The City of Calgary’s Crazy Art Policy

By now, everyone has seen the worst example of art you could ever find in the city of Calgary. I am talking about the great blue circle that sits beside the road at 96th Avenue near Deerfoot trail in the northeast. This thing is a source of embarrassment for Calgarians simply because we allowed our elected officials to spend our money on something like that. Even though mayor Nenshi says he hates it too, and it was approved before he became mayor, it happened on his watch, so he bears some of the responsibility.

This all happened because of the city's policy of spending 1% of the cost of a project on art, for projects that are at least 1 million dollars. The whole idea behind this policy is a good one, since we all want a beautiful city, but the bureaucrats have taken this idea a bit too far. In the case of the big blue ring, they say that 5 citizens picked the winning piece of art that was approved for that location. Well who were these 5 people? I think there should be a lot more citizens involved in the process to ensure that people from all walks of life can make a choice that most people can be happy with. Were those 5 people lovers of modern art? If you had 50 people in a group that included plumbers, construction guys, doctors, teachers, and every other profession, this ring would never have been approved because normal people do not like it. They would have approved something that the majority of Calgarians would have been at least ok with.

Unfortunately this is not the only extreme example of taxpayer waste when it comes to spending money on art. There are numerous other examples such as the one I discovered when I was on a bike ride the other day in the Southeast near Lake Sikome. I was following our city's wonderful bike paths and ended up riding under an overpass. To my surprise I found this example of what some would call art, I guess.

Art in Calgary
Someone's Idea of art under a bridge in southeast Calgary

I had to stop and take a picture and I had to wonder how much someone got paid for this "art" It was made of pieces of granite that you would use on your counter tops, rocks, and tiles with metal borders. Really, I think an 8 year old could have made this without too much trouble. If we did a quick calculation based on the city's 1% of the cost of the project starting at 1 million dollars, this artist would have gotten paid at least $10,000. Although if it was based on the price of the bridge, the cost would have been much more.

Another example is money being spent on sewage facilities as outlined in the video below. Why not give us more things like the lions on the Centre street bridge, or the fish on the walls as you drive on Glenmore under Macleod Trail and Elbow Drive, or even the controversial Peace bridge. That one was only controversial because of the cost, and the fact that a foreign architect was hired to do the job and much of the construction work was done out of the country.