Quirky Mona Lisa billboard may return to Calgary

A billboard featuring Mona Lisa and "her" thoughts about contemporary issues may return to Calgary after a decade-long absence. Its creator is looking for ideas on how to bring it back.

Like 'a chatty neighbour,' public art piece commented on news, sports in giant speech bubble

The Mona Lisa billboard may be returning to Calgary after a decade-long absence. Its creator is looking for ideas on how to bring it back. (Mona Lisa Speaks/Instagram)

A billboard featuring Mona Lisa and "her" thoughts about issues of the day may return to Calgary after a decade-long absence.

Its creator is looking for ideas on how to bring it back.

Starting in the mid-1990s, a billboard depicting the famous portrait lived on the side of the former Metrographics Art + Design building on 12th Avenue and 11th Street S.W.

In a giant cartoon speech bubble, Mona Lisa's creator commented on daily Alberta events from politics to sports — like "a chatty neighbour," artist Doug Driediger says.

When his business had to move in the mid-2000s, he took down his much-loved billboard.

Now he's thinking of bringing it back.

"The deep secret is that she's in my partner's dad's garage," he told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

Driediger is asking Calgarians to give some thought to where would be the perfect home for Mona. He has considered a public art installation at cSPACE, a shared studio place where his company is now. Perhaps, he said, the billboard could be set up so people could add their own messages to the speech bubble.

He's open to other ideas, and asks people submit them on Instagram to @dougyyc.

"The idea of just getting back in the stream of things — because there's just so much we could talk about right now — is appealing," Driediger said.

Doug Driediger used to have a Mona Lisa billboard outside his business, Metrographics Art + Design, in Calgary. He took it down when his company moved in the 2000s. (CBC)

The billboard's messages sometimes spurred action.

One time, he said, it had been a demanding week with "probably a few more things than usual going wrong."

"So we put up a sign that said, 'It's been a tough week. All gifts of chocolate welcome.' And people stopped, who weren't our clients, with gifts," Driediger said. "The typical comment was, 'Love the sign, always wanted to give back and meet you guys. Eat up.'"

Another time they announced the birth of a colleague's baby girl. A commuter popped by with a knitted sweater for "Mona's grandbaby."

Swapping out those messages was quite a chore, especially in the winter.

"It was heavy and hard and took kind of a clean-and-jerk lift," he said. "There were a few fails."

He's found himself yelling at the TV lately, suggesting that maybe now is a good time for a little public commentary once again.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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