Mayor calls $470K blue ring billed as public art 'awful'

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi isn't happy about the latest work of public art to join the city's collection — a $470,000 giant blue ring with street lights on top called Travelling Light.

Sculpture called Travelling Light on 96th Avenue raises some eyebrows, concerns

A giant blue ring on the overpass at Deerfoot Trail and 96th Avenue N.E. has caught the attention of drivers. (CBC)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi isn't happy about the latest work of public art to join the city's collection.

Travelling Light is a large blue metal hoop with street lights on top of it located in the northeast on the new 96th Avenue bridge near Deerfoot Trail.

'We have to remember that this is one per cent of the entire capital project budget.'

Nenshi says the $470,000 project was commissioned before he won the last election and he thinks the new piece of art is "awful."

"I think they received 55 submissions, of which three were from Calgary, and they managed to pick something they liked," he said.

"Eighty per cent of the work and the budget was spent in Calgary with Calgary businesses and this is what we got. Now I don't like it, but sometimes art is divisive."

Represents transportation

Rachael Seupersad, the superintendent of Calgary's public art program, spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener about the controversial sculpture Tuesday morning.

"It is essentially represents the universal mode of transportation ... the wheel," says Seupersad.

"The artists really looked at the environment and the surrounding area ... it really is a place where all modes of transportation and movement come together and that is sort of captured and symbolized within this piece."

Seupersad says the art was part of the city's "one per cent policy." 

"We do follow council policy, which dictates that one per cent of that budget will go to public art," she said.

Art selected by Calgary jury

Nenshi says that policy was recently amended so the public art money from numerous projects can be pooled to create more substantial art works, or ensure it's placed where people can appreciate it.

Seupersad says the $470,000 price tag may seem like a lot, but Calgarians have to keep in mind the total cost. 

"We have to remember that this is one per cent of the entire capital project budget," she said. 

Seupersad says the city was given an opportunity to be involved in the choosing of the art piece. 

"It was chosen by a jury that was commissioned specifically to do that job for us," she said.

Community consulted

"The jury is made up of five people, three of whom are arts and design professionals that reside in Calgary, one representative from the commissioning department, which in this case is transportation, and one representative from the community."

The community was also consulted back in May.

"We did have a public session at the Central Library where we had revealed many of the upcoming projects ... and so we had a very intimate conversation with the Calgarians that attended that session and they were able to really ask a lot of questions and talk to the project co-ordinators."

Although the design was not made locally, Seupersad says it was built in the city. 

"The artists are from Berlin," she said. "The fabrication of it and the installation of it and all of those logistics and so on were handled here in Calgary."

New public art on the way

Seupersad said art is subjective and it may take some time to understand the concept behind the work and appreciate it.

"This piece over time will come to sort of identify very strongly that part of the city and so it's a way of place making, or giving people a strong sense of place."

The city's public art program has several other installations on the way, says Seupersad.

"Another very exciting one that we've just installed — the installation is not yet complete but certainly people can start appreciating it — is the Cliff Garten works that have just gone in along the Seventh Avenue corridor," she said.

"We have seven art works that have gone in on the City Hall station and seven matching artworks that are going in on the Kerby Station on the west end. So these are meant to be gateway markers into our downtown core."