the base of the pieces is badly needed. 

Turns out it is called the U of S sculpture garden and it was founded in 1993 as part of a sculpture symposium.  It could also use some curatorial direction as some of the pieces look pretty amateurish.  

  The University of Saskatchewan campus has public art scattered throughout the campus, however much of it has no information on who is the artist, title of the work or date .  I later figured out this piece is by Eli Bornstein a famous local artist who has a studio on the banks of the Saskatchewan River just south of the city. The piece is located in front of the Synchroton Research building that studies sources of brilliant light.  I thought it was by Ron Kostyniuk who was born in the small community of Wakaw, Saskatchewan, in 1941. He studied at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and later became an art professor at the University of Calgary where I met him when I was working at the Muttart Art Gallery. 

The University of Saskatchewan campus has public art scattered throughout the campus, however much of it has no information on who is the artist, title of the work or date.  I later figured out this piece is by Eli Bornstein a famous local artist who has a studio on the banks of the Saskatchewan River just south of the city. The piece is located in front of the Synchroton Research building that studies sources of brilliant light.

I thought it was by Ron Kostyniuk who was born in the small community of Wakaw, Saskatchewan, in 1941. He studied at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and later became an art professor at the University of Calgary where I met him when I was working at the Muttart Art Gallery. 

Urban Design As Art

  I loved these bollard that look like mini contemporary grain elevators.  I love when art can also have a function i.e. pedestrian safety. 

I loved these bollard that look like mini contemporary grain elevators.  I love when art can also have a function i.e. pedestrian safety. 

  When I first saw this I thought it was public art that referenced the animal traps of the fur traders who were responsible for the early exploration and settlement of the area.  I also liked historical text. Later I learned they were bike racks.  

When I first saw this I thought it was public art that referenced the animal traps of the fur traders who were responsible for the early exploration and settlement of the area.  I also liked historical text. Later I learned they were bike racks.  

  Bike rack or public art? 

Bike rack or public art? 

  If Joe Farfard designed a bike rack?

If Joe Farfard designed a bike rack?

  Bike racks on Broadway. 

Bike racks on Broadway. 

Popular Public Art

  Perhaps we should include children on public art juries. 

Perhaps we should include children on public art juries. 

  Every public art collection must have a huge animal in the middle of the sidewalk.  This is the first musk ox sculpture I have seen. 

Every public art collection must have a huge animal in the middle of the sidewalk.  This is the first musk ox sculpture I have seen. 

  "Launch Time" is just one of many public art pieces along Saskatoon's River Walk in the downtown.  These canoe-like fragments are a collaborate piece by Mel Bolen, Charley Farrero, Michael Hosaluk and Sean Whalley. 

"Launch Time" is just one of many public art pieces along Saskatoon's River Walk in the downtown.  These canoe-like fragments are a collaborate piece by Mel Bolen, Charley Farrero, Michael Hosaluk and Sean Whalley. 

Decorative Arts

  Mural on the side of the mid-century modern Hudson's Bay department store that is now a condo. 

Mural on the side of the mid-century modern Hudson's Bay department store that is now a condo. 

Street Art / Graffiti 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 12.26.54 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 12.30.15 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.23.27 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.25.53 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.09.44 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.09.08 PM.png
  MOTA stands for Museum of Temporary Art (MoTA) that was initiated in 2012 by Jeff Nachitgall in the Riversdale neighbourhood. The works are created in a studio and then attached to the wall like they would be in an art gallery. He wanted to engage people who don't visit art galleries.  I found about six MOTA pieces in the alleys and side streets of Riversdale.

MOTA stands for Museum of Temporary Art (MoTA) that was initiated in 2012 by Jeff Nachitgall in the Riversdale neighbourhood. The works are created in a studio and then attached to the wall like they would be in an art gallery. He wanted to engage people who don't visit art galleries.  I found about six MOTA pieces in the alleys and side streets of Riversdale.

