Calgary artists making art more accessible with Halloween display at CrossIron Mills

Pumpkin-Finity is a display at CrossIron Mills that features the work of local artists. It includes hand-painted pumpkins, seating and sculptures.

The painted pumpkins will be handed out to shoppers on Oct. 31

All of the pumpkins featured in the exhibit will be given away to shoppers on Oct. 31, when the display is taken down. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Calgary visual artist Billie Rae Busby has showcased her work across the country.

Her abstract paintings of the northern lights are now on display at the Leighton Art Centre in Millarville, about 50 kilometres southwest of Calgary. But, she admits, art galleries aren't always the best spaces to engage with the public.

That's why she and other artists are proud to be showcasing their work this month in the middle of CrossIron Mills, just outside the shopping centre's food hall.

"If I can bring aspects of what my art looks like, or the other artists' [works] look like, to where people are just doing everyday things, going to the mall … wandering around in their community, wherever it is, I think it's really important," she said.

"It also starts to break down that stigma of what public art is and that local artists can do some really fantastic, engaging things."

Busby is one of the local artists behind Pumpkin-Finity, a display made up of interactive monster sculptures, creative seating and 350 hand-painted pumpkins. Those are showcased in a pumpkin patch and in a hut, where mirrors are installed to create the infinity effect.

The installation is part of an initiative between CrossIron Mills and PARK — which stands for Promoting Artists Reimagining Kulture — to celebrate the fall season and International Artists Day, which happens Oct. 25.

Billie Rae Busby painted four of these benches as part of the display. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

PARK works to connect clients in Western Canada with different artists to help them showcase their work. The installation at CrossIron Mills marks the first time the group has done a display in Rocky View County. 

Busby was asked to design four benches, or "creative seating," for the Halloween display.

"What I liked is the take wasn't really the spooky side or the scarier side, they went more with pops of colour," she said.

"I normally have an abstract landscape style.… I was inspired by the harvest moon and our October fields. So kind of the way the fields look after the farmers have gone through them. And then also, I always get inspired with trick-or-treating, how we always seem to find the moon as one of our landmarks."

Calgary duo Cory Bugden, an illustrator and graphic designer, and Sarah Lamoureux, an information designer and painter, came together to create the monster sculptures. They're known for their bright, colourful style.

"For me, it was a chance to stretch my character design skills, and also I love drawing like kid's inspired stuff," Bugden said.

Participants walking through the installation are able to twist these sculptures, made by local artists, to create their own monster. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Shoppers and kids can twist the three sculptures to give their monster different heads, bodies and legs.

Lamoureux says they opted for a playful take on the monsters, reimagining classic movie creatures and giving them a "bubblegum" vibe.

"We just like bringing smiles to people's faces. We just love seeing people interact with these things and have a good time," she said.

"I think that everybody needs a little silver lining to their day, and if that's something that we've created, then I think that we've done our job."

Mall staff are hoping the display gives Calgarians a chance to enjoy a unique experience, interacting with art while promoting local talent.

Mirrors installed in the middle of the pumpkin hut are meant to give the illusion of hundreds more pumpkins. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

"We're a little bit outside of the city, and so to collaborate with local Calgary artists who are connected to the culture and the vibrancy of the city is something we really wanted to hammer home with this initiative," said Joel Tatlow, marketing manager at CrossIron Mills.

"It's really special to be able to engage local talent and show off their work in a way that's really public and really, really visible."

The display will be up until Oct. 31, when mall staff will give away all of the pumpkins for free. 

Tatlow says kids under 12 who visit the exhibit will receive treats from retailers from Oct. 28 to 31.

Busby says she's optimistic the display will provide some joy to passersby.

"A lot of people enjoy Halloween, so hopefully this will be something that will bring a little bit of fun and playfulness to their day."


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