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Paint it orange
The cultural connoisseurs at the Metro Football Stadium District have issued their "Call for Artists" in preparation for dressing up the Denver Broncos' new home. Anyone who is interested -- and who works in an "appropriate" art medium -- can submit a proposal to the district's Public Art Advisory Committee by April 7. The winning artwork will eventually be installed at four stadium locations: the Sports Legend Mall, the Counties Gateway Plaza, the North Entry Plaza Park and the Platte River Park. District spokesman Matt Sugar says the art must be durable and weather-resistant and must not pose any threat to public safety. The advisory committee will make its recommendation to the district's board of directors by May 12.
Sugar expects local, regional, national and even international artists to apply, but if they want some advice on durability and weather resistance, maybe they should ask Michael Stemple, creator of the gigantic painting of former Broncos quarterback John Elway, former Colorado Rockies first baseman Andres Galarraga and former Nuggets forward LaPhonso Ellis that overlooks I-25 near the 20th Street exit. After all, the mural (which is painted on the back of a building owned by Dr. Joel Karlin at 1553 Platte Street) has outlasted all three players, as well as former Nugs center Dikembe Mutombo, whose face graced the bricks before Ellis was painted on top. It also withstood hostilities from a neighborhood group that opposed it. Nonetheless, it will probably remain exactly as it is for the foreseeable future.
"I haven't touched the art stuff in about three years," says Stemple, who originally painted the sports heroes in May 1995 (prior to the arrival of the Colorado Avalanche). "I'm not sure what's going on with it, but Dr. Karlin and I have a verbal understanding that it will be up there for a while." And Stemple, who is now involved in e-commerce and Internet development, doesn't think the mural should be updated to reflect Denver's current sporting superstars. "It's a snapshot in time of three sports icons in Denver when we were in the heyday of being a sports town. That has sort of faded now," he says. "If it was up to me, I'd rather keep those three, because I admire all three, and all three have done a lot for Denver."
Getting the mural approved in the first place took at least twelve contracts -- including agreements with the agents for Elway, Ellis and Galarraga, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the Broncos, the Nuggets, the Rockies and the city. Redoing it would involve all the same hassles, he points out. Signed and numbered posters of the painting were supposed to be printed and sold to benefit the Kempe Children's Foundation, but those plans fell through after Mutombo and Galarraga were traded before the prints were produced.
"I'll leave it up to the teams," Stemple says of any possible redo. "If they show an interest in it, give me a holler and we'll work something out and get it done." But, he cautions, "murals like that get quite expensive to produce, so you usually have to get an outside source to fund it." The original painting cost $50,000 for materials alone. If labor and licensing had been tacked on -- which they weren't, since Stemple did the piece for free (and for exposure) -- the cost would have been somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000.
That's a price that would easily fit within the stadium district's budget of $2.5 million. But it's unlikely that Stemple will apply ("I got the glory trip and the ego trip, but it's over -- and I also got hate mail and phone calls in the middle of the night," he says). And since district representatives have said the artwork won't be on the stadium itself, a mural wouldn't be acceptable, anyway. What probably will go over well, Stemple predicts, is bronze. "You'll see a lot of bronze and masonry work like at Coors Field, and maybe an archway," he says. "My advice to them would be to widen the announcement of this more. I think they would be very impressed if they opened it up to the more cutting-edge artists."
Tell that to Pat Bowlen, who just spent a million bucks to commission a very traditional, very bronze sculpture of seven galloping horses for the stadium. For our money, to support the idea that Denver is still a world-class sports town, we'd like to see Christo drape the entire place in a giant jockstrap.
At last week's Denver City Council meeting, Councilman Dennis Gallagheroffered homage to fallen-and-can't-get-up-yet Denver historian Tom Noel, who recently underwent surgery to replace his left hip. The University of Colorado at Denver history prof is doing fine, Gallagher said, although he worries that Noel may start "leaning to the right."