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Photo courtesy of Sans Facon


WATERSHED+ is about a system, a city, and an emotional connection between citizens and their place in the environment, it offers complementary ideas about the role of the artist and how artwork can be created, responsive, and embedded. 

Its guiding motive is to embed, not so much the artist, as their creative process within the core activities of a City department – Utilities & Environmental Protection (UEP) – responsible for the well-being and care of Calgary’s water resource. The program creates space for long-term, cross-disciplinary relationships and for collaborations to grow, fostering a curiosity about the city while sharing interests and multiple perspectives to explore how people connect to their environment. 

It is an optimistic gesture, embodying a different mode of operation, a different reality, complimentary, responsive, richer, beyond silos. The legacy, beyond the works produced,  is the effect it has had on all of those who have been involved (citizens, staff, artists) and the way we each think and feel, the connection we feel to one another’s work, our watershed, our environment, our city. [1]

Designed by WATERSHED+ lead artist Sans façon, the Fire Hydrant Water Fountain Project is an example of applying creative thinking and a creative process to practical problems – a means of using public art to address civic challenges and enhance our communities. 

These fountains, with their workings exposed and three distinct characters, encourage us as citizens to gather publicly around the most basic of human needs, and to celebrate and raise our consciousness around our relationship to water. The fountains themselves are the vehicles or stage, the ‘art’ is only really created through citizens enacting and engaging with them. 

The three fountains – “Strangers”, “Family” and “Group” impose different formations of gathering around water. “Strangers” sees two individuals (and their dogs) drinking face to face – at a distance quite a bit closer than we would typically choose to be with a stranger, increasing awareness of one another. “Family” has the bubblers lined up at different heights, much in much the same way as a family might in a family photograph, and “Group” has drinkers huddled together at different heights and arrangements. While the formations themselves reflect typically groupings in our society, it is interesting to think of the effect of the formation on individuals who are not a part of such a group in real life – i.e. strangers using the Family fountain at the same time. 

The FHWF project represents the first key pilot initiative to be realized through the WATERSHED+ Lead Artist Pilot Program. This visionary new program presents a unique approach to public art and a distinct way of having artists work within The City, with the public and with community stakeholders. Sans facon, the lead artist team working on the pilot program, is currently embedded within UEP core activities, participating as members of infrastructure design teams and contributing to project design, development of events, community education and communication initiatives. [2]


Americans for the Arts, Public Art Network Award, 2014


[1]      “Watershed+.” Sans façon. Accessed August 11, 2021. http://Sansfacon.org/watershed.

[2]      “Fire Hydrant Water Fountain – Public Artwork.” https://www.calgary.ca. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.calgary.ca/csps/recreation/public-art/fire-hydrant-water-fountain-public-artwork.html.

Additional information:

“Hydrant Fountains.” Sans façon. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.sansfacon.org/hydrant-fountains.


Sans façon. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.sansfacon.org/.


Vaessen, Doug. “Calgary's Fire Hydrant FOUNTAIN Project Earns International Attention – Calgary.” Global News. Global News, May 16, 2015. https://globalnews.ca/news/2001666/calgarys-fire-hydrant-fountain-project-earns-international-attention/.


“Watershed+.” Creative Carbon Scotland. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.creativecarbonscotland.com/library/watershed/.


watershedplus.ca. Accessed August 11, 2021. http://www.watershedplus.ca/.


Project Title: Fire Hydrant Water Fountain (part of Watershed+)
Artists:  Sans façon
Year: 2012

Place: Calgary, Alberta

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