Does Calgary deserve the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s lifetime achievement for ‘awful art’?
Calgary’s public art policy received harsh criticism on Wednesday, with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) awarding the city a lifetime achievement Teddy Award for its “awful art.”
The Teddy Awards celebrate the “best of the worst in government waste,” according to the CTF website.
The winning governments, either provincial or municipal, get a pig-shaped award to mark their dubious distinction.
Calgary is being shamed for its public art, which has been at the centre of a number of controversies in recent years.
Here’s a look back at some of the city’s most contested art projects:
Big blue ring
In 2013, as part of the 96 Avenue N.E. extension and interchange project, the Travelling Light installation was commissioned by the Department of Transportation. Manifested as a giant blue ring with a streetlight on the top, the art piece is still criticized by Calgarians five years later.
The Travelling Light public artwork had a budget of $471,000.
Watch from 2013: A sculpture in northeast Calgary nicknamed ‘The Big O’ is getting a lot of attention. Reid Fiest reports.
In 2015, the Forest Lawn Lift Station — a wastewater station lit up with LED lights — drew widespread criticism. When the Teddy Awards were handed out the following February, the city was named the winner for the category of most wasteful municipal spending for the $256,000 project.
The wastewater station was often called the “poop palace.”
Watch from 2016: The City of Calgary was the winner of the Municipal Teddy for its ‘poop palace’, a waste-station art project in Forest Lawn. Gord Gillies reports.
Most recently, the Bowfort Towers art installation not only stirred up criticism, but also resulted in the city’s public art policy being suspended until further notice.
The $500,000 installation, which sits at the Bowfort Road and Trans-Canada Highway interchange, was originally said to be Blackfoot-inspired. After several Indigenous groups spoke up claiming they weren’t consulted, the city and Treaty 7 chiefs cleared the air, saying it was “never meant to be an Indigenous artwork, nor inspired by Indigenous themes.”
WATCH BELOW: Global News’ ongoing coverage of the Bowfort Towers art project
Then late last year, the city’s public art policy came under fire again after it was revealed the artist behind the 4 Street underpass installation SNAPSHOTS had used photos that were not his.
Several U.K.-based comedians raised red flags about the images in the art piece after British comedian Bisha K Ali took to Twitter saying a friend of hers had recognized a headshot of hers on the wall of the underpass.
The $20,000 piece, installed in 2015, was eventually removed.
Watch from November 2017: A London-based comedian claims her photograph is being used without her permission in a City of Calgary commissioned art project. Gary Bobrovitz reports.
Councillor Sean Chu, one of two city councillors who backed the city reviewing its public art policy, said Wednesday that the city deserved the Teddy Award.
“I’ve been saying now for a long time, and I think the most important thing for residents to see… is that the people in Calgary are losing trust in the city bit by bit, and especially on art,” he told Global News in a phone interview.
Chu said he would like to see the entire public art policy scrapped, and instead have all art be privately funded. However, he admitted he doesn’t think he would get the support from council for that kind of move.
When asked if the city was deserving of the lifetime achievement Teddy, Chu said, “Sad to say, yes.”
Councillor Shane Keating agreed the city is deserving of the award, saying there have been “a few pieces” that leave something to be desired.
“We had a committee that seemed to think that they should be collecting art rather than thinking they should be getting publicly acceptable art,” Keating said in a phone interview.
The councillor said it makes sense to have public art, but he would like to see more public engagement and involvement when it comes to choosing pieces that will be featured around the city.
WATCH: The Canadian Taxpayer Federation on Wednesday awarded their annual Lifetime Achievement “Teddy Award” to the City of Calgary over their public art project.
A spokesperson for the Alberta branch of the CTF said Wednesday that while the Teddy Awards are not necessarily serious awards, they do have a serious point to drive home.
“It’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek thing, we’re trying to have a little bit of fun,” Colin Craig said.
“Remind the public that the government needs to a much better job with the money they [taxpayers] provide.”
The city’s public art policy was suspended in September pending a review.