LivingArts: Reporting on Public Art

Last summer I installed a public art project in the City of Edmonton that was commissioned by the Edmonton Arts Council as part of their Percent for Art Program. Wildlife consists of two bronze figures that appear to be citizens leisurely going about their day. Upon inspection the figures reveal themselves to be composed of squirrels, raccoons, foxes, owls, and other animals working together to appear human. The purpose of Wildlife is to challenge the perceptions of viewers by making a seemingly mundane scene extraordinary: an average-looking person morphs into a conglomeration of animals that is both shocking and intriguing, and alludes to the extraordinary possibilities beneath the mundane surface we take for granted.

WildLife, Brandon Vickerd, 2015

The sculpture is part of a major redevelopment in downtown Edmonton that is seeing four blocks of derelict city scape transformed into a walkable community of stores, hotels and high density housing. Due to the ongoing construction the sculptures only just recently became open to the public and they have been garnering some attention. Contacts in Edmonton have been sending me social media post about the sculptures as well as this recent CTV news spot.

The funny thing about the news article is how CTV hints at a controversy without actually delivering any solid proof of the controversy. For instance, the CTV article is titled “Mixed reviews for new public art installations in the Quarters,” and yet everyone that is quoted in the article and interview in the video clip only says positive things about the sculpture. This leads me to conclude that either a) in typical Canadian fashion, CTV was too polite to air the comments that criticized the sculptures, or b) they mistitled the article/clip in an attempt to make it seem more ‘racy’ than the story actually is.

Twice in the video the presenter makes a point of stating that the sculptures are paid for with taxpayer money, which may be code for “everyone should start getting angry now” - an argument that is completely without merit if one spends anytime actually considering it. If we are evaluating the sculpture simply from a financial basis I can guarantee that the cost of the commission is not even 1/10 of 1% of the overall budget for rebuilding this four block street. Furthermore, the sculptures now belong to the City of Edmonton and their value will increase each year, whereas the value of the sidewalks, light posts and other infrastructure on the street is only going to decrease in value.

It seems like generating controversy around public art is standard practice, as it is can be seen as an easy target to generate public outrage over taxpayer money being misspent. I have no interest in recapping recent public art controversies in Canada and abroad.  I would, however, like to point out that when media outlets try to generate controversy they are actually doing the public a disservice. As demonstrated by the comments in the video, by in large the general public is actually very open minded and receptive to new ideas being expressed through public art. By trying to create controversy where there is none, there is a disservice done to the citizens of Edmonton.