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Many elements go into the building of a successful neighbourhood. Some are what you can call ‘hardware’: they’re the plans, the infrastructure, buildings and streets – things like RiverWalk, finishes like cobblestones, important details like street lights. Then there’s the ‘software’ of a neighbourhood, the ideas and experiences that give a neighbourhood its indefinable but unmistakable feel. In East Village, public art is part of the software. “Public art and a vibrant cultural scene are critical to this area’s success,” says Michael Brown, CMLC’s president and CEO. “It makes the neighbourhood more inviting, more engaging and ultimately more liveable.”
Rachael Seupersad, Superintendent-Public Art, City of Calgary agrees. “It’s not just about the art, but equally about the place and the experience. Public art is informed by the city in which it is situated and in turn it informs the city.”
Public Art has always been part of the EV plan. The 2005 Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) and 2009 East Village master plan envision arts and culture as part of the heart of the neighbourhood, a key element in its redevelopment. It’s also part of city policy. The City of Calgary considers that public art enriches the environment, attracts creative businesses and workers, makes art accessible to all, celebrates our diverse cultural character, and contributes to our collective growth as culturally-informed citizens.
Public art is a powerful placemaking tool, and to use it to its full potential, CMLC created the Art in the Public Realm program. A key objective was to “surprise, delight and provoke connection and memorable interaction” so that people would want to visit. Smart site selection was key to success: the art had to be placed so as to “unify elements between eastern and western edges of East Village, and provide a sense of connectivity and engagement,” as well as reinforce the topographical characteristics of RiverWalk and other East Village areas.
The Art in the Public Realm program does the job through its three areas of focus:
It’s not an easy job choosing works, whether permanent or temporary, for an emerging neighbourhood. CMLC was aided in its choice of its permanent pieces by a 7-member evaluation committee. The group included members of the RiverWalk design team, City of Calgary Public Art Program officials, and Yves Trepanier and Kevin Baer of TrepanierBaer Gallery in Calgary.
To help select the temporary works of local artists that will appear on RiverWalk, an Arts Committee was formed. The group includes: Michael Green, Curator Calgary 2012; Rachael Seupersad, Superintendent-Public Art Program, City of Calgary; Alex Middleton, Public Relations Professional and Chair of TEDxYYC committee; Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton, Inter-disciplinary artists and co-managers of Seafood Market Art Studios; and Clare Nolan of CMLC.
While the most visible of East Village art installations are outside, EV’s first creative hub was a formerly abandoned seafood market where more than 50 local artists toiled in inventive obscurity. The Billingsgate Seafood Market, fondly remembered by some Calgarians, was turned into 14 studios in 2010 that locals used to produce film and videos, write plays, compose music, sculpt, paint, create mixed media works, ceramics and performance art.
The 24,000 square foot market is slated for demolition, but the creative adaptation of the building was the first manifestation of CMLC’s determination to integrate arts and culture from the beginnings of the new East Village. The project was a partnership between CMLC and the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA), which is administering the space with two full-time property managers.
“The Seafood Market Studios is a great example of a partnership that’s addressing a growing demand for production, creation and rehearsal space in Calgary,” said Reid Henry, CADA Director of Art Spaces Initiatives. “By bringing art into the heart of East Village through affordable and secure work space, we’re ensuring that professional artists have a place to create and are a significant part of the new vision for the neighbourhood.”