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Indigenous public art program

Art is the storytelling of a history. Respecting and sharing the unique, local Indigenous traditions, beliefs and practices through public art helps to share Indigenous perspectives and stories. It serves as a reminder that Indigenous people lived on this land long before Scottish settlers named it Calgary, and that every Calgarian has a role to play in acknowledging the past and working toward a brighter future. 

Of The City’s public art collection, which began growing in 1911 and now has more than 1300 pieces, less than 3% was created by Indigenous artists. To correct this disparity, we’re taking meaningful steps to improve opportunities for Indigenous artists to consult on, participate in and create public art in Calgary.

Art created by Indigenous artists

Moving toward Reconciliation as a city, province and country requires showcasing art by Indigenous artists as a way of understanding and learning about the people who have lived in this region since time immemorial.

Click on each photo to learn more about the artist and artwork.

Opportunities for Indigenous artists

Several new opportunities are available for applicants to join the City of Calgary's  Indigenous Art Program team. Current calls for Indigenous art and artists are posted on our opportunities for artists page. Sign up for the monthly public art newsletter and the Indigenous artist roster to be notified when more opportunities become available. You can also follow our Facebook and Instagram pages where we promote public art opportunities and uplift Indigenous artists in the Treaty 7 area. 

Indigenous arts professionals

We are deeply honored to be the first municipality in Canada with an all-Indigenous team of arts professionals dedicated to delivering more opportunities for Indigenous artists and increasing Indigenous representation in the public art collection.

Indigenous curators help build connections between local government, the arts community and Indigenous groups.

Jessica McMann

Jessica McMann

In summer 2020, we welcomed Jessica McMann to the public art team as an Indigenous curator.

Jessica is an Alberta-based Cree (Cowessess, SK) curator and artist (musician, dancer, visual artist). She's also a classically trained flutist with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Calgary and a Master of Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University.

In addition to creating traditional beadwork and drums, she also makes immersive sound art videos. Her recent compositions and soundscapes explore Indigenous identity and history. She's co-founder and co-director of Wild Mint Arts, an Indigenous arts company.

Although her art is primarily music and dance, Jessica's artwork is exhibited at Urban Shaman Gallery and Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Her curatorial practice is embedded in Indigeneity, relationality and advocacy.

She works closely with the Moh'kinsstis Public Art Guiding Circle, public art program staff, and the Indigenous Relations Office to bring Indigenous knowledge, histories, cultures, languages, traditions, worldviews, and ways of knowing into the public art program.

Sophia Lebessis

Sophia Lebessis

In consultation with the Nunavut-based elder community, Inuit art gallery owner Sophia Lebessis is working to curate a travelling collection of sculptures, prints and textiles that both respects and reflects the rich art and culture of the Inuit people of Canada.

Sophia is Inuit on her mother's side and Greek on her father's. She grew up in Arviat, Nunavut, learning about the world of Inuit art and how to promote the works of highly collectible and influential artists.

With her keen eye for art and experience in sourcing art, from creation to distribution, Sophia has a unique approach to contributing to the future of Inuit art that focuses on education and entrepreneurship to transform appreciation for Canada's national art form.

Indigenous project managers strive to ensure Treaty 7 Nations, Métis Nation of Alberta, District 5 and 6 and all Indigenous Canadians are accurately and fairly represented in the City’s public art collection.

Henry Heavyshield

Henry Heavyshield

Henry Heavyshield is a Blackfoot (Kainai) writer currently living in northern Alberta.

He completed his undergraduate degree (B.A. English/Indigenous Literatures) at the University of Lethbridge, and he attended graduate studies at The University of British Columbia.

His work has appeared in Joyland, C Magazine, Kimiwan Zine as well as in an anthology of Indigenous writing with Annick Press. When he isn’t reading, writing, or tending to guinea pigs you can usually catch him on his bike or skateboard. He would like to thank the generosity and support of his family. Kitsikakommim (I love you).


Indigenous Digital Art initiative

The City of Calgary’s public art program invited Indigenous artists to submit existing digital artwork and illustrations to be licensed for use on The City’s website, temporary publications, and public-facing artist calls and posters. The program will result in Calgary significantly increasing its opportunities for Indigenous artists to consult on, participate in, and create public art in the city. In total, 20 artists will be showcased through the initiative, with a public exhibit featuring all of the new artwork later in 2024.

