Denver International Airport Plans to Commission Three Art Projects for $7.4 Million

DIA is about to get some new artwork.
DIA is about to get some new artwork. Denver International Airport
Denver International Airport plans to spend over $7.4 million on three suspended-sculpture public art projects to be finished within the next three to five years, in keeping with the city's 1 percent for art program established more than thirty years ago by then-Mayor Federico Peña.

The artworks will be designed to "reflect the individual personality of each concourse and its travelers" and also "speak to the international audience of DEN while also highlighting the culture of the vibrant City of Denver and the unique State of Colorado," according to Ashley Forest, a spokesperson for the airport. They will also "act as a landmark or meeting point" and provide a sense of "place" and "wonderment."

The Denver City Council Business, Arts, Workforce and Aviation Services Committee approved the projects during a February 1 meeting, then forwarded the contracts on to the full council, which approved them February 13.

One project is for a "large-scale suspended artwork" that will be placed within the circulation spaces of the newly constructed Concourse A-West expansion at the airport, according to city documents. Ball-Nogues Studio, the firm of artist Benjamin Ball, a former Coloradan who now lives in Los Angeles, will receive $2,499,474 to complete the project in three years, with the opportunity for two one-year extensions. Ball declined to comment, preferring to speak once the project is fully approved.

"The artwork will be created from stainless-steel ball chain and enamel paint titled, 'Dance the Sky Softly,'" the documents state, noting that the installation will be approximately 512 feet in length, 50 feet in width and 16 feet in height. It will be "inspired by the light, form and colors of the Colorado Rockies. Series of catenary curves of ball chain will cascade throughout the ceilings, creating moiré patterns that oscillate in color to create cloud like forms."

The second project is for a "suspended artwork" by artist Kipp Kobayashi of Claremont, California, that would be placed within the circulation space of the newly constructed Concourse B-West expansion.

"The artwork will be created from stainless-steel welded mesh titled, 'The Cosmology of Flight,'" city documents note, with an approximate size of 140 feet in length, 25 feet in width and 20 feet in height. "The artwork, which is inspired by scale, perception and size, will activate the center circulation space of the newly constructed Concourse B-West expansion with a life-size 767 aircraft. The translucent sculpture will allow passengers the uncommon view of an airplane up-close to appreciate the modern marvel of air travel." Kobayashi, who did not return a request for comment, will pull in $2.5 million for this project, working on the same timeline as Ball.

And the third piece in this latest batch of contracts would be created by Danielle Roney, an artist out of Brooklyn, who would be tasked with creating two "original suspended sculptures" that would be set within the atriums of the newly constructed Concourse C-East expansion at the airport.

"The artworks will be created from powder-coated stainless-steel tubing, LED lights and optical glass titled 'The Constellations,'" according to city documents, with each sculpture measuring approximately 38 feet in length, 36 feet in width and 16 feet in height. These sculptures will be designed "based upon the geometry of specific constellations positioned above Denver’s skies during the Winter and Summer Solstice." The artwork will also make use of the outdoor observation deck in this section of the airport "with an augmented reality app to educate and locate current visible constellations to our passengers." Roney's firm declined to comment until after the project is approved.

click to enlarge
Detour's proposed piece.
Denver International Airport
In October 2022, DIA also announced that local artist Thomas "Detour" Evans would be creating a sculpture for Concourse B-East called “It’s Not What You Take, It’s What You Bring Back." The suspended sculpture will be made out of luggage and will be 30 feet long, 20 feet wide and 10 feet high. It has a budget of $450,000, so does not require council's approval.

Denver International Airport is an enterprise fund, and its operational budget comes from the revenue it generates, rather than the city's general fund, which is filled by tax dollars. Denver City Council approval is required for large contracts, however, and the contracts for the three larger sculptures are big enough to quality.

Although the budget comes out of the airport fund, the procedure follows the City of Denver's mandate that 1 percent of any budget for capital improvement projects go toward art. The city sets up a selection panel for each project that is composed of community members, artists and councilmembers, among other categories.

"The Selection Panel is responsible for making decisions as a group concerning eligibility, selection method, choosing the number of finalists to be interviewed, criteria to be included in the call, as well as the aesthetic decisions regarding the final selection of the artist(s) for the project. Based upon group decisions of the Selection Panel and parameters of the project site, a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) is released for artists to apply. The selection panel selects finalists based upon the applicants to respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP). From the RFPs a single artist is recommended to be awarded the commission," Forest says.

Denver International Airport has followed the 1 percent for art mandate since before construction started; the result is an art collection worth tens of millions, with pieces ranging from the controversial "Mustang" to the even more controversial "Children of the World Dream of Peace," which is in storage while construction continues on the Great Hall.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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