News / Calgary

'What about us artists?' Indigenous artist responds to latest on Bowfort Towers

The mayor, along with the Treaty 7 Chiefs, issued a joint statement addressing the public art project

Traffic passes a sculpture by New York artist Del Geist, which is called &quotBowfort Towers" and is located near Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.

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, Alta., Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.

As another public art piece spurs another council debate on how to manage the ever-controversial program, an Indigenous artist is concerned the voice of his creative community will be drowned out by bureaucracy.

On Thursday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, along with each of the Treaty 7 chiefs, released an agreed-upon statement noting the City's part in fuelling Indigenous outrage over Calgary's latest public art piece: Bowfort Towers.

Insinuating the piece was in any way inspired or borrowing Indigenous culture and symbolism was accidental, and the piece's similarity to Blackfoot burial platforms unintentional.

As a result of the uproar, a notice of motion crafted by Coun. Sean Chu will hit the council floor on Sept. 11, and Nenshi himself has signed on to suspend the city's Public Art Program until politicians can find a way to integrate public and Indigenous input into the process.

"We've been hearing this as Indigenous artists for the last 20 years, or even longer than that," said artist Adrian Stimson. "It gets frustrating because these things have been going on for so long, and I've heard all these platitudes before."

He said it's not the time to shut down the art program, a move he believes is just a municipal-election motivated reaction. Instead, he's hoping artists from Treaty 7 who sent a letter to the mayor receive a reply, and apology for the "lynch mob" statements Nenshi made about the public outcry.

"It just seems like they've talked to the politicians and now everything is OK," he said. "But what about us artists? The bottom line is the artist is still the one, sorry to use a bad metaphor, at the bottom of the totem pole ... our voices are still not necessarily appreciated or heard."

On Thursday, Nenshi said this controversy has sparked conversation, and he hopes, changes to the city's art program.

"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 the mayor.

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.

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