Calgary city council has voted to suspend its public arts policy until there is a review on how better to engage the public in light of the widespread criticism of the Bowfort Towers art installation.
The vote was unanimous Wednesday afternoon. Councillors Sean Chu and Shane Keating managed to convince their colleagues something was wrong with the program and it needed to be reviewed following reaction to the Bowfort Towers and the “Travelling Light,” the so-called blue ring, that have cost taxpayers $1 million.
Keating has said he’d like to see a process where artists who compete will provide a scale drawing or video and the public can have a say on what they think works best.
“Public art is not to one person’s taste but it has to be acceptable to the vast majority — not so much as want they want on their front lawn but it’s something they will accept — and they will say, ‘it’s not me but I can live with it and it enhances the neighbourhood.'”
Chu has been a big detractor of the program and pushed for the review.
“I would like to see a policy that takes into account current economic conditions and limits spending accordingly,” he said. “A policy that involves citizen input and a policy that ensures taxpayers feel respected and listened too.”
Even long-time supporters such as Druh Farrell agreed with the review.
“We have some really remarkable public art. We also have chosen a time and a place and a particular style of art that is really irritating to people.”
She worries about the future of the public arts program if the controversies aren’t dealt with.
“We won’t be able to afford another mistake like this. We’ll lose the program.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it’s tough to explain why there’s so much criticism of the public arts policy.
“I think the vast majority of times we do get it right but when we get it wrong, we do have the capability of getting it spectacularly wrong,” he said. “I hope that the tweak of the policy helps us fix the stuff we get right but also prevents us from doing stuff wrong.”
While there is a suspension on the city contracting out for any new art projects, there are 54 projects already underway that won’t be impacted.