The Amazon Mystery Continues

Stephen_Mag_May_2013_Amazon_Sculpture__Photo (1024x683)

This afternoon when searching for something else, I stumbled across a blog post that the Calgary Public Library posted about a month ago in December in their Community Heritage and Family History blog – entitled Whatever Happened to the Amazon Sculpture?

It is about the mystery of a missing piece of public sculpture once located in the city, and originally situated a little over 100 years ago. 

The public library article draws from something that I wrote about the Amazon sculpture almost a year ago for a magazine called Stephen (see page 31). It is always nice to receive their acknowledgement for the previous work that I have done, especially since there was a lot of unpaid research undertaken to write that article.

Without going into further detail, all I will state is that the new issue of Stephen that covers the period January-April 2014 should be released within the week if all goes as planned.

I understand from the editor, there will be two articles in that issue about the Amazon sculpture.

One will be a first-hand account of some sort written by a lady who lived across the street from South Mount Royal Park whom I have met, along with some photos dating from the time she lived there.  In addition there will also be an article written by myself.

So in that context, what is the fun of it, if I let others know what is contained in a hard-copy written form before it is published?  We have waited something like a half-century to find out.  What is a few more days. 

Watch for the new issue as there could potentially be some answers in it.

Controversy, blue rings and moving forward

Blue-Ring-Sculpture-Calgary-Sun-Photo

The Blue Ring (pictured above a.k.a. Travelling Light) is shaping up to be the public art story of the year in Calgary.  With only a few short weeks left in the year, it would seem unlikely something else will overshadow it.

So what is the big deal this time around?

Tomorrow morning, according to an article in the Calgary Sun this past Thursday, a proposal will be brought to City Council by Councillor Shane Keating, et al in the form of Notice of Motion 2013-34.

Councillor Keating (along with Councillors Evan Wooley, Druh Farrell, Peter Demong, Joe Magliocca, Richard Pootmans and Mayor Naheed Nenshi) who all signed the notice of motion, propose to “increase (citizen) participation in the process of selecting public art.”

Together they propose that (City) “Administration be directed to undertake a review of the (Public Art) Policy”, including (as stated in NM 2013-34):

  • developing options for a sliding scale of percentage funding based on the amount of capital budget for projects, including consideration of placing a maximum dollar amount for any capital project;
  • developing options for greater public participation including but not limited to changing the composition of project selection juries, the method of selection of the project jury, as well as increasing opportunities for input by the general public into the selection process for the public art;
  • developing a strategy to help build local capacity of artists to compete for public art projects locally, nationally and internationally;
  • amending the Policy for greater flexibility in the use of a portion of Public Art funding for the restoration and/or enhancement of on-site heritage assets;
  • amending the Policy for greater flexibility in incorporating public art as functional components of the infrastructure; and
  • developing a strategy for pooling of funds in locations with a high public benefit or for long term creation of large iconic or monumental pieces at key locations within the city;

What does this mean?

1.)    There is some feedback going to the Councillor’s offices from voters that the “Policy” as it now stands is deficient and needs to be reviewed (and/or updated);

2.)    Alternatively, there is the possibility that those involved in the process of administrating the “Policy” are constrained by rules in the Policy as it now stands and notice weaknesses and challenges that should be amended ten-years after the “Policy” was enacted by a previous Council in 2004;

3.)    Or in the further alternative – both.

One of the more controversial proposals is to increase citizen involvement in selecting artwork, as stated in the Calgary Sun and also mentioned in the Notice of Motion.

As someone who has worked in the field and having dealt often with average citizens and their connection to art – I am of two minds on this topic.  I see merits of increased involvement from the citizenry, but also see merits in not doing this as well.

Let me explain why.

1.)    By increasing citizen involvement in the selection (which may or may not include the potential for a plebiscite) process:

  1. PRO: The citizenry should not complain that they are not involved in the selection of major public artworks;
  2. CON: The City probably will end up getting “art selected by committee” which is a most-definite and sure way to select forgettable, average or below-average art that does not stand the test of time;

2.)    By keeping the status quo or involving only those who are artists, arts professionals (i.e. curators, administrators, instructors, dealers and other related professionals) and/or interested and involved citizens in the selection process:

  1. PRO: Depending on the jury selected for each proposal the probable outcomes will most likely be stronger on average, and potentially more controversial as a result;
  2. CON: There is the potential to have continued negative press with charges of “wasting of public money, etc.”

