My On-Going Exploration of Public Art

My ongoing exploration of Calgary public art is a relatively new thing, prompted primarily by my stint as a Beakerhead volunteer photographer. I’m finding it’s enjoyable, fuels my creative spirit and is helping me discover some of downtown Calgary’s hidden gems.

When it comes to planning my Wednesday art walks, weather is irrelevant. On bad weather days Calgary’s extensive +15 network provides ready access to a wide range of publicly accessible visual art. On good weather days, sidewalks and pathways lead provide access, mostly to sculptures.

I started off trying to follow the City of Calgary’s Downtown Public Art Circuit tour, available in podcast, app, self-printed or dial-up form. I opted to carry along a copy of the self-printed brochure. I rate my overall experience with this self-guided tour at 2.0 on a 5-point scale. Why so low? Because it’s way out of date. I couldn’t find a few of the pieces (the fellow at the information desk at the Municipal Building confirmed that it’s at least few years since “So the Bishop Said to the Actress…” was removed from the south entrance) and one of the plus-15 connectors has been closed off since the brochure was put together. I thought maybe the podcast would be more current, but got an error message when I tried to download in from the iTunes store. Also, as per the title, the brochure only includes City-owned art and there is other publicly accessible art in the same few square blocks. All of that being said, the real value in the brochure is that it contains helpful information about the pieces I did find: the name of the piece, the artist’s name, a brief description of the piece and sometimes information about how it came to be part of the City’s art collection. If you are a fan of bronze/aluminum sculptures, it’s worth spending a lunch hour following the general outline of this tour.

Since then, I’ve done less planning and more exploring. My favourite stops (so far) have been:

  1. The +15 window galleries and tiny galleries in Arts Commons (the new name for what was formerly called the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts). My experience is that the displays change monthly, so I’m planning to stop by the first Wednesday of each month to see what’s new. Not only is there a wide range of installations (I pretty quickly decide on my favourite each month), but there’s usually not much foot traffic here, so I can take my time studying each window and taking a few photographs. The lighting arrangements cast strong shadows, so I like to study the (perhaps) unintentional shadow art as well as the actual pieces. And if I have a few extra minutes, I’ll continue along the +15 to take another look at the colourful murals along the corridor running east-west.

  2. Studio C Collaborative Art Centre – Located on the 5th floor of the Burns Building, Studio C provides some great programming and mounts a new show each month. I’ve made it a habit to stop in the first Wednesday of the month to get a sneak peek at what’s opening the next day. I noticed on my last visit that the common areas on the 5th floor now feature art created by a number of Calgary artists, thanks to Studio C’s neighbour, cSPACE Projects, so there’s even more art to enjoy!

  3. Wonderland, the giant wire head outside the Bow building and the much smaller Alberta’s Dream (installed on the northwest plaza outside the Bow), both by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. I’ve heard the best time to photograph Wonderland is at night, but since I was there in the daytime I had fun seeing what kind of “spherical panorama” my phone would stitch together as I tried to fit Wonderland and the entire Bow building into one image. It turned out kinda crazy!! What do you think?

I have some things in mind as I continue my exploration of Calgary public art:

  • Visit, study and photograph the public art in my neighbourhood (shouldn’t be too hard – as of now, I’ve only been able to find four pieces in an area more than 14,000 people call home).
  • Thanks to another downtown art walk brochure I just came across, combine an art walk with a nature walk at Princes Island Park.
  • Decide whether to move ahead with a personal project to put together an interactive map, using my own photographs and Google’s Map Engine. I did a quick “proof of concept” layering 4 points of interest and a half-dozen photographs onto this map and would welcome feedback. Who might use it? What would make it most useful? Is something like this already out there and I just haven’t found it? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

I would also love to hear about your favourite publicly accessible art in Calgary and any other stops you recommend I include on a future art walk, so please leave comments!

2 thoughts on “My On-Going Exploration of Public Art

    1. Hi Colin and thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s going to be a long project! I was out for a few hours one day last week, with the goal of photographing some of the public art on Princes Island, but it didn’t work out very well – too much snow! But I’ll keep working away at it.

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