ART OF THE MAT­TER

Coun­cil­lor calls for fund­ing freeze

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - ALANNA SMITH al­smith@post­media.com alan­na_­smithh

Flash­backs to Cal­gary’s in­fa­mous Gi­ant Blue Ring are trou­bling a city coun­cil­lor who hopes to put a freeze on public art fund­ing af­ter the lat­est con­tro­ver­sial in­stal­la­tion — the $500,000 Bow­fort Tow­ers.

Coun. Sean Chu plans to put forth the mo­tion when coun­cil re­con­venes in Septem­ber. He said the tem­po­rary halt to fund­ing would be a prac­ti­cal mea­sure to help en­sure Cal­gar­i­ans sur­vive in a strug­gling econ­omy.

“If some­one lost their job, do you think they’re go­ing to buy some ex­pen­sive art to put on the wall? No. They’re go­ing to buy food first,” said Chu. “We have to lis­ten to peo­ple. It’s our job.”

Last week, the Bow­fort Road over­pass art project, a quar­tet of steel poles hold­ing Run­dle stone aloft, was un­veiled along the Trans-Canada High­way at Canada Olympic Park. The project, which en­listed New York artist Del Geist, sparked public out­rage with crit­i­cism over its price tag, lo­ca­tion and per­ceived lack of con­sul­ta­tion with In­dige­nous peo­ple.

Chu agreed to put for­ward the mo­tion af­ter talking with Colin Craig, in­terim Al­berta di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion, on Fri­day.

“It’s cer­tainly in­ap­pro­pri­ate for the city to be spend­ing mil­lions on public art when Cal­gary is lead­ing the na­tion in un­em­ploy­ment,” said Craig.

“Cer­tainly, the price tag for the ex­hibit is rais­ing a lot of eye­brows — and for good rea­son.”

Craig said a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive would be push­ing public art projects from the public to the pri­vate sec­tor — fi­nanced by cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships or do­na­tions.

A sim­i­lar mo­tion, to tem­po­rar­ily slash public arts fund­ing, was put for­ward by Coun. Peter De­mong in Fe­bru­ary 2015. Chu sup­ported the pro­posal two years ago, but it didn’t garner enough sup­port to move for­ward.

Chu hopes coun­cil mem­bers re­think their po­si­tion this time around.

How­ever, some of Chu’s col­leagues are calling for a less abrupt ap­proach.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra thinks a dis­cus­sion on whether public art should be funded is “un­for­tu­nate” con­sid­er­ing public art is proven to make a city more de­sir­able.

“I, per­son­ally, am a sup­porter of our public art process and the ap­proved ap­proach we took fol­low­ing the out­rage sur­round­ing the Gi­ant Blue Ring,” said Carra.

Although he said he doesn’t par­tic­u­larly like the Bow­fort Tow­ers, he said peo­ple are “overly outraged.”

“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath wa­ter,” he said.

In 2014, the city tweaked its public art pol­icy.

One of the big­gest changes was made to how it’s funded. Un­der the new pol­icy, 1% of any large in­fra­struc­ture project un­der $50 mil­lion goes to public art, while projects over $50 mil­lion see hal­fof-1% of their bud­get put to­ward es­thet­ics. Coun­cil also brought in a $4-mil­lion cap for public art.

Pre­vi­ously, 1% of the bud­get for all projects over $1 mil­lion went to­ward public art.

The amend­ments to the pol­icy also added two new mem­bers to the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, looked to in­crease lo­cal artist in­volve­ment and fo­cused on lift­ing re­stric­tions that placed art in less­favourable lo­ca­tions.

De­spite the fo­cus on lo­cal tal­ent, two artists from New York were cho­sen to cre­ate the Bow­fort piece. They were able to ap­ply for the open com­pe­ti­tion be­cause of in­ter­na­tional trade agree­ments.

Over the past few days, many Cal­gar­i­ans have turned to so­cial me­dia to voice their anger at the city’s choice and con­demned the de­ci­sion to push money out­side of the province. Carra said this is un­rea­son­able, con­sid­er­ing 80% of the $500,000 went to Cal­gary con­struc­tion firms.

Un­like Chu, he isn’t con­cerned with fund­ing. He thinks the pol­icy should only change if it be­comes clear it ap­pro­pri­ated Black­foot cul­ture.

At the un­veil­ing of the

Bow­fort Tow­ers on Thurs­day, Sarah Iley, man­ager of arts and cul­ture for Cal­gary, said the piece is meant to align with Black­foot sym­bol­ism. Since its un­veil­ing, many peo­ple have com­mented on the lack of con­sul­ta­tion with In­dige­nous peoples and con­demned the city for not hir­ing a lo­cal Black­foot artist.

Although Chu is sup­port­ing a freeze on public arts fund­ing, he said more public in­put is nec­es­sary if the pol­icy re­mains. Rather than sev­eral peo­ple mak­ing the fi­nal de­ci­sion, he thinks res­i­dents should be able to vote for their favourite pro­pos­als on­line — mak­ing the process more demo­cratic and less bu­reau­cratic.

GiaN-CaRlO CaRRa

SEaN ChU

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