By Deanne Gertner
Program & Communications Manager
I hate construction sites. I know, I know: it means architects drafting blueprints; it means a plumber buying his daughter a new tutu; it means an accountant sweating the costs of nuts and bolts; it means a toy manufacturer making more plastic tool sets; it means realtors and workman’s comp insurers and educators and marketing people all get to work and in turn buy things like groceries and clothes and gasoline, pay taxes and rent, and go to the museum or the zoo or the theatre or the gallery. Construction equals jobs and homes and a buzzing economy. Intellectually, I get it. I really do. As the granddaughter and niece of electricians, I really should have a better attitude about it, because, arguably, without construction, I wouldn’t even be here.
Maybe it’s that I’ve been hollered, hooted, and whistled at one too many times, albeit less and less as I’ve gotten older. Or maybe it’s the noise and the ugly mess of it coupled with the possibility of a nail puncturing my car tires that makes my left eye twitch. But lucky for my delicate aesthetic, Denver businesses are finally catching on and are turning their construction sites into canvases, so to speak.
Case study numero uno: Children’s Hospital Colorado, Phipps/McCarthy, and UMB Bank, joint finalists for Colorado Business Committee for the Arts’ (CBCA’s) 2012 Business for the Arts Awards in the Impact category for the Many Hands Create Art project. Faced with increased patient demand and limited space, Children’s Hospital broke ground on a 10-story, 124 bed tower in 2010. The Phipps/McCarthy team, in an effort to minimize the construction’s impact on the patients in the existing hospital, suggested hanging murals from the fence lining surrounding the site. Nearly 100 mural panels were created to camouflage the construction fences. More than 40 hospital groups comprised of patients, families, nurses, physicians and staff, 25 professional artists and local art students, and 7 local community groups including schools and visual arts nonprofits came together to create the panels. That’s a whole lot of art making, folks! The murals weren’t simply about beautifying a fence but also engaging community, encouraging collaboration, and harnessing the healing power of the arts. UMB Bank, presenting sponsor of the mural project, funded an artist honorarium of three creative workshops for hospital patients and staff and even commissioned professional artists to create panels at two bank locations. Phipps/McCarthy, contributing sponsor, donated labor and mural materials while employees installed the panels pro bono in November 2011. The work will be up thru the duration of the construction until December 2012. You see, it takes a village (or at least a group of dedicated folks) to turn blah into ah.
Case Study #2: Denver International Airport. Conspiracy theories aside, DIA does a lot, I mean A LOT, of construction. On my way from the parking garage to my flight to San Antonio for the AFTA 2012 Annual Convention just a few weeks ago, for example, I saw no less than three construction projects. But here is the genius of DIA and its public art program: Terminal Kings, 100’-long, 8’-tall panels on moveable 4’ sections by world-renowned street artists Sam Flores, David Choe, and Highraff. The murals act as unique, mobile, adjustable barricades between travelers and airport construction and will be on rotating display until 2017. The murals make the airport construction not only tolerable but enjoyable, pulling the viewer in with their vibrancy and urban feel. After suffering through TSA, I was rewarded at Jeppsen Terminal with a punch of color and the swirling forms of Sam Flores while I waited for my train to Concourse B. The mural was a welcome and fun respite from the hassles of travel, like a hopscotch for the eyes. Terminal Kings takes public art from a fixed point in time and space to a moveable feast of form and function.
Final case study of this post to really dump a ton of bricks on your noggin: Denver’s Union Station. Union Station, a historic transcontinental railroad station, had for years languished in underuse until the recent decision to create a mixed-purpose, multi-modal transportation hub in the heart of Denver’s Lower Downtown. Of course, this is all well and dandy when the work is complete, but for now, there are mounds of dirt and cranes and diggers. It does not, to put it mildly, look pretty over there. Except that is, for the whimsical fence treatment by the Ladies Fancywork Society, whose claim to fame includes yarn bombing some of Denver’s most beloved public art pieces (i.e. adding a ball and chain to Lawrence Argent’s I See What You Mean and putting leg-warmers on Jonathan Borofsky’s Dancers.) Instead of pigeonholing LFS as knitting outlaws, Arts & Venues Denver, the city’s cultural affairs division, and Union Station opted to join LFS in their yarn frenzy (since they obviously could not beat them) and commissioned the group to create the fun and cheery Flower Garden Fence of crocheted, rainbow-colored flowers, lady bugs, ants, spiders, birds, bees, and clouds. The Flower Garden Fence proves that sprucing up a boring chain-link fence requires only the good, old-fashioned talents of an artist collective (and mad amounts of yarn).
And there you have it. Three shining examples of business and art working together to make a better environment, one that pulls people into the project rather than pushes them away, and create lasting partnerships that make Denver the great place it’s become. So next time you break ground or knock out a wall, get your local artists, crafters, and community together to paint a panel or crochet a seascape or up-cycle bottle caps into a mosaic. As Einstein said, “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” And construction sites, too.
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