Easy-Peasy or Daunting: Getting to Local Art and Attractions by Bike, Foot, Transit

A long while ago, I was  volunteer blogger for Tourism Vancouver’s blog, Inside Vancouver.  My special self-chosen niche, was flogging outdoor Vancouver attractions, reachable by bike, foot or transit. So I zoomed into fabulous outdoor art, parks and scenic

New outdoor mural by a popular bike route. Broadway and Yukon St. Vancouver BC 2016. Photo by J.Chong
New outdoor mural by a popular bike route. Broadway and Yukon St. Vancouver BC 2016. Photo by J.Chong

vistas.  Metro Vancouver is abundant with an array of  jaw-dropping scenery, galleries and historic sites clustered within one another.  A few years ago, a map was created by the local cycling group for cycling tourism in the downtown area.

Challenge 1:   Disconnect- Tourism vs. Tips on  Cycling, Walking Routes
Tourism Calgary just gives a link to the city’s bike map.  Great.  Now a tourist has to spend another hour or more, to pinpoint their  choice destinations  in relation to Calgary’s bike paths, bike lanes and  streets, where visitors have no

Blazing trees either on fire or in autumn glory. In a free art exhibit, Dominion Bridge Building, a heritage industrial building. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong.
Blazing trees either on fire or in autumn glory. In a free art exhibit, Dominion Bridge Building, a heritage industrial building. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong.

idea which street is busier than others.  Many car drivers would argue our grid street system makes it easy for any tourist. For certain, car drivers will bypass fast a lot of the art that I see by bike. Well, some of the art locations are  in parks, inaccessible to cars.

Challenge 2:  Distracting Drumbeat for Mountain Visits, Less Prairie City Stay
Long-time Calgarians joke and identify with many tourists from afar, after airport touchdown, they immediately scoot off 120 km. north to the majestic

Calgarians like this image: but Rockies in reality are over 100 km. north of city. Clear air on certain days and flat prairie gives a wonderful illusion of this in our backyard. Photo by J.Chong --with zoom lens. 2014
Calgarians like this image: but Rockies in reality are over 100 km. north of city. Clear air on certain days and flat prairie gives a wonderful illusion of this in our backyard. Photo by J.Chong –with zoom lens. 2014

Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park and glacier  turquoise lakes. Tourists can simply avoid dipping 12 km south into the Calgary’s core.   Can you blame them, when the Rockies and our rich, vast wilderness national parks, are Canada’s top tourist destinations for international visitors?

Appreciation of Calgary and other hinterland prairie cities takes a time. Clearly for some locals, it may take half of their lifetime before they wake up.

"Bloom", light art sculpture at Confluence Park. Behind is St. Patrick's pedestrian-bike bridge over Bow River. Sculpture does providing night lighting in park. East Village, Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong
“Bloom”, light art sculpture at Confluence Park. Behind is St. Patrick’s pedestrian-bike bridge over Bow River. Sculpture provides useful night lighting in park, without over-illumination for homes in East Village, Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong

World-Class Cities:  in Step with Lots of Art, Culture Nearby
After moving to Calgary 5 years ago, it was a bit of an appreciation slog for me, from Vancouver and prior, over 20 years in Toronto.  I was accustomed in these former cosmopolitan cities, on the ease of getting around by transit, bike or walking in areas  jammed with lots of diverse culture, festivals, foodie places and diverse arts.

Calgary with 1.3 million people, promotes itself, as a world-class city. Or at least it did a few years ago, before the local economy nose-dived with thousands of  oil and gas industry worker layoffs. You still have spend a lot of time and patience to figure out the most scenic city areas, and learn culturally, what shaped the city and makes it tick.

Sketches for individual paintings for construction fence around Calgary's new central library in East Village area 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Sketches for individual paintings for construction fence around Calgary’s new central library in East Village area 2016. Design by Light and Soul Art Collective. Photo by J.Chong

Challenge 3:   Understanding Value of Public Art, Civic Pride and Tourism
As a recent-prairie resident, I’ve noticed with some long-time locals in Calgary for several decades, have difficulty knowing how to promote  Calgary.  They talk a lot more about hiking up the mountains and into the national parks over 200 km. away from Calgary.  I’ve also heard cringe-worthy remarks from people in person,  and comments in the local news, that a lot of public art just isn’t worth taxpayers’ money.

Woven art rug evokes harmony of Rockies, prairies, aboriginal culture and wildflowers. Temporary art display near city hall. Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Woven art rug evokes harmony of Rockies, prairies, aboriginal culture and wildflowers. Temporary art display near city hall. Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong

Either it’s reflection of some people happy to look at endless ocean of waving field grass or people who only moved to Calgary to work.  After all, they didn’t move, to ostensibly enjoy the “beauty” of this city itself.  Right.

