News / Calgary

City unveils first half of a public art installation on the Trans Canada Highway

The completed steel-and-rock sculpture will be paired with geological art piece across the road

Sarah Iley, manager of arts and culture for the City of Calgary, outside of the first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Sarah Iley, manager of arts and culture for the City of Calgary, outside of the first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

As mountains fade from their rear-view mirrors, drivers cruising down the Trans Canada Highway will now be met with a new piece of public art at the city’s helm.

Tucked in at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange, four massive “sentinels” have been built with steel beams, with each cradling two Rundle rocks – a type of rock found only in Southern Alberta.

The completed towers are the first half of the $500,000 installation, while the second will be built across the highway to mimic a geological formation found in the Foothills.

Sarah Iley, manager of arts and culture for the City of Calgary, calls it a “gateway to the city.”

“It’s a gateway that gives you an idea, not only of the 227 million-year-old land and the history of the land, but also it’s foreshadowing those tall towers that you see downtown in the distance,” she said. “The idea was to bring this sort of tower and rock together.”

The full installation is a part of the $71 million construction project at the Trans-Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange. The budget for the art installation comes from city council’s policy that one per cent of every infrastructure project will be dedicated to public art.

But not all Calgarains are sold on the price tag.

Colin Craig, interim Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said that when he first saw photos of the towers he thought “it looked like the remains of a building that was hit by an earthquake.”

“But my other, more serious, thought is that Calgary’s food bank usage is at an all-time high,” he continued. “The city’s unemployment rate is still among the highest in the country – why on earth is the city spending money on this sort of thing?”

At the announcement on Thursday, Iley said opinions on the public art pieces are “in the eye of the beholder,” and that she believes the completed “gateway” project will become a landmark to the city.

Craig, however, said it isn’t about the art itself, but the fact that there are ways to keep public art in Calgary without using taxpayer money: corporate and private sponsorship, utilizing unused city-owned materials or allowing the public to make their own art.

“I think a lot of taxpayers would find that approach more appealing, because art can be so divisive,” he said.

“Some people will look at this structure and think, ‘Oh, it looks great,’ others will say, ‘Oh it looks terrible.’ But when you have people making donations to fund public art, then you can drive by it – and, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to worry because you didn’t have to pay for it.”

The towers were created by New York-based artist Del Geist, who’s also a geologist. Iley said Geist was “fascinated” by the unique connection Rundle rocks had to Alberta’s landscape, and also wanted to incorporate Blackfoot symbolism into the project.

“The other interesting thing here is that there are four towers,” she said. “And those four towers relate to Blackfoot cultural symbolism that talks about the four elements, the four stages of life, the four seasons.”

The second part of the installation, designed by Patricia Leighton, will be made using earth from the project’s excavation to mimic drumlins – the hilly mounds of earth left behind from when glaciers recede.

The art installation is expected to be completed by the end of October.

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