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Calgary should copy Orlando’s public art program

January 27, 2018
Calgary should copy Orlando’s public art program

The first line of an NBC news story about a public art program in Orlando would probably intrigue a lot of Calgary taxpayers.

“The city of Orlando wants to give people more to look at downtown, without costing taxpayers a cent.”

The August 2012 story goes on to describe how See Art Orlando, a non-profit organization that was supported by the City of Orlando, announced it was hoping to raise $1.5 million in donations from businesses and the public. Their goal was to use the money to install nine new art exhibits in the city’s downtown area for the public to enjoy.

Incredibly, a little over a year later, See Art Orlando had not only reached their fundraising goal, and selected artists, they were ready to unveil eight new completed art installations for the public to enjoy. (A ninth exhibit was unveiled in later years.)

From “Wings of Protection,” a tribute to the city’s police force, to “Centred,” a piece that depicts Orlando as the centre of family fun and experiences, the non-profit organization has procured some pretty creative pieces.

When one takes a closer look at the Orlando program, there are many features that Calgary taxpayers may like.

First, See Art Orlando’s goal was to put the art installations in locations where the public could enjoy them. The organization’s chairwoman told the Orlando Sentinel “we tried to figure out locations that could fit into some kind of walking tour no more than 2 miles.”

This strategy seems like a welcome alternative to the City of Calgary’s approach that sees new art installed near major capital projects – often in inconvenient locations.

The City of Calgary has installed art behind fences, next to busy highways where there’s no place to stand and ponder the exhibit and other odd locations. When was the last time you visited the Forest Lawn sewage shed?

See Art Orlando also tried to create art that people would find “identifiable” with their city. Whether or not the final exhibits connect well enough with Orlando is a subjective question, but this would appear to be a good goal to embrace.

Calgarians have questioned the relevance of several selections made by our city government. The German art team that created “Travelling Light” (the big blue ring) is a great example of an art installation that still has a lot of people scratching their heads. According to Mayor Nenshi, it’s an “awful” exhibit.

Best of all, See Art Orlando’s approach cuts above the out-dated method of forcing taxpayers to fund exhibits they may not like. If you visit See Art Orlando’s web page you’ll find all kinds of corporate sponsors – Red Lobster, the Orlando Magic basketball team, Universal Studios and the Olive Garden to name a few.

Best of all, those corporate sponsors don’t appear to have influenced the design of the art exhibits – there’s no giant lobster exhibit or one featuring a giant basketball with a team logo on it.

So the question is – if Orlando could gather some sponsors together and privately fund the development of nine large public art exhibits, why couldn’t Calgary try that approach going forward? Indeed, Calgary’s most photographed piece of public art, Wonderland (the giant head outside of the Bow building) was entirely financed by Encana and Cenovus.

Council will soon decide what to do with its public art program – a program that was suspended and sent off for review before the last election after numerous gaffes had piled up over the years.

If you like the idea of Orlando’s art program, try emailing your councillor and tell them to copy it. Certainly it’s time for Calgary to be a bit more creative with its art program.


Colin Craig is the Interim Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
This column was published by the Calgary Herald on January 27, 2018




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