Calgary public art program to transition to independent organization

Calgary's public art program will be moving to an independently-run organization. Global News

Following years of controversy, Calgary’s city-run public art program — at least in its current form — is no more.

Councillors voted 10 to four on Tuesday to shift the contentious program to be an independently-run, arms-length organization in the future.

The program was suspended in 2017 after controversy swirled over the Bowfort Towers art installation near Canada Olympic Park. The $500,000 project was widely criticized after it was unveiled in early August 2017, with Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Treaty 7 chiefs admitting just a couple weeks later there were “misunderstandings” about the art’s meaning.

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

Council agreed to continue that suspension in March 2019 as city staff sifted through public consultations on the future of the program.

Story continues below advertisement

The new, independent public art organization would be run much like a civic partner — similar to the Calgary Zoo and Heritage Park — according to the city.

“I think we’ve got it right now,” Councillor Shane Keating said.

“It didn’t mean we had to throw everything out and start over, it just meant… let’s have some open and frank discussions, let’s find out where to go. And once we found out where to go, then let’s make sure we continue down that path.”

City administration will now have to determine what criteria the new parent organization will be hired under, and is expected to present that criteria to council in the new year. Until then, the public art program is still on hold and no new pieces are being commissioned.

READ MORE: Calgary city councillor Druh Farrell ‘tired of defending’ public art policy


It’s hoped the change will allow for more input from the public and arts community, and find some savings for the city.

“Our intention is to really look at how do we set up the program again? How do we get it to the right size in terms of funding and is there an opportunity to remove any costs off the operating budget going forward?” said Jennifer Thompson, acting manager of arts and culture.

Story continues below advertisement

“There are a number of layers that we’re asking the art community to jump through right now. This reduces that administrative and bureaucratic burden onto them. This allows for a grassroots or an already established, rooted, local organization to work directly with the community and the public.”

— With files from Aurelio Perri

Sponsored content