Public art a good thing

Story by Wyatt Tremblay


Photos by Sergei Belski

Fall 2018

“Street art, in any form, enhances the vitality and vibrancy of any municipality”

If you’re one of the thousands of people who ride Airdrie Transit, you will have noticed the artwork on display in the city’s new bus shelters.

Called Art in Transit, it incorporates the work of local artists chosen through the 2017 Airdrie Transit Shelter Competition into 24 shelters.

“A bus shelter can be typically a philosophically cold environment to be in, but residents will see that the artwork really does warm up the shelter, making it a more comfortable and inviting space,” says Michael McAllister, community developer for the City of Airdrie.

The project is the result of the City’s 2015 Cultural Policy, which called for increased public art.

“Community Development saw the opportunity to partner with local artists to enhance the transit shelters; that’s really where it began,” McAllister explains.

Held in 2017, the competition had more than 30 submissions. The artwork, which ranges from photography to paintings and captures the essence of a rapidly growing city with historic prairie roots, was chosen by a panel of local jurors.

The City makes space available for the arts to flourish, McAllister says, but then relies on the arts community to provide the content.

“We really try to embed the community into the decision making, and the results speak for themselves,” he says.

“The transit art shelter is a really good example of that.”

Archie Lang, Parks and Public Works manager with the City of Airdrie, agrees.

“Street art, in any form, enhances the vitality and vibrancy of any municipality,” he says. “As the city grows, arts and culture is an important part of that growth.”

Lang’s department oversees the Street Art Gallery. Until recently, this row of panels for graffiti artists was at Nose Creek Park’s sport court, but it has since been moved and expanded to three new locations: an area adjacent to Nose Creek Park, Highland Park north of Veterans Boulevard, and the north end of East Lake Regional Park.

Providing additional space for artists to display their work in the community is a good thing, he says, a sentiment McAllister echoes.

“Airdrie has a very strong community arts scene,” he says, “and it is always a joy to see what those artists can do and produce.”

Donna Barrett, one of the jurors in the transit art completion, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Fine Arts, says choosing the artwork was difficult.

“The submissions were all wonderful. We had quite a lot of debate over several months, because it’s totally subjective, and we all come with our own experiences.”

However, she says, “It was actually one of the most pleasant jury experiences I’ve ever had.”

The artwork will be up for three years, which is good for the artists, Barrett adds.

“A gallery is a mediated space; you invite your friends and they drive over and see your work.”

Public art, she explains, is different, because many different people will see the artwork in non-traditional spaces.

“It’s a totally different kind of confirmation of your ability.”

One of the transit shelter artists is Char Vanderhorst. She is no stranger to having art displayed in public; her work can be seen on several utility boxes and Adirondack chairs.

“It is such a wonderful idea to bring artists’ artwork together to create one masterpiece that beautifies our city while augmenting the art and culture of our city,” she says.

Her piece, Autumn Birch, a colourful acrylic reflecting her love of Alberta’s natural beauty, can be seen in the Gateway Drive shelter.

“I am honoured and thrilled that my art has been chosen for the transit bus shelter art program.”