City chooses Calgary Arts Development as public art program operator as funding restored

A woman walks past "Chinook Arc" in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The city announced Monday that it has chosen Calgary Arts Development as the operator of its public art program and its funding — which was frozen — would be restored.

‘Reduce barriers’

The plan is to transition the program to an external organization to streamline endeavours and reduce red tape, according to the city.

“Currently, public art projects, regardless of scope and size, go through the city’s complex procurement process, which is primarily set up to work with large companies on an international level,” the city said in a news release. “This creates barriers for both local and emerging artists.”

“Having a third-party operator for Calgary’s public art program will reduce barriers for Calgary’s local artist community to participate in the program, increase transparency for citizens and increase investment in the local creative economy,” said Jennifer Thompson, arts and culture manager at the City of Calgary.

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On Sept. 30, 2019, council directed administration to hire a third-party consultant to review the public art program.

On Nov. 25, 2019, consultant ART + PUBLIC UnLtd shared its findings with council.

On April 6, 2020, council approved that administration should “proceed with next steps to move the public art program to an external organization.”

After hearing from about 3,000 people, a seven-person panel chose Calgary Arts Development to gradually take over the program by 2024. It was chosen for its “proven in-depth knowledge and understanding in delivering art to Calgarians,” the city said.

A sculpture called “Frozen River” in Calgary. File/Global News

‘A creative, connected Calgary’

Patti Pon, president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, is thrilled the organization was selected.

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“Calgary Arts Development has been in existence since 2005 with a mandate to support and strengthen the arts to benefit all Calgarians,” Pon said.

“The public art program aligns perfectly with what we stand for: our commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility; our direct relationship with Calgary’s arts sector; and our vision for a creative, connected Calgary through the arts.”

On Monday, council lifted the suspension on public art funding, which has been in place since 2017, to allow for the transition.

Traffic passes the sculpture called “Bowfort Towers,” by New York artist Del Geist, located near Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city looked at different operation models during the “very big process.”

“Calgary Arts Development already acts as the city’s granting arm for visual and performing arts, but not for public art, and they’re very good at branding,” he said Monday.

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“They know how to do that probably better than the city does, so I’m actually quite pleased that they’ve ended up with it because it still shows that there’s public support for this program — it’s not Wal-Mart doing our public art — but at the same time, puts it into an organization that’s very good at the idea of evaluating and granting.”

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