There was no shortage of critics who questioned whether the Redlands Parkway roundabout was worth the time and expense to build. Now that it's been in operation for a while and moving traffic smoothly and more safely, criticism shifted from utility to aesthetics. Some members of the community see the roundabout as an empty pedestal in need of an arresting piece of artwork.
Public art and roundabouts seem to go hand in hand — like couches and throw pillows. Look around the Grand Valley. Where there's a roundabout, there's usually art in the center.
The roundabouts at Interstate 70 and 24 Road have the Independence Rock-inspired aluminum monoliths. The Horizon Drive exit has the metal mustangs. There are metal cacti and desert rocks in the roundabout at 23 and G Roads and metal sheep at Park and Meander Drive (inside the development at First and Patterson).
So when we heard that the city of Grand Junction's Commission on Arts and Culture was heading up a public forum to solicit input on a direction for the artwork, we marveled at the possiblities. How about a sculpture of a dinosaur fossil in honor of nearby Riggs Hill, where paleontologists excavated a skeleton of a brachiosauraus? Or a fountain joining two streams of water into one to symbolize the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers? Or a biking theme, featuring mountain bikers and road cyclists, since they're abundant on the roads in that area.
A large turnout (about 130 people showed up for the meeting) yielded many ideas. Some people thought the John Otto statue downtown would be a perfect fit, given the roundabout's view of Colorado National Monument. But since that piece was donated to the Downtown Development Authority, it must remain inside the DDA boundary.
Even if it had been possible to move the statue, it's not a good fit for roundabout art, said Lorie Gregor, city staff liaison to the commission, who facilitated the brainstorming session. It's too detailed.
Roundabout art should be "a cool accent to the environment without being a distraction," she said. And artwork actually serves a purpose from a traffic engineering standpoint. By blocking a sightline to the opposing side of the roundabout, drivers are forced to pay attention to what's coming from their left, she added.
Using a democratic process, participants first voted on which of nine categories they wanted the artwork to be included in. Local animals won out. Then the group chose the animal: bighorn sheep (presumably the desert variety that inhabits the monument).
In a follow-up meeting the commission agreed and a committee consisting of representatives of the commission, the public works department, parks and recreation and the public will look at options to secure the artwork. Rather than commission a piece, the group may seek one that's already been created and see if it can be donated or purchased at a significant discount. Once they explore those possibilities and come up with a price tag, the public will be asked to contribute to a fund to pay for it.
The people have spoken and they want to see the iconic bighorn sheep in the traffic circle. Not a bad choice — perhaps not as compelling as some of our suggestions, but it'll help dress up what turned out to be a fine improvement to one of our city's major intersections.