In late April, 11 houses on Fifth Avenue in Sunnyside will be demolished for a new four-storey condo development by Bucci. One of the few remaining tenants is Shawn Mankowske, who resides in a little green house better known for its garage, the 809 Gallery.
He’s one of eight curators for Wreck City, a community-based project that will be transforming these pre-demolished houses into temporary art, installation and performance spaces. Meeting to discuss it, I’m greeted by his bubbly personality and infectious laugh. The inside of his house is an art project all of its own with multimedia work covering the walls and a studio space in the basement. The other curators include:
Caitlind r.c. Brown, Matthew Mark Bourree, Jennifer Crighton, Brandon Dalmer, Andrew Frosst, John Frosst and Ryan Scott.
Mankowske and Brown are still visibly in the process of structuring the project. At this point, Brown still hasn’t seen Mankowske’s growing list of submissions and is quite enthused by what’s been coming in. “We have 13 submissions so far and the deadline is this Saturday [March 9],” Brown shares.
At that time, the funding was still quite “DIY,” as Brown puts it. The $1,000 they received from The Awesome Foundation will be put towards insurance. Fortunately, the Bucci developers have been quite supportive of Wreck City. They are paying utilities for the houses during set-up and are offering matching funds up to $2,500 for any money donated to the project through InvestYYC.
On top of organizing, curators will also be making art in their designated house alongside those that fit each of their curatorial statements. Brown sought artists to interact with the architecture and defy the laws of physics, for example, while Mankowske is looking for pop-culture submissions from artists who share an interest in Calgary’s avant-garde sound scene.
“I’m excited,” beams Mankowske. “We think too much about longevity and archivability of work, [which] provides a stagnant sort of society. I think tradition is the disillusion of permanency, to an extent, so I really like the idea of this place getting knocked down.”
A similar precursor was the House Project (2011), also in Sunnyside, which Brown and the Frosst brothers organized as part of the Arbour Lake Sghool, with ties to Toronto’s Leona Drive Project. Daniel J. Kirk was also involved with the House Project and is now one of the artists for Wreck City. We meet at Vendome Cafe, Sunnyside’s vibrant community hub. “It’s groundbreaking for Calgary to have something of this scale,” he informs me. “The House Project was so unique [and] made national news. I think this type of project is more along the lines of being a trendsetting thing, not just for the city, but more internationally as well.” Additionally, “by partaking in a creative project like this, you’re able to question [demolition] and turn it into something positive by making something fun but also meaningful.”
Kirk is otherwise divided on the new developments, describing himself as “reservedly optimistic.” Seeing an entire block go speaks to a larger issue than the single home that was the House Project: “Trying to keep a community feel while still growing up. It’s hard, because I loved those three houses around those corners, I had friends who lived [there]… But, at the same time, this is so close to downtown and if we don’t want to keep expanding outwards, we need to start growing up instead of out.”
Kathy Wallace is the owner of a century home on the Fifth Avenue block and still lives there with her husband and 12-year-old daughter. They’ve lived there for 18 years, but were approached by the Bucci developers and sold their property in October 2012. They decided to buy a two-bedroom Bucci condo and return to their beloved Sunnyside area in two years. She predicts that they will bring additional business to the area and possibly more families, who are sometimes difficult to accommodate in Sunnyside.
Wreck City unites a community of artists, but is also looking forward to exposing people to art who are less familiar, into these re-imagined open houses. Brown and Mankowske agree that the only way they could be disappointed by this project was if it didn’t happen. Calgary’s demolition addiction is “bittersweet, but it’s also celebrating the spaces in a way they wouldn’t be celebrated if we didn’t have this chance.”
By Claire MiglionicoAB, Alberta, Featured