The fight over public art in Calgary has become a major campaign point for Oct. 16 civic election.
Calgary city council announced prior to the election that it was putting a freeze on its public art policy, pending further review.
“It’s important to remember that public art… is a drop in the bucket,” said Caitlind r.c. Brown, an Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) graduate and Calgary based artist, comparing the cost of art projects to the cost of other infrastructure in the city.
Brown used the example of a four-way traffic stop, which can cost the city as much as half a million dollars to create.
Brown has created and exhibited art around Canada, Asia, and in Europe along with her partner Wayne Garrett.
Brown and Garrett are in the process of creating their first permanent public artwork in Calgary.
They put their thoughts down in an open letter to city council in September, discussing what they believe city council needs to do in the future.
The current public art policy dictates that one per cent of the budget for every infrastructure project under $50 million must be dedicated to funding public art on the site of the project.
The percentage goes down to half a per cent on projects over $50 million but cannot exceed $4 million in total.
There is a problem of communication and perception for public arts projects, the letter suggested.
Brown discussed this with several local artists, and they were in agreement that there needs to be a clearer line of communication between the city and the public regarding art.
Brown said the city does a poor job of contextualizing public art, which often leads to a lot of confusion about what the public is looking at, and where the money actually goes.
“Misinformation was at the root of the Bowfort Towers becoming controversial in the first place,” said Brown.
Bowfort Towers is a public art installation going on on the new overpass on Olympic Way N.W., at 16th Avenue.
Brown recommends art conferences, artist talks, and better social media engagement by the city as a few ways for citizens to better understand the artwork they are paying for.
“People don’t want to be challenged, they don’t want art they don’t understand,” said Lucas Roberts, a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD).
“We need to be more flexible in what we consider public art,” said Brown, “instead of just thinking about large-budget sculptural works.”
Brown would like for the city to think about performance or installation art, not just large-scale sculpture, when thinking about public art.
“I like that the art has that limitation,” said Roberts.
“I love that blue ring,” he said, in reference to another controversial piece, Travelling Light, which is installed on the 96th Avenue North overpass at Airport Trail.
Others, such as Brown, said that the location of the infrastructure project shouldn’t determine where the artwork is placed.
“We need to ensure that the site of large-scale ‘permanent’ public artworks are not tied to the geographic location of a capital project,” said Brown.
No decisions on the city art policy are expected to be made until after the municipal election.