Dispatches from the Calgary Underground Documentary sheds light on city’s art scene
By Leah Hart, Contributors
Dispatches from the Calgary Underground provided a beautiful and intimate insight into some of Calgary’s contemporary art scene. Through the eyes of artists and creators, stories and perspectives on creating art in Calgary were shared. This documentary was a celebration of stories from local artists, venues and initiatives in the city we live in. If you’re new to the city like I was back in July, checking out Dispatches from the Calgary Underground Documentary organized by Foreignerz, a local multidisciplinary art house, will be the inspiration you’re looking for to get out and explore! Try something new, meet new people, check out that place you always drive by. I could write for days about the documentary and the stories shared through the Dispatches from the Calgary Underground, but for now, here are some of my favourite stories.
Dispatches from the Calgary Underground shed light on the controversy around the Black Lives Matter mural that can be found in Chinatown. As someone who identifies within the Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) community, this was a particularly intriguing segment in the documentary for me. Pink Flamingo, artist Jae Sterling and art collective SANSFUCCS collaborated to paint “The Guide & Protector” which is the first of four supported by the City of Calgary, offering $120,000 to create four murals by Calgary artists who identify as a part of the BIPOC community.
The controversy arose around the mural’s initial location, which was chosen to be the location of an already high profile mural located on 7th Ave. With the outrage and backlash from locals, another location was found in Chinatown next to the derelict site of the old Calgary Indian Friendship Centre. This sites’ meaningful connection, in my eyes, was a beautiful tribute to the BIPOC community as a whole. The documentary shared, at times uncomfortable, yet very honest, shots of people who verbally attacked and harassed the artists while working on the mural day and night. This shows just why we need these types of representation so desperately throughout the city.
Racism in Calgary is still incredibly present, but these artists and murals provide hope for change. The mural depicts a black man and woman with a red rose between them with falling petals, each holding a horn of a brown bull as they can be seen floating in a sea of vibrant purple clouds and a bright blue sky. The mural was inspired by John Ware, a Black Calgary pioneer and cowboy who arrived in Calgary in 1882. This incredibly powerful mural allows viewers to interpret it in their own way, finding meaning that is based on their own experiences. For me, it tells the story of finding your power and owning it. I hope that everyone takes some time to admire the mural and its location.
The documentary paid tribute to an iconic club co-owned by Pete Emes that closed its doors after 15 years of live music, dance parties and art galleries due to COVID-19. The Hifi Club was a staple part of Calgary’s Beltline district. It hosted and supported local artists in developing their skills and fanbase in addition to hosting more well known names such as Diplo, Jamie Lidell, Chromeo and Spankrock. An unequivocal pillar in Calgary nightlife that made me, as an outsider, feel like I too could have found a home in the community that the club supported. Dispatches from the Calgary Underground showed the club’s devotion to its community by ensuring safety and inclusivity. The connections it sought out with its artists was meaningful and the environment was exhilarating. Hifi Club looked like a place I wanted to spend my Friday nights.
The rise of hip hop in Calgary is largely supported by 10@10, which is a multi-dimensional platform that encourages art, music and Black culture in Canada that was developed in 2011. Since then it has evolved into a hub in Calgary for education, urban arts, special events, community and more.
Dispatches from the Calgary Underground showcased Beni Johnson as the man behind the inclusive platform for music and culture in Calgary. Johnson was an exciting person to learn about, not only because of what he’s done for the community but because he is one of Mount Royal University’s own! Completing a degree in computer science and business, he later studied media and design at SAIT where his passion and dedication for hip hop blossomed into 10@10.
His idea for 10@10 began by introducing 10 artists at 10 p.m. for 10 minutes each that featured rappers, r&b singers, reggae artists, poets and more. Johnson stated that the foundation was built by artists for artists who are passionate about creativity and collaboration. The documentary showcased Johnson’s vision for being the voice of emerging artists and culture in the hip hop industry. He believes that supporting your local artists provides them with the opportunities to grow and shine.