A viewer looks at a second graffiti house, created as a response to the surrounding project on a non-WRECK CITY house in the middle of the WRECK CITY block
Since WRECK CITY first hit the papers, there has been much discussion regarding the space within which WRECK CITY was housed – namely seven homes and two quadraplexes scheduled for imminent demolition. Most of these discussions were optimistic, wistful, and bittersweet, but some discussions centered around the topical themes of gentrification, demolition, and redevelopment in Calgary. The Artist-Curators behind WRECK CITY found these discussions fascinating, and now that the project is over and we’ve had a chance to breath, we would like to address the idea of WRECK CITY and gentrification directly. In particular, two of the Curators have responded to the comment below, posted in response to an article written by Drew Anderson in FFWD:
“This is really sad. The community is being gentrified. These artists (and many lower income people), many of whom were, are and will be economically evicted from the neighbourhood, are being used to make way for wealthy empty nesters, doctors, oil and gas professionals, etc. Instead of creatively protesting gentrification, these artists are using their creativity to play for 5 minutes, misusing their talents for mindless exploration and ‘creative’ destruction. Meanwhile, their own community, one that used to have ample social and affordable private rental units to allow many artistic types to live in the community and make it unique and interesting is being destroyed by gentrification, making the community into a boring, cookie cutter, latte sipping, bland and boring upper income neighbourhood.”
April 19, 2013 6:16 am
Words, scrawled in spray paint by a WRECK CITY artist on a garage
White flag at 819, created by Alex Achtem as part of WRECK CITY
RESPONSE BY WRECK CITY CURATOR, ANDREW FROSST
The FFWD comment says a lot and it’s hard to know where to begin. Do I try and attribute value to our “mindless exploration and ‘creative destruction'”? Do I get into analyzing the space in art for social protest? I feel defending WRECK CITY against these sorts of accusations is akin to defending the value of art, which is something I feel art manages to do very well on its own.
To me, the interesting thing that emerges from the FFWD comment is the idea that we were in some way aiding gentrification or playing the part of the developers promotional puppets. I feel this is a very rational worry, and one that deserves something more than a simple response, so I will do my best.
WRECK CITY was never an avenue for voicing the curators opinions in relation to the city block’s demolition and the subsequent construction of a 115 unit residential complex. It was a space for production where we could showcase over 100 artists and give them a freedom rarely found in a traditional gallery. It was a less daunting avenue for viewing art that became an entryway for many Calgarians into our diverse arts and culture scene. It was a swan song to an old city block full of asbestos ridden houses, some begging to be condemned, some with many years of life left in them. And of course, it became a place for discussion on not just gentrification, but development in Calgary.
Being both a co-curator and the volunteer coordinator, I was on site the entire time WRECK CITY was open and I talked with hundreds of our 10 000+ guests. Conversations varied in length, but almost every single one of them included some sort of discussion about the destruction of these homes and the 115 unit residential complex that will replace them. Some people were sad, some upset, some complacent and some optimistic, but everyone discussed the matter and gained a lot from learning other people’s opinions. Our swan song to the city block might not have been a large banner of protest, but I think that it in no way could have or should have been. Our artists have opinions as varied as the public’s and I am excited that the artworks that chose to discuss the block’s impending demolition took a subtle approach, creating an opening for thought instead of attempting to instill a conviction in the viewer.
The reality is that this neighbourhood is changing rapidly and I think there is a need for people to be involved in that change. WRECK CITY was not about directing that change. It made the best of a situation giving Calgary something unique, recognizing 809 Gallery’s contribution to the arts community, and bringing people together in an inviting yet challenging environment to enjoy art and thoughtful discussion. I can shamelessly say that I feel it did all these things successfully, and the thousands of excited and grateful faces and comments I saw and heard at WRECK CITY speak louder about it’s positive influence than any article I could write. Had WRECK CITY never existed, there would be less discussion surrounding this neighbourhood’s development, and it’s only because of the curators, the artists, the press, the public and the developers, that I believe we are better off now than if the block, hidden in a quiet nook of Sunnyside, had been quietly demolished and rebuilt.
On a last note, I have to say that if anyone wants to voice their opinion on this community’s development, there are fantastic and productive ways to do so. For example, on April 22nd there was an open house at the Hillhurst and Sunnyside Community Association to discuss how to use the Triangle Site (a large triangular section of land neighbouring Sunnyside’s C-Train station) until the City plans to “undertake a mixed-type affordable housing development”. I hope the commenter found their way there.
The artists who were originally involved in 809 saw an opportunity, they chose to open a dialogue with the developers, out of which Wreck City has evolved. The resulting project has given opportunities to over 100 artists and curators and engaged over 10,000 members of the neighborhood and the public. It is hard to imagine having achieved that kind of impact had we simply chosen to oppose a situation which at that point was already inevitable.
From an artistic point of view there are things you can do to a house scheduled for demolition that you cannot do to a space that needs to be maintained. It also allows for a suspension of the normal rules governing a residential neighborhood, which opens the door to a discussion about how we are currently using the city, to reflect on its history, and imagine what we would like to see it become in the future.
As curators we are well aware of the issue of gentrification in Calgary’s Kensington neighborhood, as well as other “artsy” areas of Calgary that suddenly become appealing to a more wealthy, and possibly less colorful demographic. If you look at some of the key people involved in this project you will quickly find the 809 Gallery
and the Arbour Lake Sghool
, both good examples of longer term projects, which did expand the idea of how to use a domestic space, often in a way that was very much challenging ideas of gentrification.
I would like to believe that Wreck City provides a chance for new kinds of conversations to happen, and to engage a different kind of demographic in that process. Just because the organizers of Wreck City reached out to take advantage of a particularly interesting situation does not mean that we condone the ultimate result, we saw it as a necessary homage to the 809 Gallery, and a continuation of themes already at work in each of our practices.
We are just happy to have the opportunity to scribble outside of the lines for a little, and hopefully in the process give members of the public a chance to reevaluate the rules.