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Greta works with local graffiti artists to create a new space for customers

This year, Greta Bar YYC is working on building its presence within the Calgary arts community by getting local artists involved in a new project.

Greta has been posting on Instagram about a new project the team at the arcade bar took on, which has been cause for some confusion due to the name – The Alley.

The Alley is an expansion into an unused space beside the original bar. It boasts a new flair focused on providing customers with a back-alley vibe.

Despite the space technically being indoors, a retractable roof and a transparent garage door at the front opens up the space to let natural light flow in during the day – giving a sense of being on an outdoor patio.

The goal was to create a diverse space embodying a strong feminist focus through the graffiti from different local artists that could cater to creative industries, Alia Aluma, the Creative Arts and Technology Director of Greta Bar YYC, said.

A sign in one of the two bathrooms available to guests in The Alley reads, “well behaved women don’t make history”. KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“Greta as an entity exists because they wanted a strong, strong feminine name – they really wanted something that was powerful and that was feminine,” Aluma said.

“And that energy we want to carry into the new space, because it’s the value that Greta was formed on, it was the value that Greta wanted to carry with them … so we worked with a lot of different women and there are a lot of different representations of women in the actual venue.”

Designing the space

Greta’s values of femininity led the team to focus on the idea of including all people who identify as women, without sexualizing them.

“When you go in and you see the work that these artists have created, you will feel empowered. You will see like this strength, this determination and this resilience,” she said.

“They’re also recognizable figures who’ve done significant things – we’re focused on hip hop as a venue so we have influential women of hip hop that you will see in there. You’ll go in and you’ll see faces you recognize, but you also see yourself.”

The graffiti wall features work from a number of different local graffiti artists. Photo: KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Conz, a local self-taught graffiti street artist who has been tagging for 25 years, is one of the artists involved in the project.

Greta reached out to Conz after seeing that a painting he had done for an art project on a building was being torn down.

“They requested that image, so that is what I did,” Conz said.

“The project reminds me of being in Japan. At night the alleyways come alive. The alleys are scattered with little bars and restaurants that seat five people at most. Each one with something different to offer. It was a very cool experience [to see that in Japan] and I’d like to see that here.”

The Alley officially opens to the public on June 1 at 3 p.m. That’s thanks to the green light from the Alberta government for restaurants to re-open for in-person dining.

Reclaiming the alley

The main focus of the Greta team has been on creating The Alley. However, they didn’t forget about the actual alley behind the venue.

They’ve been considering ways to improve its aesthetics, which could make the area safer for everyone.

Right now, the alley is a “dismal, kind of dingy, scary area” that doesn’t feel welcoming for users, Aluma said.

“It’s a high traffic back alley. There’s the parking lot at the end of it. We want to make it just very visually stunning and we’d like to have graffiti completely cover it, but have it be curated graffiti,” she said.

Greta is now working towards “hopefully” hosting a jam. That’s typically a donation- and volunteer-based event for artists to contribute to the artwork however they see fit.

“[Jams] really brings the community together … it’s a really engaging thing that brings different audiences and different attention so we’re hoping that we can turn it into an actual event because it would be outdoors,” Aluma said.

“Extending a liquor license, things like that being able to have live music and just have it be an event where people can watch are being made, and hopefully we can work with other venues in the city who are hoping to do similar things to create some sort of like bar crawl or something like that where people could just go to the city and watch art being made like street art being created.”

Greta owner, Casey Gabriel (middle) with some of his management team, Chef Marc Sidhom, Natalie Maas, Alia Aluma and Jamie Heron, in front of the graffiti wall. KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Activating Calgary alleys

In 2019, students at University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape created the Green Alley project.

Tawab Hlimi, who supervised the Green Alley project, agrees that reclaiming alleyways for the public would increase safety for users.

“The reason alleyways are popular for certain types of uses that are not desired by the public is because alleys are kind of like places where most people don’t walk. So naturally, because there isn’t any kind of activity happening and alleyways, they become the kinds of backspaces for illicit drug use,” Hlimi said.

“So I think it’s a matter of activation. Usually when a space is activated, when it’s programmed in some kind of way, then it invites the general public to sort of use that space.”

The Greta team and UCalgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape are now talking about ways to improve the back alley behind the venue.