Howling wolf under northern lights in winter. Painting in progress for construction fencing by new Calgary Central Library. 2016. Photo by J. Chong
Howling wolf under northern lights in winter. Painting in progress for construction fencing by new Calgary Central Library. Design by Light and Soul Art Collective. 2016. Photo by J. Chong

Setting aside 1% of public funds for outdoor art, from a  large, local  engineering infrastructure project, should be viewed as a long term investment for urban beautification for residents and to attract tourists to stay longer.  Yes, for longer-staying tourists to wander in Calgary and spend money to prime the local ( now faltering) economy.

Challenge 4:   Getting to  Alot of Local Art-  Easy, Not Well-Promoted
Maybe local citizen art naysayers, need an update.  Or better yet, a bike. A blasphemous thought for a city that sprawls like a brainless amoeba into the suburbs.

Sculptural metal barrier at C-square public plaza with wooden casual seating bench by a light rail track in downtown near National Music Centre, a new central public library. East Village, Calgary AB 2016 Photo by J.Chong
Sculptural metal barrier at C-square public plaza with wooden casual seating bench by a light rail track in downtown near National Music Centre, a new central public library. East Village, Calgary AB 2016 Photo by J.Chong

Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve discovered a lot of outdoor art sprinkled across Calgary.  I often make a point of cycling to new art installations or happily, stop by an unexpected artist diligently painting their piece.  Most artists welcome

Conversation among diverse characters at food table. Design by Light and Soul Art Collective. Painting for construction fencing around new Calgary Central Public Library 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Conversation among diverse characters at food table. Design by Light and Soul Art Collective. Painting for construction fencing around new Calgary Central Public Library 2016. Photo by J.Chong

a brief,  friendly chat.  Art is already struck down in society, as  less critical than food and shelter. Their  artistic skill set may be viewed in many quarters, not as highly valued in our knowledge-based, techno-driven society.  But I wager, any home is made more pleasant with flowers aka Nature’s art, or a small picture whether a copy of a  masterpiece or by your favourite grandchild.

I  often cycle a bike route or two, that leads any tourist to several architectural worthy sites, intimate cafes,  historic sites, art galleries, attractive streetscaping and at least over 25 different pieces of outdoor artwork within an 8 km. radius.

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It’s not hard:  it’s a bike route where 98% of the route, is shielded from cars whipping by too close.  You could spend 1-2 whole  relaxed days in the city, hopefully refreshed and enlightened abit  about Calgary–beyond just touted cowboy–rodeo  of Calgary Stampede which only covers 10 days each year.

Overlooking downtown Calgary with Bri, blogger-cyclist from New York state. Aug. 2016. Her blog: https://bikelikecrazy.wordpress.com/
Overlooking downtown Calgary with Bri, blogger-cyclist from New York state. Aug. 2016. Ride included some public art. Her blog: https://bikelikecrazy.wordpress.com/

Cycle Write blog reflects those explorations by bike.  Hey, even the Calgary Stampede finally might be slowly breaking away from its cowboy, big pickup  truck mindset:  they’re offering some bike rack parking at the Stampede grounds.

As one of rare cyclists at this event, still enjoying an opening night at a local art gallery. Esker Foundation, Calgary AB 2016. Photo by J. Becker
As one of rare cyclists, still enjoying an opening night at a local art gallery. Esker Foundation, Calgary AB 2016. Photo by J. Becker

Is your city, area promoted to encourage exploration by bike, walking or transit? Or you must have a car as the only option?

Some Visitor Resources
City of Calgary. Map Galleries. Note: Government organizations tend to be inventory-oriented on destinations since they own the artwork on their property. Downtown map gallery only shows a small percentage of public art.

City of Calgary. Utility Box Art.

Dull storefront and apartment transformed in a riot of Nature imagery with real hollyhock flowers budding. By Light and Soul Art Collective 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Dull storefront and apartment transformed in a riot of Nature imagery with real hollyhock flowers budding. By Light and Soul Art Collective 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Stained glass at heritage museum, Lougheed House. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J.Chong. Even 19th century city pioneers dreamed of wilderness far away.
Stained glass at heritage museum, Lougheed House. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J.Chong. Even 19th century city pioneers dreamed of wilderness far away.
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17 Comments Add yours

  1. thedumplingmama says:

    Mural on Yukon street is gorgeous! I laughed when I read that people come and drive hours away to see Banff. I have been looking to visit there and do exactly the same. I live in the suburbs of NYC in a small town where walking is encouraged with sidewalks in neighborhoods, schools, and train station. NYC is very walk and bike friendly. I’m not a fan of driving so I’ve always appreciated places where that is the only mode of transportation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Well, at least from Calgary, Banff National Park is only 1 hr. drive away. If your family plans to visit, I would strongly recommend early fall (ie. Sept.) where it would be less insane and abit cheaper.

