Although Spring is in the air, Calgarians are well aware that doesn’t mean the days of frigid temperatures are over. In fact, the average temperature in March in Calgary is 4°C. So, what do you do when you want to get the kids out of the house to explore something new but can’t depend on unpredictable Alberta weather? Create your own indoor art tour through downtown’s Plus 15 network!
The Plus 15 Art Circuit, presented by The City of Calgary Public Art Program, introduces you to 14 interesting pieces from the Civic Art Collection. Easily accessible through the Plus 15 system, this free, self-guided tour is primarily indoors with just a few quick trips outside. The City of Calgary’s website makes it easy to find your way to all 14 artworks with a detailed PDF that includes a map and descriptions of each piece. Your kids will get a chance to check out interesting artworks including bears, a family of horses, a beaver, mermaids, gargoyles, and even a Space Flower!
My daughter, five, and son, two, and I chose our starting point as the main floor of City Hall at the south entrance near a parking pay station. This allowed us to pop outside right away for a quick visit to Family of Horses (1989) by Harry O’Hanlon on the front steps of the Municipal Building.
These horses were presented to The City of Calgary by Spruce Meadows on behalf of the horse industry of Alberta. The stallion overlooking the mare and foal signifies the bond and strength among families. It wasn’t hard to tell this was my daughter’s favorite exhibit as she is deeply into all things horses right now.
We also walked up the stairs to say hello to one of the original lions from Centre Street Bridge. The concrete lion was one of four big cats sculpted by stonemason James L. Thomson in 1916-17. When the bridge was renovated in 1999, the lions were removed, restored, and one was placed in front of the Calgary Municipal Building. This big guy was my two-year-old son’s favorite piece by far.
From there, we went back into the Plus 15 and walked through Arts Commons, which included the bonus of a number of temporary exhibits that weren’t in the formal PDF tour guide, including work from local Indigenous people and hanging masks made by a Calgary Grade 9 class, as well as a soundscape featuring a variety of noises played over speakers in the roof.
As we made our way into the Glenbow Museum and the TELUS Convention Centre, we stopped by a number of sculptures including Citizen of the Century (1975) by Hazel O’Brien, a time capsule commemorating Colonel James Walker (1848-1936).
We also visited Little Mermaid (1913), another favorite of my daughter’s. This little sister of the famous bronze mermaid from Copenhagen is one of three half-size versions, inspired by a graceful ballet dancer in the role of the fairy tale mermaid and commissioned by brewer and arts patron Carl Jacobsen of the New Carlsberg Brewery.
Through the glass
One of the best parts about the tour was the fact that it wasn’t in an art gallery where the kids had to behave themselves and be quiet. They were able to run through the corridors and get up close to the art pieces.
They could even walk around the sculptures to see them from all sides. This sparked more interest and allowed it to be an educational experience (without feeling like one) by inspiring questions like, “Why is one horse so far away from the other two?” and “What are those women (Women are Persons!) talking about?” Women are Persons! (1999), a statue of the Famous 5, is one of the pieces we were able to see through the windows of the Plus 15, an added benefit if you happen to do the tour on a chilly day.
Natural Engineer (1987), a bronze beaver by artist Don Begg, was another piece that we were able to view from the windows.
The Family of Man a.k.a. Brotherhood of Mankind (1967), the now-famous stretched and naked aluminum figures and Calgary Board of Education logo, can also be seen through the glass off of First Street and Sixth Avenue SE.
On the way back to City Hall, the tour includes Ex/Diamond (1993) by Vera Gartley, who chose to transform this dark corner with light, reflections, and shapes.
City Hall and the Municipal Building are home to four other art pieces including:
For a detailed PDF, including descriptions of the art works and a map, visit calgary.ca and search for ‘art circuit tour.’ For an expanded experience, be sure to also download the audio files or sign up for one of the guided tours at calgary.ca/recreation/registration.
Stacie is a freelance writer and editor and mother of a delightful daughter, five, and silly son, two.
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