Who put that there? – A Look Into Edmonton’s Public Art Commissioning

by Juanita Gnanapragasam

Edmonton’s public art scene is thriving. While some artwork like Mural Alley has been influential in beautifying Edmonton’s landscape, other artwork, such as the Talus Dome or “balls”, have become infamous leaving citizens to wonder who decides what is public art in the first place. In this article, we outline what is public art and the steps taken to get public art commissioned in Edmonton.

Much thanks to Katherine Kerr and Jenna Turner of the Edmonton Arts Council for their help and support in this article. The Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) is a not-for-profit organization that plays a big role in helping ensure public artwork is created and enjoyed by the citizens of Edmonton.

What is public art?

Art that exists in public spaces, like sidewalks or parks, that is accessible to all citizens is deemed public art.  In Edmonton, commissioned public art becomes part of the City of Edmonton’s Public Art Collection. What constitutes as art is broad and can take on many forms, such as a painting hanging in a public building, a discrete sculpture in a park; an artwork integrated into its architectural setting or a functional bench set within a streetscape.  In addition, not all public art is created to be permanent fixtures; examples of temporary artwork can include installations of film, video, light, or sound.  An example of transient artwork in Edmonton was the Secret Alley Garden project which created a public art gallery in a small alleyway for a week.

What is the purpose of public art?

Public art is often commissioned to fulfill multiple purposes like beautifying public spaces and neighbourhoods, addressing social issues, celebrating community or cultural identity and heritage, or commentating events in the city.

The City of Edmonton requires all municipal projects to feature public artworks.  Hence, when the Quesnell Bridge, which is part of Whitemud Drive near the Fox Drive exit, was renovated the Talus Dome was commissioned.  The purpose of the Talus Dome was to recognize that man-made forms co-exist within nature and that through the creation of the bridge the landscape of the area has been forever altered.  Prior to the Quesnell Bridge being constructed, the area contained natural talus forms along the river valley.

What’s the process to get public art in the City?

In order to decide the location, the Public Art Director/ Edmonton Arts Council will meet with the project team ( usually comprised of City of Edmonton personnel, architects, designers, landscape architects, etc.) to go over architectural renderings and designs. At these meetings, discussions are held around what type of artwork will best complement the facility/space being built and possible locations that would be appropriate and accessible to house public artwork.

Sometimes the City may have reached out to the public for preferences and ideas on artwork and the feedback gets forwarded to the Edmonton Arts Council. For example, the City consulted people living in communities along the Valley Line to get a sense of what types of artwork they would like to see in the space. Preferences emerged for “human scaled” public art, functional art, and artworks that would celebrate the unique character of each community surrounding the stops. After consultations with the community and the project team, the Edmonton Arts Council creates a public art call for professional artists to submit a proposal.

As submissions are received each application is reviewed and considered by a  selection committee and the process is coordinated by the Edmonton Arts Council. These selection committees are usually composed of artists and community representatives, City of Edmonton personnel, and the project design team. Through a process of elimination and consensus, the committee comes to a decision on which proposal to commission.

When it comes to large-scale projects such as Rogers Place Arena, the Valley Line LRT, or the Blatchford development multiple artworks will be commissioned. In these cases, the Public Art Director will draw up a Public Art Plan, which details the types of art to be commissioned, budgets and other details

Following selection of a proposal, the successful artist is formally contracted to create an artwork that adheres to their proposal, including the project concept, budget, and schedule. The Edmonton Arts Council is responsible for managing the process and ensuring the work proceeds on budget and schedule.

After the installation is complete, the artwork officially becomes part of the City of Edmonton Public Art Collection. The Edmonton Arts Council Conservation team are then responsible for the proper maintenance of the artwork so that all generations can enjoy the artwork.

Who pays for public art?

Much of the artwork in the City of Edmonton’s Public Art Collection is commissioned through the Policy to Provide and Encourage Art in Public Areas (C458C). Under this policy, all municipal projects must allocate one percent (1%) of the construction budget for the acquisition of art. Policies such as this one are common practice in many places across North America.  As a general rule of thumb, public art that is funded through a specific project is placed within close proximity to the project. Hence, the Talus Dome was placed near the Quesnell Bridge because it was funded by the renovation of the Quesnell Bridge.

Public artworks are usually selected through a juried process coordinated by the Edmonton Arts Council. These selection committees are composed of artists and community representatives, City of Edmonton personnel, and the project design team.

How often does new public art get commissioned?

By the numbers from the Edmonton Arts Council:

– In 2014 there were 20 artworks installed – also facilitated 2 transitory public art endeavours

– In 2015 there were 10 artworks installed – also facilitated 5 transitory public art endeavours

– In 2016 there were 9 artworks installed – facilitated 2 transitory public art endeavours

– In 2017 the EAC anticipates installing 16 new artworks and facilitating 3 public art endeavours.

Interested in submitting artwork?

The Edmonton Arts Council  currently has opportunities for artists to create glass art along the Valley Line LRT when it is built: http://publicart.edmontonarts.ca/calls/

Interested in learning more about Edmonton’s Public Art Scene?

Learn about #Yes Canvis: a citywide billboard & LRT poster exhibition features 45 works of art by more than 30 Edmonton artists.Take a tour of the project using our interactive map: https://yegarts.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=6059f1738bf54a43ab9aa0bf765dca3c/

Find out more about public art and the Edmonton Arts Council:

http://www.edmontonarts.ca/   http://publicart.edmontonarts.ca/static_media/pdfs/files/publicart/PA-Artists_Guide.pdf

City of Edmonton Public Art Collection Online Gallery (see Edmonton’s public art collection): http://www.edmontonpublicart.ca

The Art & Design in Public Places (“The Places) Program facilitated by The Works: http://www.theworks.ab.ca/places-tour/ (also commissions and places public art)

City of Edmonton Public Art Tours: http://www.arttouryeg.ca/ (these maps include works in the COE Public Art Collection, The Places, Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection as well as private/corporate collections)

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