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City to honour bison’s importance by purchasing steel sculpture of animal

During its Oct. 11 regular meeting, city council voted unanimously to allocate $14,300 from the public art committee fund to purchase a metal bison sculpture from artist Bill Keen.

The City of Moose Jaw plans to honour the millions of bison that once roamed the Prairies — and their importance — by purchasing a sculpture that a community artist made from steel.  

During its Oct. 11 regular meeting, city council voted unanimously to allocate $14,300 from the public art committee fund to purchase a metal bison sculpture from artist Bill Keen. That fund would provide $8,800 this year for the acquisition of the sculpture, $3,300 next year to install the artwork and $2,200 next year to install recognition plaques and pedestals.

Furthermore, council authorized the committee to work with the artist, heritage advisory committee and local Aboriginal knowledge keepers to secure a final location for the sculpture and finalize the wording for the dedication plaques. 

City administration will also provide a report to council next year about approving an installation and maintenance agreement and the recommended location. 

Keen sent city hall a letter in September with the costs of the bison sculpture project. As of Sept. 8, with 80 per cent of the artwork completed, the artist had spent $6,369.05, while he estimated the final material costs would be $7,500 to $8,000. 

Keen also requested that the municipality agree to provide and pay for appropriate dedication plaques for the bison, an appropriate recognition plaque for himself and installation costs. In turn, he had secured a donor who would pay for pouring the concrete base.

The sculpture — welded in layers of steel — is roughly six feet high and eight feet long. Keen told the Moose Jaw Express that his preferred location for the artwork is in front of the art gallery and museum in Crescent Park.

The current balance of the public art committee fund as of Sept. 8 was $41,190, with $2,700 committed for mural maintenance this year, leaving $38,490 at year-end, a council report said.

Of that remaining amount, the committee had budgeted $12,425 to acquire new public art. Spending $8,800 to acquire the bison sculpture would leave $17,265 in the committee account. 

The report added that the installation of the sculpture, plaques and pedestals will likely occur in spring 2023.  

Council discussion

Keen spoke to council several months ago about this project, while it appears this initiative is now coming to completion, said Coun. Heather Eby, a member of the public art committee. 

“It looks amazing (based on the pictures). Absolutely amazing,” she remarked. “So now the committee is trying to do its due diligence of where it should go, how it should get there and all that.”

Eby added that consultations with community Aboriginal knowledge keepers would ensure the municipality handled this project appropriately. 

“It is an excellent opportunity to acquire some public art that has substantial value with a good price,” said Derek Blais, director of parks and recreation. 

While the total cost to acquire this steel sculpture is $14,300, Keen is donating the labour for free, the director continued. The artist estimates that he spent 450 to 500 hours working on the sculpture, which means this item could be worth $50,000.

“It’s a great piece of art,” Blais added.

While this project is potentially worth $50,000, Eby noted that it’s likely around $75,000 to $100,000 based on conversations she’s had. Regardless, she thought this was an amazing piece of art and hoped city hall could acquire it for the community.

The next regular council meeting is Monday, Oct. 24.

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