To be clear: Durango’s recent call for a lead artist (or team of artists) to head up a project to design public art for the town’s gateway intersection at U.S. Highway 160 and U.S. Highway 550 has little to do with the much-maligned, mistreated and now dismantled Arc of History.
Except that in many ways, it has everything to do with it.
This call aims to create, with loads of hands-on help from students and other local folks, a durable sculpture project – “reflective of Durango’s unique character” – to adorn the pair of barren concrete medians that stretch north and south from the intersection.
Artwork exactly unlike the Arc, it might be said, which so many residents found abstract, unattractive and without any connection to our one-of-a-kind railroad and river town.
This call does not concern the triangular dividing median on the west side of the intersection where the Arc was mounted. That will be addressed at a later time with another art project – independent, but likely related to this one.
Contrary to the cynical comments of those who decry public art as a waste of money, we applaud the effort, and the city’s commitment to public art, especially as this project is funded by an Artworks Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The charge that the Arc was a waste of money has merit, but only when viewed through the hindsight of its demise. Its auctioned remains live on, by the way, rearranged as a work of found art at a private Durango residence.
So the search is on for a gifted artist, hopefully, a local one, who is part teacher, part crew leader, part diplomat and perhaps part miracle worker; it may be his or her most difficult task to satisfy a public now jaded after that previous experience with the Arc.
We also hope that the artist is a stubborn, dedicated visionary, because while the promise of plenty of help from the Public Art Commission, project team and the community looks good on paper, we are reminded of the old expression that warns of too many cooks in the kitchen. That is often a good recipe for hash but little else.
And while true artists are rare, art critics are abundant in small towns, as are their initial ideas for what should grace the medians. Helpful have been calls for kinetic sculptures that will move and change in the wind, highlighting Durango’s love of its environment and our blue skies. Also good are the requests for representations of outdoor activities important to locals, and references to our colorful history.
Less welcome is a suggestion for a set of giant, stylized parking meters celebrating our town’s expensive limited parking and punitive fines.
One thing is clear: If you want to be involved, look for ways to do so in the project’s initial stages. While the most endearing aspect of the Arc was the spontaneous additions added by guerilla artists, the city and the Colorado Department of Transportation are adamant about the highway medians being the last place anybody should be in the middle of the night, gracing – or disgracing – public artwork.
From the initial submissions, three candidates will be selected to present their ideas to the community; the public will then choose the winning proposal. We are excited to see and celebrate the results.