Art on the Corner due for changes

A few recent letters to the editor have taken issue with a whimsical tradition of adorning downtown sculptures with hand-knitted items, such as scarves, hats and vests in conjunction with the Art and Music Festival.

Knit on the Corner is the playful offspring of Art on the Corner, the highly regarded art-in-public-spaces program administered by the Downtown Development Authority. The DDA oversees an annual temporary exhibit along with a growing permanent collection of sculptures, or three-dimensional artwork, on public display.

Like the Art on the Corner program itself, Knit on the Corner had an improvisational genesis. Someone thought it would be fun to dress up the sculptures to enhance a fanciful mood during the festival and promote America’s knitting revival at the same time. The idea took off, and it’s been a regular feature of the festival for roughly five years now.

But a handful of objectors say this practice raises issues of artistic integrity. Some feel it disrespects the art. Others say it skews or diminishes the opportunity to experience the art the way the artist intended.

It would be easy to pooh-pooh such sentiments as an example of art snobbery run amok, save for one small, but important detail: the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. This piece of federal legislation prohibits modifications of certain kinds of artwork, including sculptures on exhibit. It was the first copyright law to grant protection to moral rights.

There’s an easy solution. Get the artist’s permission to put a knit accessory on a sculpture during the festival. But it raises larger questions about Art on the Corner that Harry Weiss, the DDA’s executive director,  is eager to address.

The program “lacks articulated policies for managing the collection,” Weiss said. The DDA has empaneled an Art on the Corner advisory committee that will start making policy recommendations by asking some simple questions: What’s the curatorial intent of the collection? When should pieces be sold? Should pieces be installed beyond the heart of downtown to more adequately define the DDA’s boundaries? What protocols are needed to conserve, repair and maintain pieces? Should two-dimensional art be included?

It’s somewhat amazing that Grand Junction has one of the signature public art programs in the state, given a lack of policies that guide growth and stewardship of the collection. That’s part of its charm, too. A go-with-the-flow attitude got us here.

But it’s also appropriate to recognize that Art on the Corner has attained a certain status that requires more careful management going forward. Along the way, we’ll get an answer to whether Knit on the Corner survives.


COMMENTS

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Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this quirky practice of adorning the sculptures grew out of someone’s objection several years ago to having nude sculptures on Main Street,. Consequently, clothing items were made to cover the “objectionable” body parts.
On the whole, I feel that such alterations detract from the artists’ intended presentation, although if the happy knitter gets the artist’s permission, I see no problem.
I feel that some guidelines are in order, so that the integrity of the collection and the Art on the Corner program are preserved. On the other hand, I would be cautious about getting too heavy-handed. Dictatorial over-reach in managing the program could discourage artists from submitting their work. Surely, an acceptable balance can be achieved so that this unique program does not merely survive, but that it grows for all to enjoy for many years.

Knit-bombing is a widespread phenomenon that arose out of a whimsical impulse to decorate or beautify aspects of the streetscape in all kinds of urban settings. The added color and structure of the piece invites the pedestrian to take another look at a mundane object (With a knit tie, a parking meter can look like a man going to work, for example.)

It’s a form of art-making, or at least crafty commentary, that doesn’t damage or permanently alter anything, as does graffiti. But when it’s added to another piece of artwork, instead of adding something, it can be seen as exploiting or detracting from it. Some artists may be amused; others not so happy.

The program itself is excellent, especially compared to what I see in other cities that manage to decorate the street without rising above kitsch. Anything that elevates and extends it is a plus for residents, artists and tourism.

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