Denver Arts & Venues has launched a competition to boost DenverPublicArt.org, a robust database of public sculptures, installations and murals across town.
In theory, the website is a handy guide to the city's creative riches: 400-plus public-art pieces and another 350 murals. On the site you'll find sculptures at hospitals, a light installation outside a jail, murals up and down bike paths and massive installations in parks. The website also explains the messaging behind the art, how it was made, when it was installed and who created it.
“We are very excited to invite people to explore DenverPublicArt.org,” explains Denver Public Art Manager Michael Chavez in a statement. “The website has some great ways for users to engage — exploring the Denver Public Art collection using location-based maps or searching for artwork by neighborhood, artist, title or art type.”
The Denver Arts & Venues competition is also easy to navigate — in theory. Register at DenverPublicArt.org to compete with other art enthusiasts from September 1 to 30. Create a profile, save your favorite pieces, curate personal galleries, share art with your friends, visit pieces in the Denver Public Art collection, check in at artworks and build your own self-guided tour. Your score will be tracked on a leader board.
Whoever has the most points will get to bring a guest to a meet-and-greet with Nick Geurts, who will tour the winner through the Elemendorf Geurts art, engineering and fabrication studio, where he's working on a Denver Public Art commission. The first-place winner and second and third runners-up will receive a small replica of "I See What You Mean," better known as the Big Blue Bear.
The competition could work if the site worked. Unfortunately, it's not entirely functional.
During my lunch break on Friday, August 23, I decided to use the site to hunt down public art in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, where Westword's offices are located. I started at my desktop, researching nearby works. But the map function on the website proved slow and clunky. That would be forgivable if the map on the Denver Public Art site showed street names. However only a few of the images I pulled up had specific intersections and addresses. I resorted to Google Maps on my phone to direct me to the artworks.
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A few issues plague the mobile site: I had to sign in and out several times — and there was no spinning wheel to suggest I was actually in the process of signing in, leaving me wondering if hitting the "log-in" button had worked at all. I thought I had checked in at each piece I saw, but apparently failed. I was booted out of the app altogether a couple times. Somehow, I still managed to get five points on the leader board.
I spent most of my time on the Cherry Creek Bike Path, at the intersection of Lincoln Street and Speer Boulevard — with bikers swerving around me as I looked between murals and my phone — and wandering around the campus at Denver Health, at times unsure if I was trespassing.
Some of the public art, including a delightfully scrappy couple of rats stenciled by artist Hama Woods, had been vandalized. Other pieces, including Michael Clapper's "Sympathetic Embrace," were either torn down for construction or pinned to the wrong coordinates on the maps.
While I was almost hit by several texting drivers, one ambulance and a handful of scooters on my search, I also stumbled across a glorious number of unsanctioned tags, stickers, weird corporate signs and uncanny vantage points, seeing a neighborhood and city I've walked plenty from new angles. Best of all, I made eye contact with what looked like an otter but might have been a swimming rat. That encounter made suffering through the glitches of DenverPublicArt.org worth it.