What’s art got to do with it?

While sometimes controversial, Calgary’s public art legacy lives on
If anything public art in Calgary gets people talking.

The recently announced 23 metre tall “Bloom” for St. Patrick’s Island, by Canadian artist Michel de Broin, has received both praise and ridicule from residents ranging from some who compare it to an “antenna array” and “expensive junk” to others who say it’s “aesthetically pleasing” and a “graceful result.”

Also new to the city’s art scene is an interpretive public art exhibit by Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) students recently unveiled at Ralph Klein Park in the city’s southeast.

The series of illustrations are intended to be visual reference and information pieces educating visitors on different living things in Ralph Klein Park.

“It’s been a great privilege to be able to collaborate with the City of Calgary’s Ralph Klein Park,” said ACAD student Gladzy Kei. “My piece visually communicates the different types of birds; ranging from winter birds like the Snowy Owl, Raven, Black-billed Magpie, to birds that are active during the spring, summer, and then fall.”

The ACAD piece adds to Calgary existing public art infrastructure, which has made headlines at several points throughout the last several years.

In February, city council voted 9-5 against a motion by Coun. Peter Demong that, in light of falling energy prices, would’ve frozen the city’s public art budget.

The defeated motion came on the heels of the City making changes to its public art policy last May. Under the old policy, the city’s “per cent per public art” was calculated at one per cent of the total capital project costs up to $4 million for City capital budget projects over $1 million. The new policy now sees the same spending level for projects under $50 million, but drops that ratio to 0.5 per cent on projects in excess of $50 million.

Outspoken art opponent Coun. Sean Chu proposed an even harsher cut at $25 million, but was defeated.

“I have often said that one of the key determinants of a successful city is our ability to focus in on the things that really impact peoples’ quality of life, the things that make us smile every day,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“It’s important to invest in things like arts and culture and sports and recreation and great public spaces and even public transit – not just in and of themselves, but because they are key drivers to the economic and social success of the city.”

Some public art pieces in the city have been more welcomed than others. The controversial Travelling Light “blue ring” on 96th Avenue N.E. cost $471,000 and drew the ire of many Calgarians, even prompting its sale on buy-and-sell site Kijiji.

The $370,000 Chinook Arc piece in Barb Scott Park, which changes colour depending on peoples’ movement, has attracted less attention, as has the $3.12-million River Passage Park, intended to improve local habitat, wildlife movement corridors and recreation opportunities at Harvie Passage on the Bow River, which opened last fall.

One of Calgary’s most expensive show pieces is the $25-million Peace Bridge over the Bow River. Despite drawing the ire of Chu, who has been dubious of cycle counts on the bridge, the structure is one of the most widely utilized and photographed landmarks in the city.

The bridge has won Canadian Architect’s 2014 for best steel design and the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction’s 2013 Engineering Award.

 

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