This statue, called Sounds the Alarm, is located outside the downtown Red Deer Library. City councillors will discuss changing the public art process in August. (Advocate file photo.)

City grapples with choosing public art

‘Art is in the eye of the beholder’

From a brick bunny to the cenotaph, Red Deer has its share of public art — and city councillors waded into a thorny discussion about its selection Monday.

“I know art is in the eye of the beholder,” said Coun. Buck Buchanan, but he questioned what happens when many Red Deerians decide they don’t like a particular piece of art that’s been purchased with taxpayer money.

Buchanan described the disconnect that takes place when a public art commission makes a decision that city councillors later take public flack for.

“Would council get to veto (a public art selection)?”asked Buchanan on Monday, during a review of the City of Red Deer’s public art policy.

The short answer he received is no — at least not the way the city’s current policy is set up.

However, Shelley Gagnon, the city manager’s of the recreation, parks and culture, said council can decide whether to change the status quo. For example, councillors could opt to step up as city representatives on the public art commission.

The process of how the city handles public art purchases is up for review this summer. Council heard that one per cent of the budget for most public building projects that cost $250,000 or more is now set aside for a purchasing artworks to make these new or renovated spaces feel unique to Red Deer.

Gagnon is recommending this threshold be doubled to only building/renovation projects of $500,000 or more.

Although few big infrastructure projects have been approved of late in this tough economy, Gagnon is recommending maintaining the one per cent public art contribution.

She told council that a municipal review showed other cities put aside at least this much (and up to two per cent) of construction budgets for public art. And the City of Red Deer used to contribute 1.2 per cent, but this was previously lowered by council.

Gagnon also recommends that only buildings/outdoor spaces that will be visible to the public for at least four hours a day be considered for public art installations. A renovated waste-water treatment plant or civic yards would, therefore, not be good candidates.

Coun. Lawrence Lee expects several amendments will be suggested by various council members when this topic comes back for more discussion and potential first reading in August.

Lee said he wants the one per cent art budget to only pertain to projects of $1 million or more, as this would allow for more impactful artworks to be installed.

Council heard that the city has 101 public artworks.

These range from bronze “ghost” statues of prominent local historical figures, to small paintings and sculptures, to huge murals and a kid-friendly installation made up of movable marbles at the G.H. Dawe Recreation Centre.

Red Deer City Council

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