The Alcove Centre for the Arts provides an accessible space to create and connect

It’s hard not to get swept up by the bustling oomph of downtown Calgary. 7th Avenue thrums with the energy of TD Square, the surrounding professional buildings, the C-Train line, and Stephen Avenue Place. 

But there’s a cozy secret nestled in Calgary’s beating heart. Step through the doors under the green “BOW PARKADE” sign on the corner of 2 Street, and you might feel like you’ve stepped into your favourite aunt’s cozy basement — the spot where you and all your friends would hang out after school. 

Warm lighting falls over colourful carpets and plush seating, vibrant artwork hangs from the walls, paintbrushes sticking out of jars, and instruments wait in the corner. A friendly face greets you from the front desk, and the various art supplies urge you to sit down and create something. 

This is The Alcove Centre for the Arts, a vibrant social space built around the arts and creativity. It isn’t an art gallery: in the words of co-founder Bethel Afework, it’s a “third place” that isn’t work or home for Calgarians to spend time without the pressure to spend money. 

“When I turned 18, it felt like there was nothing for us to do,” says Afework. “There’s only so many times you can go out to eat or to the bar. There wasn’t a casual place to hang out and make art, like a recreation centre. There wasn’t a place to drop in and try a paintbrush without feeling like I have to pay for it or feel that I’m not good enough.”

Providing a creative, inclusive alternative to a bar or a club is the dream that united Afework with fellow Alcove co-founder Dennis Lee. The two met while attending the University of Calgary — Afework studying communications, Lee studying urban planning. They kicked things into gear amidst the chaos of 2020, drawing inspiration from a drop-in music event Lee hosted in the past called The Alcove. 

“For about two years, we did pop-up events partnered with organizations like Calgary Downtown Association and the Esker Foundation and lived out of their spaces,” says Lee. “It was very much a grassroots, volunteer-type thing.” 

The Alcove’s Hip-Hop Showcase was one such event, one of many creative pop-ups that flourished on Stephen Avenue throughout the summer of 2022. At these events, any passerby could engage in art workshops, perform music, add some spray paint to the community mural, and bond with each other. That same year, The Alcove hosted a series of “Creative Mingler” events, one of which was attended by then-poet laureate Wakefield Brewster. 

After over a dozen pop-ups, it was clear there was demand for a communal drop-in art space. In 2023, The Alcove partnered with The City of Calgary Downtown Strategy Team and cSPACE to open a physical location. 

Located at 244 7 Ave. S.W., The Alcove Centre for the Arts was born within walking distance from a train station. “Being downtown has always been a part of our beliefs,” says Lee. “To be in the centre, as close to as many people as possible, where it’s most accessible through public transit.”

That sort of inclusivity is vital to The Alcove. “Where should someone go when they’re just starting out?” says Afework. “Some people just want to be in a creative space and meet like-minded people. Many people in our space wouldn’t call themselves musicians; they’re just hobbyists who like messing around and spending time here. We should have the ability to do that.”

In addition to the drop-in arts space, The Alcove also offers registered workshops — May saw workshops including crochet, paper flower making and embroidery — jam sessions and more. With the first year of operating a physical third space in the books, The Alcove aims to build the community outwards. 

The Alcove will host Sled Island’s Arts Exhibition this month, and the team will be present at Sled Alley, facilitating art workshops. 

“Now that we’ve got this community hub, we want to be outward facing again,” says Lee. “It’s about getting people to subscribe to the idea that arts are important, and we need to incorporate it into our lives more.”  

Visit The Alcove Centre for the Arts at 244 7 Ave. S.W.,