Developers creating public art ‘for the people that belongs to the people’
It’s Sunday morning and soft skiffs of white snow blanket the still green grass, while golden and red leaves cling tightly to drooping branches laden with the heaviness of an early fall storm.
As the sun streams through a parting overcast sky, melting the show of winter that has arrived all too soon, the landscape becomes an artistic vista – one of twinkling light and impressionistic colour as St. Patrick’s Island awakens to the day.
Just steps beyond, across the bridge into East Village another artistic transformation is occurring, one spurred on by a barrage of public art that speak to a larger conversation about weaving together a sense of place and pride of ownership within both communities and Calgary as a whole.
“Art really changes the dynamic of a community.”
“Art really changes the dynamic of a community,” said landscape artist Curtis Van Charles Sorensen, who is behind the new Window to the Wild public art installation, a series of nine mixed media images of local wildlife, along East Village’s RiverWalk.
“It strengthens it — gives a sense of place and orientation. Public art provides a great opportunity to bring joy to people. I’ve kept that in mind the whole time I was creating this.”
Sorensen’s installation along RiverWalk, a two-kilometre stretch of pathways and gathering places along the Bow River between Centre Street bridge and Ninth Avenue S.E., is almost complete. It drapes three bridge abutments and flyovers, one maintenance-building site and two public washrooms.
Sorensen’s work, a collage of mixed media, embraces and highlights the beauty of Calgary, by incorporating the urban landscape into the natural landscape.
“I wanted to inspire people to think about the wildlife that is along our river banks and in our city and just generate conversations about it,” said Sorensen.
The RiverWalk public art initiative is part of Calgary Municipal Land Corp.’s Art in the Public Realm program, an innovative vision that incorporates placemaking objectives for East Village east of downtown.
So far, CMLC has curated three public art installations and three 36-month temporary installations, including the latest by Sorensen.
CMLC is not the only community developer that is bringing public art to the fore. Others are bringing it up throughout the city, from the lobbies of inner-city residential towers to newly crafted communities in the ’burbs.
Qualex-Landmark – the Vancouver developer behind Mark on 10th, a 35-storey residential tower in the Beltline’s design district – unveiled a large-scale public art piece last spring.
Interpretation of Calgary, Alberta in the 21st Century by designer, artist and author Douglas Coupland graces Mark on 10th’s foyer (accessible to both residents and the public), and features a series of coloured targets that represent flora, fauna and institutional elements of the city. The intensity of colour and subject matter was a nod to creating good feelings and a sense of place.
“The forms become signs that will, across time, mellow and ripen within a viewer’s memory, also acting as a smart and anticipated welcome home moment,” said Coupland.
In the southwest community of Legacy, developer WestCreek recently gifted an eight-foot bronze statue created by artist, actress and activist Jane Seymour.
Entitled the Open Hearts Icon, it proudly graces the ridge overlooking more than 120 hectares of environmental reserve at the confluence of walking paths in the new community.
Seymour’s open-heart design symbolizes open-heartedness, kindness, giving selflessly and connectedness. She believes that when we open our hearts and reach out to help another, we find purpose.
Seymour looks at public art as tangibly inspirational.
“It is something that people can touch and feel and it is free,” she said.
“We build big, beautiful, modern buildings, but art represents our spirit as human beings and our connection to each other in the amazing world in which we live.
“(Art) provokes thought, elicits an emotional response and becomes an important element in our communities.”
WestCreek CEO Bravin Goldade, whose company is behind Legacy, understands the power of art and wanted to bring its magic to the new community.
“Calgary has only seen public art in the downtown core, but public art in new communities is important. Community is built when people get out of their houses and make the community their home,” said Goldade.
He has already seen a change in community connectedness since the public art installation. Residents are talking about it and celebrating it, taking pride in ownership and experiencing an engagement with it – one that is connecting everyone, he said.
“It’s fascinating to me how quickly it becomes art work for the people that belongs to the people,” he said. “It’s a really interesting social phenomenon. It’s pretty cool.”