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Calgary’s MAX BRT public art from city collection with most pieces from local artists

Calgary artist Erin Freed doesn’t think the controversy around the city’s public art is a bad thing.

Freed is one of 85 artists, most with a Calgary connection, whose art is being used along the new BRT lines in Calgary. Calgary Transit launched the three MAX BRT lines – Orange, Purple and Teal – on Nov. 19.

“I think the controversy is good. Because it makes people think. It makes them think, it makes them talk, it makes them connect,” said the 42-year-old resident of the southeast Calgary community of Penbrooke.

Freed’s piece, Supper Salad, is embedded in the glass at the MAX Purple BRT station at the 17 Avenue and 52 Street SE station. Along this BRT line, the art is specifically from Greater Forest Lawn area residents and tied to the International Avenue food scene.

It’s part of a bigger Calgary-focused public art project around the BRT lines. The $1.6 million public art plan around the BRT involved the use of art pieces from the City of Calgary art collection. There’s more than 1,200 pieces in that collection.

Jennifer Thompson with the City of Calgary’s public art program said 130 pieces from 85 artists have been used so far on the three lines. Thompson said most of the art comes from artists with a local connection; They may live or have lived, worked, or went to school in Calgary.

“What we really heard in terms of the public art program as a whole was that Calgarians really want to see their community reflected in public art and they want the art to be accessible,” Thompson said.

“One of the things we were really trying to achieve with the north and crosstown lines is to take a look at what Calgary already owns in terms of public art and showcase that for Calgarians.”

The art is found embedded between the glass at 72 shelters along the lines.

Calgary artist Erin Freed is one of the local artists featured along the 17 Avenue BRT line. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The whole project for all four lines, with the SW BRT yet to be completed, is slated to cost $1.6 million. Artists were paid between $1,200 and $1,500 for their works and the rest of the cost went into the fabrication of the pieces and into the shelter structure to house them.

Printed maps will be available on the buses so when you’re riding the bus it’s kind of like taking a tour of the art itself, Thompson said.

While the vast majority of these piece are Calgary-based, she said a common myth of the public art program is that the artists are international. She said between 75 and 80 per cent of artists over the past two years have been Calgary flavoured.

“We’re always very cognizant of the fact we’re trying to build capacity and empower our local artists and create awareness around the arts community in Calgary,” she said.“I’m hoping that with this project we’ll be able to really showcase the talent and the long history Calgary’s had with art itself.”

Freed’s piece of art came from something rather simple. Her dinner. It’s a salad with lettuce, cheese and tomatoes.

She been creating things for as long as she can remember and she spent a lot of time volunteering at the artBOX on 17E on International Avenue.

She’s thrilled to have her piece on the BRT lines, ingrained in a piece of Calgary history. While she’s hoping everyone enjoys the work, she had one particular audience in mind.

“It’s very, very important. I tend to focus on the kids. The kids need to see the work. They need to know that art is very important.”