The Story Behind the Capital Arts Building Photo Mural

The mural features 100 Albertan faces “documented” over the course of the province’s history.

Photography by Paul Swanson.

The next time you’re downtown looking for a pick-me-up, stroll along Grant MacEwan’s north side between 107th and 108th Streets. It’s a relatively quiet space, just outside of the Rogers Place-based hustle and bustle and downtown core. It’s great for thought collecting on your way to grab a coffee, and the best part is you’re guaranteed to see a smiling face. Or a hundred of them.

The Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) funds and promotes art from around Alberta, in order to build and maintain a vibrant art community. Since 2006, it’s been based in the Capital Arts Building, across the street from Grant MacEwan. To commemorate its new home (its Art Collection and Grant section were in the Beaver House and Standard Life Centre, respectively, since the ’70s), the AFA commissioned an invitational art project to create artwork for the entrance’s external wall.

Edmonton artist Sandra Bromley won with her proposal: A photograph mural of 100 Albertan faces “documented” over the course of the province’s history. Titled It’s About Time, Bromley sourced historical photos from museum archives, junk shops, historical societies and even garage sales, as well photos she took as she travelled around the province. The mural offers glimpses through time, showing those who live and have lived to make Alberta what it is today.

To be accurate, they aren’t all smiling. A pioneer looks stoic smoking a pipe; a baby sits wide-eyed in a basket of fruit; there are kisses, caresses and more than a few people gritting their teeth in the cold. Artists Peter von Tiesenhausen, Gordon Ferguson and Isla Burns appear, among others, as well as musician Corb Lund and the legendary Lois Hole.

Each picture shows a face, each face tells a story, and you would need an extra-long leisurely stroll to imagine each one. It’s a motley of images that could mean something different to each viewer, and directly connects to the story Bromley told to the AFA about her inspiration for the piece.

“I moved back to Edmonton from a stay of over 13 years in London, England. During the first week of my return I took a bus from Whyte Avenue to the downtown core. The bus was packed with people representing a score of cultural groups. I was surprised by how multicultural the passengers on the bus were, and I was absolutely mesmerized by the richness of all the different facial structures and the inflections and tempo of the different languages. It struck me that each person had a fascinating and widely variant story to tell. I was curious as to what the stories were. The power, excitement, and richness of that initial impression of the people who live in Alberta has never left me.”

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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