Sculpture at Winnipeg library sparks public art debate

A large sculpture being installed behind Winnipeg's Millenium Library has some wondering if it's worth spending taxpayers' money on public art.

A large sculpture being installed this week behind Winnipeg's Millennium Library has some wondering if it's worth spending taxpayers' money on public art.

A beaker-shaped structure named emptyful is inspired by the idea that something can be empty and full at the same time, will feature shifting lights, cascading water and cool fog once it is finished.

But some Winnipeggers are questioning the $575,000 price tag associated with the city's new art installation.

"It's a lot of money when we're in a recession," Maria Rodrigues told CBC News on Tuesday. "So it's beautiful, but I don't agree with it."

Others, like Rose-Anne Harder, said public artwork "increases the public spirit."

"I'd definitely come here for a lunch break," she said. "I love going to art galleries, so I think it's great."

While the federal government provided $200,000 for the sculpture, the remaining funding came from the City of Winnipeg by way of the Winnipeg Arts Council, a partnership responsible for many other public art projects throughout the city.

Emptyful is the art council's most expensive public art project yet.

"Art is nice to look at, but what is it worth, practically speaking?" asked Bruce Tait.

Jino Distasio of the University of Winnipeg's Institute of Urban Studies said public art is actually worth a lot in a city.

"The greatest cities in the world are all cities that have wonderful architecture, beautiful art, sculpture of all kinds," he said.

"I think this is one of those real important ingredients that separates good cities from great cities."

Bill Pechet, the architect behind emptyful, said the sculpture will hopefully encourage people to come downtown more often.

"Winnipeg is on the cusp of trying to redefine and reinvigorate its downtown, and a piece like this will hopefully contribute to people coming down in the evening, in the day," he said.

Crews will begin running tests on the sculpture's water, fog and light displays starting on Wednesday evening.