Former Foothills curator Michael Chavez to oversee Denver's public art collection

The city's announcement that Michael Chavez -- who's made his name with strong, contemporary work as a curator and exhibition designer at the Foothills Art Center and the Arvada Center -- has been named the new public art administrator for Denver Arts & Venues seems like sweet salvation after he was let go by the FAC last year.

Chavez takes over the day-to-day work of maintaining and growing the city's 350-piece public art collection from Kendall Peterson this morning;Peterson will move on to oversee public art for DIA's South Terminal Redevelopment Program with the airport's Art & Culture Program team.

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Thrilled with the possibilities of his new role, Chavez is raring to go. "Once I've gotten settled in, what I really want to focus on is more community engagement with the collection, so citizens of Denver and visitors can have a better understanding of the works," he says.

He hopes to do this in several ways, beginning with social networking. "There are so many ways to engage people right there on their phones -- maybe they can stand in front of a piece and watch a video explanation," he suggests. After all, increasing awareness of what's out on Denver's streets is what the job is all about.

"I'm an artist myself, and I studied printmaking when I was at the University of Kansas in part because of its accessibility to a broader audience -- that whole tradition of making things less expensive in order to reach a wider audience," he says. "Public art takes that to a whole other level. 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."

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Chavez also plans to work with local artists trying to break through the red tape involved in applying for and following through on public art commissions, which could help create a balanced representation of emerging Colorado talent in a collection that also features works by international artists.

"Denver's collection is already so fantastic -- it's really becoming more renowned," he says. "I'd love to see Denver be considered on a par with the chic metropolises, like New York or Chicago. When people visit a city, they want to see its public art, and I think Denver is on its way toward providing that opportunity."

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