Public Art Matters: An Open Letter From ACAD President + CEO, Dr. Daniel Doz To Members Of Calgary City Council

February 20, 2015

Dear Members of City Council:

RE:  Motion to Suspend Public Art Funding for the Coming Year

As you evaluate the impact of Councilor Demong’s proposal, I respectfully submit for your consideration a few important statistics and key factors that may offer you a different perspective about the potential negative impact of reducing or eliminating funding for public art during an economic downturn.

It is critical to step back and look at the role of public art from a context of being essential rather than marginal or peripheral.  It is within this context that we recognize that cities are complex organisms that are composed of a mosaic of services, activities and functions and, that art and culture is one of those.  This is not to pit services against another, that one is better or more important than another, but rather to acknowledge that each one plays a pivotal role in making Calgary vibrant. 

Throughout history, arts and culture and, in particular public art, have been central to the identity of a city – and Calgary should be no different.  In fact, one could argue that public art provides a connection between past, present, and future and it is about creating these moments in time and space throughout the urban landscape which help to define the identity of Calgary over time.  When the Eiffel Tower was built for the World Expo in Paris in 1889, this public art piece was received quite negatively in the newspapers of the time as being a “monstrosity” as it did not follow the cannon of aesthetics at the turn of the century.  Now, fast forward a hundred and twenty-five years and the Tower has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognized structures in the world. It is also the most paid visited monument in the world.[1] Public art has become a part of the history and a turning point in the story of Paris.  It is interesting to observe that in just a few years, the Peace Bridge, also public art, has become a favorite location for many Calgarians and visitors alike and an icon that now proudly represents the city to the world.

In the industrialized world, the notion of creative industries is becoming central to many governments’ attention and policy development as these centers of innovation are being viewed as key drivers of the “new economy” and therefore integral to economic development plans. As these centers tend to thrive in urban regions of sufficient density, their reliance on varied and layered cultural amenities becomes a key factor in the larger economic competitiveness of cities. It is well understood that those geographic clusters with a strong and abundant creative workforce become well positioned to be key providers engaged in the global circulation of cultural products. The more diverse a workforce is, the more diverse the cultural amenities are, the more layered is the urban fabric, the healthier and therefore more attractive a city becomes. This cultural and social prosperity in turn has a direct impact on the economic prosperity of the city.  To put this into perspective, the numbers are significant, producing real jobs and real economic impact.  

  • Creative industries across Canada contribute a staggering $57.1 billion to our economy when compared to other industries such as mining, oil and gas extraction at $57.4 billion or professional, scientific and technical services at $61.6 billion.[2]
  • In Alberta, the arts specifically create 22 jobs for every million dollars spent as compared to oil and gas extraction which creates 5 jobs per million spent.[3]
  • Alberta has the highest per capita spending in the country on admissions to museums and heritage-related activities, on works of art, carvings and other decorative ware, on books, and on live performing arts.  In fact, revenues generated through arts programming have consistently exceeded expenditures.[3]
  • At a local level, most of us are familiar with the work of ACAD Alumnus, Mr. Jeff DeBoer. His two merry-go-rounds grace the WestJet terminal at the Calgary Airport. Children of all ages can be seen engaging this work of public art daily. Over the past 15 years, through the work he has produced in Calgary, at least $5M has been directly invested into the local economy by hiring people to work on those projects to research, fabricate and build his exciting works. 

There have been many statements over the past few days that art is a luxury. If art is a luxury, then why are so many young people applying to institutions like ACAD. This year alone we are experiencing a 24 percent increase in our applications over last year. For every student we accept we turn away 2.2 students. Employers see the value of artists and designers and are hiring them in large numbers so I am puzzled why some members of Council would not see this value too. This is real work, by real people who pay taxes and contribute to the fabric of our communities and our city. 

The role and dare I say the mandate of a growing city such as Calgary, is not to just build roads and bridges, but to build a city that citizens can be proud of; a city that can compete on the world stage; a city in which people want to live, work and raise a family. Like sewers, roads and water lines, public art is but one part of the cultural infrastructure that contributes to a great city. Artists and the art they produce act as catalysts for change in our community and communities all around the world. Artists are at the forefront of almost every social movement in the history of our world and are involved in every step change in society.  The art they produce is what defines us as a people, as communities, as a city and as a province. A city without public art is a city without a soul.

Thus my question to members of City Council is; do you want to be a mediocre city or a city that truly inspires its citizens to think and live differently and be the envy of the world? Calgary is already home to one of four art, craft and design institutions in the country – let us capitalize on this and embrace the art and the creativity that is all around us. We will live richer and more rewarding lives. Now more than ever, the world needs creativity so I ask the members of City Council to do the right thing for Calgary and defeat this motion. We need to invest in our innovative future and not do the opposite. 

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Daniel Doz
President + CEO

[1] Eiffel Tower
[2]Industry Canada, GDP Growth in the Canadian Economy, 2012.
[3]Alberta Foundation for the Arts, “Ripples across the Province, How Arts Organizations benefit Alberta’s communities. 2012.