Outrage after Indigenous art in Calgary covered up with brick wall

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Outrage after Indigenous art in Calgary covered up with brick wall
The timing couldn't have been worse. That's the sentiment from many within the Indigenous community after a popular piece of art along Calgary’s 17th Avenue was covered up. As Jill Croteau reports, it happened on the heels of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Oct 6, 2021

Artist Kalum Teke Dan is proud of his Blood Tribe roots; they have helped inspire his striking works of art seen all over the province.

But one of the Indigenous artist’s first passion projects that transformed a once blank wall along Calgary’s 17th Avenue has been altered by a different project under construction.

“I feel disrespected. They should have consulted me or the owner of the building besides throwing a brick wall in front of it,” Dan said Wednesday.

Kalum Teke Dan. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

It took Dan almost a week to create the piece called “Sunset Song.” He said it’s a representation of renewal and life.

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But a development in the parking lot formerly owned by a fast-food chain is underway, and a wall has been constructed over top of it.

“This mural is iconic and launched my career, and everybody loved it. It isn’t just my disappointment; it’s everyone’s disappointment,” Dan said.

Some members of the community passing by the mural feel the timing is tone-deaf. This comes just days after the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Theodora Warrior from the Piikani Nation lives just steps from the art.

“It is a war cry, it’s pride, it’s power and it’s a respectful piece of art, such a visual of who we are,” Warrior said.

“It was an actual visual of what Canada does to us and that’s cover us up and silence us.

“They would rather bulldoze over something so beautiful and put it away and hide it from everybody.”

The mural blocked by the brick wall on 17th Avenue in Calgary. Jill Croteau/Global News

The Beltline Urban Murals Project commissioned the mural in 2018. Executive director Dexter Bruneau said he expected it would be temporary, but said there was no consultation when work began to cover up the artwork.

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“We are disappointed this one, in particular, was covered up. We understand the nature of development in the Beltline means sometimes murals get covered up,” Bruneau said.

The brick wall is on the site of a former fast-food restaurant parking lot, but it’s not known who is behind this construction. The City of Calgary issued the development permit but no one returned Global News’ repeated requests for comment.

BUMP is already consulting with Dan on another Indigenous mural. Dan said he would like to replicate this one somewhere else in the Beltline.

City responds

The city told Global News on Thursday that BUMP murals are considered temporary.

“Property owners volunteer their buildings as a canvas but can change or remove artwork on their building, demolish their building or make changes that would alter any exterior artwork,” it said.

“The city would like to thank the building owner for providing the opportunity to showcase ‘Sunset Song’ over the past three years.

“Murals are not protected from construction on adjacent sites and have become part of the dynamic and constantly changing face of our city. In this instance, the City of Calgary approved a development permit to the adjacent landowner to develop the property.”

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The mural on Calgary’s 17th Avenue covered by a brick wall. Kaylen Small/Global News

The city said there is a temporary stop-work notice on this site and an investigation is ongoing, noting “once that is resolved, construction may proceed as planned.”

“The timing of construction on the neighbouring parcel, which will obscure Kalum Teke Dan’s work, is truly unfortunate following the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation,” it said.

“It’s a reminder of the importance of Indigenous artwork in Calgary. Fortunately, BUMP is planning to work with Kalum again next year to create a new mural for the community.

“As well, the city’s public art program, which supports longer-term protected art installations, continues to actively work with Indigenous artists to showcase the rich and complex history of this land.”

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