Public Art in Calgary

As you might imagine, I’m fairly pro-art. Or maybe you can’t, since my posts thus far are predominantly about how I’m not a fan of all contemporary art. But I am pro art. (at least generally). This past week there was quite a debate in Calgary about the public art budget given the cuts in the oil field, and it was interesting to see people’s thoughts.

I thought I would share mine.

No. The giant blue ring is not the best piece of art ever. I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who particularly likes it, although Matt Berry from X92.9 posted this sentiment on facebook, which I somewhat agree with: As much as I disagree with some of the projects, infamously the Giant Blue Ring, I still understand that this was something that inspired an artist. Maybe there’s a deeper meaning behind it. Art is meant to invoke emotion, and hey, job well done. (yes, I do generally agree with the sentiment. Although I am a bit conflicted, as this is clearly not the most accessible piece of art, which I have now talked about more than once, although much better than a piece of duct work…It is a clearly distinguishable piece of art from it’s surroundings)

But giant blue ring aside, public art serves many purposes in our community, and indeed, in communities worldwide. Public art is part of any vibrant, world-class city, something Calgary should continually be striving towards. Public Art act as landmarks, photo opportunities, happy & colourful surprises on your morning commute, inspire, engage, and generally contribute to a brighter, funner, more vibrant place to be. The argument is that it is not necessary, but I think it is. Things like public art- along with libraries, cultural activities like theatre and museums, gardens, all contribute to a city being a place where people want to live, work, and play, as well as visit (and not just during the 10 days of Stampede, although I love that too). Think of all the places you want to visit and why. I imagine monuments, statues, and works of art pop up in a few of those cities you’re imagining. Public art contributes to those images, and will continue to contribute to Calgary having that image. We have so much potential as a city, and it is continually growing. Public art does contribute to this. It also contributes to jobs- even if the artist or lead architect on a project is not local, who is building, installing, delivering supplies? Local people. It was so relieving to hear that the motion put forward/suggested for public art funding to be suspended or cut did not go through. Art might not sound necessary, but it is.

Next time you think it’s not, imagine the city without the chess player on 8th and 8th in the Century Gardens, the salmon swimming along the bridge at Glenmore and McLeod, the giant head in front of the Bow building, all of the random interesting sculptures downtown, the mechanical horse near the Calgary tower or the T-rex in Chinook Mall, or any other pieces.. talk about a concrete jungle. Art makes the places we live, work, and play in better, and we should all be invested in it.

I keep hearing people talk about how Calgary is boring/ not world class, etc (although that really does depend who you ask), and in response to those people, I always think- well, shouldn’t we sop trying to cut things like arts programs? Because that’s exactly the type of thing we need more of to dispel those types of thoughts.

& because it comes up- yes, I know some public art is funded privately, but it shouldn’t just be up to private corporations to fund art. Publicly funded art also ensures that it is widely accessible, more evenly distributed, etc. But bravo to those who do fund their own art. I won’t say no to more.

More about public art from Brian Pincott:

X92.9 comment in full:

Dear Calgary,

City council voted to keep the funding for public art.

This is a refreshing decision, given that it’s something a lot of people do not deem as “important” during the dip in the price of oil here in Alberta. Let’s face it, if the public art funding was voted to go away until we were in better financial times, it would never come back. An excuse would always be made as to why something else is more crucial to spend the money on.

As much as I disagree with some of the projects, infamously the Giant Blue Ring, I still understand that this was something that inspired an artist. Maybe there’s a deeper meaning behind it. Art is meant to invoke emotion, and hey, job well done.

At the end of the day, art is one of those few free expressions people have. Be it sculptures, paintings, novels, and even music. All of these things are vital to our culture, and all of them will have meaning long after the oil money goes away.

Matt Berry

A very small selection of public art pieces. (photos from google)
I know you have fond memories of at least one of them. Because they’re awesome. 
public art collage


One thought on “Public Art in Calgary

  1. I can very strongly say that public art is a must. I never really thought it was until I traveled the world, but after being in Europe and seeing all of the amazing art pieces around every corner in every city I can now saw without a doubt that we need more of it here in Canada. Calgary is really getting better and I am proud of the efforts (except for that god damn blue ring stain) and I couldn’t be happier. As a travel blogger I really enjoyed photographing art from different cultures and with different influences and I am actually looking forward to strolling through the streets here, finally, and showing the world what Calgary has to offer – now that we are getting on the map.

    Great post 🙂


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