Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Treaty 7 chiefs address ‘misconceptions’ about Calgary’s Bowfort Towers

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Treaty 7 chiefs address ‘misconceptions’ about Calgary’s Bowfort Towers
WATCH ABOVE: Calgary’s mayor is speaking out over some “misunderstandings” when it comes to Bowfort Towers. Jenna Freeman reports.

Calgary city Councillor Shane Keating is calling for increased community engagement in the city’s public art program as a motion to temporarily suspend the program is set to go before council on Sept. 11.

The notice of motion calls for requests for proposals to be suspended until the second quarter of 2018, with administration reporting back on the impact of that decision by November 2017. It also calls for administration to come up with a new process in 2018 that includes a framework for better engaging the public and prioritizing tax dollars during an economic downturn.

WATCH: Ward 12 Councillor Shane Keating joins Global Calgary to discuss the upcoming motion to change Calgary’s public art policy.

Shane Keating discusses motion to change Calgary’s public art policy
Shane Keating discusses motion to change Calgary’s public art policy

Keating’s comments came on the same day Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the Treaty 7 chiefs issued a statement meant to clear up what they call “misunderstandings” about the Bowfort Towers public artwork at the new Bowfort Road and Trans-Canada Highway interchange.

Story continues below advertisement

“There has to be some visualization of what the piece will look like long before it’s there and most Calgarians need to know what it is,” said Keating, referring to installations like Bowfort Towers.

READ MORE: City of Calgary unveils Blackfoot-inspired art at major northwest interchange

Nenshi said the city has been trying to “re-tool and tweak” some of the processes of the art program “to ensure we are being culturally sensitive” while still allowing for public input.

In the statement, Nenshi and the Treaty 7 chiefs admitted statements from the city may have created the impression that Bowfort Towers was meant to be Indigenous or Indigeous-inspired.

 “This was never meant to be an Indigenous art work, nor inspired by Indigenous themes.”

When the art project was first unveiled, the city said the towers align with Blackfoot cultural symbolism, including the “four seasons, four elements and four human stages.”

WATCH BELOW: Global News’ ongoing coverage of the Bowfort Towers art project

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: ‘It looks like a burial tower:’ Controversy over Calgary’s new public art project

The mayor and Treaty 7 chiefs said Thursday the city asked artist Del Geist to seek the expertise of a traditional Treaty 7 knowledge keeper because of the “significance of the land.”

The knowledge keeper advised the New York-based artist on Indigenous archeology, symbolism and sacred sites.

“Some have interpreted the piece as traditional burial scaffolding used by Indigenous people in this area. That was not the intent of the artist and the traditional knowledge keeper did not identify that interpretation when the design was reviewed.”

Geist declined to comment on the consulting process for the piece, but said elevated stones are a “common theme” in his work, adding the installation is not meant to resemble a Blackfoot burial scaffold.

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

Nenshi and the Treaty 7 chiefs say in their statement that the $500,000 Bowfort Towers amounts to just 0.7 per cent of the total cost of the interchange.

They said the city is required to hear bids from artists from around the world on all projects over $75,000.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: ‘Not my favourite thing in the world’: Nenshi after seeing Bowfort Towers

The statement said the city has been training local artists on how to submit successful bids through its public art program and has set up a committee to explore the idea of “sharing more Indigenous public art in Calgary.”

“The arts can help to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” it said.

LISTEN: Newstalk 770’s Rob Breakenridge chats with Councillor Shane Keating about what changes could be coming to the city’s public art policy.