On average, I would tend to fall on the side of option two, where increased or continued arts-aware selection committee members are convened to select further artworks as part of the Public Art process.

Consistently, I would rather have strong artworks that create controversy, than average artworks that create none.

There are a number of obvious parallels between the “Blue Ring” story and the controversy surrounding the purchase of the seminal American artist Barnet Newman’s painting Voice of Fire which was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1990.  The controversy was enormous.  In fact it is still very much alive in some quarters nearly 25 years later which speaks to the controversy that raged in 1990.  Regardless of that fact, it is my opinion that was a very good acquisition made by the NGC.  If anything the controversy surrounding the Voice of Fire only added to the previously existing national importance of this work.

Controversy is not a significant problem in my books as it relates to visual art.  I welcome controversy.

All great artworks and movements have had controversy attached to it at some point.  It is the controversy that engages, reflects undercurrents and discussions that the artworks talks about, and adds value to the artwork and the movements they are part of.

Thank you to the citizens of Calgary for making Travelling Light (or more colloquially known as the Blue Ring) the subject of controversy.  I still have yet to see the artwork, but will in due course. Like the Peace Bridge, it has become something we can be (or will be) proud of and something that adds to the fabric of what makes this such a great city.

So City Councillors discuss this all you want, but please do not make artwork selection a plebiscite issue.

The Parks and Recreation, Public Art Programme professionals are doing their part, the Calgary Arts Development Authority staff and the volunteer citizens on the Public Art Board, along with all the other arts organizations (MOCA, AGC, Glenbow, IMCA, Contemporary Calgary, TNG, Truck, Stride, IKG, Nickle, Esker, Untitled, cSPACE, National Music Centre, Alberta Craft Council, Epcor Centre and the many others including the commercial galleries, festivals, theatres, dance companies, artist cooperatives and underground collectives, etc.) are all trying to make this a great city as it relates to the arts.  It is an amazingly vibrant community that many don’t appreciate.  This is not an easy city to be a successful visual artist in.  They are doing the best they can, with the resources that they are given.  Please don’t make it more difficult than it has to be.

Human Weather Vanes

WhitenWeatherVane (1024x683)

This past Thursday I was downtown for most of the day. In the afternoon, I had coffee with a friend and we sought out a place to sit in the hot afternoon sun.  We were soaking up what, based on the weather advisory issued by Environment Canada last night calls for 5-10cm of snow tomorrow, which in turn would indicate that probably was the last non-coat wearing day of the year.

We found a nice coffee shop with sunny, street-level, outdoor seating alongside the building with the handsome and ruggedly elegant Beverly Pepper sculpture outside the front doors, across the street from Bankers Hall.

While sitting there I noticed that within the last week or two construction hoarding has gone up surrounding the series of Colette Whiten and Paul Kipps life-sized sculptures of people walking just outside the doors of the Bankers Hall East Tower.  The series of outdoor pieces are continued inside the building and reside in the cavernous lobby on similar mounts.  They are entitled Weather Vanes and probably work as described, as the sculptures are mounted on poles and are quite flat and made out of what I would assume is copper sheeting which appears to be hammered or shaped in some way.  If nothing else they give the impression that they probably move in the wind as you can see by the photo I took earlier this month.

It would not surprise me if this is the intent to work with the wind.  The building owners of Bankers Hall also placed what I can best describe as giant kitty litter scoops which in my own personal opinion only, are completely out of scale for the confined space on Stephen Avenue Mall between Bankers Hall and TD Square, almost to the point of being oppressive and overbearing [1.].  I am sure that they would be quite appropriate in a different context, but in my opinion, not there.  As I recall, when they were placed around the time the second tower went up, it was indicated in the media that they were intended and designed to break the wind that gusts in that corridor.  Whether they actually do that or not, I have no idea.  But I digress.

