Outdoor Art Adds a Different City Heartbeat

If you need a break from the city’s fast pace and crowds while in the midst of its heartbeat, outdoor art can be a wonderful antidote to slow you down.  Or indoor art in public places, such as the stained glass of Mount Rundle below, taken inside St. Paul’s Church, in downtown Banff.

Stained glass of Mount Rundle over front door of St. Paul’s Church. Unless you are congregant of church, it is rare to walk inside church to see this stained glass artpiece. Town of Banff AB 2019. Photo by J.Chong

Not every city or town is graced with enough large scale outdoor art. I’ve been lucky to live in several Canadian cities where there was conscious effort to plant some iconic artpieces to ponder and enjoy. A lot of is noticeable by a slow moving car, while other pieces require to be at eye level as a pedestrian or cyclist.

“Device to Root Out Evil”, upside down church art installation which caused a lot of discussion during its time in Vancouver. Now in East Village for 5 yrs. Calgary AB 2020. Photo by J.Chong

When I first came to Calgary, I was bemused to see the landmark upside-down church sculpture, A Device to Root Out Evil. It caused a lot of public discussion in Vancouver when it was nosing down temporarily in a rich neighbourhood of Coal Harbour, with backdrop views of ocean and North Shore mountains.

Scultpture in daylight, “Device Rooting Out Evil” by Oppenheimer. Calgary AB 2020. Photo by J.Chong

I was delighted to first see it in the Ramsay neighbourhood and now a few years later, in East Village area for the next 4 years.  People do walk or cycle up to the area to shoot photos, rest in benches or rickety chic chairs.

Mosaic glass tile art at a Ukranian Centre. Edmonton AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Dreaming over a book. Mosiac art on exterior of Ukranian Cultural Centre. Edmonton, AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong

While strolling down a street, with a sudden turn, you are reminded of local history. In Edmonton we nearly passed by a Ukranian Centre where there was a whole façade of glass mosaic mural art. A blend of an idyllic dream world of a woman lazying over a book and another playing a musical instrument.

Art work near Women’s College Hospital to recognize Dr. Emily Stowe who formed first Canadian suffragette group and first woman to practice medicine in Ontario, 1867. College St. Toronto 2019. Photo by J.Chong

In downtown Toronto, by Women’s College Hospital on College St. by Dr. Emily Stowe Way, there is a utility box art of early local women suffragettes. Emily Stowe, created the first Canadian Women’s Suffragette Association and was first female medical doctor to practice in Ontario in 1867. Although the backside of the utility box, features black women, her association was not concerned with the situation of First Nations nor women of colour during her tenure.

Women of colour, however were not focus of Stowe’s effort. It was not until into 20th century the vote was granted to them. Toronto 2019. Photo by J. Chong

Local art can unabashedly, reveal gaps and mortar filling in knowledge of history and socio-economic layers of influence on the artist and why even the art may have been chosen at that point in history.

Bison painting –appropo for Calgary-prairies. Dandelion Cafe, Calgary AB 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Mural by restaurant patio, depicting blend of First Nations and East Asian local history in the neighbourhood. East Vancouver, 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Art imitating urban landscape realities. Toronto ON 2019. Photo by J.Chong
Very local art– a whacky Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player. Yorkville, Tordnto ON 2017. Photo by J.Chong

We want public art that is easy on the eyes, easy to recognize and to understand –something that aligns our world view, not someone else’s view.  It allows us to float through the neighbourhood and leave, sometimes barely remembering anything long after we’ve left the area. There’s always a lot of that art meant to remind us of beauty, awe and splendor.  For those who live in the area, the residents do deserve some simple pleasures of art to grace their world –for free.

Art that is easy on the eyes: a happy, relaxed dude. Toronto ON 2019. Photo by J.Chong
Exuberant bright colours for happy cyclist on utility box. Toronto ON 2019. Photo by J.Chong

I’d like to think that there are some outdoor or permanent public art installations, we return from time to time to revisit and ponder, show visitors and friends to see their reactions.

Some art needs a few steps back to see its entirety. Powerful legs kicking up and holding flower. Ontario St., a light industrial area near downtown Vancouver BC 2020. Photo by J.Chong
Crazy for ice cream truck. Yorkville, Toronto ON 2017. Photo by J.Chong

Meanwhile, take this jaunt along with me of public and outdoor art for the cities where I’ve lived or have been.

Waving at pedestrians for recognition and love. Queen St West. Toronto ON 2019.
First Nations theme with dreamcatching, a smart raven nearby. Calgary AB 2018. Photo by J.Chong
By Main St. On right, a large art mural. Vancouver BC 2017. Photo by J.Chong
On other side, happy animal band. Main St., Vancouver BC 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Metal art of poppies, lit at night. Poppy Plaza, Calgary AB 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Artwork dedicated to Canadian war veterans.
Birds and flowers graces a light industrial /office building. Ontario St., Vancouver BC 2020. Photo by J.Chong
Art literally becomes one’s living room,, complete with crane bucket for set-up. Vancouver BC 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Vancouver BC 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Conductor trying to orchestrate some order. Vancouver BC 2016. Photo by J.Chong


Feature photo on left in downtown Calgary, mural in 2020.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Pit says:

    How very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane Fritz says:

    Wonderful topic and fabulous images. Thanks, Jean.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I especially love painted utility boxes. Public art is really needed right now with so many Covid restrictions. The museum I work for was closed for four months, but the public art was always open!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Didn’t know you worked for a museum. May all our public art remain unfettered / unmarked.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean this is a fabulous art our you have compiled. I had no idea that the upside down church was in Vancouver prior to being in Calgary. We often stop by it when cycling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Well, enjoy the upside down /topsy turvy church for another 3 years. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You have collated such an amazing array of art Jean and I love to see it. One of my favourite things about cities are the art murals and graffiti, many times they’re so awesome and picturesque you’ll actually need a few snapshots.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful attractions.


  6. What a great collection of outdoor art. I can’t believe that I missed the upside down church when it was in Vancouver.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      That sculpture was the lst outdoor art piece I saw when I moved to Vancouver that remains in my memory.


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