Artwork: Warriors Spirit - Wîchîspa Oyade by Andrew Holloway 

Indigenous Place Keeping program

The Indigenous Place Keeping program features educational programming, workshops and art by Indigenous artists in the municipal building, a place where Calgarians come to do business and where Council meets to make decisions.

The program supports artists, performers, curators and academics of all disciplines at any stage in their careers. It is open to all Treaty 7, Métis Nation of Alberta, District 5 and 6, urban Calgarian Indigenous and Indigenous people from elsewhere that currently make Calgary their home.

Tamaani | Here Inuit art exhibit

The Tamaani | Here art exhibit is a portable collection of 12 stone sculptures carved by artists from different regions of Nunavut. It is available for lending to teachers, schools and educational organizations in Calgary and area. Students will be inspired to further their learning about the rich art and culture of the Inuit of Canada.

The collection is curated by Sophia Lebessis, Canada’s first Inuk to own an Inuit art gallery. In the words of the curator, “Tamaani (Here) is a starting point with which to relook at Inuit art, not as a homogenous art form, but the land coming to life, bringing one into the imagination of an artist's relationship with the environment that has shaped them.”

Photography by Alana Bluebird-One Spot

Moh’kinsstis Public Art Guiding Circle

Since 2017, the Moh′kinsstis Public Art Guiding Circle has supported The City’s public art program to respond and act appropriately in its relationship with Indigenous communities and citizens. The Guiding Circle is made up of Indigenous artists of different disciplines, from a variety of communities and who bring diverse perspectives. Public art concepts, whether created by Indigenous or non-Indigenous artists, are presented to the Guiding Circle for feedback to ensure they are respectful of the original people of this land.

About reconciliation

Reconciliation is an initiative for all levels of government. The goal is to acknowledge and repair the injustices of our country’s historical treatment of Indigenous Peoples and their culture.

Two reports were produced in 2015 to highlight calls to action for reconciliation. The City’s Indigenous public art program is responding to Call to Action #83, which is to create collaborative art that contributes to reconciliation.

Learn more about the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC).

Past initiatives

The Land is home

From spring 2022 to spring 2023, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary Nature Centre is displaying The Land is Home project – a rotating exhibition of artworks that feature connections to the land created by Indigenous artists. The Land is Home reveals new perspectives on nature, and reminds Calgarians that Indigenous people have cared for these lands since time immemorial and served as the original stewards of the places we now enjoy as parks.

Alberta Public Art Network artist residency

In 2021 we worked with the Alberta Public Art Network (APAN) to provide a research residency that gave artists living in Alberta the support to further develop their artistic practices. Two Indigenous artists participated. Faye HeavyShield a member of the Kainai Nation and seth cardinal dodginghorse from Tsuu’tina Nation explored the theme "acts of care" and presented at the APAN summit in October 2021.

Benefit-Driven Procurement, Public Art and Indigenous Peoples

Beginning in 2019, we worked with our procurement team on a project to help increase the number of Indigenous artists applying for, and being selected for, public art projects. This 14-month project aimed to enable long-term sustainable relationships among The City of Calgary and Indigenous Peoples. It focused on improving processes for reaching out to artists in Indigenous communities and finding the best way to commission them.

Education and field guides

In 2019, a field guide and an education guide were produced in response to the Wolfe and the Sparrows project. They were written and edited by Indigenous writer and art educator, Steve Gin, to help educators and grades 5-9 students explore this and related artworks.

Street Art Program for Youth

The 2019 Street Art Program for Youth brought together Indigenous artists, Indigenous Elders and Calgary youth. They shared teachings and explored common values with the youth Over a six-week program. This collaboration resulted in the mural, Our Window on the wall of the Downtown Calgary Mosque.

Indigenous Artist in Residency program

In 2017, the Indigenous Artist in Residency program invited Treaty 7 and local urban Indigenous artists to participate in a three-month long residency. Artist Danielle (Danni) Black, also known as Sui Taa Kik (Sue-Da-Gee), Marina Crane (Hapan Kinyewakan) and Sheldon First Rider were selected to take part. The program was designed to foster a supportive environment for Indigenous artists in Calgary. It also provided dedicated research time for Indigenous artists interested in working within a municipal government context and in pursuing public art as part of their practice.

Have a question? Contact the public art team.