ContainR in Calgary: an experiment in placemaking, engagement and the arts

Organization: Springboard Performance
Project:

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Locations:

By Tamara Lee

Calgary—bold, brash, entrepreneurial—prides itself as a city of Canadian ’firsts’. The economic engine of Canada, and home to innovations from WestJet to Theatresports, Calgary was the first Canadian city to host a Winter Olympics. The Stampede city lately boasts the first Canadian Muslim mayor, the first Canadian Calatrava bridge, the first Canadian outdoor opera festival, and the first wind-powered transit system in North America.

Now Calgary is all set for another first: the city’s first designated art park. Described as an urban lab meets avant-garde public space, the art park is home to containR: a temporary pop-up village of repurposed shipping containers, public art, and permaculture that will host a feast of events and exhibits for the next two or more years. containR is an interactive neighbourhood arts venue. Artists, makers, and ordinary citizens are invited to come out and play on the site. For example, permaculture farmers and volunteers recently planted vegetables while a Latin band played at a clean water event. A few days later, Sled Island bands rocked containR while the audience played foosball and ping pong, and drew ‘happy maps’ for a local engagement project.

The spontaneous collisions of various participants at containR are shifting the traditional relationship between art and audience, where one is the ‘doer’ and the other is the ‘viewer’. containR aims to shrink the distance of that often too-formal relationship. Artists and citizens mix like molecules, forming a porous exchange of interaction, innovation, and unexpected fits of creativity. Pallet benches, sculptures, murals, a living wall and a garden have appeared on site. One day there’s a dance performance, the next, pumpkin carving, the next, a yoga class, all juxtaposed with klezmer, indie rock or choral music. The invitation to build and play is irresistible!

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A Sled Island indie band rocks on while people play foosball  (Photo credit, Tamara Lee)    

The art park itself is shifting the traditional relationship between audience and venue, where one must go to a theatre, gallery or museum to experience art. Set in inner city, residential Sunnyside and adjacent to the bustling Kensington high street and Bow River pathway, the art park is always open as a public space, and easily accessed by foot, bike, bus, train or even car2go. Passersby can drop in to browse the free or low cost activities, or simply sit and enjoy the park amenities. By creating an experimental intersection between urban placemaking, community engagement and the arts, containR is transforming an empty unused lot into a great public space.

This project is an opportunity to rethink our public assets and sense of community connection in terms of shared urban space. By encouraging citizen engagement and placemaking, containR is creating a lively, collaborative model for great public space in Calgary. Deeter Schurig of cSpace neatly sums up containR: “…this boundless box of art clearly highlights how artists can frame the entire city as a container of curiosity, where citizens and performers can connect through art in meaningful engagement, and where diverse partnerships have the limitless potential to activate our city as a remarkable place.”

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A typical performance at containR where spectators just drop in (Photo credit:Tamara Lee)

containR is created and curated by Springboard Performance, a local non-profit organization that connects artists and audiences through physical contemporary creation. Incorporated in 1988, Springboard produces the Fluid Festival, the Interrarium Creation residency in Banff, and interdisciplinary works for stage and screen.

—Tamara Lee is a founding member of the award-winning Bow to Bluff project, an independent citizen initiative to create great public space. She is a technical writer, artist, and Little Free Library steward in her spare time.

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