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17 Avenue SE BRT public art all created by Greater Forest Lawn artists

Public art along Calgary’s 17 Avenue SE Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is going to have a decidedly local flavour – and they’re all about the area’s popular food scene.

All 24 pieces of public art at the BRT’s stations will come from artists in the Greater Forest Lawn area – something International Avenue BRZ director Alison Karim-McSwiney said was important to the area.

“It’s pretty exciting because the quality of the art is amazing,” said Karim-McSwiney.

When the call first went out, there were 71 entries from area artists. Guidelines for the project stated the artwork must tie in to the International Avenue food scene.

“Many of (the artists) had really interesting back stories on why they wanted to have their art chosen and the fond things that they remember growing up here,” said Karim-McSwiney.

“It kind of melds well with the food district kind-of feel.”

The stations along the BRT route will have glass shelters and the art pieces will be inside the glass. They’re expected to be installed in September as the bus line is in the final stages of completion.

These 17 Avenue BRT stations are still under construction. Once done, they’ll house 24 art pieces from Greater Forest Lawn artists. DARREN KRAUSE / LiveWire Calgary

This design process made the project more accessible to local artists, according to Sarah Iley, Manager of Arts and Culture for the City of Calgary. She said because the art is part of the glass fabrication it makes the whole process less complicated.

“Some of the challenges with developing public art are that you’ve got to think about wind, weather, materiality, graffiti – that’s why artists can be daunted by getting involved in the public art process,” she said.

“This seemed a really great way to engage local artists in a way that there works could be celebrated in the community and it was not as onerous for them in terms of their participation.”

Iley said the pieces vary in style, design, colour and subject matter. She recalled one being of a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony and another of a family enjoying Dim Sum.

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“People will feel very connected to it and it provides a kind of signature for International Avenue, 17 Avenue southeast, in terms of being a place to go for really terrific food,” she said.

Iley said there typically is community involvement in the selection of an area’s public art, and in this case, she said Karim-McSwiney was a driving force behind the push for it all to be local artists.

Karim-McSwiney said International Avenue has been doing murals along the strip for the past 18 years, each with a connection to the local art scene.

“How we’ve done the murals is how you should do the art. You essentially work with the community and ask them what they want, they give you ideas and then you pick the artist,” she said.

“It’s actually the way to go.”

International Avenue was also home to artBOX on 17E – so they knew there was a vibrant art scene in the Greater Forest Lawn area to draw from.

“It’s a very culturally diverse and artistic and interesting community already that people don’t know of,” said Karim-McSwiney, estimating more than 250 of them in the area.

“We have a lot of artists.”

Construction of the 17 Avenue BRT is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.