Paula Timm is the artist behind International Wanderland. PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

A Calgary artist is hoping to brighten an overlooked area with a new mural that celebrates multiculturalism. 

With International Wanderland, Paula Timm’s mural celebrates diversity along International Avenue, a Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) known for being ethnically diverse.

In 2018, the City of Calgary worked with the BRZ to finalize the International Avenue Area Redevelopment Plan, which aims to make the district more accessible and vibrant. 

“They assessed that this area needed some love and attention and started the process to create a safer space and a more beautiful space,” Timm says. 

In the following years, the BRZ heightened their efforts to beautify and improve the area by involving artists from the surrounding communities. 

Timm says the BRZ is hoping to “create a safer space and a more beautiful space.” PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

Last summer, Timm – a resident of neighbouring community Southview – responded to an artist callout for 32nd Street on 17th Avenue S.E., at a community engagement event. The concept she submitted was inspired by the vision community members had for the area. 

“To be joyful and cultural, a place where people feel safe and have fun and do concerts and festivals and markets,” she says of the concept.

Timm approached the mural by using crowdsourced words from the engagement session, and her own experiences from feeling connected to the area. 

“I wanted to both represent those people’s voices without being someone appropriating culture. Almost making my own cultural references from things that I’ve been influenced by, by living in the community of Southview and the greater Forest Lawn neighbourhoods.” 

These references include mountain-inspired symbolism and a variety of joyful colours to represent diversity. 

Timm wants the mural to celebrate multiculturalism and diversity in the area. PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

The celebration of diversity also influenced Timm in naming her mural International Wanderland, with the word international borrowed from the avenue name and “Wanderland” reflecting her hopes for people walking the street. 

“The coloured ribbons on the street [allow] the eye to sort of wander and feel safe in that creative, playful space we’ve created here,” she says. 

Even prior to the mural’s completion, Timm made efforts to engage the community by extending an invitation for anyone to come help paint. 

“Although it was my vision that was awarded the opportunity to paint here, just engaging with the community at any level allows the community’s voice to be heard, the ownership to be felt and the place to gather when you feel like you’ve been a part of the weave and weft of something building.” 

Kendall Sibley, who lives in the area and accepted Timm’s offer to help paint, is happy to have contributed to the finished mural. 

“I see lots of people go by. They stop and, you know, take pictures of it,” Sibley says. 

The expansive mural is already attracting passersby, according to Sibley. PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

Despite her measures to make the process as enjoyable and collaborative as possible, Timm acknowledges it has been difficult, particularly given the unpredictable weather in Calgary and the scale of the project — her largest mural yet. 

“It’s a bigger project than I imagined. For some reason, my expectations of how much effort it would take were grossly underestimated.”

Timm managed to find the joy in creating the expansive mural, by connecting with helpful members in the community and embracing the learning experience of working with bigger tools than she’d ever used before. 

“Things that I’ve never imagined using before and being able to master those within a few days and weeks to the end of the project,” Timm says. “Stepping away, I’m like, ‘OK, we did this.’” 

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