News / Calgary

Naheed Nenshi signs on to ask council to suspend public art program temporarily amid Bowfort Tower controversy

The art installation at the new Bowfort Road interchange in Calgary's northwest has sparked concerns over the city's public art process

The first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

SYSTEM / Calgary Freelance

The first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

Calgary's Bowfort Towers are still standing strong despite the amount of criticism the piece of art has received since it was unveiled

But according to Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has signed a Notice of Motion headed for council's floor, there's appetite to temporarily suspend the public art program while the city tweaks the processes behind it to be culturally sensitive and seek more public input.

Early Thursday morning, the Mayor Naheed Nenshi, along with members of Treaty 7, released a joint statement on the towers in order to quell some of the concerns the Indigenous community had with the work of art. 

When half of the piece of art was unveiled, unfortunately, the city gave the impression in their statements that it was inspired by indigenous culture.

But the artist, who is not indigenous, told Metro that the art was not Indigenous at all and that he had consulted a Blackfoot elder and others about the piece. 

"I was very pleased that the Treaty 7 chiefs were willing to work so constructively with the city to really acknowledge good intentions, and to figure out how to do this better going forward," said Nenshi.

In the joint statement, the mayor suggests it was an accidental series of events that created outrage in the Indigenous community over the peace.

"This was never meant to be an Indigenous art work, nor inspired by Indigenous themes. This was not part of the request for proposals that was sent out by The City," read the statement.

"However, given the significance of the land, and following the guidelines of The City’s new Indigenous Policy, The City asked the artist (late in the design process) to seek the expertise of a Treaty 7 traditional knowledge keeper to advise on the project. This particular knowledge keeper."

According to the agreed-upon statement, the outrage sparked debate and now the mayor and chiefs are pledging to include more public input on future projects including Indigenous input, and implementing more ways for local Indigenous artists to participate in the Public Art Program.

"We note with support the work that the Public Art Program has been doing in this area for the last several months in training artists in how to submit successful bids, and structuring some projects and proposals to be more attractive to emerging artists," read the statement.

"We also support that The City of Calgary has set up a committee to explore sharing more Indigenous public art in Calgary—a committee that was being developed before this issue was recently raised."

There is also some controversy about the pieces resemblance to traditional burial scaffolding, which the statement said was not the artist's intent. 

As the statement points out, the knowledge keeper did not identify any resemblance to scaffolding during their review of the work.

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