Edmonton creates public art fund to replace 30-year policy

Edmonton's public art policy will shift from one per cent of a capital project budget to a single reserve pool for all public art.

Councillors agreed to shift to art reserve by 2023

"Objects of Connection" is a work in progress at 157th Street and Stony Plain Road to support redevelopment of the Butler Memorial Park in Jasper Place. (Edmonton Arts Council)

The City of Edmonton is shifting its public art policy from a 30-year practice of tying funding to specific capital projects to a new funding reserve. 

Council's executive committee agreed to the shift at a meeting Monday. 

The change means, starting in 2023, the city will transfer an annual amount into a single reserve pool for the public art program.

Since 1990, the city's per-cent-for-art policy has spent one per cent of a capital project budget on a related piece of art. 

A recent example is the installation on top of the $142-million Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage on Fort Road, which depicts mountains in other parts of the world. 

Coun. Ben Henderson said the new approach should allow the city to be more flexible in where and how public art gets created. 

"Hopefully this will create some more ability to be thoughtful and creative on how we build public art throughout the city," Henderson said. 

The city is working on about two dozen projects totalling $4.5 million for 2021 and 2022.

They include installations at the McCauley streetscape, Heritage Valley Park and Ride, Windermere Fire Station, and a child-friendly installation at the city's Centennial Plaza. 

Gaps in representation

City administration worked with the Edmonton Arts Council to analyze the current per-cent-for-art policy before suggesting the new approach. 

David Turnbull, director of public art and conservation with the Edmonton Arts Council, said the new policy will help the city shape future projects and create a kind of public art road map that better reflects Edmonton as a whole. 

The current collection has gaps, Turnbull told CBC News in an interview Monday. 

"We have a big gap in the representation of women artists in the collection across the board," he said. "Once we start looking at women of colour, the number of artists is even lower."

Indigenous artists are also underrepresented, he added. 

"We're looking at building a collection with purpose and with intention," Turnbull said. 

"Esprit" by Pierre Poussin at 102nd Avenue and 105th Street is an abstract sculpture depicting a runner in mid-spring. (Edmonton Arts Council)

The city has about 300 public art installations, ranging from paintings and murals to metal sculptures and glass work. 

There's also sound art, such as a composition that's played as a soundscape at Queen Elizabeth Park.

The Arts Council works with the Edmonton Transit on some projects, Turnbull noted, many of which are installed on new LRT routes. 

While some past projects have been controversial, Henderson decries naysayers who believe art shouldn't be funded by taxpayer dollars. 

"We have a reputation as a very vibrant arts city," Henderson said.

"And that's absolutely critical to our long term prosperity as a city. People are not going to choose to live in a city that does not have those kinds of cultural expressions."


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