Downtown Spark bringing life back to the core

Cree musician Connie LeGrande has put the finishing touches on her new song, Kisemanito, or Kind Creator, a Nehiyaw spiritual.

“It’s so important to have our languages out there,” says LeGrande, an Edmonton-based singer-songwriter known as Cikwes. “It confirms the languages are still here and still alive.”

LeGrande’s work will be part of the Indigenous Language Exhibition featuring sound installations, visual art, textiles and photography. 

The exhibition is seven artists working in seven mediums in seven languages spoken on Treaty 6 territory, LeGrande says.

The exhibition opens later this month as part of Downtown Spark, an effort by Explore Edmonton and a number of other partners to inject vibrancy into the downtown core.  

 “Those large humanoids that were all over Edmonton, that I think took Edmontonians by surprise, that was a wonderful first installation,” says spokesperson Meredith McLennan. 

Six large, white humanoids were inflated in Edmonton’s core from March 12 to April 11 as part of Downtown Spark. (Jame McCannel/CBC News)

The three giant chickadees nesting on the roof of the CO*LAB building at 9641 102A Ave.and the wâpos (Cree for rabbit) art installation in Amiskwaskahegan Park, or Beaver Hills House Park, were other examples.

“I think being back in Step 1, people are really looking for those experiences they can do with their families or their loved ones, something to do,” McLennan says.

Animated displays featuring the work of local artists now decorate the facades of the Winspear Centre and The Citadel Theatre and will soon grace the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Learn more about what’s coming with Downtown Spark in Edmonton, Alta. 1:59

You can see more from downtown on Our Edmonton Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. on Monday on CBC TV and the CBC GEM. 

A pop-up park is also planned for 107th Street and 101st Avenue in the effort to bring people to the core to support local businesses during the pandemic. 

The Downtown Business Association is offering Dining Week with a record 48 partnering hotels and restaurants. Sections of 104 Street will be closed to traffic on the last two weekends of April so restaurants can increase outdoor seating capacity in light of current restrictions on indoor dining. 

“Much of the foot traffic and the business people that we’re used to seeing downtown are working from home so we’ve had to adapt,” McLennan says.

More than 750 businesses are benefiting from the initiative and more than 800 jobs are being maintained from artists to security staff, she says.

Downtown Spark is supported by a grant through the Western Economic Diversification Canada. 

Meredith McLennan, with Explore Edmonton, watches as crews take down Fantastic Planet, the opening exhibit at Downtown Spark. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“Efforts to get people back out and re-engaged in the world, and I really hope it works, … is an important way of getting our economies back up and running,” says Kyle Murray, professor of marketing at the University of Alberta.

Alberta cities like Calgary and Edmonton don’t have the density of Toronto or Vancouver, Murray says. 

“Our downtowns depend not just on the people that live there but also people who live elsewhere spending time downtown, so that’s a challenge.”

Wâpos was part of Downtown Spark from March 25 to April 3 in Amiskwaskahegan Park, or Beaver Hills House Park, at Jasper Avenue and 105th Street. (Submitted by Explore Edmonton)

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