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Uptown 7th adds a scrawl of fun to mundane downtown

By Jason Herring, December 4 2014 —

If you take the train through downtown, you probably know the building across from the 1st Street SW LRT station. The building has chalkboards lining the front featuring quirky quotations. At times, the building’s speakers play music that can be heard from the train platform across the road.

The building, operating under the name Uptown 7th, is owned and maintained by Jonathan Sunstrum. Sunstrum saw potential for the location to be used as a public art space with the potential to be seen by hundreds of thousands of Calgarians travelling through the downtown core.

“The whole point of art is to make a person rethink a place or space,” Sunstrum says. “Why not do something where you have a built-in audience?”

The chalkboard quotations lining the store -— which Sunstrum calls “verbal vitamins” — were the first artistic project incorporated into the building.

“The point of the chalkboard is to provide people some stimulus. When I put something there, I’m specifically vague and vaguely specific at times. I expect people to either sort it out in their own mind, or if they want to, talk to me face-to-face,” Sunstrum says.

Other initiatives taken by Sunstrum to bring life to 7th Avenue range from bigger projects, such as having people play music that is broadcasted to the public, to small acts, like spreading balloons and bubbles onto the street to catch the eye of pedestrians.

“The bubbles are amazing because it changes dispositions of people on the street,” Sunstrum says.

There are also a few old tube televisions in the building’s windows, which transmit everything from hockey games to episodes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV show.

Sunstrum says the purpose of Uptown 7th is to liven up transit riders’ days.

The immediate future for the small strip of 7th Avenue between Centre and 1st Street lies in the abandoned pawn shop next to Uptown 7th, which Sunstrum and his partners are turning into an art gallery. They hope they can have the space opened up within the next two weeks.

Beyond that, Sunstrum says the future of Uptown 7th is less certain.

“Two years ago, I expected [I’d be here] four to six months. It’s now been two years,” says Sunstrum. “This is a big gamble here, so we’ll see how it goes.”


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