Calgary public art pieces leave some local artists feeling confused and upset. Some, like visual artist Dick Averns from the University of Calgary, say the current story being told through public art isn’t representing the diversity of the city. Others, like artist Skye Louis, say the city is too scared to support artists who take risks with pieces that spark contentious debate.

Frustration is also playing out at city hall. Administrators have presented a series of recommendations meant to enhance Calgarians’ faith in the city’s public art policy, with a final report expected in June.

In the meantime, several artists contacted by the Calgary Journal say there’s more that needs to be done. 

Taylor Odynski demands more local artists

Taylor Odynski, a grad from ACAD, says that more artwork in Calgary should be done by locals, as they represent the city more than any international artist. While most of the city’s public art does come from local artists, the pieces tend to be smaller, low-budget projects that don’t get too much recognition. Larger projects, such as the “Bowfort Towers,” Peace Bridge,  “Travelling Light” and the “Wonderland Sculpture,” have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and were commissioned to foreign artists.

Odynski believes that Calgarians need art, as it brings joy and happiness in dark times.

“I’d love to see more colour, more life, and more interaction with public art in the city.” 

When it comes to ACAD she feels that the city should welcome more home-grown artists instead of pushing them away, as she feels that they are not part of the main group in Calgary.

Painter Taylor Odynski speaks about the lack of local artists involved with Calgary’s public art. Produced by Olivia Baychu.

Dick Averns wants art to spark more meaningful conversation

University of Calgary art instructor Dick Averns has been involved in Calgary’s public art scene for the last 10 years. He says there are a lot misconceptions when is comes to public art because of the lack of communication between the city and its artists, but he is optimistic about the city’s latest outreach efforts.CJTHUMB 2407University of Calgary professor Dick Averns showcases one of his past projects called Ambivalence Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. He has taken the piece to contentious places in the city, including political rallies. Photo by Olivia Baychu.

Averns is currently working with the City of Calgary on a public art project called “Recognition, Validation, and Reassurance.” It is a workshop program that allows community participants to visually express their personal experiences with mental wellness.

Averns also observes that Calgary doesn’t have a culturally diverse adoption of art.

“I’m not sure that Calgary is ready for it yet, but I don’t see that there’s any reason not to try those things because we are at a state of evolution here.”

Artist Dick Averns speaks about Calgary’s public art and the complications of why it’s not connecting with Calgarians. Produced by Olivia Baychu.

Skye Louis wants more focus on art for community, not business

Skye Louis has been a visual artist for 10 years. Her artwork mostly focuses on community engagement. Louis says that art should be representative of community. She uses art as a form of activism. Her current project, “Uproot YYC,” involves a collective group of racialized artists sharing their personal experiences. She worries public art is “focused toward tourists, and not toward people who are based here.”

Skye Louis discusses Calgary’s public art and its connection to Calgarians, but says there’s room for improvement to connect art to local residents. Produced by Badria Abubaker.

Public art policy: A look back

The City of Calgary recognizes that there are problems with the current public art policy and has been developing recommendations on ways to improve the arts and culture scene.

A report released in early March endorses a number of initiatives from administration in order to provide jobs for artists during the summer months. The report also gives city council feedback from administrators on how to involve the public.CJTHUMB skye Visual artist Skye Louis showcasing one of the many pieces she works on with a collective group of racialized artists in Calgary. Photo by Olivia Baychu.

Currently, massive public art projects are attached to the city’s capital projects, such as recreational facilities, roadways and LRT stations. The existing spending model has projects that cost less than $50 million devoting one per cent of those funds toward public art in that area. Projects that that are greater than $50 million follow the same conditions, but they also contribute a half per cent of every $50 million after that up to a maximum of $4 million.

Among the most controversial are the jagged and industrial Bowfort Towers, located on the Transcanada Highway; and the Travelling Light (a.k.a. Blue Ring) street light, located on 96th Avenue. The projects have artists and the public questioning policy with some councillors contemplating a freeze on public art spending.

Editor: Whitney Cullingham |

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