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Calgary public art is worth every word of conversation

Allow me to let you in on a secret. You’ve been duped.

The discussion around Calgary’s public art program has been swirling for years now. We’ve talked about the types of art, the location of art, how awful or good a piece is, how costly it is, how engaged we are, whether it should be local, national and international artists involved, whether the public should have final say… everything.

That’s what art is for.

Guess what, Calgary? The art we have in the city is doing its job just fine, thank you.

Now, some would argue that we should be appreciating it and critiquing it for what it is in its pure form – art. I don’t think that’s the point.

Art is a mechanism that makes us examine ourselves and our lives and allows us the freedom to interpret things based on our own values, beliefs and perspectives. In doing so, it stimulates so many different conversations and interpretations that take us beyond what to make for dinner or to remember to pick the kids up from school, or… what time’s baseball practice again tonight?

It subtly asks us, what kind of city do we want to live in?

Today Calgary is challenging its own identity; it’s pushing itself to think about what’s next, how we evolve, how we grow in the future. Part of that conversation is deciding what role art plays in our community and what form it takes.

Don’t think about art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.   – Andy Warhol

I dare say that if we didn’t have any art in the city – good or bad – and if we didn’t question whether or not it was good value for public money, if we didn’t discuss love or dislike for it, or if we didn’t discuss appropriate locations or engagement levels with citizens, we’d be doing it all wrong.

The conversation can be seen as divisive, it can be interpreted as having a lack of understanding or empathy. But, that’s OK. I’d rather that than us having no conversation about it at all.

It’s through conversations like this that we move forward.

You can love it or hate it, embrace it or shun it. Photograph it or ignore it. But, if you’re talking about it, we’re taking steps toward where we want to be as a city not just today, but well into the future.