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Calgarians can once again cast their wishes at the Wishing Well

After eight years, Wishing Well has returned to the public sphere after being installed by the City of Calgary and JEMM Properties at Bridge.

The work was removed from the Genesis Centre in 2014 after reports of injuries caused by the uniquely reflective surface of the piece. The piece sat in storage until 2019, when development company JEMM Properties partnered with the city to re-install it in Bridgeland.

“We’re just thrilled to have a piece of public art like this in Bridgeland,” said Alex MacWilliam, President, Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association.

“I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world, and one thing I’ve learned is that great cities have great public art—and Calgary is a great city,” he said.

The artwork was re-installed at no cost to taxpayers. This was described by Julie Yepishina-Geller, public art liaison for the City of Calgary, as an example of the new direction that the city is taking with public-private partnerships for public art.

The original cost of the work was $700,000.

“We really see this as a win-win,” she said.

“The Bridgeland neighbourhood gets an amazing new sculpture, JEMM Properties adds value to their investment in the community, and all Calgarians are finally able to enjoy this piece out in the public once again.”

The city has more than 1,300 pieces of public artwork. Wishing Well was the only work in the city’s inventory waiting to be re-installed.

Visitors take in Wishing Well, re-installed at Bridge in the community of Bridgeland in Calgary on Thursday, June 30, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Safer interactive art

Wishing Well had been modified while in storage, under consultation with the creators Living Lenses, to add a non-reflective matte coating to the interior of the work to prevent reflections. The work has also been placed in a location with significant shade, and at a 20-degree angle to the sun.

The goal was to prevent the lens-like effect that previously concentrated heat and light onto viewers inside the work.

“We worked really closely with them on the modifications of this piece to make sure that the original vision and intent of the sculpture wasn’t compromised in any way, and they really came to the table,” said Yepishina-Geller.

“Their main goal was to have this piece back into the public realm, same as ours, and so it was a really positive working relationship,” she said.

Wishing Well allows Calgarians to text their wishes and messages to the artwork, which is then rendered in light and sound within the work. Text messages are first converted into braille dots and then flashed alongside lyrical voices recorded from everyday Calgarians.

A construction worker takes a selfie off the reflective surface of Wishing Well, re-installed at Bridge in the community of Bridgeland in Calgary on Thursday, June 30, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Replacement art coming for Northeast Calgary

Addressing the concerns of residents in northeast Calgary, Yepishina-Geller said that the City of Calgary would be rolling out a North East Public Art Initiative.

That program, which will run between 2022 and 2024, will include several small-scale art projects, alongside a larger project at the Genesis Centre. That work will be installed over the next couple of years.

“We’re in the process right now of commissioning an artist for the specifically the sculpture at the Genesis center, so stay tuned for more information on that,” she said.

Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said that there were considerations made, and conversations had about the re-installation, ensuring that it stayed in northeast Calgary.

“We are still keeping this sculpture in the northeast, but this is the southwest of the northeast, and there are political considerations about that,” he said.

“I had to work with my former colleague, George Chahal, who’s now an MP, to make sure that we were not robbing the northeast of public art, but that we were enhancing and growing that as well.”

A panorama photograph of the square where Wishing Well was re-installed in the community of Bridgeland in Calgary on Thursday, June 30, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY The square was completed a mere half-hour before the launch of the event celebrating the re-installation.

Public art an important consideration for civic and economic prosperity

Coun. Carra said the contested question about the importance of public art was no longer actually contested in the city.

“Over the last four years, council has, with a large majority, leaned into moving our funding of the arts and culture sector from amongst the worst in Canada to amongst the best in Canada,” he said.

“The numbers are undeniable. A strong arts and culture sector, a public realm, that is bedazzled with thought-provoking public art, pays dividends, whether they are social, or whether they are economic.”

He said that the city retooled its public art process as an arms-length process through Calgary Arts Development.

He cited Wishing Well as an example of public-private partnerships going forward, increasing the amount of public art available to Calgarians.

“It’s going to drive the diversification of our economy, it’s going to drive a more fiscally responsible city, and a more economically diverse city—and you know what, a more beautiful city as well,” Carra said.