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After past missteps, Fort McMurray unveils latest public artwork

When it comes to municipally-funded art, Fort McMurray, like other communities, hasn't always hit the mark.

'Art generally can be controversial. I think this reflects the best of public art'

The two-storey public art sculpture, designed by artist David Robinson, sits on a causeway that takes motorists to the city's recreational centre, MacDonald Island Park. (David Thurton/ CBC)

When it comes to municipally-funded art, Fort McMurray, like other communities, hasn't always hit the mark.

But the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is hoping community members get behind its latest effort, Reflections on the River, a two-storey steel sculpture on the MacDonald Island Park causeway, unveiled Friday.

With the Athabasca and Snye rivers as a back drop, the metal sculpture designed by artist David Robinson, features a paddler in a canoe skimming atop a water surface.

"Art, generally, can be controversial," Scott said. "I think this reflects the best of public art. It's in the right place. There's been lots of consultation."

Most reaction so far to the sculpture, commissioned for $375,000, has been positive, said ​Nabil Malik, vice-chair of the public art committee.

The committee learned from less successful attempts at public consultations, Malik said.

Nabil Malik, vice-chair of the Wood Buffalo public art committee. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"Knowing the history of our region and some of the challenges that we have gone though and the structures that have gone up where the public wasn't as engaged, we really wanted to make sure we had something transparent," he said.

In 2015, the city installed a $1.6-million movable stage and the $2.2-million Weather Catcher, a brushed stainless-steel monument that the municipality insists is not public art but "an architectural feature."

Many residents derided both as wasteful spending.

A pilot is worried an art monument being installed near the Snye River in downtown Fort McMurray will be a hazard for float planes. "[Many] aircraft accidents occur at or just after take-off," says Peter Hunt, who operates the Fort McMurray Water Aerodrome. 1:34

Reflections on the River isn't without its own controversy.

A float-plane pilot and operator of the nearby aerodrome feared the sculpture would pose a safety risk, sitting in the path of aircraft landing and taking-off on the Snye Channel.

But Paul Hunt and the municipality reached a compromise, removing several trees in the vicinity to make way for an alternative flight path.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.