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A mural by the Toronto-based artist Kwest is a new addition as part of the 2022 Beltline Urban Murals Project (BUMP) Festival in Calgary.Gavin John/The Globe and Mail

Splashes of colour and stories of powerful community members will again make their mark on Calgary’s downtown streets as part of the sixth annual Beltline Urban Murals Project, or BUMP festival. Dozens of murals are already decorating the sides of buildings, underpasses and street barriers, and 70 more are expected this year.

Peter Oliver, BUMP president, explains how the open-air art gallery is transforming the city’s core and highlighting strength in Calgary’s diversity.

The BUMP festival is heading into its sixth year in Calgary. What can people expect?

The BUMP festival is a community-led street art festival that runs for the month of August every year in Calgary. It’s a combination, this year, of over 70 new mural works, several large outdoor music concerts and events that are all free. Coming up Saturday, August 20, we have our High Park party, featuring a graffiti jam by seven different local graffiti artists that’ll finish off with a screening of Wes Anderson’s latest film The French Dispatch at High Park. It’s a super fun event that really feels like something you would never get in Calgary – like something from destination cities like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.

You’ve said this festival breaks the mould of this city. How so?

The identity that has been put out for the better part of the last 100 years is Calgary as sort of this mythical cowboy town that really doesn’t reflect the true diversity of people. BUMP is really a platform for a diversity of artists to really show what Calgary’s identity and trajectory is going to be moving forward – and it’s not necessarily going to reflect how the city has typically been received. The festival is making art very accessible and providing opportunities for connection with that art.

Peter Oliver, co-founder of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, in front of the world's tallest mural by graffiti artist Mirko Reisser in Calgary.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

A mural by artists BB Iskwew and La Morena. The piece, titled 'Honouring Life Givers North to South,' honours matriarchy and womanhood.Gavin John/The Globe and Mail

Tell me about the roots of this festival. What did it grow out of?

In the past, Calgary has taken such a hard line against graffiti in terms of enforcement when compared to other cities, so that community was really stamped out here. We really wouldn’t have street art as we know it today if it were not for the early graffiti community around the world. People who have been attending the festival may have noticed we’ve brought in a lot more graffiti artists. I mean, the headliner mural for this year is by DAIM who started out as a very early sort of pioneer in the graffiti art world.

It takes time for a city to develop an artistic appreciation of different styles, and I think graffiti is one that is not quite as evolved or matured yet in Calgary but one we certainly hope more people will begin to appreciate. In other cities, there is a lot more of an adversarial environment between more traditional graffiti artists and what we would call today a muralist or a street artist but what we’re really trying to do here is present them alongside each other and create a broader body of work.

What makes these murals so special?

Artist Katherine Langdon works on her mural as part of the 2022 BUMP Festival.Gavin John/The Globe and Mail

There are stories in a lot of these mural works that are really unique to people’s personal stories and their journeys of how they ended up here and the people in their communities. Once you take the time to start learning more about these murals and these artists, there’s a lot of beauty and humanity in those stories. It is really a way for people to begin to sort of connect with the many different stories of the people that make up the city, particularly with the Indigenous work.

There’s been so much interest in a culture that’s really been under-represented in the arts here in Calgary, or even just previously only displayed, or given the opportunity to be displayed, as sort of like historical artifact. For example, we have Cree artists Kayla Bellerose and Mackenzie Brown who last year painted the memorial mural for Amy Willier who was a powerful leader and matriarch in the local Indigenous arts community who had an art store, Moonstone Creations, in Inglewood.

I would ask where people can find these murals but it seems if you look up, or in either direction you might see a mural in downtown Calgary. How does this build community?

We’re at a level, particularly in the Beltline but even more and more downtown, that you’re just a glance away from the next mural, and in some cases, you can see multiple murals just from one spot. When you walk around with these different artworks all around you, you start to see your city and I think you start to feel a greater sense of pride and connection to place.

Even just 10 years ago, the Beltline really felt like a much more sort of transient-style neighbourhood. Today, there’s a lot more people and demographics living here and raising families and really getting more involved in the community. BUMP also really ties into the city’s strategic goals related to the challenges to the office downturn in the core to make the downtown more livable and to attract a broader range of demographics. We’re also seeing Calgary as a tourist destination. We have some fantastic art galleries and institutions, but I think people also want to visit places where urban centres have vibrant arts visible in the streets. We’re now really punching at an international level for mural festivals. I mean, we just painted the tallest mural in the world with the German graffiti artist DAIM.

A mural from Calgary artist Alex Kwong depicts Calgary textile artist Simone Saunders, whom Kwong wanted to support and bring attention to.Gavin John/The Globe and Mail

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