Calgary

Calgary artists question city's public art strategy

Calgary artists and art groups say there needs to be more engagement surrounding city council's decision to bring in an outside operator for its public art program.

City council voted to bring in an outside operator for the program last year

Some of the city's public art projects, such as Travelling Light, left, and Bowfort Towers, right, have sparked controversy in recent years. (CBC)

Calgary artists and art groups say there needs to be more engagement surrounding city council's decision to bring in an outside operator for its public art program.

The public art program was frozen in 2017 after several controversial public art projects, such as the art installation known as Bowfort Towers or the sculpture dubbed Travelling Light.

The program remained frozen since 2017, but Calgary city council voted last year in favour of transferring the program's operation to an independent or external body.

But some artists and groups say there needs to be more engagement surrounding the program moving forward.

"There's no information about how this program will be run, so therefore, there's no proof that this is a best practice move," said Shawna Thompson, a member of Calgary's Public Art Alliance. "There's no organization in the city that has the existing expertise to run and deliver a public art program."

Council plans to put out a request for proposals shortly, with the hope that an outside operator would free the program from municipal contract restrictions on buying art, and allow it to take donations to help pay for projects.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the new process will work better for local artists.

"I think that we have consensus on council that we want public art to be an important part of the city moving forward," he said. "I think there are concerns that this is [an attempt] by the city to shuffle it outside of the city in an attempt to shut it down.

"Not it's not. It's an attempt to make it more nimble, more responsive and to continue to pursue best practices."

Carra said he expects the answers will come by the end of June, when the city approves who will get the contract. 

Once the contract is awarded, the freeze on the public art budget will be lifted, according to the city.

With files from Scott Dippel

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