New rules, management for the city’s controversial public arts program about to return

A giant blue ring on the overpass at Deerfoot Trail and 96th Avenue NE has caught the attention of motorists.  (CBC - photo credit)

A giant blue ring on the overpass at Deerfoot Trail and 96th Avenue NE has caught the attention of motorists. (CBC – photo credit)

A city council committee has approved a plan that could see new public artworks being commissioned later this year.

On Wednesday, the community development committee supported relaxing regulations on what the city’s public arts grant can be spent on.

While the administration confirmed that the city’s policy of allocating one percent of the budget for investment projects to public arts, it proposes detaching the location of future artworks from infrastructure projects.

Committee Chair Co. Kourtney Penner said it means public art could soon be placed in parks or other spaces where people can better appreciate it.

“A public arts program that is more community responsive and more about creating neighborhood and community places and public gathering places and less tied to infrastructure projects,” Penner said.

City Council voted in 2017 to suspend the city’s public arts program following an outcry over the Bowfort Towers.

Mike Symington/CBC

Mike Symington/CBC

The artwork, placed near the intersection of Bowfort Road and 16 Avenue Northwest, was designed by a New York artist.

There have also been public concerns about a lack of consultation on artworks and their placement.

Bowfort Towers and another lightning rod for criticism, Traveling Light (perhaps better known as the big blue ring), both sit alongside busy roads and aren’t easily accessible to the public.

In last November’s participatory budget, the council approved $12.1 million for public arts for 2023-26.

This money comes in addition to $9 million in public art funds accumulated during the review of the program.

HEAR | Julie Yepishina-Geller, Public Art Liaison, spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener ahead of the vote:

As a result of this review, the council decided to turn the program over to Calgary Arts Development (CADA) to operate for a period of six years.

CADA board chair Chima Nkemdirim told the committee that decoupling future art from the infrastructure projects they fund will result in more local artists being commissioned to do the work.

For example, if an art project has a budget of half a million dollars, trade deals must require the city to seek international bids.

If the city decides to pursue more smaller projects, he said it will give Calgary artists, as well as Indigenous or diverse artists, more opportunities to get their work in front of Calgarians.

“It allows us to split the funds into smaller chunks that give more local artists the opportunity to participate in the program,” Nkemdirim said.

Alex Ramadan

Alex Ramadan

count. Gian-Carlo Carra, who is a supporter of public arts policy, said he was pleased with the work being done to overhaul the programme.

He noted that the program had been “besieged and attacked.” Carra sees the resulting artwork as a “crowning glory” for the city.

count. Dan McLean is less enthusiastic about the planned editions, although he hopes more local artists will get a chance to show what they can do.

“I have to justify it to my residents by saying you’re making a choice between gas, food, high rents and high interest rates. Is $12 million for public art really a priority right now?” McLean said.

CLOCK | The city’s public arts program is getting back on its feet after a major reorganization:

Nkemdirim said the city’s public arts program has had a positive impact on the city and its economy.

He said it supports and draws artists to Calgary, which brings vibrancy to the city. He also said it creates jobs as local contractors work on constructing the artworks, which can attract visitors or international attention.

The committee voted 6 to 2 in favor of the proposed changes.

City council will vote on it next month.

Several public art projects are already in the works and will be presented later this year.

Administration officials said new banners in downtown Calgary and storefronts at City Hall are already in development.


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