Council recommended to extend suspension of public art program
City administrators say council should take some more time before it moves ahead with a plan to reinstate Calgary’s public art program.
A city committee voted unanimously to continue a suspension of Calgary’s public art program, a policy that was originally put on hiatus in June 2018.
Administrators say the city needs to have more time to revise how art projects are selected in order to regain the trust of residents.
In August 2017, when the city unveiled the Bowfort Towers, a $500,000 art installation along the Trans-Canada Highway designed by a New York artist, residents panned the project as being too expensive and even culturally insensitive.
Ward 12 councillor Shane Keating is positive about how current talks on changing the city’s public art program are progressing.
“What we’re talking about is changing the procurement style, changing the governance style and also changing the engagement style and with those three things, if you can find a happy medium where the residents of Calgary are going to say ‘okay, I think we’re in a good place to move forward,’ then we’re doing alright.”
He adds that with the associated price tag of projects like the Bowfort Towers and Traveling Light, you can’t just rely on engagement with the areas of the population where the installations are placed; you have to seek input from the city as a whole.
Keating also wants to see more public input on the type of art that is installed too.
“In the past and still, what they do is they pick the artist, even before the piece is designed… then they have engagement and all of a sudden the piece is there, it’s designed and put up. I’m not sure those who commissioned the piece of art, which are the taxpayers, have any say or knowledge of the piece they’re paying for.”
He also says there should be different criteria the city needs to consider before moving ahead with larger art projects too, including a greater emphasis on local artists.
“I’m not sure that we’ve got that criteria correct.”
Daniel J. Kirk, the founder of Blank Page Studio, says the continued suspension of the city’s art program is a good thing for the arts community and means that more meaningful change can take place.
“We are actually positioned to move ahead with a successful art plan. From a local arts perspective, that just means they’re taking the time required to fix something that required a lot of fixing.”
Kirk says creativity isn’t a democratic thing, but transparency has been one of the major issues they need to address.
“Traveling Light drew a circle around the fact that we even have a public art policy in this city, so it might have been the first time that Calgarians even talked about art around their table.”
When it comes to alternatives, Keating says the city’s architectural model works quite well when it comes to choosing building designs.
“If you’re talking about a new building, a call is put out to all architectural firms and everyone submits their ideas and from those ideas, you shortlist. You pick four or five buildings that you think represent what you want. I think we should follow that same model.”
That way, there could be a smaller list of public art designs that the community could submit their feedback on.
A recent report, from the School of Public Policy, says many residents have strong feelings about the cost of a number of public art projects as well as a number of issues with them.
The agency found that Calgarians want the city to spend less on public art than they have in the past, suggesting that advocates for public art have an uphill battle ahead of them.
(With files from Mark Villani)