Sculpting a future
It’s over. The Art on the Corner program will be cut.
That was the rumor this past spring, and it eventually found its way to the desk of Harry Weiss, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, which oversees Art on the Corner, an outdoor sculpture exhibit of annually exchanged temporary pieces and permanent pieces in downtown Grand Junction.
“You have to nip that in the bud,” Weiss said of the rumor.
Weiss, hired in fall 2011, thinks the rumor started because he said he wanted to “evaluate” the program, and some may have interpreted that as “eliminate.”
The DDA, a statutory authority created in 1981, is a community and economic development agency for the downtown area, achieving its mission through, among other things, investments such as Art on the Corner.
With Art on the Corner’s 30th birthday approaching in 2014, Weiss figures it is time to discuss what he sees as inadequate infrastructure and policy needed for the DDA to appropriately manage the current collection of more than 85 pieces valued at roughly $1 million and oversee the temporary annual exhibit program.
“Art on the Corner has been this wonderful ad hoc thing for 25 years, which is part of its charm,” Weiss said. “But how do you responsibly manage and steward this? At this point, the DDA owns the collection, so we need to be a good steward of it, keeping in mind public dollars paid for this collection.”
Through the years, the DDA has purchased Art on the Corner sculptures with funds from its capital budget, funds generated by a percentage of property taxes levied by taxing districts within the DDA’s boundaries.
The expense of running the temporary exhibit side of the program is about $25,000 a year. That money is pulled from the DDA’s separate operating budget.
Because Art on the Corner was built and is sustained by tax dollars, it belongs to the community, said Weiss who plans to a have a meeting later this summer — no date has yet been set — and invite several dozen community members connected to Art on the Corner and arts in the Grand Valley to give their input on the question: What do you want Art on the Corner to be?
The recommendations and information from that meeting will be taken to the nine-member DDA board, which can use the information when making decisions regarding the future of Art on the Corner’s temporary exhibits.
Honestly, Weiss doesn’t know what will be said at that meeting.
He suspects some will recommend the program remain the same with a summer temporary exhibit of sculptures from mostly regional artists. He suspects some will recommend the program expand with more prize money to draw yearly submissions of increased quality, while placing permanent pieces beyond Main Street to redefine what people label “downtown Grand Junction.”
“As a collection of public art, I would like to see a broader set of community participants providing leadership direction for the program,” Weiss said. “This is an appropriate time to look at the program. What are we doing? Are we doing it well? What else might we be able to do with it?”
Local artist and sculptor Dave Davis would like to be one of those invited to the Art on the Corner community meeting.
Davis founded Art on the Corner in 1984 as a way for artists to help beautify Main Street during a depressed economic time.
“The artists put Grand Junction back on the map,” Davis said. “It was the reason for revitalization for downtown, not because the economy got better, but because something was going on.”
A free, public exhibit of outdoor art gave people a chance to experience art while giving artists a way to sell their sculptures. Davis managed the program until the late 1980s when the DDA asked to take over the program and had the funds to manage it, Davis said.
As proud as Davis is of Art on the Corner’s success — it has been replicated around the country — his true vision never was realized.
Davis, who has four permanent sculptures and a 2013–14 exhibit sculpture in Art on the Corner, wanted the program to be the impetus making Grand Junction an artistic and cultural destination. He wanted the program marketed nationally. He wanted a point of contact on Main Street for sales. He wanted a gallery exclusively to showcase Art on the Corner artists. He still does.
As the Art on the Corner stands now, at least when it comes to the number of sculptures in the temporary exhibit, it differs dramatically from Davis’ vision.
There are 11 sculptures in the 2013–14 exhibit. In the years previous to the Downtown Uplift (2010–2011), the temporary annual exhibits included as many as 30 sculptures.
In addition, the DDA has not had a staff member in charge of the program since Felicia Sabartinelli, the DDA’s cultural arts coordinator, resigned in 2011.
Sabartinelli and Allison Sarmo, who was the cultural arts coordinator for 16 years with the city of Grand Junction and oversaw the Art on the Corner program until 2010, said the DDA should hire someone qualified to oversee the program as they both did.
Weiss is hopeful that input on this and other issues related to the future of Art on the Corner can be garnered at the upcoming meeting.
“Are we going to evolve Art on the Corner or will it stay what it’s always been?” Weiss asked. “That makes a huge difference in terms of what we need to run it, and in terms of what its budget is ... We are in a position by circumstance and the economy to take thorough stock of the program and (decide) what we want to accomplish with this program.”
“Anybody’s who’s in a management position will look at this program and think we could do this in a more professional way,” Weiss said.