Under the watch of three gigantic chickadees, CO*LAB is set to GLOW in the Quarters

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Every spring, Edmonton’s chickadees go from feeding together in territorial winter flocks to disbanding off into pairs to do some things also done by bees your parents can perhaps explain to you.

But a group of three monumental chickadees now perch on the roof of the Quarters Arts Society’s multipurpose CO*LAB arts space — each chubby chickadee bigger than a Clydesdale — and destined to be a continuous part of the downtown landscape for years to come.

The giant birds designed by Christine Frost and conceived by Lorin Klask, built locally by Windship Advertising, are the central symbols of this year’s GLOW festival, which in a normal year (remember those?) would culminate in the city’s second-most-famous, volunteer-made lantern parade.

Unlike the folk fest’s luminous string of hill-snaking night lanterns, the Quarters’ light show is decidedly urban in its trek, typically winding through the streets around a women’s shelter, a liquor store and a few pieces of hopeful public art — the complex and ever-changing ecosystem of Boyle Street. In 2018, over 300 people showed up and the nights, I say from experience, are super fun.


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With the pandemic, though, the GLOW parade is off — but with a theme of “winter birds,” it will display volunteer-restored lanterns in CO*LAB’s numerous yellow-frame windows — not to mention those titanic chickadees up on the roof.

Another downtown chickadee. Fish Griwkowksy photo
Another downtown chickadee. Fish Griwkowksy photo Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

And Saturday night — Spring Equinox — between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., the venue’s back alley courtyard will host a limited-capacity outdoor event, including projections by Evan Pearce, paintings from iHuman and performers playing live inside — music by Chubby Cree, Ann Vriend and Tzadeka; spoken word by Dwennimmen — legally separated from an audience, but giving their all in the artistic bottleneck nonetheless. It’s weird, but, seriously, what ain’t these days?

“If it works out well on Saturday,” says Klask, CO*LAB’s artistic director and community organizer, “it’s something we’ll be doing a lot more, having the audience outside, projecting, where it’s much safer.”

You can register to attend the event at colabyeg.ca.

The birds theme, if you want to Tweet about it, was crowd-sourced. “It looks at nature around us,” says Klask, “how we interact with it, how we’ve changed its patterns in an urban environment.”

The plan moving forward is the community will help pick a new, non-migratory bird to turn giant and inflatable every year, then these will set up in different locations around the core as portable — and I’d add pretty non-controversial — public art (though some people sure get honking about magpies).


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Collected audio and even a Metis song in Cree by the Cunningham Family Band about chickadees will emerge from nearby speakers, including at GLOW.

The big birds are also aligned with the currently-emerging Downtown Spark initiative, hoping to lure people back downtown, which has so far deployed six massive white human inflatables, including four in and around Churchill Square, up through April 12.

Giant white figures, collectively called Fantastic Planet, are part of Downtown Spark.
Giant white figures, collectively called Fantastic Planet, are part of Downtown Spark. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

Says Klask, “There’s so much unused and vacant space in our neighbourhood, so it’s a way of creating pride and bringing light to some of the issues and challenges and barriers we have as a community — making those spaces a little more liveable.”

A word about CO*LAB, which follows a direct line of burning candles from previous indie downtown arts spaces like Multipurpose Rumpus Room, Studio E, Smilin Jay’s Happy Hour and the legendary ARTery.

Klask’s community-embracing ambitions for the birds echoes the mandate of the 7000 square foot “artistic laboratory,” which in various stages of completion since it opened in July features a gallery, a performance venue, a media lab, soon-rentable studio/office spaces, a courtyard, a boardroom, a partial kitchen and, thanks, to On the Edge open daily, a functioning, takeaway coffee shop and café.

It’s everything the ARTery always wanted to grow up to become, in a pro and attractive bricks-and-mortar setting hoping not to change its neighbourhood so much as invite it in.

With government funding helping open the doors, the plan for the non-profit was to have concert proceeds kick into the operational budget over the last year. But, you guessed it — the world all but went away, kicked down a hill with a bag taped over its head.


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“We had a summer music series which gave us a taste of what it could be — but as soon as summer was done and we went back into lockdown …” Klash sighs. “We thought that was going to be our bread and butter, for sure.”

Cut off from a major revenue source, Klask asks for your help if you can by grabbing a $20 Quarters Arts Society membership online at quartersarts.org/donate, which for a limited time now adds an automatic membership to COL*LAB as it carefully reopens into our post-pandemic world.

“I’m happy to have this be successful,” she understates with a smile, “and operates on its own — so I can come and have fun.

“We are so good to go.”




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