March 13, 2019 7:06 pm
Updated: March 13, 2019 7:10 pm

Calgary to continue suspension of public arts program

The City of Calgary unveiled half of a public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange on Aug. 3, 2017.

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The City of Calgary community services committee is recommending that, until a new public art model is fully developed, no new projects should be funded this year.

Travelling Light, or “the big blue ring” as it’s more commonly known, and the Bowfort Towers art installations are the poster children for the controversy surrounding the City of Calgary’s Public Art Policy.

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In a report that went to the community and protective services committee, city administration stated those projects created a loss of trust and credibility with Calgarians, city council and the arts community.

READ MORE: Construction of Calgary’s newest art installation begins despite public art moratorium

To rebuild that trust, efforts are taking place to improve transparency, including ensuring the selection and decision-making processes are clear and a commitment to work with local artists to make it simpler for them to bid on a project.

As well, there is a push for a pooled-funding model so that public art doesn’t have to be located at an infrastructure project that is out of sight and inaccessible to the public.

READ MORE: ‘It’s spawning!’ Tiny replicas of Calgary’s Big Blue Ring spark online hilarity

Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart told reporters there’s been a change of leadership to replace a sense that administration controlled the public arts program.

“Once that tone changes and they actually realize that this isn’t the city administration’s money — that this belongs to the community — you better start consulting with these people to get their input on the type of art and that it’s not within the purview of the engineers and infrastructure to decide,” Colley Urquhart said Wednesday.

READ MORE: City of Calgary cancels second part of Bowfort Road interchange art project

In the fall of 2017, in response to the Bowfort Towers controversy, Councillors Shane Keating and Sean Chu convinced their council colleagues to pull funding for any new public art projects until there was a complete review.

Keating said the review is moving in the right direction.

“Where we have to get in some ways is to art that is acceptable,” the Ward 12 councillor said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to make everyone happy or everyone wants that piece on their front lawn, but they’re willing to accept it.”

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Tristan Surtees is involved with Sans Façon, “an art practice that responds to the relationship between people and place” as described on its website. Established in 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland, the practice moved to Calgary in 2011.

Surtees said he’s not disappointed the suspension of the public arts program will continue for another year.

“Do it once, do it right, and it takes time to form relationships and trust and to resolve the details of administration,” the Sans Façon co-founder said.

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He doesn’t believe a new program will shy away from looking at thought-provoking pieces because they may be considered controversial.

“Do I think they’ll shy away? No, because they’re working with local artists to help shape the program of the future and work with citizens to say we want extraordinary contemporary art. Some of that will push buttons for some people, but we need to have the strength and maturity of a city to say, ‘I might not like this, but this is a quality work of art and the next work I might really love.'”

An update will come back to committee in the first quarter of next year on the work that’s been done on the public art review and a strategy going forward.

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