Getting 'er Done: Cultural Planning and the Phantasmagoria of Public Art in Edmonton

  • Author / Creator
    Ariel MacDonald
  • This research provides the first comprehensive account of Edmonton’s public art collection. It asks: How is public art understood and practiced, what landscapes do these understandings and practices give rise to, and what is the relationship between such landscapes and broader processes of urban development? Edmonton’s first public artwork was commissioned or purchased in 1957, and the collection has since grown to include over 260 artworks. Central to the collection’s growth was the adoption of a percent for art policy in 1991, whereby one percent of qualifying capital expenditure budgets have gone towards the creation of public artworks.

    Data were collected through site visits to public artworks, qualitative interviews with key informants working in the administration of public art in Edmonton and an examination of three key planning documents. The central data set, gathered from site visits to the artworks in the collection, was analyzed in three segments: (1) an overview of the collection noting its spatial and temporal growth; (2) the application and discussion of an interpretive tag system; and (3) the description of 12 exemplary artworks in the collection.

    In order to explore the relationship between the landscape of public art in Edmonton and broader processes of urban development, the theoretical lens of phantasmagoria was utilized. Popularized in early 19th century Paris, the phantasmagoria was a spooky lantern show where images were projected onto walls or screens but their source was obscured. Walter Benjamin later used the term in The Arcade Project (2002) as a metaphor to describe the effect of consumer culture in cities. Central to Benjamin’s use of phantasmagoria was the fantastical quality attributed to commodities through the process of commodity fetishism and their display in the Arcades. Central to understanding public art as a phantasmagoria are the utopian qualities associated with public art. This is the concept of public artopia, whereby it is claimed that public art is able to resolve social problems, create a unifying cultural identity for an area, improve the aesthetics of public space and attract economic investment. This thesis describes how, within the discourse of cultural planning, public art takes on a fantastical quality and becomes a fetishized commodity on display, which creates a phantasmagoria of public art in Edmonton. It examines how these claims intersect with the machinery of production of public art in Edmonton as well as the contextuality of the artworks themselves. It concludes that conceptualizing public art as a phantasmagoria is a means through which to examine how urban development is animated by fantasy.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.