Public art by locals

  • Aug. 27, 2010 9:55 p.m.

The renovations to the G.H. Dawe Community Centre, costing at least $29.9 million, are nearly complete.

Come September the upgraded facility will at last be reopened for Red Deerians.

And once the doors are finally open citizens will see the facility adorned with three magnificent pieces of public art. All three are from Red Deerians, including “Kaleidoscope Menagerie”, a mosaic mural from Red Deer County’s Brian McArthur and Dawn Detarando.

Last year the City, after much controversy, looked at revamping its public art policy after approving four pieces, costing more than $375,000, for various local public buildings. All four pieces were creations from artists who did not even reside in the province.

The debate was not only whether the City should be spending so much on public art during a recession but whether Red Deer should give higher priority to local artists when it came to public art.

Last January City council did approve a motion to put less money into public art, going from 1.2% of any capital construction costing more than $250,000 to 1%.

But the City is still officially holding to its position that it is “essential” that Red Deer’s public art collection include works by national and international artists. Kristina Oberg, the City’s culture superintendent, noted in a Jan. 8 media release that since libraries don’t collect the work of just Red Deer authors, the City cannot limit public art to only local artists.

The argument offered by Oberg has merit, especially for the entire art community because while we certainly hope local artists never confront a situation of being denied opportunities in other jurisdictions because they are not home grown, the community should never implement a policy of doing the same to artists from outside the Red Deer area.

However, the City’s position on public art is also that it plays a vital role in adding to the character and personality of the Red Deer community. If one goes to Paris, London or New York the great public art in those cities will feature creations that are reflections of the talent, culture and cityscapes there. Certainly, you will find works from Canadians, or even Red Deerians, at many of the galleries in those cities. But it is doubtful any non-home grown artist will have his work permanently on display as public art near New York’s Statue of Liberty or Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

With the recent admission by the City that the artistic work of Red Deerians proposed for the Dawe Centre was the best received from across North America it goes to show that locals can compete and win against the very best.

This should be a cue for the City to make it official policy that while artists anywhere outside Red Deer are always welcome to display their work at galleries and exhibitions, even public ones, locals will be given priority for art that is to be displayed permanently on or at public buildings and institutions.

It’s not only the right move for the local art community but it’s another step in better promoting who Red Deerians are to the world.