Pride art unveiled at four corners of Central Memorial Park

Shaw Pride Marches On Art Walk meant to reafirm LGBTQ+ community presence in Calgary

Ryan Danny Owen and Kat Simmers show off their mural Pride in Protest as part of the Shaw Pride Marches On Art Walk installations at Central Memorial Park in Calgary on Friday, August 12, 2022. The art was commissioned for Pride by Shaw Communications, Calgary Arts Development, and the City of Calgary. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The annual Shaw Pride Marches On art walk is back for 2022, with the four corners of Central Memorial park now adorned with LGBTQ+ affirming murals.

The works, created by artists Ryan Danny Owen, Kat Simmers, Nicole Wolf, Sarah Slaughter, and Chey Suwâtâgâ Mû, were commisioned by Shaw, are located at the entrances to the park.

Additionally, the sidewalks surrounding the park have been adorned with the colours of the LGBTQ+ flags.

“When I think about what this space means to the to LGBTQ+ community and to Mohkinstsis Calgary alike, it is hard to believe that it’s only been 31 years ago since the first Pride rally was held here at this place,” said Madina Kanayeva, manager for membership and development for Calgary Pride.

“Central Memorial Park is a reminder that place and our connection to it are paramount.”

Kanayeva teared up during the opening remarks for unveiling of the art installations. Talking about the ability to express what she described as her authentic self as a gay woman in Calgary, she said that Calgary Pride was determined to be a place for inclusion, belonging, and “of course Pride.”

“Living in Turtle Island Island has allowed me to live my most authentic life. I have friends that validate my experience, coworkers that always have my back and a place that I’ve worked that not only encourages, but demands that I show up as my full self,” Kanayeva said.

Shaw Pride Marches On Art Walk installations at Central Memorial Park in Calgary on Friday, August 12, 2022. The art was commissioned for Pride by Shaw Communications, Calgary Arts Development, and the City of Calgary. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Art walk begin during the pandemic as a way to connect the community

The Shaw Pride Marches On art walk began as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We first launched this project in 2020 as a means to connect and celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in a time when pandemic restrictions made it difficult to gather together,” said Lisa Cooke, Vice President for Advertising with Shaw Communications.

Ward 8 Councillor Courtney Walcott said he was honoured to join the committee to select the art pieces.

“I was honoured to be asked as Ward Councillor just to join the committee for the selection, and I’m honoured to be here to speak today, but I’m also reminded that I’m also a guest and I never forget that.”

“I’m always humbled by the way that people welcomed me into some of these spaces as well.”

Coun. Walcott said that the downtown and its inner city spaces were unique because of the way they are considered to belong to the entire city.

“Choosing spaces like this is so significant for the idea that people will be coming here,” he said.

Speaking to the question of whether the art walk murals was a symbolic restoration of inclusivity after nearly two-years of weekend protests caused many in the neighbourhood to feel disconnected from Central Memorial Park, Coun. Walcott said it was important to come back and fill spaces with things that represent Calgarians.

“The spaces that we have in the city are ones that we have to Calgarians have to kind of define for themselves, and we allow people to define our spaces on our behalf because we are not active on our own in expressing our own values, and expressing the things that we care about the most,” he said.

“So if we ever find ourselves in a place where we are not speaking loud, we’re cheering on the values that we drive home every single day—inclusivity, diversity, the things that the city has equally committed to representing, anti-racism—then people will fill that void.”

Shaw Pride Marches On Art Walk installations at Central Memorial Park in Calgary on Friday, August 12, 2022. The art was commissioned for Pride by Shaw Communications, Calgary Arts Development, and the City of Calgary. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Pride in Protest

Ryan Danny Owen and Kat Simmers’s work, Pride in Protest, is located at the Corner of 12 Avenue and 4 Street NW.

It reflects the historical legacy of Central Memorial Park as the site of one of the first major Pride protests in Calgary.

On June 18, 1990 protesters marched from the Old Y Centre to the Boer War Memorial at the park. Following years saw significant turmoil in city politics, as cultural attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals clashed over the place for, and rights of gay Calgarians.

“Pride has like a long history of being about activism and about pushing war, greater acceptance. That’s something that we need to be looking at as we’re like looking to move forward,” said Owen.

The work is made up painted protest placards featuring phrases such as “trans rights are human rights,” and “our bodies, our minds, our power.”

Both Simmers and Owen said they were interested in what the response from the public would be on their mural.

“I think it is an intentionally challenging work, but we are looking to sort of shake up what some people have as an idea of this city,” said Simmers.

Shaw Pride Marches On Art Walk installations at Central Memorial Park in Calgary on Friday, August 12, 2022. The art was commissioned for Pride by Shaw Communications, Calgary Arts Development, and the City of Calgary. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Protest mural also site of Covid-19 protests

Pride in Protest is also located at the primary corner location at Central Memorial Park where for two-years the anti-government and anti-Covid-madate protesters would begin their marches into the Beltline.

The pair said that it was important to recognize that the LGBTQ+ community was there first, since the 1980s, at the park.

The protest signs in the mural, they said, were inclusionary and meant to draw people into conversation.

“A big part of this work is actually that Ryan wrote an essay to accompany it, and that was something that was really important to us to have this connection point where if people are interested, or agitated, or in some way engaged by the work there’s also a connection point to talk about what are we referencing here,” said Simmers.

“I think that that’s a really lovely way to invite people further into the conversation.”

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