The city is very fortunate that we have two major sculptures by Colette Whiten.  As an artist Colette Whiten just won the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts earlier this year, which recognized her achievements over the past number of decades.  As a result of this Award she was included in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada between this past March through July.  One of the pieces included in the show entitled Watermark bears a continuation of thought from this work where it is stated she “rais(es) ‘home life’ from the realm of the mundane to that of art.”[2.]  In the Bankers Hall work, she used images of everyday Calgarians which brought together a cross-sampling ranging from mother holding the hand of a child to lunch-time athletes and business people – where, as in Ottawa, she raised the mundane to art.

The other major work of hers in the city, is located at the University of Calgary just outside of the Kinesiology Building near the Olympic Oval and MacEwan Hall.  It was commissioned by TransCanada PipeLines in the time leading up to the 1988 Winter Olympics.  For a brief post-Olympic period of time, it was located in front of City Hall and its short tenure there was full of controversy.

WhitenArch (1024x683)

I exaggerate, but not by much, as this was the case with almost every other piece of public art connected to the Olympics.

One of my early jobs was working in the public relations department at TransCanada PipeLines.  During that time I was fortunate to join the team which planned the move of her sculpture from City Hall to the University of Calgary on the Sunday of ArtWalk in conjunction with ArtCity.  Unfortunately I was unable to take part of the move, (even though I did get the tee-shirt which was destroyed in a bicycle accident a few years later) as I had previously committed to sit a commercial gallery for a couple who observed their religious practice on the day, as they had done in years prior.  If I was to guess the move happened probably in 1992, maybe 1993.  It has certainly found a very good home on campus where it is definitely appreciated and suits the surroundings.

With my short (ok maybe not so short) diversion – I go back to the hoarding and the Colette Whiten sculptures.  This summer I have noticed a lot of construction happening in lobbies and exteriors of buildings in the downtown core.  Why this is happening, I do not know.  Maybe it is an outcome of the flooding during the spring, maybe it is keeping up with the Jones’, maybe it is the economy, maybe it is an awareness that the buildings just need to be updated.  Whatever it is, it does not matter.

Obviously some sort of work is planned for the building lobby, or exterior, or both.  What it is I do not know.

What does intrigue me about office building renovations of late in Calgary, is that more often than not, artworks (and especially publicly situated artworks) are usually the casualty when this happens.

In renovations, the artworks seemingly disappear without a trace, often leaving behind sterile environments without any real personality.  They end up looking a lot like every other corporate lobby (lots of polished stone and glass), which is just slightly different from most others, based on the architect used to design it. [3.]

I have mentioned this before, and will mention it again as an example.  There was a major work by Takao Tanabe from his The Land series from the 1970s.  It was restrained, almost monochromatic and powerful, but yet at the same time it was very meditative.  If I was in the building and had a minute or two, I would stop in and pay tribute.  It was located in the main lobby of the Dome Tower in TD Square.  The building is part of The Core which has been undergoing renovations over the last number of years.  Somewhere along the way it disappeared and was replaced by a wall of polished marble and nothing else.  I am going to put this out there.  If someone reading this knows where it is and if it is currently unloved and under-appreciated in a warehouse – if the owner wants to give it to me, I will be humbled, but very happy to find a good home for it.

I could mention other examples, but I do not want to make this into a really long essay, as it is already long enough.

In closing, if this work by Colette Whiten is to be moved or removed, and I sincerely hope that it does not.  But if it does, it would be nice to find a home where the works will be appreciated – maybe even somewhere it could have an interesting dialogue with Bill McElcheran’s sculpture of two businessmen talking entitled The Conversation located only two blocks away.

___________________________

NOTES:

[1.] White, Richard. Calgary Herald.  October 26, 2013.  Public art best when it spurs debate. see http://www.calgaryherald.com/opinion/op-ed/White+Public+best+when+spurs+debate/9087316/story.html

[2.] Mallet, Josée-Britanie.  National Gallery of Canada press release dated March 20, 2013: see http://www.gallery.ca/en/about/1431.php

[3.] Krause, Darren.  Calgary Metro.  October 29, 2012.  Unbuilt Calgary.  Maverick mentality should extend to city architecturehttp://metronews.ca/voices/krause-encounters/419984/unbuilt-calgary-maverick-mentality-should-extend-to-city-architecture/

Reminder. Election date is tomorrow.

JohnLordComment1

We have just over a day before the polls open for the municipal election.

