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$2.25M public art sculpture coming to downtown Calgary

A $2.25-million public art piece is in the works for the grounds of Calgary’s expanded BMO Centre. 

The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation and the Calgary Stampede announced Wednesday that the large-scale public artwork at the BMO Centre’s new plaza will be produced by U.K. artist Gerry Judah. 

The steel sculpture is called Spirit of Water and will stand about 21 metres (70 feet) and weigh 50,800-kilograms (112,000 pounds).

The BMO Centre in Stampede Park is undergoing a major expansion, and is slated to open in time for Stampede in 2024. The convention centre will feature exhibition halls, a grand foyer and two massive ballrooms — about 50,000 and 20,000 square feet — which will become the biggest and second biggest in Alberta.

This installation will be a focal point of the BMO Centre’s outdoor plaza, set to be twice the size of Olympic Plaza. The Spirit of Water is being fabricated in the United Kingdom and it will be shipped to Calgary and installed with the local support of heavy industries. 

Kate Thompson, president and CEO of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), said they had more than 200 artist proposals, and the final project was selected by a volunteer jury. 

The budget was guided by the City of Calgary’s policy for funding, acquisition and management of public art in Calgary, and includes all fees, expenses, fabrication costs, delivery and installation.

A woman and a man stand in front of a table with a blue piece of art on it. Behind them is a large courtyard and building.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek stands with artist Gerry Judah in front of the BMO Centre on Wednesday. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she thinks such pieces are an important step toward amplifying Calgary’s downtown cultural arts and entertainment identity. 

“I think pieces like this are finally starting to demonstrate that if you want to be a city that people feel welcomed in, that people want to visit, that people are proud to live in. It requires the beauty of public art,” she said. 

Judah has created many public artworks over his career, including large-scale pieces for festivals, museums and public realms in the U.K., United States, New Zealand and United Arab Emirates.

He said he was drawn to the project because of the dramatic space created by the BMO Centre. 

A small blue piece of art sits on a table. The art is comprised of many circles together building a structure.
The large-scale art installation will look similar to this tabletop version. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

“For me, that needed a very dramatic response. I wanted to make something that had an international and important statement. So I chose water as a central theme because of its enormous power and universality,” he said. 

“It further remains as one of the most important elements of nature and one that continues to hold its importance, both as a physical object and as a symbolic representation of various universal concepts.” 

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