It's a bold thing to debate art early in a marriage, especially when both parties are collectors and tasked with judging a public art competition.
But Jim Raughton and Kathy Loo, wedded now 3½ years, are still going strong after jurying Art on the Streets, the 14-year-old annual outdoor art exhibit that brings sculpture to downtown.
"So far we haven't agreed too much this year," Loo says with a laugh.
Raughton counters that after last year, they've learned to compromise. This is their second year judging the competition, and last. With a few exceptions, past jurors — like Adam Lerner, who now heads the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver — usually serve just one season. Yet their taste and enthusiasm led to Raughton and Loo being asked back.
The couple, who met through art (Raughton spoke on the Loo collection at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and was connected to Loo herself by a friend), say their charge with this competition and exhibit is not only fun, but as Raughton says, "is a continuing part of our romantic adventure together."
Their sensibilities haven't gone the way of sentimentality, rest assured.
"We both come to it with love for the community and the art," Raughton says, adding that the arts are a proven economic driver. It beautifies the city, he says, and puts it on the map nationally. When a city says it supports the arts, he says, "artists begin to tell that story to each other."
Perhaps that's already happened, with this year's number of artist entrants at an all-time high, about 85. This is due in part to a new, all-online entry process, says Denise Schall, program coordinator for the Downtown Partnership, which organizes the show.
Raughton and Loo whittled those down to the final 12 and then chose three winners, announced last Friday at an opening reception. The pair judged works on many levels, including craftsmanship, their ability to withstand the elements (and people), and whether the art functions well in an outdoor and public arena.
Both are longtime local philanthropists and collectors of regional American and Native American art, to put it simply. Loo is an artist herself who served six years on City Council and contributed enough to the FAC to have a gallery named after her and her late husband Dusty Loo. Raughton didn't come from an artistic background, but has collected most of his life and worked in design as a city planner for Aurora, Lakewood and Boulder and in private practice.
Needless to say, they know what they're doing.
"I value those pieces that I found relevant, that they somehow spoke to our traditions and culture in Colorado and Colorado Springs," says Raughton. "And I think that gave some artists an edge in my mind."
Hailing from the area isn't important, as the international entries proved, though two of the chosen group, Chris Weed and Dale Pittock, live here. The same goes for returning artists. Though Weed is a longtime participant, nine of this year's 12 artists are new to the competition.
"I think it's important for the judges to be really open to a broad range of art and not, you know, just be so into abstract art that they don't really care about other things, or vice versa," says Loo.
As Schall can attest, choosing the art is hard enough, but finding the right place for it is another challenge. Schall helps Loo and Raughton with plotting the show's layout, and coordinates with Utilities, the city and the artists themselves in placing the work. For instance, Thomas Givens' "Humpback Whale Tail" was tried at two locations (a water main and sprinkler paths played a role) before finding its ultimate spot near U.S. Bank.
Entering the portal
That whale tail, by the way, took second place, sending Givens home with a $7,500 prize.
First place — and $15,000 — stayed right here, going to Weed for his sculpture duo "Portal 1" and "Portal 2," a set of retro-looking televisions that stand 30 and 14 feet high. (See our cover.) Made of stainless and powder-coated steel, they keep in Weed's spirit of seamless craftsmanship and playful lines.
Both located at the Plaza of the Rockies, the larger, outdoor "Portal" lights up in an LED rainbow throughout the night while its indoor sibling showcases two actual monitors that play an 11-minute loop from Weed's videographer brother, who died last summer.
Not that it made for easy choices, Raughton insists. "Virtually every piece, with a few exceptions, vastly exceeded my expectations."
"It really tested us," he says. "It was scary."
Weed's work, though, was hard to refuse. Loo called it his possible "pièce de résistance."
"I was not really prepared for it to be what it is," she says. "It's a piece of art that transcends the space."