Being an arts based blog we are interested in the arts and providing the support that the arts need to survive and thrive.

Fortunately, we have had lots of opportunity to discuss the arts in Calgary during this election campaign.  Not all campaigns are this fortunate.  Most notably it is because of the big blue ring which happened to be installed near the airport right in the middle of the campaign.  It also got good coverage from all news outlets, both positive and negative, including a number of front page stories.

We very much like the fact that people are talking about art whether they like it or not.

We are also of the opinion that in the arts, all publicity is good.  There is no bad publicity – only opinions that are uneducated or ignorant (as in, lacking knowledge or awareness in general).  These opinions serve to remind us that there is always more work to be done in educating the population at large about how important culture is to the integral fabric of any society, whether historically or contemporary.

With that in mind, a friend of the blog drew attention to one the mayoral candidates (Jon Lord’s) comments on public art which he posted to his personal facebook page, about a week ago.  It is posted above and seemingly provides his personal guidance on how much support should be provided to public art in Calgary and what form it should take (more or less).

He indicated which community a mural by Daniel Weisgerber is located in to support his comments.  Using google maps and a bit of investigative research and sleuthing we were able to see what $800 will get for public art.  Here is the image (or at least the image we suspect is the most likely possibility).

DanielWeisgerberMural

Sadly, the image quality is not very good, so it is somewhat hard to tell exactly what it looks like and we don’t know what type of work the artist does, although it would seem to be a landscape-based composition with grain elevators(?).  Because we have scale based on a vehicle, a doorway, and a person walking down the street, we can guesstimate it is probably around eight feet square and we will use that measurement for our purposes.

The mural is 64 square feet in size, which works out to $12.50 a square foot (all in).  Doing a quick online search we found a local commercial indoor painter that charges $2.00/sq. ft. (labour only).  Whether that is on the low end or the high end, we don’t know, but will assume the lower end as the term “value” was part of the company name.

In the spirit of education, and to speak to that, let’s see what that $800 gets:

  • The commercial interior house painter using the numbers above would charge $128 (plus paint).  Because it is such a small area to be covered, they probably have a base-line minimal charge just to show up on site which covers set-up and take-down, materials, travel and the minimal three hours to pay their employees – so let’s say $250 as a result.
  • An important consideration is that the mural is located outside and would require more work to prepare than inside.
  • The other consideration is the quality of paints.  Artist paints are not inexpensive, and house paint is very cheap by comparison.
  • Then you must consider that the muralist paints to create an image with a brush which involves blending, composition, planning and probably research and preliminary sketches to get the image that is satisfactory to the client; whereas the commercial interior painter simply uses a roller to cover a wall typically using the one colour the client wants, without detail or shading.
  • Commercial painters have a reasonable expectation to have a job most days if their pricing or skills are competitive and they want to work.  Muralists will not have the same demand for their services and it would be sporadic at best, so pricing typically would be higher as a result.

Just a personal observation, based on that alone, it would seem that whomever commissioned this mural probably did not pay enough or the artist did not charge enough.  Nonetheless, it is a moot point.

________________ |_| ________________

There is still time to ask your candidates what their positions are on the issues that matter to you.  Check your candidate’s platforms to see where they stand on things like the arts.  Also be aware of the resources available as some organizations will ask the candidates questions on your behalf.

In this context, it is a proper time to mention ArtsVote Calgary.  They ask all candidates (Mayor, Councillor, public and separate school trustees) common questions with an arts focus.  Not all candidates have responded – Jon Lord being one of them (and for this reason alone, why his comments were included above and discussed).

The questions asked by ArtsVote Calgary of all candidates is as follows:

  1. 1.     If elected, what are some steps that you will take to address the following issues currently affecting the arts in Calgary?
    1. a.     Live arts performances, art exhibitions, and public art displays are largely concentrated in the inner-city and may not be accessible by all Calgarians.
    2. b.     Many young Canadian artists are attracted to life and careers in other municipalities, in part because of the high cost of living of Calgary and lack of affordable housing.
  2. 2.     When travelling as an elected representative or hosting out-of-town visitors, how would you promote the arts scene in Calgary? How would you describe the strengths of Calgary’s arts community?
  3. 3.     How do you engage in, participate in and/or support the arts in Calgary? Please feel free to share an experience in the city at large or in your own constituency.

