Long fences make good murals, in Calgary’s Northern Hills community

Coventry Hills is now home to the largest mural in Canada, thanks to one resident’s idea, an artist’s vision and more than 1,000 volunteers.

A mural spanning more than 2,400 feet along the fences beside Coventry Hills Boulevard was completed over August long weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Northern Hills Community Association.

The mural was an immediate hit and has also been acclaimed by people living in the neighbourhood.

“It looks incredible. It’s amazing to see what an idea can turn into, and what a community can do when the people decide to help,” said Michelle Anderson, a 10-year resident of Coventry Hills.

The unveiling ceremony was held on Sept. 22nd, to honour all the people who helped and celebrate the idea that turned into the largest mural Canada has ever seen.

“The purpose of art is to invite people in. I wanted to help build a sense of community and pride, and help give artists a portfolio,” said Kim Walker, a resident of Coventry Hills for 15 years, in December of 2017.

“I always thought of fences as a barrier but now a community of fences is a community of murals.”

The idea for the mural came from Walker.

“When I’d drive by the fence every evening, I noticed that the sun would always set on it, and it seemed like a great place for art,” she said in an interview.

History of Calgary: A few of the panels along the new mural on Coventry Hills in Calgary on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. The idea was composed by Kim Walker, and designed by Mark Vazquez-Mackay. (Photo by Brady Claassens/The Press)

At the time, the fence was not in great shape. It was scratched and deteriorating, and Walker saw this as an opportunity to bring her idea to life.

Walker wrote a business plan, and set out to look for local companies to help partner with her.

After getting the city’s approval, Walker had to go door to door to homes along the Coventry Hills Boulevard, to get approval due to the fact they owned the property.

Along the way Walker reached out to an old art teacher she had at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), Mark Vazquez-Mackay.

“She originally reached out to me for advice, on supplies and materials,” said Vazquez-Mackay. “But when I found out the project needed a creative leader I was interested.”

After consideration from the Northern Hills Community Association (NCHA), Vazquez-Mackay was given the role of lead artist and began to research ideas.

“The theme was the history of Calgary, so I began to reach out to people and hear their ideas, and how they wanted to be represented,” said Vazquez-Mackay.

Three consolations were held, two in person and one online, for people from around the city to come in and pitch ideas.

Once the research was completed, Vazquez-Mackay began to design 66 panels of art in his home studio.

Two months went into this prep work, but when it was complete he began to invite artists into his studio to help create the mural.

“We wanted all the art to connect together. Including various elements and perspectives was important to us,” Walker said.

Before work on the fence began it was pressure washed, stripped and primed by volunteers.

Then from Aug. 4th to 6th, volunteers from around the city came by and help with the painting.

By the end of the long weekend, the mural was complete. Eight hundred metres of what was once a plain fence, had been transformed into a finished work of art.

“It was shocking to see months of prep work getting finished in three days, but I’m immensely happy with how it turned out,” said Vazquez-Mackay.

Walker and Vazquez-Mackay both praised the work of all the volunteers, which included Josh Chilton, a first-year student at ACAD.

Chilton also lives in Coventry Hills, and was told about the project through an e-mail by ACAD, and he jumped at the opportunity to help.

“I spent all three days helping, 12 hour days and showing up early and staying late,” said Chilton.

He took on a leadership role during the painting, and helped with all 15 stations as they worked.

“He loved to run. Anytime a station needed anything he would run over to help,” Vazquez-Mackay said.

Panel by Panel:  A section of the mural, designed by Mark Vazquez-Mackay in Calgary on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. The mural was completed over August long weekend. (Photo by Brady Claassens/The Press)
About Brady Claassens 1 Article
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Brady Claassens is working as a writer for The Press during the 2018-19 academic year.