I support the Public Art Policy and I am in favour of continuing to use 1% of capital projects’ budgets towards public art pieces. However, I do think we need to make some tweaks to the Public Art Policy to make sure we have the best process and outcomes in place.
We’ve seen some controversy around the installation of an art project at the TransCanada Highway/Bowfort Road NW interchange, called the Bowfort Towers. For the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on discussing the Public Art Policy, rather than getting caught up in whether we like the look of the actual art piece.
Interchange public art pieces are challenged due to location, project scope and engineering requirements. If elected I would review the Public Art Policy in relation to these interchange installations. I want to maintain the policy for other types of projects such as fire halls and recreation centres, where we’ve seen success with the Public Art Program
Specific areas I would like to review in relation to the interchange projects are:
- Art is best not viewed from the window of our vehicles – Getting out of our vehicles and experiencing it as part of the community, is a much more rewarding experience.
- The location requirement – Provincial and Federal government rules require a large portion of the art funding to be used at the interchange site area. I would like to see this revised to allow interchange art projects to be constructed off site, nearby, in the community. I think portions of art funding can be used to make the stone patterns at interchanges more interesting. Good examples of this are the Glenmore Trail G5 project with the jumping trout, or what is currently under construction at 162 avenue and Macleod Trail South. However, I would like to see more flexibility for the remaining art money to produce art pieces in areas that are more easily enjoyed, accessible to the public and interacted with more directly.
- The committee – I would like to review the committee process when it comes to these interchange art projects. Do we need to have more public input into the final art piece? Currently, the committee is seven people, three community representatives, three representatives from the art community and a City of Calgary representative. Given the scale, location and complexity of interchange projects do we need to revise how these projects are reviewed and approved? Should the evaluation part of the process be more public and perhaps have more public input or influence?
- Engagement – I would like to review the engagement process for the policy. Artists often look to the community for input around the history and themes of the area to inspire their art. It is important not to hamper the creativity of the artist, and prescribe what they will create. However, we need to ensure that the unique characteristics and any sensitivities or restrictions of the area are shared with the artists. With the recent art piece at Bowfort Towers, there has been discussion around whether the Blackfoot Nation was properly engaged with during the process. We need to be respectful of the land we are building these projects on and the history of the area. Ensuring all the appropriate stakeholders are involved in the public art decision making process is vital to creating a project that resonates with the community and can be enjoyed by all.
In reviewing the Public Art Policy, I think the following considerations are critical:
- Focussing on the 1% portion of a capital budget that goes to public art is not fiscally responsible. It would be more prudent and beneficial to focus on the other 99% and look for ways to improve contracts and gain efficiencies that can be applied to future large scale infrastructure projects. (Bowfort Interchange: Budget $71.2 million. Art portion $500 thousand (less than 1% and under budget)
- It is important that we invest in infrastructure during this economic downturn. The City can often get better pricing than during a boom. It creates jobs, and this is not limited to the large road infrastructure being constructed. The art portion of capital projects also enables job creation. Most public art projects are done by local artists, and for those where the artist is from outside of Calgary, much of the work associated with the installation of the art piece is provided by local contractors, putting dollars back into the local economy.
- Community input is already part of this process and the artist will often look at local connections to be represented in the final work. The public art advisory committee for each project is made up of seven representatives and is formed fresh for each new project. It involves three community representatives, three arts professional and one City of Calgary representative.
- Local artists are supported and are part of the process. Calgary is an international city and the international trade agreement directs that projects over $75,000 be open to bidding internationally. It is important to note that local Calgary artists also benefit from having international opportunities. Local artists are supported and mentored to be able to compete on a national and international scale, and training is also available to local artists on responding to requests for proposal.
- 78% local artists in Calgary
- 11% artists from other Canadian cities
- 11% international artists
- 79% of contractors hired for public art projects were Calgary-based
The Public Art Policy is not perfect – and we will need to look at ways to make it better moving forward as we learn what works and what could be done better. I believe though that this program has brought great value and character to Calgary and a knee-jerk reaction to call for a discontinuation of the program is not an appropriate or productive approach. Art is a key part of city infrastructure projects – at less than 1% of the total project cost, they add value to our city and communities, both aesthetically and economically.