Business, City & Politics, Planning

The changing face of Calgary: A focus on arts, community and culture in Bowness

Calgary is slowly changing its image. Normally when you think of Calgary you think cowboy, oil, big business and stampede. These words are all still relevant, but there are new ones creeping their way into the Calgary lexicon: culture, arts, food trucks and Mayor Nenshi are a few that come to mind. Yes, in 2010 Calgary elected its first Muslim mayor. In fact, Mayor Nenshi was the first Muslim to ever be elected in a major Canadian city. Now, what was that about Calgary being the Texas of Canada?

Calgary is changing. Bowness, a neighbourhood in Calgary’s northwest, is feeling this change along with the rest of the city. When, at one time, a mention of Bowness could make anyone shiver (due to its reputation as an unsafe, rundown part of town) the Bowness of today makes people smile from ear to ear when it is mentioned. The area has been gentrified in the best possible way, and new businesses are taking advantage of the neighbourhood’s new image.

Just take a walk down Bowness Road and you’ll come across a variety of businesses that cater to the arts. As time goes on, more arts-centered businesses continue to appear, making Bowness one of the go-to destinations in Calgary for arts and culture.

The Grasby Art Studio, owned and maintained by professional artist Teresa Grasby, is a beautiful space located in the heart of bustling Bowness Road. Her studio has been active in Bowness for one year and its popularity is causing Grasby to consider moving into a bigger space. “I would want to stay in Bowness, preferably on Bowness Rd.,” says Grasby. “It’s such an eclectic, character neighbourhood with an exciting up-and-coming arts community.”

Grasby, a professional artist for twenty years who also taught art for ten years, runs her studio in a relaxed, comfortable manner. “Sometimes we’ll sit around this table with tea or coffee,” she says gesturing to a large rectangular table in the middle of the studio. “Everyone will be painting and chatting. It’s a great way to build community while doing something creative and fulfilling.”

Grasby does not stand at the front and teach; instead she facilitates the creation of high-quality art in a fun and supportive environment. “I don’t tell them to paint like me. I encourage their natural talents and abilities, and facilitate their own creative process.”

The main goal for The Grasby Art Studio is to reach your creative potential. By facilitating experimentation with a wide variety of mediums, Teresa Grasby is helping people reach their creative goals.

Walk a few blocks west and you’ll find Bowtown Music, a business that sells both musical instruments and sheet music as well as provides lessons in a variety of instruments. The owners, Kuba Suttles and Paula Hirson, are happy to provide a musical service for the community. “We hope to be the foundation for musical culture in Bowness,” says Suttles.

Suttles, who had been teaching music lessons out of his house since 2007, decided to expand his business to a commercial space. In June of 2011, Suttles and Hirson moved into the space on Bowness Rd. and lessons commenced that September. “I had an existing base of students and they followed me to this space. We hand-picked a few more teachers and now teach about 120 students,” says Suttles.

“We lead with lessons and instructions. This naturally progresses to sales and rentals. The retail supports our students’ needs as we are able to purchase high quality instruments and music for them,” says Hirson.

Bowtown is continually growing. They began with two teaching facilities and added a third in June of 2012. They are currently expanding their space and plan to add a fourth studio in the fall of 2012.

“We are so grateful to the Bowness community for their support. They have truly helped our business grow by supporting what we do,” says Hirson. “We love being in Bowness because it is truly a grassroots community. The people are grounded, honest and creative.”

On the east end of the commercial stretch of Bowness Rd. sits Fire Escape, a contemporary ceramic studio that opened shop in Bowness in June 2010. The owners, JD and Jacqui Esler, have felt a lot of support from the community since the move to Bowness. “Being a part of a community is very important to us,” says Jacqui. “If you don’t have community, you don’t have anything. I think that artists and creative people are what make a community interesting and vibrant.”

The creative process is simple at Fire Escape. After you have picked the item you would like to paint, the staff will show you various design ideas and techniques. You can spend as much time as you like painting your piece. After it is finished, the studio will fire it in one of their three kilns (it will be ready in 3 – 4 days).

“We are going for an impulsive and impromptu experience here at Fire Escape,” says JD. “We don’t want to push too much structure on our customers because we don’t want anyone to feel intimidated. We strive to make our customers feel welcome and enjoy a casual, creative experience. We cater to people who want to have fun and be a kid again.”

“We get a lot of groups, which is great,” Says Jacqui. “Children’s birthday parties are especially fun, and we’ve had the boy scouts and brownies come in. It’s also a great place for a date night or for a ladies’ night out.”

With businesses like these popping up in Calgary, along with a variety of attractions like regular Famers’ Markets, the annual Bowness Stampede Parade, community movie nights where a movie is projected on to the side of the high school, community picnics in Bowness Park and the ever-present feeling like you’re living in a small town, it’s not hard to understand why Bowness has quickly become a treasured location to live, raise a family and thrive.

The Grasby Art Studio is located at 201-6323 Bowness Rd. NW. Visit to learn more.

Bowtown is located at 6425 Bowness Rd. NW. Visit for more information.

Fire Escape is located at 6305 Bowness Rd. NW. Visit to learn more.


Krista Wiebe is a freelance writer and editor based in Calgary, Alberta. Follow her on Twitter @KristaWiebe.

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