News / Calgary

'I haven't seen it:' Nenshi won't judge Bowfort Towers public art until complete

The incomplete art piece which will cost the city $500,000 once finished on Bowfort Road and the Trans-Canada Highway made waves across the city rattling fiscally conservative critics and Indigenous leaders alike

Traffic passes a sculpture by New York artist Del Geist, which is called &quotBowfort Towers" and is located near Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

Traffic passes a sculpture by New York artist Del Geist, which is called "Bowfort Towers" and is located near Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Calgary's mayor isn't making a peep about the city's latest public art installation.

The controversial art installation unveiled by the city last week and described on an official website as aligning with "Blackfoot cultural symbolism" sparked concerns among some Indigenous artists about who was consulted and why. The artist told reporters the piece was not a Blackfoot sculpture at all.

Other council and city-critics complained the piece wasn't art and a waste of taxpayer's dollars.

"I haven't seen it, and I'm going to reserve judgment until I have a chance to see it in real life and it's finished because, as you know, it's not done yet," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. "I think it's a bit dangerous to make judgments on something that's not done that you haven't seen or experienced."

Nenshi said he's confirmed the city completely followed policy on the project to the letter. He pointed out that it's important to remember the committee made up of six volunteers and one city staffer are appointed to make decisions.

"I don't like the fact that these volunteers have been in line for a public lynch mob in all of this," said Nenshi.

The mayor said he'd like to find out how the city ends up with "stuff that's maybe not all that nice all the time," but he said he wanted to honour the volunteers' work.

Although the city did follow the public art rules, Nenshi said he agrees with some of his colleagues who are suggesting involving the public more in the process.

"You get more buy-in when you involve the public more," he said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing what some of my council colleagues come up with in terms of how to improve that process of public participation – that's something I'll support if it makes sense."

As for the concerns about Indigenous consultation, the piece's similarities to Blackfoot burial platforms and a community's cry to take the piece down; Nenshi said consultation with knowledge-keepers and elders did happen, and the city's Indigenous protocols again were followed.

"Should that consultation be different? Maybe," said Nenshi. "But certainly I can't fault my city administration colleagues because they did exactly what the policy asked them to do."

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