Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Public Art Program in the City of Calgary, Elections, Budgets, Firehalls and Memory

Project: Indiegogo catch-up
Mood: Positive
Media: 1000 Miles Apart Ceramic Conference (all the presentations and demonstrations are going through my head still - Sean O'Connell - Ryan McKerley - Steven Gorman - Michael Flaherty)

I don't usually comment on local politics during an election but I have been seeing a lot of mis-information going about lately concerning the City of Calgary Public Art Program and the "waste of money" being blamed on the current municipal government. 

Basically the City Council has nothing to to with public art, its the Recreation department that administers the program, which was created two mayors ago (Al Duerr) and updated by the last mayor (Dave Bronconnier). Personally, I have not been happy with many of their choices of art, nor with the fact that many of the artists chosen are from outside of Calgary, and Canada sometimes. Blaming Mayor Nenshi and the current Council for this is wrong. Also raving about the "crazy money being spent" is similarly wrong. 

Any upgrade or construction of a government facility, with a budget over $1 million, has to set aside 1% for a public art component, meaning yes, they spent $150,000 on that giant sculpture/painting/thing that took lots of people months to build (probably at a very low wage and high material cost) but they also spent $14,850,000 upgrading/building the facility. Creating artwork is a JOB too!!!

Everyone thinks that the artist just got $150,000 and they are cheating everyone, if you really think that, just un-friend me now. Average material cost on a $150k project runs about 30-40%, another 40-50% paying for labour costs (yes, the artist really built that 30 ft sculpture all by themselves and the engineer/architect worked for free *sarcasm*), add 15% for space/equipment rental to build said 30 ft sculpture (can't build it in the garage or the basement with a hammer and a drill), leaving 5% (maybe) for the artist (if nothing went wrong - something always goes wrong). I know artists that have gone over-budget and out of pocket to complete public art at their expense rather than present a bad piece of work to the public. 

As some of the firehalls in town are being renovated too, they will be getting some public art as well, I've seen some of the concept images for them and I seriously hope they come out a lot nicer than they look. Speaking as both an artist and a former firefighter, I'm not impressed, then again its my own artistic sensibilities reacting. BUT when I hear that people are raging that firefighters need equipment, not art, I must strongly object. Today there is budget for equipment, personnel and facilities, there wasn't back when I did the job, 9-11 took care of that. Before 9-11 firefighters got very little from the city, one alderman even proposed that firefighters starting picking up residential garbage between fire calls rather than "sitting around doing nothing". Many fire departments were considered a money drain and budgets were cut ruthlessly, with no concern for the safety of the firefighters.

What firefighters really need are for you to get out of the way when you hear sirens, help when asked and stay put when told to do so. They are trying to save people and property, its their job, if you aren't helping, then you are in the way. 

I remember many a time, after a bad call just sitting, eyes closed picturing anything than what I just had to go through, art would help, when I got back home I usually went straight to my studio and made something. Just as many times I went home and just hung out with my son, life is precious.

Art is a creative act, looking at art is a positive process. I would've rather been losing myself in a sculpture or painting after a fire call than picturing that last hour cleaning up at a car crash, thinking of the destruction of that building fire or forest fire, the body removals, scrubbing someones blood stains from my turnout coat, picturing that family that I knew before the fire and after we found the bodies. I deal with those memories and hundreds more, I try to overlay the bad with the good . . . I try. My years as a firefighter are in the past, but the memories are ever present, good and bad.

TVFD 1995 Training Session with  BDFD

To sum up, Artists need to eat too (pay bills/rent, feed their kids) and Firefighters need art. Please educate yourselves and others, its worth it. I am a professional artist and a proponent of local arts, if you have any problems with, or praise for, the Calgary Public Art Program please direct them HERE and leave it out of the electoral process, vote with your brain.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrew. Actually the Council passed the policy to create the public art program. They also make the selection of the board members. It's a bit more complicated than you state. That 1% is for capital projects, of which only the proportion that the City actually pays is the amount allocated for an art project. Some projects have 30 or more grants to get a job done. The City rarely does a major capital project without provincial or federal funding of some sort. And while it is buried in the Recreation department, the board reports to council! To change policy, it has to go through council, as the public art department can not do so on its own. So, we have art in the weirdest places. And, without a doubt the biggest budget is transportation, and expect a lot more bridges and the like to have art included, especially the new airport tunnel. Can art be in better places? or some sort of plan? What's missing? Great gateways to Calgary, art in communities, rather than so much downtown. And, all new builds outside of the downtown should be able to have some sort of public art through the bonus density program... Cheers