Dean's Platform

Calgary Public Art Program

What is happening?

Calgary’s city-run Public Art Program was suspended in 2017 after years of controversy swirled around the Bowfort Towers art installation near Canada Olympic Park. The $500,000 project was widely criticized after it was unveiled in early August 2017. Just a couple of weeks later Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Treaty 7 chiefs admitted that there were “misunderstandings” about the art’s meaning.

Council agreed to continue that suspension in March 2019 as city staff sifted through public consultations on the future of the program.

It was decided that a new independent public art organization would be created, much like a civic partner — similar to the ones for the Calgary Zoo and Heritage Park — according to the City. Councillors voted ten to four to shift the contentious program to become an independently-run, arms-length organization in the future.

The old system for Public Art Project applications, regardless of scope and size, would go through the City’s complex procurement process which was primarily set up to work with large companies on an international level. This created barriers for both local and emerging artists.

Following the controversy around a public art piece in September 2019 City Council, with the results of an independent review, decided that having a third-party organization for Calgary’s public art program would reduce barriers for Calgary’s local artist community. This would give them the ability to participate in the program and would increase transparency for citizens. By moving the program to an independent body city officials hoped it would help reduce red tape and provide a direct connection to the community.

City Council approved the motion to proceed and move the program to an external organization. An online survey was launched asking Calgarians for their opinions about the future of public art in the city. The survey was open to all residents and the city hosted three online engagement sessions to gather additional thoughts from residents.

Officials stated that the information collected from Calgarians and the arts community was useful in helping them find the best external organization to operate Calgary’s future Public Art Program

The City announced March 2021 that it has chosen Calgary Arts Development as the operator of its public art program and for its funding, which was frozen, has now been restored.

What should be happening?

How are we going to make that happen?

There has been a lot of work invested into the Public Art Program and this year. Prior to Election Day, there will be a number of things implemented by this current seated council. I will be taking a great interest in what has been introduced. I am very keen to see more public involvement with decisions on any future art projects and on matters that involve art projects in our city. A successful and enduring public art presence in Calgary relies on sustainable funding, responsible management, strategic planning, and appropriate maintenance and conservation. It is my opinion that the council [should, and will, have the final say in the approval of any submissions regarding specific public funded art projects.

What will change ?

  • Procurement and communications processes for new Public Art will be simplified and become more accessible and implemented to support our diverse range of artists.

  • The external organization will run operations of the program including: community programming; calls for artists; community engagement; and the procurement of new public art.

Public Art is just one line of services that the present Council has asked the City Administration to move to an external service model. If you elect me into public office as your Mayor I will be keeping a very close watch on the new developments of our Arts Program upgrade.