Quirky Art 

  I definitely think this entrance could be considered to be public art.  

I definitely think this entrance could be considered to be public art. 

 This sculpture, "Jump" by Brian Newman located behind City Hall would fit nicely into a children's playground. 

This sculpture, "Jump" by Brian Newman located behind City Hall would fit nicely into a children's playground. 

  I loved these Picasso inspired folk art pieces. I loved them so much I tracked down the artist and brought home two - blog to follow.

I loved these Picasso inspired folk art pieces. I loved them so much I tracked down the artist and brought home two - blog to follow.

  I found a few of these fun top hat cross walk figures.  I love this kind of fun creativity.  It reminded me of "Amplemannchen" a cartoon-like human figure used in West Germany traffic signals for walk and stop.  

I found a few of these fun top hat cross walk figures.  I love this kind of fun creativity.  It reminded me of "Amplemannchen" a cartoon-like human figure used in West Germany traffic signals for walk and stop.  

  Another reference to the fur trading industry? 

Another reference to the fur trading industry? 

  Found this mysterious fabric piece in the front yard of a modest home in the Nutana neighbourhood that could easily be that of an artist. I like the idea of utilizing the front yard as an outdoor gallery or studio space. 

Found this mysterious fabric piece in the front yard of a modest home in the Nutana neighbourhood that could easily be that of an artist. I like the idea of utilizing the front yard as an outdoor gallery or studio space. 

  I understand it is common practice to dress-up sculptures in Saskatoon.  This one was dressed up for the Pride Parade. 

I understand it is common practice to dress-up sculptures in Saskatoon.  This one was dressed up for the Pride Parade. 

Last Word 

While Saskatoon might not have a public artwork by a world renowned artist, I think that works in their favour.  Their public art is about Saskatoon by Saskatoonians.  It isn't the ubiquitous public art you see in every North American city.  It helps create a unique sense of place.    

I was told by a local that many of the new pieces are leased from the artist for a 3-year period and then returned to the artist.  Public art doesn't have to be permanent art!

Hmm....perhaps Calgary should have develop a "lease to buy" program for public art which would allow controversial pieces to be removed if they haven't gained public acceptance after three years. 

It seemed like there was public art or artifacts on every block of Saskatoon's city center, which is why I think Saskatoon could be called the "Public Art Capital of the Prairies." 

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

Putting The Public Back Into Public Art

Do we really need all of this public art?

Ranked: Public Art In Downtown Saskatoon

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.17.28 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.14.44 AM.png

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?
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.17.40 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.19.43 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.16.02 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.20.35 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.16.58 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.18.50 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.15.40 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 9.06.49 AM.png

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.  

IMG_5630.JPG

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

A Week In The Life Of An Everyday Tourist

My challenge for this blog was to capture the past week in seven photographs.  It was pretty much a typical spring week for me in Calgary focused on golf, garden and the kids next door.  

I have chosen photos that connect to previous blogs as a means of broadening the scope of the images as being indicative of the everyday tourist approach to urban living.  

I hope you enjoy.  

  The week started with a fun surprise as the park across the street was invaded by a cast of characters from the nearby Baptist church who organized a picnic in the park.  It was an old fashion picnic with various games including a sack race.  In chatting with one of the organizers I found out many of the participants were new immigrants to Canada.  I love living next to a park.     Link:   Parks A Must For Urban Living

The week started with a fun surprise as the park across the street was invaded by a cast of characters from the nearby Baptist church who organized a picnic in the park.  It was an old fashion picnic with various games including a sack race.  In chatting with one of the organizers I found out many of the participants were new immigrants to Canada.  I love living next to a park. 

Link: Parks A Must For Urban Living

  I love fun surprises, like this tailgate art found while on an adventure (walkabout) with Clark (one of the neighbour kids).      Link:    Mexico City: Full of Surprises

I love fun surprises, like this tailgate art found while on an adventure (walkabout) with Clark (one of the neighbour kids).  

