#MeetMeDowntown at Churchill Square

For rapper Arlo Maverick, downtown Edmonton is all about making connections. 

It’s where he often performs—in venues such as 9910 and The Starlite Room—and gets lyrical inspiration. When he was a student, he used to take transit through the core to get to NAIT. As a  burgeoning filmmaker, he looks to downtown to find links to the early days of Edmonton hip-hop.

“There’s something special about downtown,” says Arlo. “The people, the energy, it’s the epicentre of the city, where we all get to come and connect.” 

Here are five of his top downtown spots: 

Edmonton + mosaic = Edmosaic

Churchill Square is one of Arlo’s favourites because it’s one of the places in the city where Edmontonians from all walks of life usually meet. Especially for summer festivals, including The Works, Taste of Edmonton and the Edmonton Pride Festival

“It really allows you to see the diversity of Edmonton,” he says. “It’s like where, all of a sudden, the whole city descends upon this one area and it’s just like a mosaic, you know?” 

Arlo Maverick hangs out in Churchill Square on a sunny afternoon in May.

East African experience

Village Restaurant (10117 107 Avenue) specializes in East African cuisine. Arlo likes to drop in with friends or use it for business meetings. 

“Growing up, I always had friends who said, ‘Hey, let’s go to Earl’s, let’s go to Moxie’s,’” he recalls. 

“Let me introduce you to some food we have—and I’m not even African. I’m Jamaican, but I love African food, especially East African. So, to bring people here and allow them to try the lamb or the muskalo [beef muscles], it allows them to have an experience that is different and allows us to connect.” 

Arlo Maverick visits one of his favourite restaurants, Village, on 107 Avenue.

Edmonton spirit 

One of local artist AJA Louden’s murals, Dream Friends Journey (10705 103 Street) is located a few blocks from Village Restaurant. “Seeing someone like AJA, who was just a hip-hop kid and now he’s doing all these things and living off his art, I think it’s a great representation of the Edmonton spirit,” says Arlo. 

“There’s something about this city that allows us to create something out of nothing.” 

Muralist AJA Louden painted Dream Friends Journey, which includes images of Bruce Lee and a turntable, in 2018.

Breakdance corner

In the ‘80s, a bunch of hip-hop fans started breakdancing on the northwest corner of 105 Street and Jasper Avenue. They called it “The Roxy,” after the name of the club in Beat Street, a 1984 film (not to be confused with Edmonton’s Roxy Theatre on 124 Street).

“They built a community in that one space,” says Arlo. “People from the south side, west end, north side would come down to practice because it was a central location. People like Darren Jordan, who is now known for producing 5 Artists 1 Love, was one of the guys. His little brother used to be able to do the windmill and take his shirt off at the same time.” 

Arlo recently shot a documentary about the corner and Edmonton’s b-boys, Untouchable Crew, for Telus Optik. 

Breakdancers practiced on the northwest corner of 105 Street and Jasper Avenue because the building overhang “protected them from the elements,” says Arlo.

Venture time

Arlo sometimes uses the JANA Building (10420 103 Avenue) for creative ventures, including shooting videos, playing gigs, or organizing events for Black creators. 

“They’re so welcoming of me and my art,” he says. “A lot of times, I have wild ideas, but [JANA] is like: ‘We support you. We understand what you’re trying to do.’”

One of the colourful areas inside the JANA Building.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Arlo Maverick posing in front of Evanescent, a temporary art installation in Churchill Square, on May 27, 2023. The display was part of Downtown Spark, a festival of art, dogs, music and more, sponsored by the Downtown Business Association. 
Arlo performs June 30 at the Starlite Room as part of the TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival.