New direction for public art

Public art new direction

Calgary Arts Development was announced as the new operator for Calgary’s public art program on March 22, 2021. The City of Calgary will work with Calgary Arts Development to gradually transition the operations of the program including community programming, calls for artists, community engagement and the procurement of new public art over the course of three years. Full transition will be complete in 2024.

As Calgary’s designated arts development authority, Calgary Arts Development supports and strengthens the arts to benefit all Calgarians through programs that support hundreds of artists, arts organizations, artist collectives, and arts events. Their vision is a creative connected city through the arts. They believe that creativity is the currency of the 21st century, one that fuels vitality, prosperity, well-being, joy, resiliency, and a sense of belonging and connectedness. Public art is an investment in artistic creation. It strengthens local artists by providing them with opportunities to develop their craft in the public realm through hands-on experience, commissions, and mentoring opportunities. It also creates an environment of artistic exchange, with international artists having opportunities to create work in Calgary, and local artists finding opportunities to showcase their work at home.

What will change

  • Engagement with the public will have increased importance, leading to stronger opportunities for collaboration, and the program becoming more responsive to community priorities 
  • Commissioning artists will be simplified and calls to artists will become more inclusive and accessible
  • The procurement process will be more streamlined and transparent
  • Funds will no longer be tied to infrastructure projects, meaning there will be more flexibility in providing a variety of programming, projects, and sites
  • Education programs will be expanded, meaning there will be more tools and support for artists as well as more education opportunities for the general public 
  • Communications will be more responsive and flexible
  • Supporting Calgary’s local creative economy and arts sector will be a primary focus 
  • Calgary Arts Development already has a commitment and practice that focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA) in all of its programs

What will stay the same

  • Moving to an external organization will not change the current Public Art Policy
  • The City will still maintain a corporate public art budget that dedicates one percent of capital project funds to making public art in Calgary
  • The public art collection will continue to be owned by Calgarians through The City of Calgary
  • The program remains accountable to national and international trade agreements, which means there are requirements to have calls over $75,000 open to all qualifying artists, including international

Public art is one of a number of service lines Council has asked Administration to move to an external service model. As an organization, The City already works in partnership with private organizations to deliver multiple services. Council and Administration are continually looking for the most effective ways to deliver services that meet Calgarians’ needs.​

History at Council

September 30, 2019

On September 30, 2019, Council directed Administration to hire a third-party consultant to review the public art program. They were tasked with examining options for the program to be managed by an external organization. Doing so would help:

  • Deliver a streamlined program for Calgarians
  • Reduce red-tape and be more directly connected with the arts community and Calgarians
  • Allow a more holistic and equitable approach to public art projects across Calgary that doesn’t have to be tied to new infrastructure
  • Create better accountability, transparency and flexibility in how public art is implemented across the city​
  • Attract a more diverse range of artists and allow art in more varied locations throughout Calgary

November 25, 2019

On November 25, 2019, the consultant, Art + Public UnLtd, shared their findings publicly at Council.

April 6, 2020

On April 6, 2020 Council approved that Administration should proceed with next steps to move the public art program to an external organization. These steps included:

  • Engagement with the public and arts stakeholders on what they’d like to see in a future public art program
  • Developing a procurement process to select an external organization to operate the future program

Selection panel

Choosing the right organization to run Calgary's public art program was a big responsibility. Four Calgarians including two Calgarians-at-large and two arts professionals from Calgary’s arts community were chosen through an open competition to be part of a seven-person selection panel. The selection panel was committed to ensuring the right organizations was chosen.

Make up of selection panel

The seven-person selection panel was made up of:

  • One member of the consultant group Art + Public UnLtd
  • One City of Calgary Administration member
  • One official from another municipality that operates a public art program through a third party
  • Two Calgarians-at-large
  • Two arts professionals from Calgary’s arts community

Statement from selection panel

With the public art program moving to an arm's length organization, the selection panel was tasked with choosing an organization with a strong reputation, and a mandate that aligned with a vision for fostering local artists and engaging our community.

The City of Calgary conducted extensive consultations with the citizens of Calgary who confirmed that public art is important to them, and that the program needed to be delivered in a way which creates a vibrant legacy of art, representing the diversity of Calgary, while utilizing and fostering the talents of its local artists.

Over its 15-year history, Calgary Arts Development Authority has demonstrated a strong record of:

  • support for local artists;
  • educational and community-building activities;
  • financial responsibility in stewarding public funds;
  • creative and committed partnerships, working collaboratively with respected institutions in Calgary / Moh’kinsstis; and
  • a dedication to public transparency and accountability.

In addition, Calgary Arts Development's decolonization efforts, characterized by a sense of inclusiveness and responsiveness to diversity in our communities, were notable assets to operating the public art program for all citizens.

The public art program selection panel strongly believes that Calgary Arts Development is the ideal organization to steward the next phase of the public art program in Calgary, while augmenting the program with educational programming and community outreach. Calgarians can look forward to what the future holds for art in our local communities and urban spaces around the city.

Public engagement

2020 engagement

To determine the new direction for public art, we needed to understand the expectations and priorities of Calgarians for public art in our city. From February to June 2020, the consultant Art + Public UnLtd led extensive engagement with Calgarians and the arts community. We heard input from almost 3000 Calgarians through:

  • One-on-one interviews with arts community stakeholders (March-May 2020)
    • Participants included members of the public art board, the Public Art Alliance, local artists and City Councillors
  • Five hour-long online engagement sessions (March-June 2020)
  • A month-long online survey (May-June 2020)

The information collected was used to build the procurement process and write the request for proposals (RFP) for interested organizations.

2018 - 2019 engagement

Approximately 9000 Calgarians, including the arts community, were engaged in 2018 and 2019 to help identify what makes a great public art program.

  • May 2018 - City-wide citizen survey about public art (7450 participants) Download the pdf report
  • May 2018 - 65 in-person surveys and an 44 electronic surveys by artists in Calgary (109 participants) Download the pdf report
  • May 2018 - external research group completed a public art process review survey with Calgarians (500 participants) Download the pdf report
  • May 2018 - external consultant completed a public art survey for Citizen’s View panelists (1009 participants) Download the pdf report
  • October 2018 - Internal stakeholder engagement session on public art project practices (20 participants)
  • October - December 2018 - Two Public Art Board engagement sessions focused on governance and terms of reference review
  • September 2018 - February 2019 - Four focus groups and multiple stakeholder meetings (over 50 participants)
  • May - August 2019 - Four working group sessions focused on procurement strategies and relationship building (on average 15 to 20 participants per session, some participants were reoccurring participants)
  • October 2019 - Four focus group sessions focused on developing a vision in October 2019 (30 participants)
  • October 2019 - Telephone interviews with members of the Public Art Executive Steering Committee (4 participants)

What we’ve heard from Calgarians in the past

  • 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

Stay informed

Stay informed about upcoming engagement opportunities, calls for artists and public art unveilings by signing up for our monthly public art newsletter.


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