      I’ve never been to NYC yet but am not surprised that there are various walkable neighbourhoods. The city certainly has changed compared to 20 yrs. ago..better now. Based on what I’ve learned and heard.

      Like

  2. bribikes says:

    There is so much beautiful artwork in Calgary, thank you for taking the time to show me around 🙂 I giggled when you mentioned that it is tough for visitors to know which streets are best for bicycle travel, despite using the map you gave me I had a interesting experience yesterday, I may blog about it tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It’s only been within the last 6 years, Calgary has more colourful, larger outdoor art installations.

      Now, I’m curious what you experienced here in our city. Do tell… 🙂

      Like

  3. Sue Slaght says:

    I think you would be a great asset to Calgary Tourism! I read your post with interest as a few months ago we spent an afternoon with our step granddaughter who is 10. We challenged ourselves to find 50 pieces of outdoor art. I learned a great deal that afternoon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Interesting, Sue! Did you have to travel far to find 50 pieces of outdoor art? You could write up for Calgary Tourism..:) Meaning within a 30 km. or 10 km. radius? One can learn a lot about an area if the artwork reflects local ethos and history.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sue Slaght says:

        Within 10km Jean. I will say we had the car but still great fun. I will keep your idea in mind!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          Only certain quadrants/sections of the City would yield 50 public outdoor art installations. But maybe even other locals like myself need to be informed too! Maybe a child notices certain things that we don’t see too.

          Like

  4. oh wow, Calgary looks beautiful, especially the street art! Too bad I won’t really have a chance to visit there since we no longer live in N.America :(

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I realize N.America wasn’t your top home destination, compared to some favourite European countries or even HK. But never say never from visiting Canada in your lifetime.

      Like

  5. Mabel Kwong says:

    That is quite the variety of street art in Calgary, Jean. Melbourne is also a grid-based city, and if you drive through or around it, like Calgary you can miss quite a bit of the street art. There’s something about cycling or walking to your destination – you have to pay more attention to your surroundings and so more likely are to stumble into alleys or corners where there are works of art.

    If you haven’t had mentioned it, I would have thought the Rockies would have been very much accessible from the city centre every day. They are humongous and I am sure there are various hiking paths in that area.

    Sad to hear there have been some comments in the local paper that public art is not worth funding. They probably don’t “get” the whole idea of creativity and have yet to experience appreciating art that speaks again. Then again, we all have different tastes in the aesthetics around us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Well, the Rockies are a 100 km. drive one way from downtown here.

      I’m certain a lot of dedicated car drivers don’t see half the art they pass by…some just not big scaled or more fine detailed. Art requires a bit of reflection, even if only 5 min. Can we do this at a traffic light for 1 min.?

      Even when my parents were poor, they put their Chinese cloisonne vases and goddess of mercy (fake) sculpture on the living rm. bookcase. Plus fake ivory carved bridge with tiny pagodas and figurines inside the ivory tableau. I appreciated that when life was hard scrabble enough for my parents and their large family. One of the vases I now have. It is real, not fake cloisonné. I checked inside the vase for the copper wire..

      Like

      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        It is hard to appreciate art fully if we only have a few seconds to spare. Hours and hours go into creating art and the stories within a piece of work, and it would make sense for us to take some time to decipher the message.

        Good to know one of your parents’ Chinese collections is in your hands. The real deal, and rare too. Keep it safe.

        Like

  6. Eileen On says:

    Love this! I worked with the City of Austin and UT Landmarks hosting public art bike tours. People loved seeing the art and discussing the work with docents. During our visit to Calgary we saw some public art on our travels – including some murals across from the Stampede entry… (And we made our host visit the St Patrick bridge since he had never been on it!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Ah, so you were in Calgary within the last 2 years? I had another cyclist-blogger visit me from New York state this summer and so we cycled along the riverside path where there’s some of this artwork in Calgary. I have featured some of it in several blog posts here. Travelling by bike is a great way to tour slowly and stop along the way for an art tour.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Eileen On says:

        Yes – we stayed in Calgary for a couple of days during our road trip through the Rockies. The friend we were visiting doesn’t ride so we did some walking along the river. We plan to visit again at some point. I’ll go back and check out some of your posts.

        Like

        1. Jean says:

          If you ever want opinion of a local and other areas ..even in B.C., just ask. Vancouver’s a 2nd home for me.

          Liked by 1 person

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