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Calgary’s mayoral candidates address public art controversy at election forum

Click to play video 'Calgary’s mayoral candidates address public art controversy at election forum' Calgary’s mayoral candidates address public art controversy at election forum
WATCH ABOVE: The eight men vying to become Calgary's next mayor shared their thoughts on what promises to be a major campaign issue this election: how the city should handle public art. Heather Yourex-West explains – Aug 28, 2017

The eight men vying for Calgary’s top job shared their thoughts on the city’s public art selection process and arts funding as a whole during an election forum on the arts Monday night.

The event, hosted by Alberta Theatre Projects, One Yellow Rabbit and Theatre Junction attracted a full house as candidates responded to questions during the two-hour town hall event.

“I actually am worried that this could be a one-issue campaign,” said Naheed Nenshi, the incumbent candidate running for Calgary mayor. “I’m concerned that the public outcry over the Bowfort Towers will become symbolic about the kind of government and the kind of city we want to be.”

READ MORE: Calgary mayoral election candidates to debate arts and culture in public forum

When the $500-thousand Bowfort Towers art project was installed earlier this month, the backlash was strong and quick. Many Calgarians questioned how and why the piece was chosen, while representatives from the  Tsuut’ina community called for the artwork to be redesigned or removed.

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READ MORE: Tsuut’ina Nation wants to see Bowfort Tower art installation redesigned

At the forum, candidate Paul Hughes said he understood why Calgarians were so upset by the project.

“If you’re going to use public dollars, there will be expectations from the public and I think that hasn’t shocked anyone that’s in the arts scene.”

Despite the controversy, there was agreement among the candidates that while the funding model for public arts projects is appropriate (public art funding is built in to the budgets of capital projects in Calgary), the selection process needs to change.

“Everybody needs to have a say on it,” said candidate Dr. Emile Gabriel. “We live in a world that has modern technology – we can send a survey out and we have to respect that.”

Candidate Shawn Baldwin went on to say he felt all public arts projects should be done by local artists.

Candidates were asked about a number of arts-related issues during the forum, including whether they felt the city should increase per capita arts funding.

WATCH: Local artist commissioned to make 45 pieces of art for new yyc terminal 

“Calgary is one of the lowest cities in Canada when it comes to per capita arts funding,” said Karen Bell, director of fund development for Theatre Junction. “I think we’re capped at $6.50, most other city’s are well above the $10 mark, so there really is a big gap.”

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Candidates Andre Chabot and Dr. Emile Gabriel said they felt the city should look to private sector partners for additional arts dollars, while candidates Paul Hughes and David Tremblay said they felt existing city funding for the arts wasn’t being distributed among local arts groups equitably.

Candidate Bill Smith said that while he couldn’t promise the arts community more money, he could promise to work with them.

At the end of the night, the artistic director for Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre expressed disappointment with how some of the candidates performed.

“There was a lot of vagaries, platitudes and straight-up misinformation that was spread on the stage,” Mark Hopkins said.

“They’re at an arts forum and I would hope that if they were at an economic forum or a sports forum or any other kind of forum, that they would have done their homework in terms of what’s happening on the ground and what is the actual situation and that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Shawn Baldwin, Andre Chabot, Dr. Emile Gabriel, Paul Hughes, David Lapp, Naheed Nenshi, Bill Smith and David Tremblay are all running to become Calgary’s next mayor.  Calgarians head to the polls on Oct. 16.