Share this page Print

Public Art - Frequently Asked Questions

How is Calgary’s public art funded, and what are the economic benefits?

As mandated by Calgary City Council and the Public Art Policy, public art is funded from City of Calgary capital budget projects over $1 million. Public art budgets are calculated at 1% of the first $50 million of the total eligible capital project costs, and 0.5% of the portion over $50 million – up to a maximum of $4 million. For example, if a capital project is planned for $3 million, $30,000 of that project will go to public art.

This funding model is very responsive to upturns and downturns in the economy because integrated public art is funded from the capital project budget. Therefore, in uncertain economic times when capital project spending is cut, so too is spending on public art. When there’s more money to move forward with capital projects and the economy is strong, more money gets allocated to public art.

All capital related public art projects are commissioned by the originating departments (for example Fire, Transit, Water Services), and the Public Art Program team helps facilitate the procurement of the public art.

Our policy is about spending one cent from each dollar spent on public infrastructure to enhance our built environment. It benefits the economy, creates jobs and makes our city more attractive, enjoyable and interactive for tourists, residents and businesses. It contributes to communities and improves quality of life.

Creating a piece of public art is often a very large undertaking. There are artists, engineers, material suppliers, fabricators, construction professionals, landscape architects and installers involved. All of those people and companies are paid out of the public art budget. Very often, a good majority of that money stays in Calgary - even when the artist is not from here.

The city of Calgary has seen significant tangible benefits like being named one of the top 52 places to visit in 2014 by the News York Times (number 17) because of our amazing reputation for award-winning public art.

In the 2014 citizen satisfaction survey, when asked how The City should invest in arts and culture:

  • 25% of Calgarians said we should spend more
  • 59% said we should spend the same amount
  • 16% said we should spend less

What is the Public Art Policy?

Since Council approved the Public Art Policy in 2004, the Public Art Program has completed over 50 original works of public art (placed in 13 of the 14 Wards) and more than 100 utility boxes that add distinct and vibrant artistic character for the city’s public places.

The policy underwent extensive review in 2009 which included input from Council, senior administration and a wide cross-section of the community. The review determined that the policy was reflective of best practices, in comparison to more than 400 municipalities across North America.

Again in 2014, the policy was reviewed as directed by Council, allowing us to find innovative ways to refine our process and learn from our experiences since the program’s inception 10 years ago. Always at the forefront of best practice in North America, the latest changes to the Public Art Policy will increase public participation, continue to foster local artist involvement, encourage functional art and adjust the funding model.

  • Funding changes now see one per cent of the first $50 million and half a per cent of the portion over $50 million be allocated to public art, up to a maximum of $4 million.
  • The selection panel for public art work has grown from five to seven and includes two additional community members.
  • Artists are required to engage the public before developing their final concept and design.
  • In some cases, public art funding can now be used to restore heritage assets impacted by capital projects, and the definition of public art has expanded to include functional art pieces like a bench or bike rack.

What are citizens saying about public art in Calgary?

In 2015, The City launched a project to create the Public Art Master Plan for Calgary. As part of that process, citizen input was gathered through independent research conducted by Ipsos. Focus groups, one-on-one interviews and a telephone survey not only helped to inform the creation of the master plan, but also gave the Public Art Program and City Council valuable insight into what Calgarians already know about public art and what they want to see in the future.

What you told us was that you support a public art program that is financially accountable, inclusive of citizen input and supports local artists. When asked about the Public Art Policy, there was overwhelming support for the policy’s purpose. We also heard that you favour the system as it operates currently; strongly agreeing that the selection panel process for choosing artists is very open and transparent.

Multiple respondents identified that there are wonderful public art initiatives happening in our city, whether those be events or new pieces of art, but you felt that The City could do a better job of communicating in order to gain greater public support. The research revealed that Calgarians think that our city has a strong artistic and cultural fabric, the majority of Calgarians want the same or more investment in arts.

Guiding Views from Citizens

87% agree it’s important to have public art in Calgary.

83% support a public art program that is open, flexible, and inclusive when considering citizen input.
82% support a public art program that is financially accountable.
81% agree that Calgary’s public art contributes to making our city a great place to live and visit.
81% believe supporting local artists should be a primary focus of Calgary’s public art policy.
81% think public art is an important part of our City’s transit stations, along our rivers, in parks, roads, and public facilities.
79% agree Calgary public art is important to showcase our city both nationally and internationally.
69% believe public art should be installed across Calgary.

