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Art on the Streets celebrates 20th anniversary with a new downtown exhibit

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Chipeta-Mai - KASIA POLKOWSKA
  • Kasia Polkowska
  • Chipeta-Mai
A deer woven from stainless steel wire stares at northbound motorists at the intersection of Cascade and Colorado avenues, as its antlers reach up into the sky and bloom into leaves. It stands proud on the median, surrounded by the green of early summer. Thanks to downtown Colorado Springs’ Art on the Streets program, that’s exactly where it’s going to stay. “I Have Been Dreaming to Be a Tree” by artist Byeong Doo Moon (of Gwangju-si, Republic of Korea) is the latest addition to the permanent collection of Art on the Streets, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018 with a brand new exhibit of public art downtown.
Each year since the program’s inception in 1998, The Downtown Partnership has purchased at least one of the exhibit’s sculptures with the aim of filling our downtown corridor with artwork. Previous purchases have included “Morning Dove” by Jeremy Cooper (at Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues) and “Bella and the Bug” by Louise Peterson (at the southwest corner of Acacia Park), which have been displayed alongside more than 280 public works of art over the last 20 years.

Originally spearheaded by the late Judy Noyes, longtime president of the Downtown Partnership’s nonprofit arm Downtown Ventures, and Mary Jean Larson, the late director of U.S. Bank, Art on the Streets was meant to revitalize the downtown core, which saw an exodus of businesses (and customers) in the ’70s and ’80s.

In an Art on the Streets commemorative book set to be released on June 15, area arts leaders like Eve Tilley and Dick Noyes credit Art on the Streets for helping to revitalize this once-neglected part of the city.
“For 20 years,” the book reads, “Art on the Streets has played a crucial role in urban placemaking, ensuring Downtown remains an inspiring, welcoming place for all. … [Public] art has proven to improve the urban quality of life by beautifying streetscapes, incentivizing pedestrian activity, attracting new business and conveying high standards for the city.”

Of course, no one will claim that Art on the Streets has done this work on its own, or that there’s no longer a need for such work, but the Downtown Partnership remains proud of the exhibit’s accomplishments, as well as its growth.

While Art on the Streets originally accepted most of its entries from artists along Colorado’s Front Range, they began offering prize money and inviting big-name jurors in about 2005, hoping to bring fresh perspectives to the exhibit and attract a wider range of artists. This raised the stakes and encouraged locals to push themselves even further.

This year, Colorado artists are responsible for 10 of the 17 works in the exhibit — a fair majority. Claire Swinford, urban engagement manager of the Downtown Partnership, says: “The fact that so many Colorado artists are producing work that stands up to what’s being created nationally or internationally definitely bore out in terms of the composition of the exhibit.”

And this particular selection, she says, is very strong. Out of 90 submissions, the jury chose works that they felt represented a diverse array of artists, cultures, styles and intentions. Swinford says that, interestingly enough, many of the U.S. artists whose works will be on display are actually naturalized citizens from other countries — Japan, Iran and Russia among them.
I Have Been Dreaming to Be a Tree - SCULPTURE BY BYEONG DOO MOON, PHOTO BY ALISSA SMITH
  • Sculpture by Byeong Doo Moon, photo by Alissa Smith
  • I Have Been Dreaming to Be a Tree

One piece, “The Dwelling” by artists Sara Madandar, Christina Coleman and Jieun Beth Kim, from Louisiana, speaks directly to the immigrant experience, with a different message conveyed at different times of day. In the sunlight, this Plexiglas house appears reflective like a mirror, but when the sun sets, the house illuminates from within and the glass becomes transparent, revealing a hidden installation piece inside. The artists say it’s meant to represent the emotional challenges of creating a home in a new place, a relevant theme, as two of the contributing artists are citizens of other countries. They want the installation inside to rotate quarterly, so the artists will soon work with locals to create pieces that respond to the same theme, to replace the original installation over time.