Link:  Mexico City: Full of Surprises

  This artwork by Calgary artist Ron Moppett is one of my favourites and not because it is made up of 956,321 tiny glass tiles from Germany.  I love the ambiguity that allows the viewer to read the piece in many different ways.  I also love the colour it adds to this walkway, unfortunately I have never seen anyone stop, sit and look - including me. What does that tell us?   Link:    Do we need all of this public art?

This artwork by Calgary artist Ron Moppett is one of my favourites and not because it is made up of 956,321 tiny glass tiles from Germany.  I love the ambiguity that allows the viewer to read the piece in many different ways.  I also love the colour it adds to this walkway, unfortunately I have never seen anyone stop, sit and look - including me. What does that tell us?

Link: Do we need all of this public art?

  Recently I posted a blog about mid-century ornamental railings that proved to be very popular.  Since then I have been finding more and more interesting front-yard ornamentation like this one everywhere.    Link:    Front Yard Fun

Recently I posted a blog about mid-century ornamental railings that proved to be very popular.  Since then I have been finding more and more interesting front-yard ornamentation like this one everywhere.

Link:  Front Yard Fun

  Food Trucks have been all the rage in cities across North America for over a decade, but not sure I have ever seen a Flower Trucks there are.  I do remember a fashion truck in Portland in 2013. I found this one walking home from school with my little buddy Knox.       Link: Portland: Thrill of the Hunt! 

Food Trucks have been all the rage in cities across North America for over a decade, but not sure I have ever seen a Flower Trucks there are.  I do remember a fashion truck in Portland in 2013. I found this one walking home from school with my little buddy Knox. 

Link: Portland: Thrill of the Hunt! 

  One of the things I love to do each morning is a walkabout of the garden. It probably takes only 5 minutes but I am always rewarded with an appreciation of the beauty of  nature.     Link:   Garden Flaneuring: Try It You Might Like It!

One of the things I love to do each morning is a walkabout of the garden. It probably takes only 5 minutes but I am always rewarded with an appreciation of the beauty of  nature. 

Link: Garden Flaneuring: Try It You Might Like It!

  Found these wild flowers next to the 15th hole tee box at Redwood Meadows Golf course.  I have been golfing at Redwood for over 20 years and never noticed them.  I am always amazed at how almost everyday I find something I have never seen before even though I have walk by it many times.    Link:   Redwood Reflections

Found these wild flowers next to the 15th hole tee box at Redwood Meadows Golf course.  I have been golfing at Redwood for over 20 years and never noticed them.  I am always amazed at how almost everyday I find something I have never seen before even though I have walk by it many times.

Link: Redwood Reflections

 

 

"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?

 

 

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Beltline

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) are all cool.

This blog explores the Beltline community. 
  You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening.  

You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening. 

Beltline

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.42.41 AM.png

Calgary’s Beltline community boundaries are from the Elbow River west to 14th St SW and from 17th Avenue SW north to the railway tracks.

In reality, it is three distinctly different neighbourhoods – East Beltline (EABE), which includes everything east of 4th Street SW with 1st Street SW as its pedestrian corridor; North Beltline (NOBE), which is the 10th & 11th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (at one time this area was known as Electric Avenue for all of the bar signage) and South Beltline (SOBE), which is the area next to the 16/17th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (was nicknamed The Red Mile as ten of thousands of Calgary Flames jersey fans took over the street during the Flames Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2004).

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 10.53.47 AM.png

Festivals/Events

As Stampede Park is within its boundaries, the Beltline could claim everything from Calgary Expo to Calgary Stampede as its signature event.  It doesn’t get much better than that.    

  The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

  Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Shops

  Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip.  

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip. 

Gravity Pope is arguably Calgary’s coolest retail store not only from a design perspective but also for their amazing footwear and fashions.

