Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Public Art Policy increases public participation and adjusts funding model

Public art plays an important role in our communities and The City of Calgary’s Public Art Policy helps to encourage a diversity of approaches and opportunities. Just as art is evolving, the policy and program needs to as well. Upcoming changes will increase public participation, continue to foster local artist involvement, encourage functional art and adjust the funding model.

Traffic Signal Box by Will Yee at 16 Ave and Centre A St NE
“Recently, Council approved a review of the corporate public art policy which allows us to refine our processes and learn from our experiences over the last 10 years since the program’s inception,” said Kurt Hanson, Director of Recreation. “During the review we worked with a diverse number of stakeholders, including City Council, gathered information on leading practices from other municipalities and on May 20, Council approved changes to the public art policy and process.”

So what are the changes?

One of the most significant changes is to funds allocated to public art from eligible capital projects. Previously, 1 per cent of project costs were allocated to public art. Under the new policy, 1 per cent of the first $50 million and 0.5 per cent of the portion over $50 million will be allocated to public art, up to a maximum of $4 million per project. This change takes effect for capital infrastructure project charters approved after May 26, 2014.

Additionally, funding from private citizens can now be pooled together, allowing for iconic and monumental works of public art to be placed in key locations.
        Charged Line by Jill Anholt in Altadore 

Public and local artist participation
The size of the selection panel that chooses artists and approves concepts for public art is growing. Two new community members will join, bringing the panel up to seven in total. A new panel is selected for each public art project, and is comprised of three art and design professionals, one City employee from the commissioning business unit, and now three community representatives.

Artists will be required to engage the public before developing their final concept and design. The new process will also increase opportunities for local artist development and involvement.

“Supporting local artists to compete for public art projects on a local, national and international level continues to be an important component of our program,” says Rachael Seupersad, Superintendent, Public Art Program. “The recent program changes have prompted us to further promote our current Public Art 101 offerings, increase the number of mentorship opportunities, plus add courses that will train artists specifically on responding to Request for Proposals for major projects.”

Heritage protection and functional art
In certain situations, a portion of public art funding can now be used to restore heritage assets impacted by a capital project. Also, the definition of public art will now include functional art pieces that serve a purpose, like a bench, bike rack, gateway or windscreen.

What’s next?
The City will lobby provincial and federal governments to lift current restrictions on where public art dollars can be spent. The goal is to allow for public art dollars to be pooled and shared – ultimately enabling public art to be created in locations that make the most impact and can be shared by more Calgarians.

By June 2015, The City will develop a Public Art Master Plan, tracking the changes and identifying whether further policy adjustments are required. A public art pilot project that asks for extensive citizen input on the artwork itself will also be completed within this timeframe.

Water Fountain by Sans Fa├žon at various locations
Calgarians are proud of their public art collection. The Public Art Program continues to engage a variety of local, national and international artists, and build capacity for public education opportunities. It’s our role to help uphold the principles of artistic freedom and expression, and emphasize the importance of art and the role of the artist in society.

For more information on Calgary’s Public Art Program, Policy and to view past and upcoming projects, visit, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter @PublicArtYYC.

Submitted by Jennifer Storm, Recreation, Arts and Culture


  1. This is a great step! I especially like the idea of functional objects being included as part of a design process to create a unique Calgary look, not just industrial grey and the 'lowest' bid or the same thing that every other city does. I look at this program curating the city! Thanks.

  2. Will we still get more Big Blue Circles?

  3. Under the Funding section, it states "Previously, 1 per cent of project costs were allocated to public art. Under the new policy, 1 per cent of the first $50 million and 0.5 per cent of the portion over $50 million will be allocated to public art, up to a maximum of $4 million per project."

    My understanding was that previously 1% of the City's GRANT was allocated to public art. Has this now changed to 1%of the PROJECT COST?

    1. Capital project funding comes from a number of sources including federal, provincial and municipal governments. Public art allocation has always been based on total eligible capital project costs. So, the change to the calculation for public art projects is only to the percentage allocated (plus the $4 million cap has been added).

    2. Let's take this a stage further for clarification. Say the City is providing an MSI grant of $20M towards a $100M capital project undertaken by a third party (a partner). I suggest the public art allocation would be 1% of $20M (the City's capital budget for this item would be $200,000), rather than 1% of $100M. Agreed?

    3. Thanks for the great question. Yes, if a third party is receiving Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds, one per cent of that funding would go toward public art. So in your example, $200,000 would be dedicated to public art for that project.

  4. I think these changes are fair. I find it really upsetting that so many members of the public complain about spending tax money on art. If the big blue circle cost $470 G, that means the tunnel cost 99% more than that. I don't personally get much use out of either of those projects but I have to spend my taxes on both. 1% is a very small proportion of an overall project, both of which will have value to some people and not others. Art is an important part of culture and aesthetics. Not everyone likes it, but not everyone likes the road beside it either. That's my bit. Yay public art. Glad you can still carve out a tiny piece of the pie.

  5. With the exception of procuring art and artifacts regarding the history of The City of Calgary and the preservation of the above, I feel the City of Calgary has no business dealing in art, period.

  6. There is something badly broken with this process when an abomination like the "Bowfort Towers" is allowed to be placed at the HWY North interchange. How did NEW YORK artists get to wrongly interpret our own Indigenous and local culture and then impose their twisted death vision on locals and visitors alike? Please re-evaluate this policy with a greater focus on supporting local and Indigenous artists who know Calgary and are better artists.