Capturing Hearts at Home

NaAC artists connect with local audiences through public art

The National accessArts Center (NaAC) has partnered with Calgary Arts Development, DIALOG, and the Dandy Brewing Company to provide NaAC artists with paid professional exhibition experiences around the city. Each partnership furthers the NaAC’s mission to cultivate local awareness for artists with disabilities.

“These partnership venues offer artists an opportunity to learn about the use of space, the placement of artwork, and the different depths of an exhibition,” explains Clayton Smith, Lead, Programs and Exhibitions with the NaAC. “At a contemporary gallery, the head or lead art preparator and curatorial team would offer the artist suggestions for mounting or displaying their artworks. We’ve taken a similar approach with these public art exhibitions.”

Art in Open Spaces

Open Spaces: Window to a View is a Calgary Arts Development program that celebrates the work of regional artists. In collaboration with local guest curators, artists showcase their work in busy downtown locations. This year-long partnership features a rotation of NaAC artists in the window gallery on the Centre Street LRT platform.

On a mission to inspire, Clayton and his team toured the artists through the 250 square-foot LRT platform window space and other window exhibition locations in the city. “We invited them to point out which displays they liked and which ones they found lackluster,” he explains. “Through this experience, they saw several techniques to get them thinking about how to conceptualize their installations.”

The artists also considered the ideas and messages they wanted to convey and how to make the installation appealing for viewers. “This is a significant opportunity to reach many folks who may not have had exposure to artists with disabilities,” says Clayton.

Amid the bustle of their daily commute, Calgary LRT riders can pause to appreciate local artists before they carry on. Two NaAC exhibits currently enliven the window spaces at the Centre Street LRT platform:

Magic of the Northern Lights by Alondra Hunt

Alondra Hunt, “Magic of the Northern Lights” (2023), 24 X 36 inch, Digital Artwork Print on Vinyl

Alondra Hunt’s excitement for the universe inspires this installation.

“I’ve been fascinated with the Northern Lights since I was young. A few years ago, I travelled to Aurora Village near Yellowknife, the best place in the world to view the Aurora Borealis. That was the first time I saw the Northern Lights. They danced across the sky in different patterns, like translucent curtains. It was a fantastic experience that continues to influence my artwork.”

Alondra has been exploring a digital design software on her iPad called Procreate. It’s a new process for her, but she says the software helps her create more work in a shorter time. “In about two years, I’ve made a thousand digital works.”

Garden Impressions by Anil Singh

Anil Singh, “Garden Impressions”, (2023), 24 X 36 Inch, Digital Art Print on Paper

Neighbourhood walks and his dad’s garden inspired Anil’s installation. He says he started sculpting his ceramic flowers to display them like markers or decorations in the garden. “Just like the flowers, they add to the colourful arrangements.”

Anil’s installation features a combination of paper prints and ceramics mounted on plinths to look like little garden planters. Some of his flower prints, enlarged on adhesive vinyl, adorn the front of the exhibit window.

After the exhibit, Anil says his little flowers — colourful, practical, and aesthetically pleasing — will return home.

“My sculptures will live outside in my dad’s garden with the rest of the flowers.”

Cake and DIALOG

When you’re asked to serve your favourite food at the opening of your art installation, sometimes you let them eat cake. That’s one idea behind the NaAC’s dedicated exhibition wall space at DIALOG’s Calgary office.

The NaAC’s partnership with the Calgary design practice features a series of solo exhibits on display for DIALOG staff and visitors. DIALOG provides funding to pay the artists professional fees and hosts a reception where artists share their favourite snacks and beverages as they unveil their artwork.

“DIALOG staff get to celebrate the NaAC artists’ work while catching a glimpse of their personalities,” says Clayton, recalling NaAC artist and chocolate cake connoisseur Kim McGowan. “For a while Kim was titling every art piece, ‘Chocolate Cake,’ so when we asked her what she wanted to serve at the opening of her fiber installation, of course she said, ‘Chocolate cake!’”

A Dandy Partnership

At Calgary’s Dandy Brewing Company, guests can sip suds, nibble on New York-style pizza, and enjoy work from NaAC artists. A pub might seem like an unconventional place to see art by artists with disabilities, but the partnership supports the NaAC’s mission to promote their artists locally.

The NaAC is already working with Dandy on another year-long exhibition that will make even more community connections. “It’s a different audience for NaAC artists,” says Clayton. “But we’re getting our artwork in a public place to share with people who may not go to a gallery to see it. They encounter the art by happenstance, and they either enjoy it or are intrigued by it, and that’s what matters.”

Art at Home

As the NaAC advances its international mandate, Clayton says it’s as important to continue building partnerships close to home.

“We’re actively seeking more ways to engage with the Calgary arts and culture scene because these exhibitions familiarize more people with the NaAC and our artists’ work.”

Community collaborations make it easier for new audiences to connect with the art — sometimes as easy as grabbing a pint at the local pub.

Check out the work of NaAC artists, on display this summer at the following Calgary locations:

  • Centre Street LRT platform
  • Dialog, 300, 134-11 Avenue SE
  • The Dandy Brewing Company, 2003-11th Street SE


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