A new Black Lives Matter (BLM) mural set for Calgary won’t be going up until next year and will be painted on a different wall following a public racist backlash over a decision to replace a well-known, existing mural in the downtown core.
Earlier this week, it came to light that one of four BLM murals planned for the city would be replacing the popular piece Giving Wings to the Dream, done by Calgary artist Doug Driediger in 1995 on the side of a building once occupied by the Calgary Urban Project Society.
Following the announcement, people took to social media to express their disappointment over the city’s decision, saying the new mural should be painted somewhere else.
“Find another spot,” wrote Twitter user Gerri. “We have so many open available blank walls, why would we not choose one of those instead of destroying a longtime piece of that space.”
“There are many walls of buildings in the downtown core that could use a mural. Why cover up something that represents one segment of society to represent another?” tweeted Cheryl Hardy. “Each group is trying to stop discrimination why value one over the other?’
Many Calgarians also sent emails to Global News expressing their opinions, most of which were that the city should find a new location for the new art piece.
By Wednesday, the entire mural project was put on hold by the organizing group, Pink Flamingo.
“Pink Flamingo will be postponing our mural project to Summer 2021 due to the violent vitriol, racism and threats we have received in the last 36 hours,” the group posted on Facebook. “We do not wish to add to the harm our community experiences.”
Pink Flamingo wrote that it decided to move forward with the location after speaking with the original artist, and wouldn’t have gone ahead with plans if they “did not understand our correspondence as supportive, or at worst, neutral.”
“Our vision for this wall is also one of hope, evolutionizing this message by hearing it from the perspective of a racialized artist. Nothing About Us, Without Us,” the group said.
“The last two days, the narrative has changed, and it is no longer safe to carry out the Black Lives Matter murals this year. The city is not ready. But we are.”
In an emailed statement, The City of Calgary said there had been “unprecedented support” for the original mural.
“The city is now working with all stakeholders to find an alternative and more permanent site for the first Black Lives Matter mural,” the city said.
“We have heard from the community that the number of art pieces done by BIPOC Calgarians does not currently represent our city’s population.
“The group running the project identified this location at 7 Avenue and 1 Street S.W. as ideal for a Black Lives Matter mural because it is seen by an estimated 30-50,000 Calgarians per day due to its location opposite the Centre Street LRT station downtown.”
The artist behind the project said he felt “torn” by the development.
“I know many Calgarians have expressed their support for keeping this here to me in the last few days and certainly they will be happy,” Driediger said.
“The Black Lives Matter initiative and the desire to give voices to people who don’t have them is vital and important and I think the key mistake was the organizers chose a site, unfortunately, that although it’s central and highly visible and key to their messaging, it’s also beloved by so many people who wouldn’t have wanted it changed.”
Driediger added he believes Calgarians would have pushed back against any mural that was proposed for replacing the Giving Wings to the Dream piece.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart tweeted Wednesday afternoon that she was “very pleased” by the reversal.
“I am very pleased with the community pressure and voices that have come to the defence of the Giving Wings mural downtown which will now remain, and the BLM mural will find a new location,” she tweeted.
Speaking with Global News Wednesday afternoon, the Ward 13 councillor said she doesn’t understand how the city ever thought this was a good idea.
“There are many blank walls in downtown Calgary that could have been considered,” she said. “But it was just the lack of sensitivity. For over 20 years this mural has been a landmark in many ways for people that have been homeless, with mental health and addictions issues that have gone to CUPS.
“So it has a deep, deep meaning. And also to Calgarians — it’s a beautiful piece of artwork.”
As of Wednesday, no new location had been proposed for the Black Lives Matter mural.
The mural project was approved by city council during a series of anti-racism town hall meetings in July.