Take a Walk Through This Incredible Outdoor Art Gallery In Calgary
'There are so many things that would be better with a mural,' says Sunnyside alley art booster
Two years ago, we brought you a story about the abundance of outdoor art in the Calgary community of Sunnyside, where colourful murals brighten numerous garage doors, fences and even houses.
Since we published that story, the alley art has only continued to grow. There’s now more than 40 transformed garages in Sunnyside! You can plan your own art crawl with this handy map.
Plus, the movement is spreading — we’ve spotted a handful of painted garages in nearby Hillhurst, as well as at least one in Haysboro, Montgomery and Renfrew. And check out this mural in Edmonton, described by the artist as a pandemic project still paying dividends in joy.
Today we’re resharing our story from October 2020 and taking you on an art walk with Sunnyside resident Cailynn. Consider it the ideal antidote to a dreary winter day. If you have a favourite garage mural we’re missing, please let us know in the comments. We love discovering new ones.
Here’s hoping these paintings add some beauty to your day, and maybe even inspire you to bring a little creativity to your own neighbourhood. Now is the perfect time to start planning to paint your garage door this spring!
Cailynn bring us the following dispatch from an incredible outdoor art gallery in Calgary.
Solar System by Morgan Platts
Across Calgary’s alleyways, hundreds of thousands of garage doors sit blank and boring. It’s a different story in the inner-city neighbourhood of Sunnyside, where garage doors are considered to be blank canvases.
Many garage-door murals brighten the community’s back lanes, depicting scenes including smiling bike riders, a cross-country skier, neighbourhood dogs and cats, the solar system and even a bathtub.
“I have always thought that garage doors are probably the ugliest aspect of any house,” says Jennifer Blanchard. In the fall of 2020, her freshly painted garage door was the newest addition to Sunnyside’s growing collection of alley art.
Blanchard has long admired other artwork in her community. When neighbours in her alley had their garage door painted with a panda, she says it pushed her over the edge.
So she commissioned local artist duo Nasarimba, who asked her to share colours she liked and any subject matter she had in mind. Blanchard suggested something inspired by the Alberta wilderness, as she had been spending a lot more time outdoors. The result is a stunning wolf, staring out from a stylized forest.
Wolf by Nasarimba
“On my way to work I’ve kind of ducked down my alley with no reason, just to look at it and admire it,” Blanchard says. “I like that it’s bright and it’s interesting.”
Sunnyside’s alley art — which has also paved the way for art on houses, fences and even under an LRT bridge — started about two decades ago, when a teenager who wanted to be a graffiti artist was given a garage door to paint. That first mural by Aerosolic led to two other painted garages in the same alley.
Sunnysider Christie Page loved that original alley art. It made her want to paint her own garage door, but she worried what the neighbours would think.
Then new neighbours moved in, and a few weeks later, they had a friend paint mountains on their garage door. “She just went and did it and I thought that was really cool. And so that summer I painted mine,” says Page, whose bathtub mural is a reflection on the 2013 flood.
Over time, Page has become somewhat of an alley art evangelist. She encourages residents to paint their own garages or hire local artists (read her tips here), curates a Google map and Instagram page of Sunnyside’s growing outdoor gallery, and hosts Jane’s Walks touring garage art.
Page says art adds joy to the neighbourhood, while also bringing more eyes to back alleys, thus making spaces safer. Plus, there’s a benefit particular to pandemic times: alleyways provide more space for physical distancing than skinny sidewalks.
“I ask people who don’t have a garage door to paint their fence or garbage bin. There are so many things that would be better with a mural,” Page says.
Bees Please by Sarah Johnston
Page’s vision of Sunnyside as a vibrant outdoor art gallery got a big boost in the summer of 2020. Five public pieces were completed as part of the Sunnyside Murals Project, while a Neighbour Day art crawl featured artists painting garages, including a mural by freelance illustrator Adrienne Tollas.
Tollas says she was super excited, and a little intimidated, when Sunnysider Curtis Mah asked if he could commission her to paint his garage door. “It's a big painted piece that's going to hopefully last for a long time,” Tollas says. “It's a privilege to be a part of.”
The piece, titled Roots, reflects the house’s history. An early resident founded the longtime local business Sunnyside Greenhouses, and planted and nurtured the backyard plants that still grow today.
Roots by Adrienne Tollas
Mah, who rents the house, wanted to paint the garage as a way to contribute to his community. An unexpected benefit, he says, is the mural sparks conversation with neighbours and other passersby.
“A mural is one of the easiest ways to brighten up the space around your community,” he says. “I'm surprised more people don't do it.”
We’ll be taking next week off and enjoying the long weekend outside. See you again Feb. 28.