Calgary's new central library devotes $500K to Indigenous public art

The Calgary Public Library is partnering with First Nations on a $500,000 project devoted to bringing Indigenous art to the new building when in opens this fall.

'Growing up an Indigenous person in an urban setting, I never saw my culture reflected'

Teneya Gwin, the Indigenous design leader for the new Central Public Library in downtown Calgary, says the Indigenous art project will ensure Treaty 7 culture is represented in the new space. (CBC)

The Calgary Public Library is partnering with First Nations on a $500,000 project devoted to bringing Indigenous art to the new building when it opens this fall.

Organizers hope it will showcase Indigenous art and reflect the stories, history and culture of Treaty 7 and Metis communities.

The first part of the plan is to unveil three permanent art exhibits when the new Central Public Library opens in November. Four more works will be added to the space in the future.

Teneya Gwin, the Indigenous design leader for the new library, sees the exhibits as a departure from the past.

"Growing up an Indigenous person in an urban setting, I never saw my culture reflected in places we worked, lived and played," she said.

The new Central Public Library is expected to open this fall. (City of Calgary)

"So I feel this space, which is going to be an iconic space for Calgary — how beautiful would it be to have this rich, vibrant culture reflected in our urban space, but also as an education tool?"

Gwin says most of the half-million-dollar budget will be dedicated to the artists and artwork.

"The commissioned artist or artist team will be required to design, fabricate and install a public art feature that will create a strong and recognizable link to themes of diversity, inclusion and identity," the library said in a release.

And while the library exhibits will be permanent, Gwin says they will also fund an artist in residence and a display space for temporary exhibitions as well.

Program assistant Jared Tailfeathers says organizers are looking for Indigenous work ranging from murals to multimedia installations with an emphasis on Treaty 7 artists from the TsuuT'ina Nation, the Blackfoot Nations (Piikani, Kainai, Siksika), Stoney Nations (Chiniki, Wesley and Bearspaw), as well as the Métis Nation Region 3.

"What our goal is for the artists is to collaborate with nation members, also urban Indigenous members, to get a feel of all the Treaty 7 Nations," he said.

"We are asking for Treaty 7 artists to apply, most of all. But we're not discouraging anyone from outside of Treaty 7, any Indigenous person outside of Treaty 7 [is invited] to apply as well."

The library is still recruiting qualified Indigenous candidates to serve on an eight-member art selection committee. The committee will include members of the library staff and one art consultant to help guide the process.

The project is a partnership with the Indigenous Place Making Council.

With files from Dave Gilson