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Public art conservation and maintenance

Public art conservation and maintenance

The artworks in the public art collection are City assets – they belong to all Calgarians. Like our buildings and roads, they need help to prevent and repair damage from weather, aging materials and vandalism. We invest in conservation to preserve and maintain these artworks so they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

How public art can deteriorate

There are over 1300 artworks in the public art collection worth over $25M. Some of these works are outdoor sculptures, installations and murals, but the collection also includes portable artworks such as paintings, works of art on paper, textiles, and smaller sculptural works.  Some of these artworks are very old (they can date back as far as 1850). Our public artworks can be damaged by:

  • Theft, vandalism and graffiti
  • Accidental impacts
  • Soiling or tarnishing from touching
  • Exposure to food and beverage spills or splatter
  • Water damage (from leaks, burst pipes, fire sprinklers, snow piles)
  • Corrosion (accelerated by exposure to salts)
  • Deterioration due to failed protective coatings
  • Damage due to pests (insects, rodents, birds)
  • Damage or loss due to disastrous events (fire, flood, earthquake)
  • Gradual forms of deterioration caused by light and UV exposure, fluctuating temperature or humidity, and pollutants

How you can help?

  • Don’t climb on public art pieces
  • Don’t allow pets to scratch at or urinate on public art pieces
  • Don’t try to fix or clean public art pieces yourself
  • Report any damage or graffiti you see; the sooner we can respond to damage, the better.

What public art conservators do

Our conservators work with artists to prevent damage and slow wear and tear, as well as repair artworks when damage occurs. They are highly trained in materials science and practical conservation treatment. The conservators follow the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice established by the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property.

How we prevent damage

Most of our work involves minimizing potential damage and preserving the artwork for a longer time. Examples of this type of work include:

  • Regular maintenance, like washing outdoor art and renewing protective coatings or seals
  • Consulting with artists on materials and design choices
  • Ensuring locations are safe for the artwork’s display and installation
  • Documenting how artworks are made to inform future maintenance or conservation work
  • Training and having a plan for emergencies that impact artworks in the collection, such as a flood or a fire

How we respond to damage

Artworks that have been damaged or have suffered other forms of deterioration need more extreme treatments. Examples of this work include:

  • Stabilizing any loose or at-risk elements to prevent them from breaking
  • Repairs, such as the re-adhesion of a broken component or the replication of a component that is lost
  • In-painting or toning with pigments to visually blend any repairs
  • Graffiti removal
  • Finding new sites for artworks if where they are is no longer safe
  • Replacement of lights or other electronic media that is no longer functional

Conservators thoroughly document their work so that it is maintained in a permanent manner as part of the artwork`s history. These records distinguish any conservation or restoration work from the original artwork, and provide valuable information for future stewards of the artwork as it continues to age.

Conservation treatment differs from general repair work, as it seeks to only make interventions that:

  • are physically compatible with the original artwork materials
  • are as reversible as possible
  • respect the artistic choices of the artwork and, whenever possible, are done in consultation with the artist
  • use materials that have undergone rigorous research, testing, and analysis to ensure that they will not have adverse effects as they age