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Public Art Project with $911,000 Price Tag Draws Mixed Reviews

Another publicly funded art installation, this one with a $911,000 cost, has become a lightning rod for some Calgarians.

The work titled Ascend — a pair of 14-metre-tall welded, stainless steel tubing matrixes mirroring each other on pedestals perched atop a hill behind the Shane Homes Rocky Ridge YMCA — is the second art installation at the site.

Currently being assembled on the hill believed to be the highest point in the city, it could resemble a pair of horns upon completion.

The other erected last year, titled Flock, depicts birds darting skyward over an actual wetland and was designed by the same Seattle-based duo of Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan that envisioned Ascend.

Taken together, the artworks cost a total of $1.49 million, states city web pages on the projects.

Following an outcry over the visual-cultural merits, location and cost of the Bowfort Towers project along the TransCanada Highway near Canada Olympic Park, the city’s public art program was put on hold pending a review of how the projects are selected and funded.

But Ascend’s contract began in 2013, four years prior to the moratorium adopted in September 2017.

It’s visible from Country Hills Boulevard a few hundred metres away and can be accessed by a series of gravel pathways leading to viewing spots.

Though unfinished, it’s already attracting many detractors and a few admirers on social media.

“I thought we were done with this ridiculous public art program nightmare,” said one woman on a Calgary-centric Facebook page, adding she prefers such art that’s easy to access and produced by local talent.

Others insisted such projects shouldn’t be publicly funded or could have been contracted to local artists.

But another man stated the piece “looks amazing.”

Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu said in calling for the review of the city’s policy, he’d hoped to shut down art projects already in the pipeline.

“I really wanted to hold everything back, but there are legal reasons why we can’t,” he said, adding the price of the piece seems excessive.

“I know these artworks are supposed to inspire conversation, but taxpayers need to be understood, too.”

art 1 | Public Art Project with $911,000 Price Tag Draws Mixed Reviews
There are “a few” more projects still to be installed that pre-dated the policy review, said Jennifer Thompson, the city’s lead for public art, who didn’t know the total price tag for them.

Local communities had significant input into the spirit of the Rocky Ridge installations, which were ultimately decided by a panel consisting partly of artists, she said.

“There was a very thorough and more targeted community engagement up in that area that reflect the theme of the elk and deer of that area and mythical creatures,” said Thompson.

“We’re hoping the community embraces public art in that area … as a reference point.”

The city’s web page says Ascend’s metal tubes will be fitted with acrylic prisms “which will break the sunlight into spectrums of iridescent colour; seen from a distance, the prisms will appear as icicle-like sparkles.”

After the work is fully assembled next month, the artists have expressed their desire for the surrounding communities to provide a name of their choice that would take the place of Ascend, said Thompson.

“We’ve never done that before,” she said.

Funding for the installations followed the old policy of dedicating one per cent of the cost of the original infrastructure to art.

The policy review, which could lend more flexibility to the funding model, should be complete by March, said Thompson.

Chu said he hopes choosing artists for such projects will be subject to a competition that could benefit more local talent.

The city says the artists are being paid about 10 per cent of the contract total, or $149,000, with the rest of the cost covering fabrication, design, shipping and installation.

Read full and original article from Calgary Herald here


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