Who is Wreck City?

OC |

Explore Calgary’s Street ArtmC:t    2015.08.6

Who is Wreck City?


I remember back in June I was sitting on the train on my way to school and I picked up the newspaper and as I read along I noticed an interesting article about a group called “WRECK CITY”. The paper was advertising an upcoming art display called “Demo Tape”. This exhibition was a collaborative effort with Sled Island and was set up in the Penguin Car Wash in Ramsay. The exhibition was to feature a variety of art in the form of music, art, and performances. The group was given free reign to alter the space completely into an artistic display and it was something that I was very excited to check out! It got me wondering though, who was WRECK CITY? Why had I known about them before? So I decided to reach out to them to ask them a few questions to help clarify who they are and what it is that they do. This article is all focused on this amazing group who truly embodies the idea of freedom of expression and art in a variety of ways, let me please welcome Natalie MacLean and Shawn Mankowske:



1) OC: What is wreck city exactly and what is it that you guys do?


SM: Wreck City is a new frontier for exhibiting art in spaces that previously were not considered for art installation and the eventual showing of art. We are questioning the very basis of what it is to exhibit art, in galleries or beyond.


NM: Wreck City is an independent curatorial collective instigating raw, site-specific, and subversive art exhibitions in forgotten, alternative, and pre-demolition spaces made up of 8 artist-curators (Matthew Bourree, Caitlind r.c. Brown, Jennifer Crighton, Brandon A. Dalmer, Andrew Frosst, John Frosst, Natalie MacLean, and Shawn Mankowske) WRECK CITY has a mandate to:


  • Identify interesting spaces and sites for public art events
  • Instigate projects that are temporary in nature, constantly adapting to changing situations
  • Create exciting, relevant, subversive, raw, site‐specific, inclusive, and nurturing circumstances for a diverse community of artists
  • Build an infrastructure for participants to experiment, collaborate, and grow within a professional and transparent framework
  • Challenge the passive role of art within society at large by facilitating a connection between artists, artworks, and a broad demographic of people
  • Catalyze conversations, debates, sharing, wonder, and curiosity within the urban landscape


2) OC: In regards to the Identify portion, how do you go about finding these places?


SM: Simply finding a convenient spot, investigating and asking questions.


NM: For the first two projects, the spaces came to us (WRECK CITY through the artists living in that space and Phantom Wing through CSpace approaching us). For DEMO TAPE, we took a different approach and did a call for spaces. Eventually we sort of happened upon the Penguin Car Wash and did some sleuthing as to who owned it. We then approached the owner to see if they would be interested in working with us and they were.






3) OC: How often do you find you’re creating your, what I like to call, outdoor art galleries or unconventional artistic displays?


SM: Whenever the situation is too good to say no, and the opportunity is something that the curators would like to see developed. It’s  interesting partnering with developers, and other organizations (recently Sled Island) that are able to accommodate our requirements.


NM: So far, we have done 3 different projects: WRECK CITY: an epilogue for 809 in April 2013, Phantom Wing in September 2013 and DEMO TAPE in June 2015.





Demo tape


Demo tape


4) OC: How and when did WRECK CITY start?


SM:  WRECK CITY has been developing since the inception of 809 Gallery (circa 2007). 809 started in a space not at all meant for art, but this simple alternative garage space developed into a thought pattern about where art can be shown. 809 really changed the game of showing contemporary art in Calgary, and has only started to be developed.


NM: Shawn Mankowske and Brandon Dalmer were running the space when they discovered that it and the rest of the houses on the block would be demolished and they had the idea to use the space for a public art event. They approached other curators and the development company about their idea, and thus began WRECK CITY.






5) OC: How has it changed since its inception over the years?


SM: WRECK CITY has changed in that it was never supposed to be a lasting thing. When the curators were chosen for the original WRECK CITY, it was only meant to work for that first one: an Epilogue for 809.  Since then we have taken on numerous projects, while trying to maintain that spirit that brought about 809 in the first place. We’ve kept the Wreck City moniker, for the sake of popular culture understanding (ie. the general public and viewership).


NM: I think that we change a bit with each project. Some of those changes are just due to the different nature of each project. Since they are all in different locations they do all have a different feel. And obviously, we get better at all of the organizational stuff with practice. Most importantly though, our main mission and goals have been the same since the project’s inception.






6) OC: What do you love most about doing what you guys do?


SM: This question truly depends on which curator you ask. For myself, I enjoy the questioning of the nature of showing art. I don’t believe in the established methods of showing art, it doesn’t work for me.


NM: I agree that this question does depend on who you ask. Personally, what I love most is having that critical mass of artists working in one place and seeing the unexpected collaborations and relationships that come out of that. I also love seeing people who may not be drawn to a traditional gallery space come to an art show and truly enjoy it.






