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Student art installation finds temporary home in Okotoks

A student-built installation focusing on the past, present and future of Alberta's energy industry is now on display at the Okotoks Environmental Education Centre.
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Patrick Duke, pictured on June 22, is the project curator for an art installation now on display at the Okotoks Environmental Education Centre.

The Okotoks Environmental Education Centre welcomed a new piece of scientific artwork Wednesday. 

The 12-foot, youth-built installation focusing on the history and future of Alberta's energy sector will live in the ECC until April 2023, according to the Town. 

The artwork moves chronologically from base to tip, beginning with the structure of an oil derrick. The middle features hand drawn and painted illustrations of  geological cross sections, a dam, wind turbines and indigenous symbols including a teepee and buffalo, all completed by students. Topping off the tall structure is a vertical wind turbine. 

“We are thrilled to be able to host this energy-themed art exhibit, which was not only created by our regional youth to tell the story of energy in our province, but also looks at traditional indigenous energy systems in the Treaty Seven region,” said culture and heritage team lead Allan Boss in a press release.

“Learning this history is especially valuable for us all during National Indigenous History Month.”

Curator Patrick Duke was a geology student at the University of Calgary when he came up with the concept for the project, which was created as part of the 2019 iteration of Alberta EcoTrust's Annual Environmental Gathering. 

"I think the biggest thing was figuring out what we wanted to say," said Duke of the inspiration for the installation. 

He explained the idea was to highlight the history of Alberta's energy sector — oil and gas — while recognizing possibilities for alternative energy sources and the integral part of indigenous partners in making decisions. 

"So this is where we started and this is hopefully where we'll end up," said Duke. "The central component holding it all together is this indigenous knowledge, this land, indigenous presence and energy and just how critical the indigenous groups are in Alberta in contributing to that conversation." 

The project came together rather quickly, according to Duke, with start to finish clocking in around the 50-day mark. Completed in partnership with the U of C, Siksika Nation High School, Calgary's St. Vincent de Paul and St. Ambrose schools and BGC Airdrie, the project was a culmination of dedication and interest from a variety of groups in a short period of time. 

"It was insane. I couldn't believe how quickly we put it together," said Duke. 

A lot of the project materials were donated, he added. The elements of the vertical wind turbine were contributed by a company that builds hockey rinks — red, blue and yellow strips used to create lines in the ice were transformed into spokes. 

Since its creation three years ago, the installation has made stops at several locations, including the Calgary Central Library. 

Duke explained it was supposed to pay a visit to TELUS Spark next, but scheduling issues prevented that from happening. He said Okotoks was more than willing to host the project instead. 

According to the Town, the project fits well with the mission of the EEC which currently offers a visual exploration of Okotoks' water system, and people's interdependency with it, how they should best sustainably manage it, where it goes after use and what the future holds for the Town’s water supply.

Patrons are encouraged to pay a visit to the ECC to view the installation when the building is open to the public, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The ECC is located at 1118 North Railway St., attached to the Okotoks Operations Centre.

Lauryn Heintz

About the Author: Lauryn Heintz

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