A Touch of Williamsburg in Calgary | Arts & Design

Williamsburg is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, which has become a notable home and incubator for emerging artists. I recall from my days of living in NYC that the ultimate ‘cool’ factor among the hipster crowd was not to be seen among the hoi polloi of Manhattan but instead among the underground creative culture that defined Williamsburg. This trend continues on from what I hear.

Thus imagine my surprise when I walked in to the personal workspace and gallery of local Calgary artist Mark Mullin as part of a private tour for members of Pivot Glenbow on February 29th in Calgary.

As part of Pivot Glenbow’s ongoing Encounter the Arts series sponsored by Enbridge, award-winning artist and ACAD educator Mark Mullin welcomed Pivot members for an exclusive tour of his downtown studio located in the historic Cannery Row building.

Historic Cannery Row Building ©2012 Google

Mark discussed his past and present work while providing insight into his practice and inspirations.

Mark Mullin telling his audience about inspiration behind his artwork

Mark Mullin speaking to Pivot-Glenbow members

As part of the Q&A session, Mark gave his philosophical insight on his favorite paintbrush! You can watch a short video here.

This was followed by an improv-art-sketch by Pivot members that was judged by Mark for ‘artistic inspiration’.

Mark Mullin judging the improv artwork created by Pivot-Glenbow members

A little thank-you gift from Pivot Glenbow members to Mark

In response to a question from the audience about why he chose to move from Montreal to Calgary to establish his practice, Mark provided some really insightful thoughts that sheds light on this young City’s arts scene. He mentioned that besides the teaching opportunity at ACAD, some other factors for choosing Calgary was it’s relatively affordable rent for studio warehouse space (one critical factor for aspiring artist) and a deep-pocketed buyers market for artwork (another critical factor for success) while not facing a lot of competition as yet from a cluster of artists vying for the attention of the select group of potential art buyers. One major challenge he felt about Calgary is that it does not have a lot of inventory of unused warehouse space in and around the downtown core.

This sounds to be a perfect case of the Blue Ocean strategy espoused by Harvard Business School, which suggests that in order to become a successful start-up business, pick a new market that has little competition and the cost of production is favorable to generate profit from the start.

This path is not unique to Calgary of course. Williamsburg, Brooklyn went through an identical transitory stage that was the perfect storm behind the booming arts and culture district it is now known to be globally. Another example closer to home in Canada is in Toronto’s downtown districts of Riverdale, Parkdale, and Roncesvalle that offered a glut of affordable studio warehouse space, visionary developers, strong art patron base, and support from various Provincial grants that allowed artists to flourish and establish Toronto on the global map among culture geeks.

So is Calgary on the path to become the next Toronto or Williamsburg? Or is it on the path to create its own unique trajectory that will someday make it a business school case study for the Blue Ocean strategy? Only time will tell.

Acknowledgement: Pivot’s Encounter the Arts Events are sponsored by Enbridge.

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