The results are posted in links provided on this page http://artsvotecalgary.ca/municipal-survey-responses

On a unrelated side note, there is also an excellent overview of the politics in this election.  It is a long read, but gives very interesting and balanced analysis about the Manning Centre/Nenshi dynamic.  Review it here http://brianfsingh.com/2013/10/20/calgarys-civic-election-of-2013-why-did-manning-get-involved/

Please take the time to review.

Get out and vote.

Make your voice heard.

So that is how we determine value? Hmmm.

SunComments (1024x893)

Some days I wonder why I even bother.

Since the Calgary Sun wants to continue discussing art.  I will continue to do the same.  Today they did a double page spread of new public art projects that are planned for delivery or are in progress.

It was just the facts, which I have to hand kudos to the Sun for doing this.  It is the type of information that a newspaper should cover.

Thank you to whomever was responsible.

Of course reading the comments generated from these last number of stories was wasted time that I will never get back.  But I digress.

The comments on average were rather predictable.  However, there were a few gems worth talking about.  This is the part that I wonder why I even bother.  It is like wasted breath.  But here we go nevertheless.

Look at this gem from “harcur”:

  • I believe there are hundreds of good artists in Calgary. They may not be world famous but they would donate their art for cost and the recognition of having it displayed.

Then there is this beauty from “Hollie Spencer”:

  • What about having ACAD students donate art in order to advertise themselves. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much to find a volunteer willing to have free publicity and donate something creative to our landscape, it’s time to enjoy our local talent and have them contribute to our city’s landscape.

Or we could go with this sparkler compliments of “JT Beams” that even made the paper yesterday (see picture for full quote):

  • There’s probably a couple hundred ACAD students who would be thrilled for a shot at something in the public art space for the cost of their semester’s tuition.

Interesting comments all of them.

Even the first world problem stated in the picture above as stated by Jonathon Waldie is interesting.

I would not want to put words into someone else’s mouth.  But, just so that I am clear, I need to get this straight.  Would it be fair to summarize these previous comments this way?

  • We should get artists to donate their time, work, creative thought and technical skills to make my city look more beautiful. We should do this, because they are artists and we all know artists don’t need money.  Let’s use real money for real work or the $80,000 rusting vehicle I want for myself.  But not art.  Yup, that is it.  Anything else but art.  But if we do have to get some art, let’s not spend money on it.

I may have exaggerated the sentiments ever so slightly.  But only to make a point.

To extend those comments further, I would then propose to each of the people who made these comments and others who share these sentiments to try out the same thing with their lawyer, accountant, banker, employees and/or landlord.  They can take your pick, doesn’t matter to me.  Just remember to change the reasons accordingly, but the end result should be the same – get services rendered for free or next to free.

See what they will have to say in response.  Let me know how it goes.

Why would they consider artists to be any different?

Shouldn’t artists also have a reasonable expectation to put food on their table; have a warm place to live; maybe even take the kids to visit their cousins and grandparents at Thanksgiving.

You know, the usual.

Things the writers above probably all take for granted.

It’s like déjà vu all over again

DSC_0739 (939x1024)

It was refreshing to pick up the Calgary Sun this morning and see that they corrected some factual errors that were made in yesterday’s paper about the inges idee sculpture entitled Travelling Light that was recently installed on 96th Avenue NE.

I am also glad to see the conversation is continuing.  This will create a greater understanding about how public art makes its way onto specific locations.  It is an important ongoing discussion to have.

A bit of controversy is welcome too.

As Yogi Berra is purported to have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

I recall the uproar that surrounded the Santiago Calatrava Peace Bridge that opened a few years back.  As it is with this project, there was a large amount of dislike surrounding the bridge at that time.  Now whenever I walk or ride over it, there are always people there, unless it is very late at night – even then there often is.  I believe that a lot of opinions have changed about the Peace Bridge over time as well.

That speaks well of the Spanish architect’s concept and design.  I foresee a similar situation happening here as well.

Now if only someone or a group of yarn bombers would yarn bomb it and make it into a giant dream catcher.  Or close off the bridge and get a Johnny Cash tribute band up here to do a concert and sing The Ring of Fire while the pyrotechnics are going on behind him.

