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Courtesy Big Kitty Crew

Big Kitty Crew combines art and feminist community

By Gurman Sahota, November 15 2016 —

Founded in Calgary in 2010, the Big Kitty Crew is Canada’s largest all-female urban arts collective. Creative director and co-founder Jennie Vallis says her experiences at the Alberta College of Art and Design led to the formation of the crew as a response to the male-dominated field of painting, graffiti and mural work.

“What started out as a visual art collective soon expanded into all different types of female creatives including fashion designers, music producers, singer-songwriters [and] dancers, but they all kind of have an influence by urban culture,” she says.

Community involvement and urban influences are a major part of the Big Kitty Crew. Vallis says collaborations with CJSW 90.9 FM and ACAD have strengthened the collective.

Collaboration between artists within the crew is also an essential part of the collective. Vallis says it is a struggle transitioning from student to freelance artist with the loss of a school-based community.

“Once you leave ACAD, you really lose your community base. As an artist, having a space where you can bounce ideas off each other [is necessary],” Vallis says. “Here we do a lot of collective commissions, we group-build. We all work as a team together to get to bounce endless ideas off one another.”

The crew has 52 members across the country with chapters in most major cities in Canada. Three founders — including Vallis — and six in-house artists with backgrounds in mixed media reside in Calgary.

A foundation for the Big Kitty Crew — a name Vallis reclaimed from her  school years — is getting together and promoting each other through newsletters, shows and fundraisers.

“When I come across certain opportunities, I try to pass them on. I try to connect certain girls together and we try to help each other grow as a female artistic community,” Vallis says.

Working closely together with Studio Cartel, another Calgary-based arts collective, the Big Kitty Crew has access to a larger workspace which is necessary for large commissions the collective works on.

“There’s more of a demand for custom artwork and large-scale pieces that now we collaborate [on] and then we can pay off things and pay all of our artists,” says Vallis.

While big cities like New York have a well-developed arts scene, Vallis finds that Calgary’s burgeoning scene is something to attend to.

“I find Calgary is the best city to work in because it’s a really fresh arts scene, it’s been growing and getting a lot stronger in the last couple years. It’s a really exciting place to be,” she says. “Even with the recession, people are really open to the idea of seeing new mediums and new things. With [places like] New York City, who already have such a strong arts scene, you could just get lost in how much amazing culture there is.”

Vallis says the opportunities in Calgary such as Beakerhead, Sled Island and the Winter Classic help strengthen the bond between the crew and its founding city.

The Christmas season bodes well for the crew’s involvement in the community with smaller events and larger events in the new year.

While still determining the fine details, the crew will have an international tour in 2017, with an emphasis on Asian destinations.

In the spring, the Big Kitty Crew will host its annual fundraising show featuring a hip-hop headliner  to be announced later this year. The proceeds will help fund future projects for the crew.

For more information, visit bigkittycrew.com

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