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Electronic billboards will share public artworks across Calgary

A new project is shining a spotlight on artworks from the City of Calgary’s civic art collection by displaying them all over the city.

Existing electronic billboards alongside major roads will carry images of local artworks — which would otherwise be locked away in storage — in parts of Calgary where public art is lacking.

Regular-sized pictures and paintings will be blown up and displayed in a much larger format. Images of sculptures, ceramics and textiles will also be featured.

“It’s available to everyone and free to access. It makes our city a vibrant and more interesting place to live,” said Gregory Burbidge, interim director of public art with Calgary Arts Development, the commissioning body for new public art projects in the city. 

“Public art connects people to each other in ways that other artwork often doesn’t,” said Burbidge. “This is a chance to enliven public spaces with Calgary artists telling Calgary stories.”

“It’s probably 50 billboards across Calgary with around four different billboards each week,” he said.

A painting of downtown Calgary by Tom Milosz shows a downtown cityscape with a mountain backdrop.
A painting of downtown Calgary by Tom Milosz is one of the pieces on display. (Submitted by Calgary Arts Development)

Inuit art dealer and producer Sophia Lebessis curated the project by digging deep into the city’s art collection. She says it’s also about exposure for local artists whose works have been selected.

“I wanted to highlight artists from our hometown,” said Lebessis, who notes the theme of the year-long project was the word “home.”

“You don’t need to be into art to be able to appreciate something, and appreciating that the artist lives in your hometown — there’s a sense of pride,” she said.

Lebessis says the project also highlights the nature of the civic art collection, which could lead to more donations from local art collectors.

The city collection has been growing since 1911, making it the oldest public art collection in the province, according to Calgary Arts Development.

Its 1,300 artworks are rotated through public spaces and put out on loan.

When they’re not on display, they are kept in a storage facility and subject to maintenance and conservation work.

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