Public Art is in the news again.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Bowfort towers installation, and all of the backlash.
I’m not here to actually talk about the piece. You can like it, not like it, whatever (though it isn’t done yet- that’s only half of the installation).
I’m here today to chat about public art in general, the process in the city, and how we already have tons of equestrian statues.
There was a lot of backlash after the articles about Bowfort came out a week or so ago. And what I saw was a lot of gut reactions, misfounded sentiments, and things that could have been cleared up with a quick google (‘public art committee calgary’). Seriously.
So, here’s Public Art 101. There will still be some gaps (I’m not on the committee, after all, though I can tell you who is!) but this should clear up the major points I kept seeing people make.
- Nenshi and city council do not personally pick any of the public art.
- There is a publicly chosen public art committee. Their names are available. They have limited terms. Any Calgarian can apply- even you! There are lots of other committees too. The committees all include citizens at large. Not just experts in their field, though that’s very important too.
Find the current board members and their responsibilities here: http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/Recreation/Pages/Public-Art/Board.aspx
The list of all the committees is here: http://www.calgary.ca/CA/city-clerks/Pages/Legislative-services/Boards-commissions-and-committees-of-council/Boards-Commissions-and-Committees.aspx
You could be on any of those.
- What is public art policy? I can’t find it anywhere?! It’s right here:
Master plan, funding, mandate, policies…. happy reading!
- I’m not a fan of a city wide vote that people are now advocating for. It will waste more time, money, and resources; people still won’t vote and will complain about the engagement process; we’ll end up with a lot of very safe art that isn’t challenging or engaging or unique. Are there a couple of mishaps right now? Sure. Bowfort and Blue ring. But there are also lots and lots and lots of successes. Yes. Even the Peace Bridge. It’s known world-wide, designed by a famous architect, functional and used everyday by more people than they even expected, and has to be one of our most photographed landmarks. There are also instances of what are now well-loved and celebrated art pieces and installations that were hated at first, but we probably can’t imagine those spaces without them now. We might end up with a couple of ‘bad’ or disliked pieces, but there are way more good examples.
- Most of the art is by locals, or at least definitely Canadians. And even if it isn’t, who do you think is doing installation? Construction costs, materials, and local labour make up a huge percentage of any project budget.
The City of Calgary appreciates, values and most definitely hires and supports local artists. In 2015, artists hired by The Public Art Program were:
- 78% local artists in Calgary
- 11% artists from other Canadian cities
- 11% international artists
The City of Calgary is bound by international trade agreements to make calls for artists that are over $75,000 available internationally.
- Why aren’t public art information sessions held for local artists? They are.
Schedule and info here: http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/Recreation/Pages/Public-Art/Public-Art-101.aspx
And here’s the call for artists: http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/Recreation/Pages/Public-Art/Opportunities-for-artists.aspx
I’m sure this also goes out on various social media channels, and via arts organizations.
- We already have lots of equestrian statues. I saw a lot of comments about why we couldn’t just have a statue of a guy on a horse every once in awhile (even Nenshi commented that: “But really, sometimes statues of a guy or a gal on a horse can be really nice.”). We do. There are guys on horses, just horses, singular horses, busts of guys, statues of guys, even some statues of women. Go downtown, go to Central Memorial Park, go to the Stampede Grounds. The front steps of city hall, olympic plaza, war memorials in central memorial, a statue of general wolfe, busts on prince’s island, equestrian statue at the jubilee, many horses at Stampede… And these aren’t the only places. There are also cows and bulls and children and many other examples of bronzes. We’re not lacking any traditional bronze statues.
- Do we really need public art? Yes. Think of the cities you love, dream of, want to visit, have loved visiting. They have distinctive buildings, heritage, activities and public art. They are visually interesting and vibrant. There are economic benefits.
If you want to dive in, here are some discussions:
Have some more questions? Check the Public Art FAQ!
Want to keep track of public art and see what they are up to? There are lots of ways to follow and connect:
Take a look at the collection here: http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/Recreation/Pages/Public-Art/Percent-for-Public-Art.aspx
And the art map here: https://maps.calgary.ca/PublicArt/ (Though I’m pretty sure more than several pieces are missing. There is way more public art downtown than that…)
You can also check out the Calgary Stampede Art Walk: http://art.calgarystampede.com/art-walk
Some great discussion on art and Bowfort on the radio clip at the bottom of the article here:
Rejected Siksika artist weighs in on controversial Bowfort Towers sculpture
Direct link here: https://omny.fm/shows/afternoons-with-rob-breakenridge/calgarys-public-art-program-and-controversy
The only comment I’ll make specifically about Bowfort Towers is that it sounds like not enough First Nations consultation happened surrounding this piece. Particularly as we continue to pursue the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, that shouldn’t be happening.