Black Lives Matter mural going ahead in Chinatown as privately funded project

Calgary's Chinatown will be the new home for a mural inspired by Black Lives Matter, with Jae Sterling as the artist behind the work.

Art project already in the works, with the outline started this week

Jae Sterling is the artist behind the new Black Lives Matter mural going up in Calgary's Chinatown. He hopes to have it ready by the end of the month, weather permitting. (pinkflamingoyyc/Instagram)

Chinatown will be the new home for a Black Lives Matter mural in Calgary.

It comes after a similar proposal earlier this summer for a different location sparked backlash.

In August, the Pink Flamingo, a group that works with Black and queer people, received $120,000 in funding for a handful of Black Lives Matter murals.

One of them would have replaced an existing mural, Giving Wings to the Dream, which was painted by Doug Driediger in 1995 on the former Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) building at 128 Seventh Avenue S.E. 

That proposal generated a lot of criticism from those who didn't want to lose the original mural, which had become a familiar landmark for many.

The project ended up being put on hold.

But a few weeks ago, Jae Sterling decided to send in a mural idea to Pink Flamingo anyway.

He told CBC's Calgary Eyeopener that the group accepted his proposal as a privately funded project. It will be separate from the public funds they were given, according to an Instagram post by Pink Flamingo.

"I'm really excited and honoured to have been chosen for this big moment," Sterling said.

"No matter what anyone thinks, it's a big step in the right direction for this city … especially with everything going on right now."

The mural is already in the works, with the outline started this week. It will adorn the side of an apartment building on First Street S.W., across the street from the Chinese Cultural Centre. Sterling's canvas will be about 40 feet tall and 70 feet wide (roughly 12 by 21 metres).

Sterling says the people who financially backed the project are "really nice people," but added the people who funded it wanted to remain private.

"This is a new story. This is a new wall. Nothing's going to stop me from painting my people on a wall in this city," he said.

"It's kind of crazy, actually, that there's a debate around this because we're just debating black people being represented in the city when we've been here the whole time … that's as much as I'll say about that."

Sterling says the Black Lives Matter mural should never have been up for debate in the first place.

The vision for Sterling's mural is The Guide and Protector, based on a vision of black voices and black artists in Canada, Sterling said.

He says what it represents is the most important aspect to him.

"Black people have always been here.… We're raising our children here. We've learned the terrain here, and we've learned to survive the winters here," he said, adding there's a slight reference to John Ware, the black cowboy, in his piece.

"To build more on the mural represents strong black figures that are proud to be seasoned Calgarians despite not feeling welcomed."

There's also female representation in his mural.

"They're such a focal point in the way I grew up with my grandma and my mother, especially the grandmas, the elders in the communities, in black communities," he said.

"That's a huge, huge part of our community."

He's never done a piece this size before, he says. Sterling plans to use a combination of acrylic paint and spray paint.

He's hoping that if the weather holds up, it will be ready at the end of the month.

"I wanted it to just be something that everyone wonders why this wasn't in the city this whole time, kind of thing, because, you know, it's needed," he said.

"Representation is definitely important. I can't say that enough."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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