Calgary's public art program to be moved outside of city hall

Calgary's public art program will be run by an independent or external body, council decided Tuesday.

Program was frozen following series of controversies involving city public art projects

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's public art program will be run by an independent or external body, council voted Tuesday.

The program has remained frozen since September 2017, after a series of controversies involving city public art projects like Bowfort Towers and Travelling Light.

Council voted 10-4 in favour of transferring the program's operation to an independent or external agency, with councillors Sean Chu, Joe Magliocca, Peter Demong and Jeromy Farkas voting against. 

City administration said the move could save money, reduce the number of city workers involved and possibly see more local artists have a chance to win public art contracts.

The city will start taking submissions and is calling for a report to come back before the middle of next year on a potential operator for the public art program.

Public Art Alliance response

Calgary's Public Art Alliance wrote in an open letter to city councillors that this major shift for the program has never been floated or discussed with the cultural community.

"It was clear to the administration in March that in order to build a successful public art program, significant effort needed to be put into rebuilding trust and confidence with the local art community, processes needed to be transparent, and there needed to be clear and consistent communication with the public," the alliance wrote.

"We understand the immense pressure the city is facing, please allow your cultural community to help."

TransitStory, left, by artist Jill Anholt (7th Avenue and Centre Street LRT platform) and the Chinook Arc in Barb Scott Park (12th Avenue and Ninth Street S.W.) by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock are just two examples of Calgary's public art collection. (The City of Calgary)

It continued on to say that several items have not been undertaken from the corporate public art program review update in March.

"We respectfully request that commitments of the corporate public art program review update to council are fulfilled, that the cultural community of this city is engaged, and specifically that program oversight should include participation from the artist community in an inclusive decision-making framework."

City interested in best practices

"What I can say is we're just continuing to look at all best practices and industry models from across the country and nationally and internationally on how we can deliver the best public art program," said Jennifer Thompson, acting manager of arts and culture for the city.

Coun. Shane Keating is one of the council members who supported a review of the public art program, if only to rebuild public confidence in the program and to possibly even save it.

"I didn't want to see the program outright cancelled, but at the same time, I knew it had to change dramatically," said Keating.

He maintains it isn't possible for every piece of public art to be liked.

For controversial pieces like Bowfort Towers and Travelling Light, Keating said there were questions in many people's minds whether those projects were art or not.

"That's where we had the failing. There wasn't the ability to [gather] feedback and alter to make it acceptable," he said.

The city's four year budget plan for 2019-2022 includes $3.2 million annually for public art.

With files from Scott Dippel


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