CALGARY – Calgary’s mayor says controversy over a $500,000 public art installation has convinced him the city’s art policy needs to change.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi admits he hasn’t personally seen Bowfort Towers, a steel and rock sculpture by New York artist Del Geist, and hasn’t formed a personal opinion on it yet.
But he says the city’s public art policy needs more civilian input than the small panel that currently oversees projects.
He’s also calling harsh criticism of the project “unfair” and is comparing it to a “lynch mob.”
Earlier this week, some critics complained the towering sculpture appears to emulate Indigenous burial scaffolding, adding Geist should have collaborated with local elders and artists.
Geist, who grew up in North Dakota, has previously said he did speak with Blackfoot elders and has said the use of four towers in the piece is a nod to the traditional significance of the number, but has denied accusations of cultural appropriation.
The use of rock and steel has long been a staple for the artist, whose work has been displayed around the world for more than 40 years.
Nenshi says the piece was thoroughly vetted by aboriginal experts.
“There was not just a traditional knowledge keeper, but a particularly skilled knowledge keeper whose expertise is in Blackfoot archaeology and symbolism who had been consulted on this particular project,” says the mayor.
“So, again, the city followed the Indigenous policy consultation.”
Currently, all public art is chosen by a panel of seven members, with six of those being civilian volunteers.
The mayor says that isn’t enough of a conversation with Calgarians. He thinks there should be more consultation and looks forward to seeing any of the motions brought forward by his colleagues when council meetings resume in September.
City councillor Sean Chu, a vocal opponent of public funding for the arts, has called the sculpture “the worst kind of wasteful spending of tax dollars” while many on social media have criticized the look of the piece. One person suggested it belonged in a recycling bin.