Tony Frank: On public art

In a year when everything seems urgent, even seemingly routine decisions take on heightened significance when viewed in the context of our times.

In June, the CSU System completed its public art selection for the Spur campus at the National Western Center. This has been in the works for months, and part of our Spur planning for years – then we found ourselves making the final selection in the middle of a national conversation about monuments and statues and what art belongs in the public square.

And now – in a summer when individual artists, many of whom live on the margins even in the best of times, have struggled with the closure of galleries, festivals, and shows where they typically sell their work – Colorado’s visionary approach to supporting public art has allowed us to keep a talented group of artists employed.

It’s hard to recall a time in recent memory when the importance of public art has been more evident. Public art is accessible and available to everyone. There’s no admission fee, no velvet rope to cross. It’s uniquely democratic, and it’s sustained us as a country over the course of difficult times. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal government committed 1 percent of the cost of each federal building for art as a way to create jobs, keep people off the streets, and boost civic morale. And the result was that people heading to the post office in places like Tipton, Iowa, could gaze at murals designed by some of the foremost artists of their day.

During the Great Recession in 2009, Forbes contributor Raquel Laneri described seeing colorful public art installations from the train window as she commuted home at night: “In these moments,” she wrote, “these pieces were extraordinary; they broke up the monotonous and sometimes oppressive nature of city working life.”

At all times, but particularly in times of aching need, art feeds a hunger. For beauty. For inspiration. For escape. For connection with new images, histories, worlds.

At our CSU System Spur campus, art will serve as a gateway into the world of learning and discovery around food, water, health, and the environment. When Spur opens in Denver in 2022, it will be a destination for art that reflects the local and global communities, a true union of art and science in a set of public buildings designed to welcome the world to Colorado and to a unique experiential learning environment.

From 445 local, national, and international artists who submitted concept proposals, our team selected eight projects – half by Colorado artists, including two who are local to Denver. These one-of-a-kind, large-format art installations will capture the mission of the campus in dynamic ways, from a reimagined bale of hay spun out of metal to an alleyway mural that will engage children and adult volunteers in its creation. Each artist will receive a portion of the $1.3 million allocated for public art at this space, in accordance with Colorado law.

Congratulations to our artists: Priscila De CarvalhoNikki PikeSandra FettingisShane Allbritton and Norman LeeEric TillinghastPatrick MaroldAnthony Garcia, Sr.; and Jason Bruges. Thanks also to Colorado Creative Industries, local art curator NINE dot ARTS; and Tribe Development for their work in the selection process – as well as staff from the Denver Art Museum and local artist volunteers.

When Spur opens, its three buildings will become centers for delivering on the mission of all three of our Colorado State University campuses in new and expansive ways that are accessible to people of all ages, from all walks of life. But so much of the personality, spirit, and vibrancy of the campus will be shaped by the work of these talented people.

And as we celebrate the work of these groundbreaking artists, we do so recognizing the tremendous hit that artists and the arts community have taken in Colorado and across the country this year. Theaters, music venues, galleries, and individual performers and creators are struggling for their survival. We need art, and the arts need our support and our advocacy – at all times, but especially now.

– tony

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