CALGARY — As the first strokes of paint are laid against the bricks of a private apartment building in Chinatown, some Chinese Calgarians say there was little time to provide input about the art that will celebrate Black voices.
Calgary artist Jae Sterling has begun work on the multi-story mural titled The Guide & Protector, which faces the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.
“It’s pretty straightforward, I’m trying to get up on the wall. In the city there’s so much controversy behind that but it will go up,” said Sterling.
“It will definitely put us on the right side of history as far as everything that’s going on right now globally. This needed representation is important so it’s going up.”
Pink Flamingo YYC has taken lead on the project followin gbacklash over a previous Black Lives Matter mural planned for a building at First Street and Seventh Avenue S.E — the site of an existing mural called Giving Wings to the Dream, which was painted by artist Doug Driediger in 1995 for the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS).
Organizers say they received threatening messages over perceived lack of public consultation for the initial project, which was to include four murals. The city also provided $120,000 in funding.
The city is not involved with the new project and private funds have been raised to complete the mural at the new location in Chinatown.
“(Chinatown is) kind of like being in a Chinese version of Heritage Park, so if you could imagine that mural just being plunked down at Heritage Park, it doesn’t make sense,” said Dale Lee Kwong, an advocate for the Chinese community.
“It’s not that the Chinese community is anti-Black, there is a relationship we’ve had with the Black community but the mural itself doesn’t say that at all. It was intended for someplace else, if they had actually had the artist speak to the Chinese community, take our design into consideration, maybe a frame of bamboo around. It’s just plunked here is how I feel.”
The president of the Calgary Chinese Culture Centre said he was in shock after seeing the outlines of the mural on Wednesday night.
“How does it relate to the Chinese community?” said Tony Wong.
Other leaders in Chinatown say they were a bit disappointed to have been invited to a public unveiling without having a chance for input.
“In this particular case it was literally one step out of place by painting the backdrop the day before the public consultation and then not having the chance to speak to the artists to say, ‘Hey, how does this work and how does our culture fit into this equation, so it is a bit disappointing,” said Terry Wong, executive director of the Calgary Chinatown Business Improvement Area.
The Bully Team, which represents the artist group, told CTV News it has participated in a number of meetings with leaders in Chinatown, and wants to give back to the community.
It says plans are in the works for the unused space in front of the mural but nothing has been firmed up yet.
The artist hopes to complete the work by the end of September.