Downtown is facing an artistic takeover. While plenty lament the blight of numerous empty storefronts dotting the area, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region has come up with one way to fill a few of them with a different type of tenant.
Led by COPPeR community and arts developer Michael Dooley, Art in Storefronts has just launched with four locally developed installations. Dooley hopes to make it an ongoing and sustainable initiative, but first he's testing the waters and gathering information on how to hold such a non-traditional and somewhat noncommittal art show.
To begin, Dooley worked with downtown landlords and then put out a call for artists. After having received numerous submissions, he assembled a team of community members to choose which projects would go on display. (The panel included Modbo co-owner Brett Andrus; Jon Khoury, executive director of Cottonwood Center for the Arts; downtown business owner Joseph Coleman; Hannah Parsons, interim director of the Downtown Partnership; and Edie Adelstein, assigning editor of this article, among others). According to COPPeR executive director Christina McGrath, what was most important to the jurors was selecting pieces that displayed excellence in form and meaning, and also that were so visually engaging that they could stop passersby in their tracks.
This isn't people hanging pretty pictures up in old windows with a fresh wash of Windex.
"We are advocating for projects that took the space as part of the art itself," Dooley says. "A perfect example is Sara Velez's project. [She] proposed a project to do a photo shoot inside the vacant store window with models. ... We are encouraging people to take over the space rather than use it as a display case."
Mary Vandezande, whose work is a marriage of canvas, oil paint and sculpture, was another good fit for this endeavor. Her inspiration is forged deep within the French artist Henri Matisse's idea of being able to make something so wonderful that somebody can come home and sit and stare into the abyss of the painting, lost in thought.
"It's a win-win situation," she says of Art in Storefronts. "It's a much more attractive and interesting place to get people to see art that is usually in museums that they don't usually go out of their way to see. It's a populist idea with a lot of appeal."
But while that's all well and good, the initiative also had to work closely with the building owners to tailor the artwork to each structure and its owner's personal aesthetics — a tack not taken back in 2007, when the Downtown Partnership launched a similar project. Artist Jocelyn Nevel's "Freedom," which incorporated thong pantyliners, had to be removed per the wishes of the landlord.
The first four storefront initiatives will be on display until the buildings are leased.
"There has been a lot of excitement already," Dooley says, adding that other business owners have already inquired about buying the art, and that COPPer is getting some great comments about the project on its Facebook page.
"However, most of the great feedback has been word-of-mouth from people walking by the installation while I've been on-site doing various tasks," he says.
COPPeR hopes to have another open call for artists in the spring, to keep this going for as long as it can — which viewers already seem to support. Dooley says he's heard from people that "every city needs this kind of project."