Public Art in Calgary – What We Heard

A few months ago, the School of Public Policy held an event as part of its ongoing Current Affairs Event Series on “The Thorny Issue of Public Art in Calgary.” At the event, we asked audience members to contribute to Calgary’s ongoing conversation on public art policy by providing us with feedback on what they thought the City of Calgary should do to ensure that its public art policy was successful.  

In the next few weeks, public art is sure to return to the news in Calgary, as Calgary’s city administration prepares a report to council on what should and shouldn’t change in the city’s public art policy. So we thought we’d share the comments that we received, which we have sorted into a few broad categories but otherwise left unchanged. 

Do you have thoughts about Calgary’s public art policy? Is there research that Canadian policy scholars should be doing on this subject? Feel free to contact us or add your ideas in the comments section below. 

Communication and Engagement 

Be proud and shout it out! City Hall needs to promote and celebrate our public art and its impact personally, locally, nationally, and internationally! This should be added to the policy.

What Calgary needs to know about public art: People want direct public engagement for public art projects. Artistically this adds an interactive aspect to the art project, and politically it adds security that the project will be well received.

Non biased, educational communication appears to be the key that is missing. However, the only parts that seem to be challenged in the media are the structural pieces. Maybe the public need to be given more information to challenge their views on what constitutes public art, let alone art in general.

Increase the communication with the public. Tell the whole, fully nuanced story. Artist visions(s), community engagements, local businesses (jobs) supported, and more.

The entire Marketing and Communications plan around public art and the arts in general requires a huge overhaul. To communicate not only process but also champion the value of the arts – its value for our city as an innovative, creative and future forward place.

Public art should be impactful and resonate with local residents. How is highway art successful if it requires explanation?

The city needs to do a better job educating public on Public art budgets. The majority of the funds for large installations are for the fabrication and installation which is money in local businesses. The artists only receive 5-10% of the total budget, whether the artist is local or international. Need to promote the number of job and dollars contributed to local economy.

Tell the stories of Calgary’s art. We have a cool story to tell. We are only in the top 5 cities in Calgary because we need more public art.

Calgary needs more and better education to help Calgarians understand the artists’ intention.

Public art board needs to celebrate, champion and challenge Calgarians to embrace public art.

Public art board needs to engage more with citizens.

Have an immediate communication strategy for each piec of art removed from City of Calgary Communications Department.

Great cities have great public art. The vocal minority of uniformed art critics is near-sighted when they call for freezes to public art. Does the city need to review its policy, perhaps. I think their issue is about communication.

Comments for the city: – better communication about the process and art works is needed -what stories do our works tell? – don’t be afraid to be different, innovative, unique, even controversial (we already have lots of bronzes and horses and men on horses!) – accessibility of locations is important -tell stories -great art, heritage, etc. is key to being a world class city that people want to live in and visit

Focus first and foremost in community and public engagement – before, during and after project is completed

Ideas for Art Projects, Locations, and Platforms 

The city should have mobile artwork that can be moved to different areas of the city every few years.

Dynamic lighting and holographic artworks that can be changed to a different theme.

More at geared toward the heritage culture (including Indigenous) industry of Calgary – what is Calgary about.

How about creating a “bank” of designs that the city cleared with the public in consultation from which both the committee and developers could choose one to plan and erect. It could be a bank of design concepts that residents supported via a referendum model or via focus group discussions.

One thing Calgary should know: not all art needs to be ground-breaking or different. Don’t forget about the simple beauty that can enrich this city. My kids are just learning about art. I would like for them to enjoy what they see or feel.

What steps will be taken to regain the public’s trust? Do we have an opportunity to build capacity and reinvigorate the downtown through the curation of public / private art? Should criteria be adopted whereby public art needs to be situated in locations that a large part of Calgarians can access (e.g. wastewater treatment)? Can the process be harnessed and made transparent through a very creative lens such as television? How is artist defined, as architecture and technology can play a grand role in public art?

For City of Calgary to consider: The positive impact of public art in other cities. E.g. The “Bean” in Chicago. The Bilbao effect: one stunning building, Gehry’s Guggenheim, can revitalize a community.

Too much discussion on public art being tied to transportation. Public art is about telling our story in a variety of mediums to engage conversation.


End department siloing; there should be greater focus and development of a single public art budget instead of water/transportation/etc. more or less doing their own thing.

I’d like remind people that not all public art installations in Calgary are tied a capital project whether by the city or a developer. It was briefly mentioned that foundations, etc. instigate and create public art pieces as well.

Data and Impact

Make public impact report available i.e. economic parameters and leveraging, i.e. tourist comments, photos, etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s