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We Spoke To Some Of The Artists Behind Calgary's Art Walk About Pride & The Pandemic

Pride may be over, but you can still visit Shaw Pride Marches On until October 3.

We Spoke To The Artists Behind Calgary's Art Walk About Pride & The Pandemic

For the first time since the pandemic started, Calgary hosted its yearly pride event from August 27 until just after the September long weekend (aka "Labour Gay"). There was dancing, singing, introspective panels and tons of artwork to celebrate the Queer community safely.

Access to in-person events like these has been restricted for a long time, and while people have shown their support with Zoom events and social media posts, nothing compares to coming together in real life.

To help harness this sense of togetherness and provide a safe, in-person Queer space, Shaw Communications, in collaboration with Calgary Pride, The City of Calgary and Calgary Arts Development, created the Shaw Pride Marches On art walk.

Now in its second year, the art walk is made up of colourful and creative murals that celebrate community and connection in honour of Pride. Set up in Central Memorial Park, the location for Calgary's first pride rally in 1990, Shaw Pride Marches On features four colourful murals created by eight talented artists. Each mural shares the stories and experiences of the 2SLGBTQ+ community:

Pride may be over, but the murals at the art walk can be seen until October 3. This gives families plenty of time to explore the murals, learn more about the Queer community and show their support for them. It's also intended as a safe space for 2SLGBTQ+ folk to get together to celebrate their community and connect with others.

Narcity had the chance to speak with the artists behind some of these murals. This is what they had to say about their inspiration, the impact the pandemic has had on Pride, and the importance of providing safe in-person spaces for the Queer community to come together

Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

What was it like to be chosen to create a mural dedicated to the 2SLGBTQ+ community for Pride?

Mackenzie Bedford: "Really exciting! I feel like an emerging artist and an emerging queer so this opportunity felt very significant for both paths."

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "We feel privileged to create a beacon of queerness specifically for the community in such a central area. It's wonderful to be doing so with a group of artists who carry a variety of queer identities and experiences."

Wilmur Aburto, Colin Menzies, and Chishimba Matthew Kangombe: "Our Artist Team was thrilled to be invited by Shaw and Calgary Pride to create a mural dedicated to celebrating the 2SLGBTQ+ Community.

"We take pride in our Artist Team reflecting diverse and multicultural backgrounds including Zambia, Nicaragua and Ukraine. Each artist brought their own flavour and ancestral inspirations to this project. We invite you to find the hidden rabbit in our mural."

Tell us about your mural. What did you create?

Mackenzie Bedford: "I wanted to create a big shout out to the voices in our head that say 'we aren't queer enough,' and make it feel like it was coming from a universal power. We look for messages in the stars all the time, and so I put this very important message in the sky (on the ground)!"

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "A colourful garter snake coiled above a white silhouette of local flowers. The snake is outlined in black and gradated with the colours of the Progress pride flag."

Wilmur Aburto, Colin Menzies, and Chishimba Matthew Kangombe: "We created an image that we feel inspires more togetherness. At the centre of our design are two figures – Chenelle Roberts and Jimmy the Unforgettable, who are both creatives in the Mohkínstsis cultural scene. They represent the vibrancy of talent that exists in this city.

"The mural is a mixed media installation, using environmentally-conscious paint for the background, and the main focal point consisting of photography printed on decals. Accented details in pearl and metallic paints complete the piece."

What did you hope to communicate with your particular mural design?

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "This mural is about transformation and identity. As a snake sheds its skin, there's constant opportunities to morph, grow, and change toward a truer form. To be alive is to be in a constant state of transformation, and we have the power to choose who we will be."

Wilmur Aburto, Colin Menzies, and Chishimba Matthew Kangombe: "Hopeful. The impact I would ideally want the mural to have is to serve as a reminder to us all to take a moment to breathe as we heal together from a difficult time globally. Peace and calm amidst the movement of the city."

