If one looks at a map of Calgary which is populated with cultural amenities marked on it, one fact will be readily noticeable. There are significantly less spaces for the arts on the east side of Deerfoot Trail, as compared to the rest of the city. Of course this information can get blurred somewhat if one uses a broader definition of the word cultural to incorporate things outside of the arts.
This past week there has been a fair number of stories in the press about Forest Lawn. As long as I have lived in Calgary, I have noticed it is a community that has a strong sense of pride, but it also deals with some challenges as well. It is a blue-collar community with all the strengths normally connected to that type of neighbourhood – hard-working, stand-up, straight-forward, no BS, tell it like it is community. Although I have never lived there, I must admit there is a lot to be said for these qualities which can sometimes be referred to as grittiness.
Author Candace Bushnell once commented about the gritty roots of New York City this way, “the city was different back then—poor and crumbling—kept alive only by the gritty determination and steely cynicism of its occupants. But underneath the dirt was the apple-cheeked optimism of possibility.” This could also be applied to our city if one looks back with a long enough vantage point.
Two community organizations that are trying to change this disparity in cultural amenities on the east side of Deerfoot, combined with their “apple-cheeked optimism of possibilit(ies)”, are the International Avenue BRZ along with the International Avenue Arts Centre.
If one travels down 17th Avenue it is possible to see the various murals championing the cultural heritage of the community. Also the BRZ came to the rescue of Market Collective not long ago helping them find a temporary space in the community with short-notice.
This past August 1st the International Avenue BRZ and the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA) together, hosted an open house to unveil a new arts facility. It is called Art Box on 17E. I attended this opening and was happy to see the newly appointed President & CEO of CADA, Patti Pon make her first official appearance there on the same day she stepped into her new role.
Like the Seafood Market in East Village a few years back, this space is a short-term space available for a year and a half.
Some of the ideas that are currently achieving traction in cultural thinking are the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement; the use of pop-up spaces; and creative placemaking as an agent of change in urban planning (see http://www.83degreesmedia.com/features/place073013.aspx). All of these ideas are present in the Art Box on 17E project.
As the facility is still in its early stages, it will be interesting to see how this facility evolves and what type of projects take advantage of the space made available. At the unveiling an announcement was made that in cooperation with Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre, there will be multiple performances of I-Robot Theatre in that space during the Beakerhead Festival which occurs middle of September 2013. The space, with its high ceilings and large footprint, lends itself to theatre, dance and rehearsals. In addition there are smaller spaces upstairs which could be used for various purposes such as studios, offices and the like.
It is always interesting to see these projects develop and change in response to demand and interest. I wish them well and am interested to follow what will happen there. Knowing some of those involved, I am sure something interesting will come from it.