Calgary in need of a new rallying cry

Thursday, February 4, 2021   /   by Sergey Korostensky

Calgary in need of a new rallying cry

When floodwaters ravaged parts of Calgary and southern Alberta in 2013, Keli Pollock’s pal was on the frontlines taking frantic 911 calls from people watching the waters rise and their lives change. Downtown was closed, the Stampede grounds were under water and entire neighbourhoods were flooded. After a stressful shift, the 911 operator quipped to Pollock: “What’s next? Godzilla?”

To cheer him up, she quickly drew a little poster showing the Calgary skyline, a hippo in the Bow, the Zoo bridge washed out, a house under the waves and a giant monster breathing fire on the Calgary Tower. Pollock added a headline: “Meanwhile in Calgary…” and a rallying cry was born.
“I didn’t expect that poster to go anywhere other than my friend’s Facebook page,” says Pollock, an artist and creative director at Daughter Creative. “But it just resonated with people and spread.” ‘Meanwhile in Calgary’ gave everyone a much-needed laugh and a boost of energy to pull on their rubber boots for another day helping dig out a stranger’s basement.

Now it seems as if Godzilla has indeed arrived in Calgary. Here in 2021, there is a pandemic straining our health-care system, we have empty office towers downtown and young people leaving the city in droves. An energy transition already in second gear is causing fear in some ranks and we have a premier that seems to miss every boat and drop every ball that comes his way (maybe he wants to keep his hands free so he can keep pointing fingers).

Calgary could use another rallying cry.

With an initiative called “project prõjekt,” Pollock, Calgary’s artistic community and the Glenbow are hoping to offer up a few ideas. The project is a call to artists to “inspire, uplift, challenge and encourage Calgarians as we navigate some of the most difficult times we have experienced as a city.” Artists are guided by three themes — kindness, equality and the future.

A jury will select 60 works and provide each winning artist $1,000. The winners will be announced in mid-February and their art will be projected outside the Glenbow for all to see, safely. You can get a sneak peek of some of the work on Instagram (@project_projekt). About half of the pieces include inspirational text such as ‘Stay Lit,’ ‘Help is on the Way,’ ‘Keep on Maskin.’

Pollock and her associates are thrilled with the 520 entries. “We tried to be inclusive and diverse,” she says. “I feel like this is a chorus of uplifting images and messages of encouragement and I am really hoping that maybe there is one voice out of this chorus that resonates with you as an individual.”

Me too. I love a good slogan that brings a city together and I can’t wait to see whether one emerges from this initiative. “A rally cry kind of unifies us,” says Pollock. “It lets you know you’re not the only one going through this.” And there’s nothing like the grit that comes from the grassroots.

Take “Keep Austin Weird.” This legendary marketing slogan was born in 2000 when a local librarian concerned about the tech boom changing the nature of his city donated to a quirky radio program to help “keep Austin weird.”

The librarian, Red Wassenich, started printing Keep Austin Weird bumper stickers with the proceeds going to a local animal shelter. Soon enough, someone else filed for a trademark for the slogan and started pasting it on all kinds of merch for tech gods and tourists to buy. Over the years, marketers in several other cities have tried to co-opt the phrase but I’m not sure “Keep Indianapolis Weird” packs the same punch.

Meanwhile in Tucson, one of my all-time favourite American towns, the cool kids are trying to prevent the city from falling prey to the rising real estate prices and unaffordability now seen in Austin. They’ve come up with their own slogan: “Keep Tucson Shitty.” While local tourism and economic development officials are unsurprisingly horrified at these T-shirts, I for one applaud the irony and cheek of it. It’s like that old trope about Vikings coming up with the name “Iceland” to keep the hordes away from its beautiful volcanic hot pools, and bestowing a vast barren tundra land with the name “Greenland” to try to attract people.

Here in YYC, we could do with attracting some more positivity right about now. We need to keep Calgary hopeful. While it may feel like we’re barely fending off a fire-breathing monster, we have a lot to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. Including our artists coming up with messages to inspire us, our entrepreneurs growing businesses to employ us and our health-care workers finding the energy to pull on their boots for another day of helping us.

So not today, Godzilla. You can take your big beasty feet and keep marching right out of town.

Calgary Herald