From graffiti to murals: Calgary’s urban art scene springs to life

A dozen new murals are planned for the Beltline this summer

An artist named Brody did this work for Flipp'n Burgers several years ago, and the owner was so pleased she sought him out for further work.

When the owner of Flipp’n Burgers wanted to track down an artist who had done some work outside her restaurant, she wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

“Myself and the building manager have been wanting to get a hold of Brody to do some more graffiti work for us,” said Sarah Avery.

She stops herself at that point in the interview.

“I guess I wouldn’t call it graffiti work – it’s mural painting.”

The line between unwanted graffiti and vibrant murals has blurred over the years, and artists who dabble in the medium have been able to find willing business owners to give up space on their building exteriors as canvases.

Four years ago, Avery was approached by an artist known as Brody, who asked if he and his assistants could spruce up the wall in the back alley behind Flipp’n Burgers.

“We did hire him, but most of it was his talent and his artistic work,” she said. “We didn’t tell him what we wanted. He just went to town on it with his colleagues and did what he wanted.”

The result is a bright logo for the restaurant, along with a cartoon burger sporting a chef’s hat and a spatula.

However after four years, Brody had moved on, his number hand changed, and Avery had no idea how to reach him.

She tried a note spray painted on plywood in the back alley, but that didn’t work. Then she turned to social media.

Peter Schryvers saw the tweet and knew right away who the artist might be.

Schryvers is helping organize the Beltline Urban Mural Project (BUMP). The project provided funding to get artists painting more murals in the Beltline.

Last year they completed four, but this year they’re tripling that number to a dozen murals, with 14 artists involved.

“We’re actually having a launch event for our Neighbor Day celebration and showing which wall they’re getting,” said Schryvers.

That isn’t the only celebration they’re planning, When the work is nearing completion during the last week in August, they’ll be having a festival, featuring tours of the works and a street party.

Schryvers said one of the artists who applied to the BUMP was named Brody, and he had a hunch it was the same artist Avery was seeking. He connected the two, and there are plans for more work in Kensington this summer.

He described the urban art scene in Calgary as currently untapped, and that’s why BUMP was brought about.

“There’s a lot of talent in this city in terms of artists. But they haven’t had enough exposure or opportunity to do the things they want to do, just because murals and street art aren’t a really big thing right now,” said Schryvers.

He said building owners are surprisingly keen to sign on for two reasons. One is that good artwork deters unwanted graffiti, and the other is that it makes their building more of a landmark in the community.

Schryvers sees so much more potential for street art all over Calgary.

“It just takes places that can be pretty uninviting and harsh, and makes them attractive.”

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