Pricey sculpture nicknamed ‘The Big O’ raises ire of taxpayers

CALGARY- A new sculpture in northeast Calgary nicknamed ‘The Big O’ is getting a lot of attention.

The 17 metre high blue ring sits atop an overpass on the 96 Ave. extension near Deerfoot Trail, and cost $471,000. Called the ‘Travelling Light’, some have come up with other names for it, including the ‘blue hula-hoop.’

Some are skeptical of the project’s huge price tag, and are questioning if the city’s policy of setting aside one per cent of a capital project’s budget to art.

“You can put whatever tacky, ugly art you want in your own living room, but we’re talking a public space with public dollars,” complains Derek Fildebrandt from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “There needs to be a large degree of public buy in, and I’d be surprised if most Calgarians were happy their money went towards this.”

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Even the mayor says he hates the sculpture.

“I don’t like it, I think it’s awful,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “I understand it’s a work of engineering to balance it on it’s edge, [but] I think it’s terrible.”

The group Artsvote Calgary is asking candidates in the upcoming election to offer their thoughts on the best way to develop public art.

“The question is, how do we do it? And the per cent for public art policy is one way that the city came up with to do it,” says Mark Hopkins from Artsvote Calgary. “If people have alternatives, it’s great to hear those.”

The city accepted 55 applications for the project, and eventually chose a German group’s design. Travelling Light was constructed by a Calgary company.

“The theme really was a transportation theme, so the ring is reminiscent of the oldest mode of transportation—the wheel,” explains Rachael Seupersad from the city’s Public Art Program.

The sculpture was also designed to be seen from the air, as it’s near a flight path.

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