Soon after Harry Weiss became director of the Downtown Development Authority in 2011, rumors began flying that Grand Junction’s Art on the Corner program was ending. The popular public art program consists of an annual rotating exhibit of roughly a dozen pieces that are for sale, along with the DDA’s permanent collection of more than 65 sculptures in downtown Grand Junction.
Art on the Corner is not going away — “the value of public art can’t be underestimated, what it does for a community,” said Weiss. He is asking the community, however, for guidance on how to proceed with the growing collection of artwork that’s owned and currently managed by the DDA.
When the DDA began purchasing sculptures from the annual exhibit in 1989, its purpose was to provide a financial incentive to encourage artists’ participation, Weiss said. Now that the DDA has amassed a large collection, Weiss said there needs to be strategic goals for managing the permanent collection.
Other districts not under the jurisdiction of the DDA have expressed interest in incorporating artwork into their streetscapes as they become redeveloped.
HOW ART ON THE CORNER GOT ITS START
Originally a citizen-led initiative, Grand Junction City Council approved in 1984 a proposal (for what became Art on the Corner) by local artist Dave Davis; his mission was to create the annual exhibit of outdoor sculpture on downtown public property in part to revitalize the area after the economic recession following Black Sunday.
“We (the DDA) take care of the public space so that private development will come in,” Weiss said. “At the same time, we have accumulated a large collection of work. That becomes it’s own management problem.
“We’re not an arts organization. We are a community and economic development agency. We do big capital projects. Public art is one sliver of that.”
Different entities, including Davis, the Art Center, the city’s Commission on Arts and Culture, and the DDA have managed and administered the AOTC program over the years.
Last month, Weiss hosted a meeting at the Whitman Educational Center to generate ideas from community members on how to move forward with the program. Approximately 40 people, generally from the arts community, attended the brainstorming session.
Art on the Corner needs community engagement, much like the leadership that brought about Operation Foresight, the revitalization and redesign of Main Street, Weiss said.
The program lacks a master plan and policies that deal with the management of the collection, including making repairs, and moving the sculptures around, he added.
“It’s a big community asset. How does it need to evolve? It can’t all go on Main Street,” Weiss said.
Jay Moss, a board member of both the Horizon Business Improvement District (HBID) and the North Avenue Owners Association, would like to see artwork incorporated into those areas as they become redesigned and improved.
The HBID has been developing a plan for the past five years to redesign the entire Horizon Drive corridor that would include artwork to showcase Grand Junction, Moss said.
“I’m excited that the DDA is looking to share Art on the Corner with the rest of the city,” Moss said. “Look at what it has done for downtown. We could replicate that in other districts to make them more vibrant; it could be a part of the revitalization.”
“Seventy percent of the hotels are on Horizon,” Moss added. “It would be a great opportunity to showcase all the wonderful things we have here. We could draw people to downtown.”
The question appears to be who would manage a community-wide program, and what are the program’s policies and goals.
Several people have mentioned The Art Center or the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture as entities with the expertise to manage a community-wide program. Another person mentioned the Colorado Mesa University Art Department as a potential partner.
A partnership between the city — who could hire an employee — and an arts organization makes sense, Moss said.
“The cost of having one person organize Art on the Corner for the entire community would be a drop in the bucket,” Moss said. “The return on investment would be much greater.”
Grand Junction City Councilor Phyllis Norris said she is aware of Art on the Corner’s popularity and that she’d like to see the program continue.
Would the city fund a new position to make that happen?
“I need to wait and see what Harry has to say,” Norris said. “I’d have to look and see what’s involved. Could it fit in with jobs we currently have?”
Who will lead?
Allison Sarmo coordinated Art on the Corner for seven years while working for the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture. The DDA funded one-quarter of her position in exchange for Sarmo to administer the program. When she retired in 2010, the DDA took over management of AOTC. Weiss’ predecessor Heidi Hoffman hired a coordinator for the program who resigned before Weiss came to Grand Junction.
“I did not immediately replace her because I did not know what I needed,” Weiss said. “My intention is to hire someone to handle the temporary exhibit.”
As far as the permanent collection, it cannot all go on Main Street, Weiss said. And there lies part of the conundrum of who will manage the collection as it moves beyond downtown.
Sarmo said downtown is not going to run out of room for placing sculptures in the near future.
“There are any number of places where more pieces could be put — Rood, Seventh and Colorado. Part of the appeal of Art on the Corner is the sheer number of sculptures,” she said.
“We need some governmental entity to say ‘yes, this is important,’ and we need to make it happen. It’s not an expensive or difficult program. I don’t know if the city could be persuaded to step up to manage a million dollar permanent collection.”
Perhaps the DDA could lease the sculptures to districts outside the downtown area, and that could be a revenue source, Sarmo said.
Different ideas that emerged at the August meeting regarding AOTC included consolidating the program for management purposes with other public art: Legends of the Grand Valley sculptures, Grand Junction’s own art collection, Knit on the Corner and Poetry in the Streets. Another proposal was making AOTC its own separate entity, with downtown being one component.
The next step will be for the DDA board to digest input from the Aug. 27 meeting, as it plans and budgets for the next year, Weiss said.
“There’s no question that everybody loves the temporary exhibit — it changes Main Street,” Weiss noted.
“Now we have a lot (of permanent pieces) and we have to figure out how to display it. What is our strategic goal for the permanent collection?”
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