Although the fancy architect is gone and the ownership of Santiago Calatrava's DIA expansion design is still up in the air, plans for construction of the South Terminal, including a light-rail station and a public plaza, are moving forward. That means Denver could soon commission another $3 million in public art.
But how has the public art program done so far?
That's the question addressed by the DIA Art Master Plan, and DIA and Arts & Venues Denver held a town hall meeting Tuesday night at Crossroads Theater to present the research so far. The team talked with hundreds of travelers at the airport -- "Try doing that at 8 p.m. at night at DIA," said consultant Todd Bressi, who presented the results -- and studied 1,600 online responses to a DIA art survey.
Breesi noted that, "believe it or not, the most popular piece of art is the 'Mustang,'" Luis Jimenez's horse sculpture outside the airport that was mentioned by half the people responding to the survey -- although just as many loathed it as loved it. "There is also a subgroup of people who like it, but just don't like the eyes," he added.
People were also very appreciative of the exhibits on Concourse A -- where the excellent "Colorado by Design" show is now up, displaying work by dozens of creative designers in the state -- as well as the artwork in the tunnels. No one really noticed the murals by security. And the biggest surprise? "People didn't tend to notice the three major art pieces in the concourses," Breesi said, including that quasi-Mayan ruin on Concourse C.
Taking into account what works, the master plan is working on a two-part goal: to "create a cultural district -- defined by acclaimed art and cultural programming unique to the airport -- that becomes one of the region's great creative assets and public destinations," and "to provide a gateway to the creative and cultural communities of Denver and the Front Range."
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The plan divides the past, present and future of airport art into three different physical areas: the "approach," the ten-mile stretch of Peña Boulevard where "Mustang" stands guard; the "airside," or parts of DIA beyond security; and the "cultural district," or the rest of the terminal building. That area represents the biggest unknown, since what happens to the Great Hall in the Jeppesen Terminal will be largely determined by what happens with the South Terminal expansion. Under the initial proposal, security would be moved to the edge of the current building, and the entire Great Hall would be off-limits to all but vetted travelers.
So the focus for the next five years is on temporary art pieces: installations where "Mountain Mirage" once stood, and, most important, a return of the performances that were so popular during the holidays, but could now be offered year-round, particularly on the concourses, in "plug and play" pieces of art.
Will it fly? The several dozen people gathered for the town hall meeting were far more civil than the audiences at some of the meetings two decades ago, where the original art for DIA was discussed. And there was only a single reference to conspiracy theories.
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Harold Camping to end end-of-the-world predictions?"