Why don’t we hire only local artists?

The City of Calgary appreciates, values and most definitely hires and supports local artists. In 2014, artists hired by The Public Art Program were:

  • 82% local artists in Calgary
  • 8% artists from other Canadian cities
  • 10% international artists

The Public Art Program supports local artists who are working to transition their practice into public art, and we help them to compete on an international scale. The Public Art 101 series which trains artists specifically on responding to Request for Proposals for major projects, various mentorship opportunities and the Artist Working in Community course are some ways in which we support local artists.

Calgary is an international city and we are well regarded around the world for our public art collection. Just as we foster Calgary artists to compete on a local, national and international scale, we also provide opportunities for all artists to compete for competitions in our city.

The City of Calgary is bound by international trade agreements to make calls for artists that are over $75,000 available internationally.

How are artists and concepts chosen?

The Public Art Program is committed to ensuring that all selection panels are conducted in an open and transparent manner, and adhere to both federal regulations and industry best practices.

A selection panel of 7 voting members chooses artists and approves concepts. A new selection panel is assembled for each public art project. Each panel consists of 3 community members (these could be recommended by the community association, or in some cases we put out a public call for citizens who are interested), 1 City employee from the commissioning business unit, and 3 arts professionals.

Depending on the requirements of the individual public art project, non-voting subject matter and technical experts such as engineers and architects are also involved in an advisory capacity.

The panel chooses an artist or artist team based on artistic quality and comparative merits of the submissions. 

Citizen engagement

Artists hired for City public art projects engage with citizens of the community for which they are creating art, and in most cases this occurs at numerous points throughout the artistic process with focus groups, surveys and artist-led workshops.

The Public Art Program team works with artists and the selection panels to ensure citizen input is sought and considered for each project.

The Public Art Board is a group of nine citizens appointed by Council to provide citizen oversight and advise on the public art process. Vacancies on the Public Art Board are publicly advertised.

In 2014, citizens were engaged on 48 different public art projects, and the Public Art Program produced 15 public exhibitions, educational lectures and workshops. With citizen feedback and involvement, we support art that helps impact Calgary’s urban landscape and transform the way we see, think and experience the city.

How do we work with developers to create public art?

The City of Calgary works with developers and businesses that have chosen to increase density in their building and development plans in return for providing Calgarians with public art. We work to advise on the artist selection panel process, provide communication support and ensure best practices are followed when choosing an artist or public art piece, adhering to international standards and The City of Calgary’s Public Art Policy.

How is The City's public art collection maintained and conserved?

The City of Calgary is the custodian and caretaker of the Public Art Collection, an important cultural legacy held in trust for Calgarians. As the overall appearance of these artworks is a reflection on the artists represented in the Collection as well as the City of Calgary, we are committed to preserving and protecting these valuable assets for future generations.
Caring for the collection requires working with artists to ensure quality and durable fabrication techniques and thoughtful design and placement considerations with respect to the environmental pressures placed on the artwork along with regular maintenance and conservation practices.

Maintenance is preventative work to ensure artworks do not deteriorate prematurely or become a safety concern for the public. It involves routine, basic care such as regular cleaning, simple graffiti removal, landscaping and routine maintenance checks. 

 
Conservation requires knowledge of the structural, conceptual and material nature of the artwork and often involves special tools, products and skills for the preservation of an artwork. Conservation treatment is required when there is damage or deterioration related to the structural components or surface of the artwork. 

What is the public art management framework?

The Public Art Program adheres to the Public Art Management Framework, which is a document that guides our actions, and articulates consistent processes, roles and responsibilities for executing the Public Art Policy. The framework serves as a supporting document to the policy and further informs how administration responds to the purpose and adheres to the guiding principles outlined in the policy. The framework guides public art projects from initiation through installation, maintenance and preservation, and incorporates City of Calgary project management procedures and industry specific requirements. The Public Art Program is responsible for the implementation of the framework and leading the commissioning business units and other stakeholders through initiation, planning, execution, closing, accession and documentation of public art gifts, commissions, donations, transfers and purchases.