Earlier this week on Twitter, I shared my thoughts on the current state of public art and the public art program in Calgary:
I've long been a supporter of the arts. It's good for the economy, for creativity and innovation, and it's good for Calgary. But I'm tired of defending the Public Art Policy because of missteps. What were they thinking? Calgarians have a right to be upset. They should be. I'm upset. (It's not an excuse to threaten the artists or volunteers. Stop it.).
I tried to make necessary changes to the public art policy in 2014 to avoid this exact kind of thing. From what I can see, most of the issues were completely avoidable had lessons been learned from earlier errors. So why does the City keep getting it wrong? Either the changes weren't implemented or clearly didn't go far enough.
If we're going to use Indigenous symbols, use Indigenous artists. Bloody hell, that's just basic! A great public art program should support Indigenous artists so that they can TELL THEIR OWN STORIES.
Sure, there's room for controversial art - art that challenges and provokes and maybe even offends, but that's not the role of public art. Public art is for the public good. That doesn't mean it has to be boring. That doesn't mean "dumbing it down" (I hate that term). Public art should be cool, engaging, fun, useful, inspiring! And yes, the average person should be able to enjoy and experience it. Just like great architecture, a public art piece shouldn't need to be explained to be appreciated.
A great public art program should allow and encourage gorgeous street art (if Banksy did a piece in Calgary, we'd paint over it). Public art can be useful. It can transform a space, make it feel safe and welcoming. It can be lighting, a bench, bike rack or fountain.
In order to save public art, we need to change it. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes, but we should bloody well learn from them. We need to work together, as a city and as a Council, without scoring political points, to create work that can be celebrated and admired.
We're embarking on the biggest infrastructure investment in our history. Let's be wise about the 99.5% and create art where it's admired.