When I first starting toying with the idea of finding Calgary’s awesome outdoor community art I knew it was going to be a huge challenge.

First off, Calgary is huge.

Not just in how many communities there are – over 200 unique and defined communities and that number grows every year – but in shear size.

I knew I was never going to be able to find all of what I wanted on my own. So I called out to you, the Reader, in the Community Outdoor Art Challenge.

WHAT MAKES COMMUNITY ART? Should these pieces that spruce up the University of Calgary be considered “community art” or are they more on the public art side of the spectrum? I don’t know. Do you?
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image

The premise was simple – SHOW ME THE ART. And I got some great replies (thank you all) but the call out stirred up a whole new problem… what the heck is community art and what makes it different than public art?

Here I was trying to show all this great work but I had no idea what made community art something different to public art.

Could community art and public art overlap? Is it a matter of price? Does it have to be done in the community by community members or could it be implemented by the City or another organization?

I had all these questions and no answers. In the meantime responses were flooding in – the “Giant Head”, A Device to Root Out Evil, the Robert Oldrich on the side of the Glenbow museum, the various pieces dotting the University of Calgary campus and, of course, the Peace Bridge.

TWEET SUGGESTION: @voyagevixen responded to one of our Tweets with the recommendation of one of her favourite YYC public art pieces – the Robert Oldrich on the side of the Glenbow museum.
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image

I went out. I shot. I filed them in a folder marked OUTDOOR ART. But at the back of my mind I just kept wondering if this is what I was looking for. I even got an email from Irene our Managing Editor saying it would probably be good to distinguish community art versus public art in the article when it was done. So I needed to narrow it down.

In the end I used my gut feelings and came up with my own requirements (please, feel free to disagree):

  • It’s got to be in a community, big or small, and be embraced by those around it.
  • It needs to brighten up the places where we live, work and play.
  • It need not be large, just an extra something to draw in passers by.
  • Public art and community art can overlap and often does.
  • It doesn’t need to cost a lot, or anything, but it reflects the love of home and art.

Oh the conundrum.

ON FOOT: A quick walk around Inglewood pops up many treasures on 9th Avenue like this mural at DaDe Art and Design Lab (top), the classic Yogi Bear Zoo mural (middle left), a poppy on the corner (middle) and the entire Crown Surplus building (middle right). Then, head off the beaten trail and more are waiting to be found, like this Little Free Library built by the CBC Do Drew and Calgary Reads (bottom left). Even the alleys are filled with art (bottom right).
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image

Sometimes a piece fits better than others. Take Wonderland for example, the amazing piece of artwork that graces the front of The Bow. It’s beloved. It’s awesome. But is it a community piece or a corporate piece?

How about the painted utilities boxes spearheaded by the City of Calgary and Telus? Could these be considered both public and community art?

How do you define art? It’s hard and here I was trying my hardest to do so.

In my mind the main difference between community and public art boiled down to the grassroots feel – the feeling that someone created this just to create. I bet every community has at least one of these hidden away. I just had no idea where to start beyond the ones I travel by everyday.

Enter the amazing Sam Hester.

I met Sam back in September at the 23rd Avenue Artwalk, a day where the houses on Artist Avenue threw open their doors to show their artsy flare. She was quick to email me me a bunch of suggestions from her neighbourhood of Ramsey, plus a bunch more that she’s come across on her own. A huge proponent of community art, she’s done a number of pieces herself including a garbage bin which features scenes from 23rd Avenue and was funded through the art walk’s GIGYYC grant.

ARTISTIC RAMSEY: Ramsey is an artistic haven with many showing off their community spirit though art. Favourites include A Device to Root Out Evil (top) at 803 24th Avenue SE – a perfect example of the joining of community and public art – and the garage at Leaf Ninjas‘ HQ at 23rd Avenue and 7th Street SE (middle left). Sam’s own work can be seen a number of places in the community like the 23rd Avenue garbage bin which features scenes from the community and was funded through the art walk’s GIGYYC grant (middle right). And house art is smiled upon like these on 11th Street SE (bottom left) and 23rd Avenue SE (bottom middle and bottom right).
Photos by Sam Hester

SCENIC ACRES FIND: Sam was also awesome enough to send us photos of other community artwork she found over the challenge. Like these colourful original mounted woodcarvings commissioned from Calgary artist Al Gerritsen in Scenic Acres.
Photos by Sam Hester

ART CAN BE ANYWHERE: And just to prove that art pops up where you least expect it, this yarn bombing can be found on 17th Avenue SW. I’ve seen these crocheted coverings a few places downtown and always have to wonder who is behind the intriguing guerrilla artification.
Photo by Sam Hester

And Sam wasn’t the only one to send in photos.

JOHNNY CROW: Another great Ramsey find was submitted by Merry Kuchle – Johnny Crow by local artist Jesse Gouchey graces the Brick Box Studio (it’s on 12th Street SE just pass the CP Rail trestle bridge). It wraps around in a triptych and was used to create a stop motion animation.
Photo by Merry Kuchle

In the end, I admit, the idea for the Community Outdoor Art Challenge was great but flawed in the delivery as everyone ended up confused, myself most of all. But art is art is art. Does it matter what we call it?

As for that treasure map, it’s still on the books and the OUTDOOR ART folder is still on my desktop. I’ll still be shooting, gathering and finding. It’s just going to be a long journey.

After all, this is only Part One.