7) OC: How has your work influenced the city and the people residing within it?


SM: I hope it has inspired people in that art is really for anyone willing to understand. It is not pretentious all of the time, but it does require a viewer to abandon certain understandings and be willing to change and want to know more about art.


NM: I would hope that WRECK CITY has opened people up to the idea of art and expanded people’s idea of what art can be. I think it can be a point of entry for people who find the traditional gallery system intimidating and it can show people that art can be more than just paintings on a wall. I think WRECK CITY also draws attention to underused, or forgotten spaces in transition. We try to celebrate these spaces at the end of their existence and open a discussion on their future.



8) OC: What inspires you and your creative process?


SM: The freedom to do whatever we want, and to be left alone to do it. Often times pushing the limits of understanding requires us to “bend” bylaws and such (authority).


NM: What inspires me (within the context of WRECK CITY) is the idea of making art outside the traditional gallery, and the unexpected collaborations and relationships that come from working with a big group of artists in a space.


Demo 2





9) OC: What is the timeline like for your creations? As in, how does it start out and what are the steps to getting to a kind of “final” product?


NM: The timeline varies for each project. There is lots of behind the scenes administrative work that goes in before the project is even announced to the public, which can take anywhere from 2 months to a year. We start with finding a space, developing a relationship with whoever owns it, and securing some basic funding (through grants and donations). We then do a call for proposals and allow artists to submit ideas. After artists are selected, we try to give them about a month to work on site before the project opens to the public.



10) OC: What are you most proud of in the work that you do and why?


NM:Its hard to pick out one thing that we are most proud of. For me, it would probably be inspiring others to enjoy and explore art, and inspiring artists to push themselves.



11) OC: Is Wreck City just a mish mash of various artists that offer their own unique take? Or is it the same group of artists each time?


NM: We have chosen artists through a combination of direct curation and calls for submissions. There are some artists who have worked on more than one project, but we do try to include artists we haven’t worked with before. Most of the artists are from the Calgary area, but we have worked with artists from Toronto, Whitehorse, Surrey, Edmonton and beyond.



artists 2


artists 3


artists 4

12) OC: What types of backgrounds do and your core team members have?


NM: All the curators of WRECK CITY are working artists with very different backgrounds. We have been a part of collectives (The Arbor Lake School), started independent galleries (809 Gallery, Haight Gallery, Pith Gallery), installed sculptures internationally (Cloud) and worked with larger organizations (Heavy Industries, Nuit Blanche and Calgary 2012). We are musicians, directors of galleries, sculptors, mechanics, special effect wizards, model makers and carpenters.






13) OC: How has starting Wreck City changed your lives?


NM: Personally, WRECK CITY has had a big impact on my life. When I was an artist on the first project I was living in Toronto, but after being involved in WRECK CITY and because of some of the relationships made there, I moved to Calgary. I think WRECK CITY has helped us make so many lasting relationships, introduced us to new ideas, and given us tons of amazing experiences.



14) OC: How does one become a part of Wreck City?


NM: For artists, we usually do calls for submissions and we need tons of volunteers to make these projects happen. Anyone interested in future projects can stay tuned to our website and facebook page for updates.



14) OC: Any final comments that you would like to send out to the public about your work or even to inspiring artists out there?


NM: I think what really makes our work good is all the hard work from the artists on each project, and all the enthusiasm from visitors to each project. Their support is what makes these projects special.


OC: Thank you!!





The concept of freedom of creation and working together to create a form of art, whether it be mixed media or more focused form, is truly an incredible one. It’s not often that artists are given an opportunity to just create and be open and to be able to collaborate at such a high frequency with such a variety of artists. WRECK CITY has created a positive and educational environment for people to be able to visit and appreciate art in all kinds of forms! Being able to just walk over and appreciate art is a gift that some don’t always get the opportunity to enjoy (such as museums or world famous galleries and such). It appears that WRECK CITY given Calgary the gift of variety, creation and opportunity. Keep up the AMAZING work guys!

So what do you say Calgary? Have you had personal experience with WRECK CITY? What is your opinion on their work and what they are doing for the city? We, at Make Calgary Talk, are always dying to hear what you have to say, so please let us know!





Curious about other outdoor art? Check out some of these other articles done on Make Calgary Talk!

1) Explore Calgary’s Street Art

2) Graffiti Vs Street Art

Next: Coming soon…

Previous: 7 Buildings You Should Know as a Calgarian


[1] Photo from Phantom Wing

[2] Photo from House Demolition Project

[3] Photos taken from Wreck Cities Facebook page

[4] Photos from Wreck City 809 Site

[5]  Photos for potential abandoned locations from Knight Light and Urbex

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