This year also saw an impressive showing by women artists, who statistically are less represented in large-scale sculptural work. Monument’s own blacksmith Jodie Bliss has contributed “Walking a Tight Line,” an elegant acrobat representing Bliss’ signature intricate, treated-metal work. Plus, a Polish-born artist from Alamosa, Kasia Polkowska, created a giant Russian matryoshka doll, “Chipeta-Mai.” It’s decorated with a brightly colored glass mosaic.

“It’s cool to say that we were able to be a little more representative this year,” Swinford says, praising juror and Fine Arts Center curator of modern and contemporary art Joy Armstrong for being intentional about how many of their artists were women or people of color. “That’s something she’s been tracking, and encouraging us to be mindful of, but absolutely the primary criterion for selection is artistic merit,” Swinford says.
Walking a Tight Line - BLISS STUDIO
  • Bliss Studio
  • Walking a Tight Line

In addition to the diversity of artists, the work itself proves diverse, running the gamut from traditional to abstract to experimental. Nikki Pike’s “Musical Churn,” a butter churn lid affixed to a wall at 31 N. Tejon St., plays a song performed by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic when it’s turned by passersby; and a fork with four cheesy macaroni noodles on its tines now emerges from the ground at the southeast corner of Tejon and Boulder streets, “Say Cheese” by Justin Deister.

Of particular note, Fort Collins artist Trace O’Connor’s “Iscariot” — a massive, 4,200-pound octopus mermaid made out of salvage metal — is exactly as cool as it sounds. Its tangled tentacles call to mind images of an Eldritch horror rising from the cityscape, meaning we can bet at least one panicked tourist will be calling NORAD about an alien invasion during the exhibit’s run. Art on the Streets will install this impressive piece on the roof of the Traffic Management building on June 7, so you can take a drive down Colorado Avenue to see it for yourself.

More sculptures will be going up through June, in addition to the collection of permanent art already installed around town. A few pieces from last year’s Art on the Streets exhibit — “Aspires” by Mitchell Dillman, “Nothing Greater than / Less than Love” by Joshua Kennard, and “Double Bench III (Basics)” by Matthias Neumann — will remain on display until further notice.

Though most of the funding for Art on the Streets comes from business and private donors, Swinford was excited to announce that this year they were awarded a $10,000 grant from Colorado Creative Industries for project and technical assistance. Our downtown is one of the first five creative districts in the state to receive that grant.
Iscariot: Its tangled tentacles call to mind images of an Eldritch horror rising from the cityscape. - KEVIN BANKER AND TROY TUTTLE
  • Kevin Banker and Troy Tuttle
  • Iscariot: Its tangled tentacles call to mind images of an Eldritch horror rising from the cityscape.
Christy Costello, districts program manager of Colorado Creative Industries, said in a statement: “The Art on the Streets anniversary celebration advances several goals in the Experience Downtown Plan of Development and Master Plan. For example, anniversary initiatives show how public art and artist-centered approaches to infrastructure have added cultural and economic value to Downtown Colorado Springs over the past 20 years. ... The State of Colorado values public art as a way to provide access to art for all people.”

And, since this is a hallmark anniversary and another year of growth, the Downtown Partnership has made this year’s exhibit more accessible than ever. They’ve compiled their first comprehensive public art map, which you can pick up at the partnership’s office or the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, both in Plaza of the Rockies, or the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Plus, the partnership has added new audio recordings to Otocast, an app that allows you to play an audio tour of public art to get some background on the sculptures.

Keep an eye on the Partnership’s Facebook page for golden hour tours, evening events scheduled to make tours accessible to the broader workforce. Art on the Streets will also be the theme of multiple “Core Culture” downtown walking tours (July 7, Sept. 1, and Jan. 5, 2019).

Or, of course, you could just take a stroll by yourself. Thanks in no small part to Art on the Streets, there’s always something to draw the eye — from art-decorated signal boxes at street corners and mosaics on parking lot walls, to ethereal deer staring out from grassy medians. Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that Kasia Polkowska was Russian-born, not Polish. We regret the error.

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