Calgary city council suspends public art program after controversies

By on September 14, 2017

FILE: Downtown Calgary (Shutterstock)
FILE: Downtown Calgary (Shutterstock)CALGARY

Calgary city council has voted unanimously to put the public art program on hold pending a review.

The controversial program has been a lightning rod for public outrage in recent years.

The policy requires one per cent of the capital budget of major infrastructure projects to be spent on art.

But Calgarians have widely criticized works such as the Travelling Light, a large sculpture that some have mockingly dubbed the Big Blue Ring.

More recently, Bowfort Towers _ a steel-and-rock sculpture by New York artist Del Geist _ came under fire for its $500,000 price tag as well as controversy over whether it appropriated Indigenous culture.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has acknowledged the city’s public art policy needs to change, but he also called criticism of Bowfort Towers unfair and compared it to a “lynch mob.”

City Coun. Sean Chu, a vocal opponent of public funding for the arts, said Calgarians are frustrated with the program because they don’t have a say.

“You have to come out with some items and let the public pick either through social media or in person because every person understands democracy,” Chu said. “If the majority picked Bowfort Towers, then guess what? You’re not going to hear a peep, nothing.”

Chu expects a revised program will be introduced sometime in 2018.

Currently, all public art is chosen by a panel of seven members six of whom are civilian volunteers.