They would both be awesome ideas!

But, I jest.

At the same time, there might be something there that is worth considering.  By doing something like this, it would give a reason to talk about public art and get a huge buy-in from the general population while we are at it.

Now if only someone was willing to take this project on and make it happen.

Is it really about the art?

Sun$470KStory (872x1024)

I see that the Calgary Sun is at it again – talking about public art and creating a sensational cover story while doing so.

The issue:

Within the last few weeks, a new sculptural work that serves a dual purpose of lighting an important intersection and as a piece of art was installed on 96th Street which is located near the airport and near the edge of the city.  It is also visible from Deerfoot Trail.  This work was conceived by a Berlin-based artist group called inges idee but was fabricated in the city according to the artists’ and the city engineering department’s specifications.

The background:

In 2004 City Council enacted a Public Art Policy (CPS2003-95 and as amended CPS2009-33).  The sum total of City Council Policies (of which this is one) must inform decisions that City Council makes, and Policy must also be considered when budgets are being prepared.

As part of this Policy, the framework was created for what is commonly known as the 1% for public art program.  This governs all capital projects over $1 million, and does not include land purchases or depreciating assets (i.e. computers, equipment, vehicles, etc.) along with other items specified in Council Policy.

According to Council Policy an open competition was issued for proposals of artwork under the 1% for public art program and a jury convened to decide which project from those submitted would move forward.  In this case, a jury of five community members met and the proposal by inges idee was selected.

The controversy:

In today’s Sun we see the headline (see photo above) where it is intoned that the City “wasted” $470,000 worth of tax dollars.  The story then goes on to state, “it seems all too fitting that Calgary’s latest public art project is a giant hole — it should serve as a symbol of money thrown away, for all the good it does us.”

But the “wasting” of money is not the real issue.

The real issue is stated in the very first sentence.  It states, “to bicker over $4,800 in suburban development costs, when the city has $470,000 to blow on bad art.”  We know this, because the writer returns to this comment, by stating, “When Naheed Nenshi’s entire re-election campaign based on a $4,800 per-house levy he wants to charge for new development in the deep suburbs, you’d think blowing 98 houses worth of cash on bad art would have the mayor and his aldermanic allies livid.”

Art is always subjective and one person’s “bad art” will be another person’s masterpiece.  So I will take the Sun’s interpretation of this as being “bad art” with a grain of salt and consider it as having little value outside of a personal opinion stated by the writer.

Personally, I think it looks interesting although I have not seen it yet.

Where does the $4800 vs. $470,000 comparison come from?

Recently, Mayor Nenshi posted a platform in his re-election campaign – see http://www.nenshi.ca/endthesubsidy

Boiling down what is stated in the Nenshi platform is that city voters as a group are subsidizing each new home built in a greenfield development.  On a per home basis, the city funded infrastructure builds during 2012, which was incurred to the tune of $4800 each.  That $4800 is used for things like new highways, the 1% for public art that goes with the resulting infrastructure, new streets, sewers, electrical, parks, fire stations, medical facilities, etc.

This is no chump change.  If what Nenshi states is correct, that works out to $33-million of subsidies that goes to developers that would otherwise have to be spent, if new developments had to be built with full infrastructure in place prior to occupancy.  I am not an economist, so will take the numbers at face value, given the reference in this story.

The $470,000 I must assume is the cost for this work of art and other related costs to install.

The analysis:

If the writer wanted to be factually correct, he should be doing an apples to apples comparison, instead of the apples to oranges comparison which he did in the article more than once.  If so, we would be comparing $33-million to $470-thousand.

But that would mean that the numbers for art might seem reasonable in that context.

Ironically, this new artwork is placed near new developments on the outskirts of the city and the infrastructure needed to efficiently service these new communities.  Knowing how long it takes to get a major art project like this from idea to installation, it wouldn’t surprise me that the jury convened in 2011 or 2012.  So what this means is this project more or less represents the 1% of the $33-million subsidized infrastructure build during the 2012 period that Nenshi talked about.

Further irony abounds when one realizes that only a handful of current council members had anything to do with initiating this Council Policy or even the 2009 amendment.

As much as we would think this is about the art.  It is not.

It is about politics.