Shoulder-to-Shoulder, Paintbrush-to-Paintbrush

And then there were five: the recipients of the inaugural Soul of the City Neighbour Grants built sculptures, shared poetry, danced in the streets, designed family crests and painted murals. Most importantly, all five projects brought neighbours together and deepened social connections within their communities.

The $5,000 grants launched in 2014 as a partnership between Calgary Economic Development’s Soul of the City speaker series and the Calgary Foundation’s Neighbour Grants. With more than 40 applicants in the first year, finalists presented their community-building projects to a live audience and jury, which ultimately awarded grants to eight projects. A 30-minute documentary released last November follows five of those projects. [GOOD: Can we embed the video?]

Art was not a requirement for the grant, but creative energy was a must. The five featured projects all included art as a central element, such as the all-ages write-your-life weekly circle in northeast Calgary, the Wildwood Water Spiral sculpture that also serves as a water pump, and the Twin Views Communal Garden mural project.

“It is striking, how deep of a theme arts are,” says Julie Black, Citizen Engagement Associate at the Calgary Foundation, of the grant recipients. “Because these grants are about building a sense of belonging and connection, a good way to do that is to create something together [and] of course there are going to be a lot of arts projects, because that’s something people can do together.”

Originally planned for only a single year, the Soul of City Neighbour Grants ran again in 2015, with winning projects set to take place from May to September 2015. The results of these grants are both immediate and long-lasting: for instance, the Wildwood Water Spiral from 2014 will continue to nurture nearby gardens and delight visitors for years to come, and Reading Town Canada, a collaboration between Calgary Reads and the Inglewood Community Association, brought together creative neighbour-led activities to celebrate reading for a weekend in May 2015—with the greater goal of fostering life-long joy and love of reading.

While the Soul of the City Neighbour Grants are still new, the Calgary Foundation has run regular Neighbour Grants since 1999, and Black observes that the projects usually leave behind increased community connectedness.

“It’s such a sense of belonging to be side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, hammer-to-hammer, paintbrush-to-paintbrush, creating something,” she comments.