Believing in nvrlnd

Nerverland is the home of Peter Pan. It is a place that only exists if you believe; believing being something that comes easier to non-adults. Believing allows you to create according to what you can think up. This trait is also common in artists, who teach themselves … well,  to believe in themselves and believe in the capacity to make things into something different, something other than what most currently see. Thus, it is not astonishing to know that artists are behind the recent nvrlnd. project in Calgary. This former hotel was home to the oldest profession of the modern world (aka a hotel for prostitution), but was done in a way that was blight to the community. When the city seized the property, it was artists that came knocking asking to take it over and flip it into a community asset. Two years later, it’s got more than just artists believing in nvrlnd.

A ten-minute walk from the independent small business and design friendly neighbourhood of Inglewood, one lands in Ramsay, not far from the future expansion of the c-train. Ramsay is noteworthy for its medium industrial feel, including a chicken beheading factory across from the formerly infamous Shamrock Hotel, a place where cocks came out to play only if associated with pay. Where the inside of the hotel used to be dark, it is now the outside that has been painted black. A ready canvas for a mural maybe, but currently allows for playful messages to pop out. Including, and in helvetica:

                        Wake me when i’m famous


                        Never miss a good chance to shut up

The insides might not be filled with famous artists, but it’s filled with colourful voices. Each hotel room is now a work space for creatives, making it a most colourful space. The 26 hotel rooms are now studios for 35 interdisciplinary Calgarian artists. The new buzz word for such spaces are art hubs. We used to know them as art collectives. Its a place where a photographer can walk across the hall for help to build a frame, or a painter can walk down a floor to borrow paint, or a tattoo artist can walk the halls for inspiration, etc, etc, etc. Its a community of professionals, who professionalize in creating new realities. It flows naturally. It flows efficiently. It flows collectively and individually. Its proof that artists are professionals, and they too should have safe, tailored spaces, so that they can strive and achieve there best. At their best, we all benefit. 

This undertaking is the result of 5 Calgarian artists who dared to believe that this spot could be a playground for artists. They saw the value in this space, and knew that those who also believed in such places would find it. And more and more… people are finding nvrlnd. 

Cory Nespor @ the entrance to nvrlnd

We we’re toured around by one of the founding members, a go-to fixer, noteworthy artist and former Manitoban, Cory Nespor. He beamed in thinking that both the bold and modest changes to the space, made less than two years ago, allowed artists to take over and completely transform the space. He did a piece on the outside wall of ”the boutique” that reads:

            if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. 

Back side of the boutique – art by Cory Nespor

The sign sits on a wall of doors. Cory builds opportunities, and it is now us who come a knocking. There is something about doors in nvrlnd. If the artist is present, most of the doors remain open. But even when closed, the doors tell you the story of who is on the other side, or rather what world they are creating on the other side. Artists take the opportunity to show their work on the hallway walls; as much for tourists like us, than for themselves to inspire one another. Each door has a framed bio of the artist. Many include business cards that can be taken by visitors. It is this balance of privacy and public connectivity that is inherent to the work of an artist. 

nvrlnd. has adopted the practice of ”first fridays” and regularly opens its doors to the public. This creates a dialogue between artists and community, since it is spaces like these that prove the value of a creator. But it also means that nvrlnd might be hard to find, though easy to come back to. No need for Peter to fly you there, but you might want to google map it.

The space is not perfect by any means. The building is in a state of constant creation and transformation, just like the art within it. But most of it makes sense, even though the space itself was created for a much different purpose. Proving that if you believe, you can create nvrlnd. Its not just for kids, but kids are most welcome, as they know what it means to not wait for a knock on a door, and to seize the opportunities should you choose to see them. 

Eric Plamondon