Michael Chavez had already worked as an artist and curator, experience that prepared him well for his current job as public-art administrator for Denver Arts & Venues. In that role, he both oversees and maintains the city's present collection of 350 works and coordinates new commissions. High on his agenda since he took the job a year ago is the desire to make that process easier for local artists, while supporting new works truly made for all the people, not just a select few. "I love the idea of reaching an audience that's not necessarily looking for it, and hopefully we'll inspire somebody to think of things differently," he told us in an interview last year.
See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Collin Parson
To get an idea of the scope of Chavez's watch, visit Beyond Blue, a huge and diverse exhibition of works by artists who've already created public art in Denver that's currently on view at the McNichols Building, through December 22. And read on to hear from Chavez himself on arts and culture in Denver in the following 100CC questionnaire.
If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
As a printmaker, I would love to be in the studio making things with Robert Rauschenberg and master printer Bill Goldston. As a music lover, I daydream about sitting around playing guitars with Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Jack White and Jimmy Page. As someone who loves to laugh and rant, I'd love to hang out with George Carlin. In my daydreams, I hold my own pretty well with all of the above.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
President Obama. When he spoke on the Trayvon Martin case from a personal perspective and said that Trayvon "could have been me," it reminded me of how refreshing it is to have a President who is able to articulate to the American people WHY a case like that was so important. No other American President in history could have done that. It's fascinating, and often difficult, to observe President Obama navigate Washington politics as the first African-American president. I am happy to live in a time when that barrier was broken. If you don't find it interesting, you're not paying attention.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Everyone has their preferences, and this answer could easily be misinterpreted. Buy me a beer sometime, and I'll tell you more than you would ever want to know.
What's hot in public art?
I'm pleased to say that public art is in the middle of re-defining itself. It is no longer limited to statues and murals (which still have their place). There is a very exciting wave of public art that is more ephemeral or "semi-permanent" - does it have to last forever? Also, there is an increased emphasis on sustainability, technology and participation - works that utilize solar energy and invite interaction. Lastly, and this is an important one for emerging artists - there are projects with teams of artists, fabricators and diverse funding sources. Public art can be a difficult world to break into for studio artists, but it is my goal to change that.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Create an art education program that integrates art into daily life for children in grades K-12 from all economic demographics. This would include worldwide field trips. "Look kids, the Eiffel Tower!" Lessons learned from traveling cannot be overstated. You said "unlimited funds," right?
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
At Denver Arts & Venues, the city agency in which the public art program resides, we are always seeking ways to embolden our creative community. The best thing we can do is help creative, innovative people make a living without selling their talents short. No artist should starve. I don't mean we should simply dole out grants, but we should also be a resource for those who wish to make a difference in the community through their creative talents.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
So many great people in Colorado, but I am very fond of the whole team at Denver Arts & Venues - the leadership, especially. Status quo is not encouraged, and I love that. We are currently working hard on Imagine 2020, the city's first cultural plan since the late 1980s. It's ambitious, daunting and exciting!
What's on your agenda for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
2013 begins the 25th year anniversary of Denver's 1% for Public Art Program. It was established in 1988 by Mayor Federico Peña by Executive Order and was enacted into law in by City Council 1991 under Mayor Wellington Webb. We began celebrating this with the current exhibition at the McNichols Building and Buell Theatre lobbies titled Beyond Blue. It features 75 new works by artists who are represented in the city's public art collection. It's a great way to gain a wider perspective on artists who have created some of Denver's most recognizable works of art. Wouldn't you like to see what Lawrence Argent makes besides the Blue Bear? It will surprise most people.
Who do you think will get noticed in the Denver art scene this year?
I hope it's Tobias Fike. He was in an exhibition I curated several years back for which he created one of my favorite art pieces of all-time (no big deal). He reminds me of Bruce Nauman in that he defies categorization. I cannot predict what he will do next and I really like that. So many artists are on auto-pilot because they are afraid to fail. Not this guy.
Visit Denver Arts & Venues online for more about the city's public art collection.
Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
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