The Coalescence of Calgary’s Historic and Contemporary Efforts in Public Art

Our Janes walk took us through the west end of the downtown Calgary core. From 8th Street to 4th Street, and, 4th Avenue to 10th Avenue SW. A sunny Saturday afternoon, the streets were relatively quiet, and our portion of downtown, dense with tall office buildings, provided a dynamic mix of shade and sun. Our search for art bought us a variety of work showcases — some inconspicuous, almost tucked away, and some of momental vitality and historical significance.

What was especially interesting about this area was the physical contrast between old and new. We found that, the artistic efforts included in our area were greatly influenced by the architectural landscape. As the larger majority of the corporate towers in Calgary’s urban core were established during Alberta’s oil boom, the period is evidently reflected in the heavy, prominent stature of the buildings. Sculpture and statues have been ornamentally mainly placed outside the main entryways of the corporate-giant offices. Harkening to a classical and historically-based predisposition of economic power, almost in attempt to enforce their societal positioning of influence and significance. A traditional representation of societal, hierarchical positioning, found in its original state in the historical landmarks of the area. The Courthouse Park and the McDougall Centre are the oldest buildings in the area. Preserved as historical landmarks, these stone buildings exhibit the influence of monumentality in structure that has been carried through multiple strands of architectural development.


Due to the areas relatively historical narrative and structural permanence, modern and contemporary artistic efforts are enmeshed, engaging with the constructed environment. Buildings, the train line and the historical sites have been renovated, updated or combined with new visions of representation, monument, art and space. The train line platforms were updated a few years ago, and the curvilinear aesthetic of the design extends from the more obvious efforts, like the overall design of the platform, to the more subtle, like the corresponding design of the street lights.


The renovated the entryways of corporate towers have restructure themselves from stone to glass, opening up the buildings vitality, showcasing modern methods and materials and allowing for innovation in artistic and aesthetic structure. Demonstrating the distinctiveness of the our modern era through the incorporation of art and structure.


An example of one of the more inconspicuous but extremely innovative efforts of art placement in this area can be found in the sidewalk electrical boxes. The City of Calgary implemented a showcasing program of art by making use of the countless empty spaces found on these vital systems of infrastructure support. You could walk right by it if you weren’t paying attention, but they are everywhere and the art displayed is respectively diverse. Some boxes display local art, some photography and some present historical photos and information about the area or buildings nearby. It is a credible and innovative realignment of art versus infrastructure, imagination versus organization, familiar versus unfamiliar.


The installation that stood out the most in the area was the Calgary Scroll, a digital installation beneath the 9th Avenue overpass on 8th Street SW. It is an installation of modern materials and lighting with a slim digitized screen running diagonally, over the cars driving on 8th Street and under the shadowy slate of the 9th Avenue bridge. This piece physically contrasts the traditional efforts of art and space in the area through the modern construction and materials, but the purpose of the piece means to embrace Calgary’s history. Old newspaper headlines, ads and classifieds glide across the digital screen over the busy underpass. Broadcasting bits and pieces of Calgary’s history into the downtown core, engaging the past with Calgary's current, every-day life.