Designed to be 'a cohesive, supportive environment for women and their families', the vision for the new 127,000-square-foot YWCA Calgary is to provide a safe, healthy and caring environment where women in crisis may heal, recover and grow. Along with the principles of trauma-informed design and community engagement, this vision resulted in six design drivers that were applied to every facet of the project: well-being, connected, inclusive, beacon, comfortable and safe. Invited by the YW to design the wayfinding system for their new Hub facility, our team wanted to echo this intent for the facility while providing innovative opportunities for storytelling and human connection. It was clear to us that art, and its power to celebrate culture, diversity and community, could be a key piece in realizing many of these drivers.
Together with independent curator, Mary-Beth Laviolette, we fashioned a unique program that blends art and design with social need and service – to create a home-like environment that is welcoming and inviting. We developed a master plan to determine how works of art could integrate with wayfinding – be used as landmarks, room identification beacons, or as the backdrop to activity spaces and for donor recognition.
In collaboration with with Project Director, Lori Van Rooijen, we set a thematic approach for the commissioned works that would primarily celebrate local women artists. Fibre, textiles and Indigenous beadwork were chosen for the majority of the program because they have long been traditional art forms made by women. This was later broadened to include painted and mixed media works.
Altogether, the YW commissioned nineteen Alberta-based artists for sixty room identification pieces and seven larger works. An additional selection of twenty-three long term loans was curated and made available through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, The City of Calgary Civic Art Collection and the Collectors’ Gallery of Art.
Donor recognition in the main welcoming space features a series of portraits by Janice Tanton, which represent various ages and ethnicities of women who use or work at YWCA. All of the donor names are projected across the portrait banners in a randomized order and scale that avoids a traditional donor hierarchy.
The inclusion of original art serves to create an environment which is less institutional and more sympathetic to the individual. This unification of art and design supports YW’s desire to create a homelike, inclusive setting for the women they support.
Van Rooijen hopes that other socially-focused organizations see this program as a model for their own facilities: “Art is for all – it is something everyone should have access to and it creates sense of welcome. The number one comment we get is that the building is amazing and the art adds to the warmth and overall wellness of the spaces.”
In addition to the work of each artist, the success of the program is in large part due to the quality and coordination of the sign fabrication and installation by WSI, art framing by Jarvis Hall Gallery, art installations by Kyle Beal Art Services and printing by Grafitti Imaging, Resolve Photo, Emerson Group and ABL Imaging. Thank you to our many collaborators.