It is a “must see” for anyone visiting Calgary.

Long-time 17th Ave anchor shops like Reid’s The Stationery Store (this is not your typical stationary store) Rubaiyat (jewellery, art glass, home accessories) and Mona Lisa Artist’s Materials are unique and fun places to browse.  

Mountain Equipment Co-op’s flagship Calgary store at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th St SW has been a citywide destination for decades. Across the street is Atmosphere -another outdoor wear store.

    Metrovino's   front door is in the back alley . 

Metrovino's front door is in the back alley

Cork dorks won’t want to miss Metrovino and its carefully curated selection of wines.  Bonus – double your fun here as it is located at the back of the Cookbook Company retail store with its 2,000+ cookbooks in stock (largest in Western Canada) as well as cookware. 

 

 

The Beltline is also home to some funky designer stores like Roche Bobois, Kit Interior Objects, Shaun Ford & Co. and Chintz & Company flagship store.

    MEC'  s colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

MEC's colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

  Every time I go to the    Camera Store    is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

Every time I go to the Camera Store is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

  17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

    Heritage Posters and Music   is a must see for audiophiles. 

Heritage Posters and Music is a must see for audiophiles. 

Cafés

The Beltline is blessed with numerous independent cafés including the iconic Caffe Beano, where artists and hipsters have been hanging out for decades. Other notable cool coffee spots include Kawa Espresso Bar, Analog, Bumpy’s Café and Good Earth Cafe.

  The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

Restaurants

There are a plethora of good restaurants in the Beltline, some of my favourites being Yellow Door (yes, it really does have yellow doors), Foreign Concept and Model Milk for their innovative menus and cool interior design.  Bonterra Trattoria, a traditional favourite has arguably Calgary’s best al fresco patio.  Beltline offers several great pizza parlours – Cibo, Posto Pizzeria and Bar, Una Pizza + Wine.

If you are looking for some late-night dining, Ten Foot Henry is a good bet. The cuisine is “new North American,” i.e. creative, vegetable focused and built for sharing. Currently on their menu is a “Crispy Pickerel” with almond purre, brussel leaves and pickled grapes.

Then there’s a Beltline hidden gem - the Mermaid Inn Restaurant located in the mellow yellow-coloured Danish Canadian Club building built in 1964.  While the club is for members and their guests, they will happily sign you in as a “special guest.”  The food is great as is the price.  Note: it is closed Sundays; the Saturday brunch is outstanding.

  You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.   

You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.  

  RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

 Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

  Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

  Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Art & Architecture

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.24.33 AM.png

The Beltline lays claim to most of Calgary’s major commercial galleries, which are clustered in and around the 700 block of 11th Ave SW. There you will find Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zone Galleries.  Other galleries nearby include Gibson, Lattitude, Gerry Thomas, Trepaneir Baer and Webster Galleries.

Loch Gallery, over on 4th St SW is definitely worth checking out.

And if you are walking by Hotel Arts, pop in and check out the art in the lobby and beyond as there is lots of it and it is very good.  Be sure to look up at the glass installation on the ceiling in the entrance. 

 As for public art, the Beltline’s signature piece is “Calgary Scroll” by David Rokeby, a huge S-curve that spans from one side of the 8th Street underpass to the other looking a bit like a monorail track. 

The “track” is actually an LED screen that displays bits of old Calgary news from the early 20th century that pedestrians can read as they stroll from the Beltline to downtown. 

FEC7ECD8-E5F2-485D-8A62-7DE61B236725.JPG

Or is it “Chinook Arc” by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock in the Barb Scott Park. This is an interactive, illuminated sculpture that glows in the dark.  The shape was inspired in part by the Beltline street cars and Chinook arch cloud formation that periodically forms in the Calgary sky.

A mural program was launched in 2017 at various locations on the sides of buildings and in alleys with several more murals to be completed in 2018.

