There is life after ‘Travelling Light’

One of the hottest topics in Calgary over the past few weeks has been the infamous $471,000 blue ring located at the 96th Ave N.E. interchange. Love it or hate it – the Travelling Light public art installation has been an engaging topic.

That is exactly what Calgary’s Public Art Board has set their sights on for the upcoming year – engagement.

Chip Burgess, the chair of the Public Art Board, says the board has always known that public art education is an issue in Calgary, but the recent attention surrounding Travelling Light highlighted it.

“If they are not attached to the concept of the art, there is no way for them to be engaged or to be enthusiastic or to have an enjoyable experience,” Burgess says.

The Public Art Board provides community input for public art in Calgary and some of their responsibilities include acting as a resource to city council on public art and reviewing all public art project plans to ensure established criteria is met.Travelling Light otherwise known as “the blue ring” has sparked controversy but The Calgary Public Art Board says it created discussion and engagement which they hope for more of in the future.

Photo courtesy of Design Cause

He says that although he believes there are a lot of different options there is no one program the board is aware of that is “the perfect way to engage citizens.”

But they are trying.

And engaging citizens in the conversation about public art is something Burgess says he and the board feels strongly about. It was the main topic of discussion during the Oct. 21 board meeting held at the Cliff Bungalow Arts Centre.

Reaching out to citizens

In May of this year the board held a “sneak-a-peek” type of event, where Burgess says they previewed eight to 10 upcoming public art projects.

He also says they have also reached out via social media and have thought about providing QR codes for public art pieces around the city in an effort to reach out to Calgarians.

The public art website also has detailed information on policies and programs on the process of creating public art in Calgary.

Burgess says that being able to understand the process of the artist or fabricator behind the public art can create a “huge shift in relating to a piece.”

Another idea the board is looking at is creating more grassroots initiatives.

Local company Heavy Industries were the fabricators for Travelling Light as well as the Wonderland installation by Jaume Plensa in front of the Bow tower.

Burgess says that the local company has now been hired for works in Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and even Singapore.

Other ideas the board has would be to potentially implement community-based public art, says Burgess, where every year they would offer a grant for public art in a specific community and encourage community associations to submit proposals.

Burgess says the goal is to have “everything from the huge amazing iconic pieces of art by world renowned sculptors,” to “painted utility boxes on the street corners.”

Burgess says the Calgary Public Art Board is a citizen board and that it is important to “never lose sight of that.”

“We represent the interests of Calgarians,” he says. “So that is our constituency that we need to be responsive to and we need to be aware of.”

Although the topics of strategic priorities for next year and public art in the media were moved to the in-camera section of the council meeting for about 20 minutes, it was clear that both of these topics were priorities for the board.

adrinnan@cjournal.ca