Community Mural Brings Together Many Hands in East Village
Calgary Drop-In residents share their passion for art on a collaborative piece for all to enjoy
Plans to transform a small wall under the 5th Avenue flyover began when “Just Bill,” a resident of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre (The DI), decided he wanted to add more colour to the neighbourhood by creating a public art installation everyone could enjoy and actually participate in creating.
Bill, a born and raised Albertan, has been homeless for the past 15 years. Two years ago on New Year’s Eve, Bill resolved to explore his lifelong dream of becoming an artist. At 50, he picked up a paintbrush for the first time, began reading books about famous artists and started running with a very creative and collaborative art crowd in Calgary.
“I credit Angel and Angela, the two young women who founded Market Collective here in Calgary, with giving me the courage to really follow my dream and start making my art a reality,” says Bill. “They encouraged me to showcase my work and make connections in the arts scene. It’s changed my life for the better.”
Inspired by some of the magnificent public artwork within East Village, such as Julian Opie’s LED installation “Promenade” and Ron Moppett’s mosaic tile wall “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,” Bill and three fellow artists decided they wanted to contribute to the emerging art scene of East Village by adding some colour under the 5th Avenue Flyover. Working with City of Calgary Roads and Centre City Planning & Implementation teams, they have imagined a mural called “This is our City: Helping Hands,” which celebrates diversity, choice and community building and honours former DI Centre Executive Director Dermot Baldwin for his contributions to Calgary’s homeless.
This isn’t the first time a group of local artists has teamed up to bring life to an unconventional canvas. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the organization charged with redevelopment of the East Village, began a curated art program on the bridge abutments and storage sheds in 2009. Local photographer Derrick Besant debuted his black and white images on the bridge abutments three years ago, and just last summer a new group of Calgary artists called Light & Soul added “The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence" – a mural that spans 11 surfaces along Riverfront Ave.
Local artists Mark Vazquez-Mackay, Hannah Poon and Ryan Delve round out Bill’s quartet of artists, who have been meeting bi-monthly since July 2013 to turn their dream of painting the wall into a reality.
Their hope is to encourage other residents of the inner city and broader Calgary community to awaken their inner artists and participate in creating the mural.
“We need many hands to make this mural come to life,” says Ryan Delve, who has been living at The DI since July 2012. “We’ve titled this piece ‘Helping Hands’ since forming a community and creating art are all about the multitude of hands that can work together in collaboration to create a positive outcome.”
The mural’s vision is all about breaking down classes and stigmas. Everyone starts out equal in this world, and different paths lead people to different places in their lives; but the helping hands extended by others can really make a difference to those who need a friend.
“East Village is a diverse and inclusive neighbourhood where people are drawn together and find deeper connections through public art”, adds Susan Veres, VP Marketing & Communications, CMLC. “When we heard the residents of The DI were interested in supporting our emerging Art in the Public Realm program, we embraced the opportunity to fund 50% of the $10,000.00 project budget”. The Calgary Foundation is funding the balance of the project.
The East Village redevelopment is being stewarded by Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, a company of passionate, experience placemakers who bring new energy to old neighbourhoods, create credibility and confidence, and inspire communities to build, grow and believe.