The Shaw Pride Marches On art walk brings Calgarians together safely while Canada still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is it important to have in-person Queer spaces like this?

Mackenzie Bedford: "It's important to be surrounded by people who you don't have to explain yourself, and your experience too — because they've lived it themselves. To be immersed in a community that understands and shares your experiences is a human need. To be loved is a human need. The intersection of those two is what makes Pride particularly important and powerful."

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "Pre-pandemic, the focus point of queer community was dedicated [to] and occupied [by] physical queer space. The pandemic has kept many of these physical spaces from being open, so you'll see instead queer [beacons] — a flag, a sign, a drawing, etc. This is how we show up outside of dedicated physical spaces, and it reminds folks that they are not alone, even in isolation."

Wilmur Aburto, Colin Menzies, and Chishimba Matthew Kangombe: "Having in-person spaces that depict queerness is about creating visibility, visibility and more visibility. It is crucial to continue showing up and creating safety in our communities for queer folk.

"Every step of this process, from responding to a call for artists, to the installation process, and the final product is about public engagement. This mural is an act of courage and a disruption to heteronormative visuals that saturate our everyday lives. Having the presence of queer visibility and allyship creates safety in our community."

What does Pride mean to you?

Mackenzie Bedford: "Pride is about resilience. Sometimes our identities and experiences can cause other people misguided shame and disappointment, yet we stay proud of our authentic selves. We push the comfort zones of others, so future 2SLGBTQ+ generations can have fair space to grow."

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "It's a knowing of who you are, and an acceptance and comfort with it."

Wilmur Aburto, Colin Menzies, and Chishimba Matthew Kangombe: "Pride 2021 is about togetherness, allyship, and solidarity."

What does the 2SLGBTQ+ community mean to you, and what do you think about the added hardships faced by 2SLGBTQ+ people as a result of the pandemic?

Mackenzie Bedford: "I have immersed a lot of parts of my life into the queer community. Along with the joys it brings, it also shows a multitude of ways how privileged I am, specifically to be able to work from home. Especially since my work is creative.

"For example, so many queer live performers are losing years of stage time to the pandemic and restrictions. The queer people working the venues are losing out too. Racialized and trans folx are being affected the most.

"Systemic racism and transphobia make the medical system difficult to navigate for these groups, so the risk of COVID is greater. For a lot of queer people it wasn't easy to exist before the pandemic due to any number of intersections of their identity. The pandemic is like a multiplier of stress.

"But! [...] In the spirit of Pride, I've seen the community persevere. Online shows, fundraisers, mutual aid — queer people are finding a way to lift each other's spirits and survive. I can only imagine the power we'll feel when we get back together!"

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "The 2SLGBTQ+ community is just that — a community. Within this community, many find a place and a purpose, and develop bonds that hold fast and deep. The pandemic has left many community members feeling alone as in-person interactions have disappeared. Thankfully this community is resilient and continues to find ways of creating space in a time of physical isolation."

Why should people come out to see the murals?

Mackenzie Bedford: "Because it's a beautiful day for a Pride walk!"

Mike Hooves and Nicole Wolf: "These beautiful murals are in a beautiful park, a park with historical queer significance. Central Memorial Park was the location of Calgary's first pride rally in 1990. Seeing these murals in framing the park is so special because of this. It's also fun to see each corner's stylistic and thematic interpretation of queerness."

Wilmur Aburto, Colin Menzies, and Chishimba Matthew Kangombe: "We invite viewers to approach the mural with curiosity and ask themselves what role does Pride and solidarity play within our individual lives."

Open until October 3, Shaw Pride Marches On hopes to send a powerful message of support and equality with its art walk campaign.

Shaw Pride Marches On Art Walk 

Price: Free

When: Now until October 3

Address: Central Memorial Park, Calgary, AB

Why You Need To Go: There are four murals from eight artists available to check out, all inspired by different experiences from members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies.

To learn more about Shaw Pride Marches On and the 2021 art walk, visit their website, or check them out on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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