Beltline is home to the new Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre that includes dance studios and offices as well as 230-seat space for performances.  DJD’s performances are nothing but cool and at night, you can check out the colourful mural of dancers that adorns the rooftop of the building.

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.17.00 AM.png

In 2005, the 1911, Tuscan style Wesley United Church was converted into the Calgary Opera Centre (now called the Arrata Opera Centre).

It is used for rehearsals, wardrobe shop, education programs, offices and even the occasional performance by Calgary Opera.

When it comes to architecture the Memorial Park Library is a “must see.”  This majestic Edwardian Classicism building opened in 1912 and is surrounded by a lovely, two-hectare park/garden. It is one of 150 libraries built in Canada with funding from the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and is still a functioning library so be sure to go inside.

When it comes to modern architecture, the Beltline is home to several new condo towers, with Mark on 10th being perhaps the most distinguished with its playful use of a yellow tinted glass atrium at the corner to the pastel-coloured panels on the exterior that draw the eye up to the roof-top resident lounge projecting over the edge of the building.  

 Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

  Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

  Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

  Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Parks/Plaza/Pathways

The Beltline is blessed with three historic urban parks - Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens (1891), Central Memorial Park (1912) and Tomkins Park (1915).  It is also home to a new urban dog park in Connaught Park, the new Barb Scott Park and the brand new Thomson Family Park, the latter replacing the Calgary Lawn Bowling club facility.

The Beltline is part of Calgary’s City Centre Cycle Track program with a dedicated bike lane along 12th Avenue, from 11th St SW to 4th St SE and 5th Street from 3rd Ave SW to 17th Ave SW.

  As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

  Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

  Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating.  

Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating. 

  Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

  Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Fitness/Recreation

The Beltline lays claim to the oldest the oldest purpose-built social service building in Calgary - the Beltline Y.W.C.A. opening in 1911.  Today, the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre (its current name) is a busy place as over 23,000 people live close by.  Two other major fitness centers include Heaven’s Fitness and Yoga Passage. There is also a winter skating rink at the new Thomson Family Park.

  The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

  In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

Pubs & Clubs

The Ship & Anchor is Calgary’s iconic pub. Even in the middle of winter its sunny patio can be packed with hipsters enjoying Calgary’s brilliant winter sunshine.  On weekend mornings it becomes a popular spot for soccer fans to congregate while the Saturday afternoon jams are packed with Yuppies.  A close second would be the Rose & Crown pub on 4th.

If your idea of a good time is sampling beer (and whose isn’t) you have to visit Craft Beer Market’s original beer hall with its 100+ beers on tap.  Or, visit Trolley 5 Brewery Restaurant where the 400 seats await you to try out their craft beer brewed on site.

If live music is your thing, a good bet would be Broken City and Hifi Club who have both been hosting live music since 2004 and 2005 respectfully. While Mikey’s on 12th is a new location, Mikey has been curating live music shows for decades and his Saturday afternoon blues jam is very popular with locals.

  17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

Fun/Funky/Quirky 

Enjoying a couple of maple bacon doughnuts at Jelly Modern Doughnuts (you can’t eat just one) is perhaps the quintessential FFQ Beltline experience.  Or, is it enjoying an “A-bomb” hot dog at Tubby Dog at 2 am?

Some might even say it doesn’t get any cooler than enjoying an ice cream cone at the Beltline’s two signature ice cream parlours - Made by Marcus or Village Ice Cream -when it’s -30C outside.

  Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

  On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

  It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store.  

It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store. 

  You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

  Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Last Word

Even the Beltline’s name is cool.  It is named after the Calgary Municipal Railway’s Route #5 that was nicknamed the “belt line” as its route used to wind its way back and forth from 17th Ave SW to downtown like a conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant.

I have only scratched the surface of the cool things to see and do in the Beltline. 

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

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Beltline: North America's Best Hipster/GABEster Community

11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street