Give CADA responsibility for public art

City art organization has proven track record

With the new year not that far off Calgary city council has made a resolution to reconsider what public art is in Calgary and how it’s funded.

Despite past failed attempts to amend how public art is funded from capital projects — currently one per cent of each infrastructure project is directed to public art — the decision to explore other options was put to council again last Monday and the motion passed easily. It passed because it provided an ideological snack for each councillor. Want to put a cap on public art funding from capital projects? It’s in there. Want to expand the spending of the public arts funding from capital projects to things beyond physical arts projects? It’s in there. Do you think the public should have input into the selection of art funded from capital projects? It’s in there.

The motion passed because it promises something for everyone. It’s not hard to see that it can’t deliver. Comments made by some supporters of the motion make this obvious.

City administration will now get to work on a report that will tell council what they already know and then shockingly inform council that the decision is theirs to make. That’s what council will get and has always gotten from ambiguous motions such as this.

After the “Travelling Light” ah… thing… at the airport it’s become pretty clear that taking a peek at how we fund our capital public arts projects is a good idea politically and practically. So with an ambiguous motion approved and sent to administration that makes it look like things are changing when they likely aren’t let’s talk about practicalities.

From a practical perspective there is one solution to address many of the concerns around how public art projects are funded and who approves them. It also better uses what we already have an organization that has time and time again demonstrated its dependability as a steward of public dollars.

Calgary Arts Development (CADA) has exceptional relationships with local artists. It has a demonstrated governance structure. It also has a good sense of the public perception and perceived value in arts and has established relationships and processes for engaging the public as was demonstrated through the development of the Calgary Arts Plan.

In my opinion CADA is in the best position to steward the commissioning of public art funded from capital projects. It primarily funds arts organizations today but it does so through grants and ensures outcomes and accountability from the funded organizations. We should expect the same from the commissioning of public art through our capital project dollars.

Whether or not CADA is interested in such an adventure I can’t say. I can say that I have a lot of confidence in the organization and have seen it consistently deliver exceptional value while contributing to the maturation of Calgary’s culture.

If we’re going to talk about changing how public art projects are commissioned funded and governed let’s do that in a practical way and save city administration from creating yet another report that tells council and us nothing new.