Video tour of Calgary’s public art projects.

I have to admit, my expectations were pretty low when I went out with Jane the other day to have a look at the $500,000 Bowfort Towers art display along Highway 1 on the West side of Calgary. I tried to keep something of an open mind but found myself utterly underwhelmed. This was simply a waste of $500,000 that was spent on a foreign artist.

This got me to wondering just how many arts projects at massive costs we do indeed have out there. Most Calgarians don’t have the time to go tour all these fine works as they are busy working in order to pay their ever increasing city tax bills in a recession.

The City of Calgary website lists and gives some good detail on public art projects. I picked a nice loop that I could drive and tour a handful of these pieces of work.

I took video so I could share with taxpayers in detail just where their hard earned dollars are going. My narration could be better, but I think I tend to get the point across.

The sites I visited were essentially random and based on what made for a good circuit of travel.

First I went to Ralph Klein park on the East side of the city. The park is quite nice with some natural wetlands and paths to enjoy. There was what looked to be a very nice interpretive center. I imagine students and such come down to learn about wetlands and water treatment. The other thing that was striking was the totally empty parking lot. Jane and I were literally the only people in the entire park aside from a few City of Calgary vehicles though it looked like the lot could fit at least a hundred vehicles.

Despite it being a beautiful evening not a single Calgarian was out enjoying the art piece.

Now on to this fine piece of work, the one is called the “Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels”. In the tradition of Calgary art projects, it was designed by an artist from New York. Much like the Bowfort Towers, it consisted of a few pieces of rusted metal along with a couple hills of dirt. Another thing the Sentinels shared with the Bowfort Towers abomination was a lack of direct access.

For whatever reason, the city has fenced off all access to the Sentinels. We could see that paths had been initially built so that visitors could go up to the “art”. Now those paths and the hill was overgrown with weeds and park benches were bleaching in the sun. What could be seen of the art project had to be done at a distance of about 100 meters.

Another departure from the Bowfort Towers was the price. The Sentinels clock in at a healthy $1.57 million. 

How the hell does it cost so much to erect a couple of rusty pieces of metal and push up some dirt???

I will let the video do the rest of the talking on this one.

Next I took a short drive to see a modest piece entitled “One Puck Hollow”.

Nestled deep in the Foothills industrial park, this art piece was accompanied with an empty parking lot just like the last one.

As with the last couple art pieces, this complex design was created by an artist from New York.

The price tag on this work was relatively low at $150,000.

What we got for $150k though was utter bullshit. There was mounded dirt (a favorite for New York artists apparently) ringed by metal railing with a rock in the middle. It was perhaps 20 feet across. How in the hell could this possibly cost that much to create?

We are getting screwed here folks.

Next I drove to the Calgary “Poop Palace” in Forest Lawn. Next to yet another empty parking lot and behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire we have a sewage lift station. Along the walls there is something of a light show which really looks like any Christmas light home decoration set from Wal Mart if a person wants to spend a few bucks.

Because this was “art” however, the “Poop Palace” rings in at $236,000.

The only redemption here is that the artist is apparently Calgary based. The only one I found on my tour.

Next I drove to find the “Bow Passage Overlook”. This is accessed through the park on the East side of Inglewood. It took me quite a bit of walking to find this thing as there were no signs to direct me and there were pathways all over the place. I was somewhat out of breath as I shot the video. Guess its a sign that I need to get out hiking more.

This little pavilion/park or whatever you want to call it was actually quite nice. It is surrounded by construction right now and there were no people there but it is a very nice spot.

The question here though is the cost. This was sourced out to an American artist of course and the bill came in at $3.12 million.

We could build a mansion with better landscaping than this spot for that kind of money. While the site is nice, clearly Calgarians got ripped off again.

My fifth and final stop was on the Bow River again just West of Crowchild Trail.

In my opinion this was the most perverse and utter waste of tax dollars on what was a truly ugly display.

This piece of garbage was entitled “Outflow” and was designed by…… wait for it… an artist from New York.

I guess the tall foreheads at city hall decided that this storm water drain needed to be prettied up.

For the low price of $1.85 million they found a New York artist to rip us off and design one of the worst art projects in the entire city. The forms still show seams, the bottom of these weird creations is filthy and full of debris and it is simply ugly. Nobody was admiring these of course though it is on a busy pathway. It really made me think of the cheap decorations you see at old theme parks such as the old Flintstone Park in Kelowna back in the 80s.

It is almost criminal that nearly two million was spent on this atrocity.

There are dozens and dozens of other public art pieces around the city. These five were essentially a random sample so one can expect pretty much more of the same.

There will be no better time than now to pressure elected officials to end this public art scam upon taxpayers. An election is coming in just a few months and you will never see politicians more receptive than when their jobs are on the line. Hell, even Druh Farrell is finally calling for reform of the city arts policy.

No, I am not calling for an end to all public art. I don’t think many folks are. I am not calling for an endless string of simplistic pieces either. What we desperately need to do though is fix what is clearly a broken system for tendering, choosing sand placement of public art. Millions are being wasted on projects that nobody is enjoying and it is simply waste. If we don’t speak up, it won’t stop.

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