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City of Red Deer needs to maintain its public art investment, say local artists

Many pieces of downtown art have been ‘sliding’ in recent years: Detarando
Brick Rabbit statue, near the intersection of 49th Avenue and 48th Street in downtown Red Deer, sustained significant damage when it was vandalized. (Advocate file photo.)

There was a time when Red Deerians with a sense of whimsy left carrots in front of the brick bunny statue on Alexander Way.

This spring, the public artwork received meaner attention when a vandal literally knocked the sculpture’s block off.

Since the top of the bunny’s head is now missing, the City of Red Deer is saying the public artwork installed in 2005 will be removed.

Local artists Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur of Voyager Art and Tile are dismayed. They say their previous complaints to the city about the deteriorating condition of their larger-than-life sculpture on 48th Street, near 49th Avenue, did not prompt the needed maintenance or repairs.

“We’re both very saddened by the way public art has been treated for the last five years,” said Detarando.

While the City of Red Deer’s recreation department generally keeps indoor public art in good shape, she believes the same cannot be said for public art in the streets of downtown Red Deer.

Some of these sculptures and murals are feeling the effect of less eyes-on-the-street from lower pedestrian traffic and some store closures.

Detarando has noticed other local artworks also “sliding” into disrepair, including missing pieces of the mosaic-tiled decorative bench she and McArthur created near Original Joe’s restaurant.

“Public art is one of the first things visitors look at when they come to a city, she explained, and its state of repair will make either a positive or negative impression of a community.

Since these municipal resources are a taxpayer investment, Detarando would like the City of Red Deer to do more to keep them in good repair — especially since a portion of the money initially allotted for these projects is supposed to be set aside for future maintenance.

Public sculptures and murals, like buildings or fences, are prone to repeat acts of vandalism if the first damage is not repaired, she noted, as this sends a message they are being neglected.

Last year, Detarando and McArthur were tipped off by citizens that one brick on the bunny statue was coming loose. Detarando said she told a city official at the time.

Several months after informing the City of Red Deer about the loose brick, Detarando discovered the brick was now lying on the sidewalk beside the bunny sculpture. “I thought, are you kidding me? The city dropped the ball on that one…”

She wonders whether changes made to the city’s public arts co-ordinator position are resulting in less attention paid to public art maintenance.

Bobby-Jo Stannard, superintendent of community development for the city, denies this.

While the city’s public art co-ordinator position was eliminated a few years ago, and these duties transferred to a community facilitator — whose job includes engaging with the public on community needs — Stannard does not believe this contributed to fewer repairs being done.

She blamed the pandemic, saying it was a difficult period to find contractors. “It affected our maintenance schedule.”

This summer, Stannard said the public art inspections will be back on track to establish what’s needed to bring sculptures and murals back to good condition.

She noted art around the city will be inspected annually going forward, but any citizen who sees damage in the meantime can report it to the city.

As for having more eyes on the street, Stannard said the City of Red Deer is launching its new Downtown Activation Playbook to help bring more citizens to the city’s core with a series of summer concerts, festivals and other special events.

Meanwhile, Detarando and McArthur estimate repairing the bunny sculpture would cost about $5,000. But Stannard said a decision was made to decommission, or remove, the statue instead.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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