Since the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Quebec’s biggest city is home to a stadium known as the big “O” for its shape and connection to the Olympics. But it also immediately became known un-affectionately as “The Big Owe” for the enormous cost overruns and ongoing expenditure of public money to maintain it.
Now, Calgary Alberta has its own Big O-and Big Owe. It’s a work of art, a giant blue circle with street lamps on top called “Travelling Light” and placed near a major thoroughfare.
At a cost of over 470-thousand dollars and standing 17 metres tall it’s being criticized as ugly and a waste of taxpayer money.
Designed by a Berlin Germany art collective called Inges Idee, one local paper described it as “an inspiration derived from stains on the nearest beer coaster” and appearing to be “abandoned construction debris”.
On the city of Calgary website however it’s described as; “This 17 metre sculptural ring will be integrated into the row of existing street lamps and allows a portal into the landscape and the environs. Seen from a distance, it forms a huge window framing the expanses of the landscape, and gives the 96th Ave. N.E. interchange a clear and unmistakable identity — both from far away and up close”.
Rachael Seupersad, the superintendent of Calgary’s public art program, spoke to CBC radio about the controversial sculpture Tuesday morning.
“It is essentially represents the universal mode of transportation … the wheel,” says Seupersad.
“The artists really looked at the environment and the surrounding area … it really is a place where all modes of transportation and movement come together and that is sort of captured and symbolized within this piece.” lose.”
Calgary’s popular mayor Naheed Nenshi has entered the debate saying he doesn’t like it, in fact calling it “awful” and “terrible”. He noted it was commissioned before he was elected.
The work was chosen from 55 submissions by a special jury made up of five people, three of whom are arts and design professionals from the city, one representative from the commissioning department, which in this case is transportation, and one representative from the community.
Seupersad said art is subjective and it may take some time to understand the concept behind the work and appreciate it.
“This piece over time will come to sort of identify very strongly that part of the city and so it’s a way of place making, or giving people a strong sense of place.”
The city’s public art program has several other installations on the way, says Seupersad. They are part of the city’s Public Art Policy, which calls for 1% of a capital project’s budget over $1 million be used for art.
Calgary Mayor Nenshi said he agrees with but would like to see tweaked. “I have pushed for a lot more flexibility in that policy along with Ald. (Shane) Keating, because I think that putting art where people are whipping by at high speeds is maybe not the best use of the 1%,”
What do you think, is it art or wasteful eyesore?