Ditched in the Dirt: Who Will Pay for Emanuel Martinez's Broken Art?

Emanuel Martinez's "Mestizaje."EXPAND
Emanuel Martinez's "Mestizaje."
Emanuel Martinez
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Emanuel Martinez wasn't surprised that a piece of public art could be abruptly taken down.

The prominent Chicano mural artist is used to his work being painted over. But "Mestizaje" was different. The steel statue was fourteen feet high and set into concrete at the Tenth and Osage transit station.

“To tell you the truth, I’m kind of used to seeing a lot of public art that has been destroyed,” Martinez says. But "Mestizaje"? “That was installed to be very permanent.”

The colorful statue of a bird rising out of three faces has been a fixture at the light-rail stop since 2003, when Martinez won a competitive bidding process to create a work for RTD's Art-N-Transit project. As construction began around the transit station last year, though, the statue was moved — and broken in the process. 

Emanuel Martinez's "Mestizaje."
Emanuel Martinez's "Mestizaje."
Emanuel Martinez

A volley of emails had gone back and forth between Martinez, RTD, contractors and the Denver Housing Authority before the move, say the involved parties. Still, “Mestizaje” was ultimately removed from the site without any advice from Martinez about how to do so safely, without damaging the piece.

“They did it the worst way, simply cutting it off,” Martinez says. “And they must have dropped it,” he adds, because the eagle at its center is broken.

Had Martinez been asked, he would have advocated for busting up the concrete around the base of the sculpture. About a quarter of the material was underground, in order to make sure that it was securely anchored, he says. 

Construction crews moved the sculpture to avoid damaging it, responds Jamie Watson, project manager for Shaw Construction. The company is building a new headquarters for the Denver Housing Authority next to the train station, and the sculpture was in the way.

Watson has not seen the damage to “Mestizaje” herself, and so says she cannot comment on it. However, she adds that she understands why the sculpture’s removal would create a sore spot. “I collect art myself, so I completely understand an artist and a collector’s attachment to art,” Watson says.

Richard Rost, the manager of facilities engineering for RTD, says the removal and subsequent damage to the sculpture boils down to miscommunication. RTD owns several sculptures, he notes, but it’s rare to move them.

Policy dictates that the artist should be consulted about how best to move a sculpture. Martinez acknowledges that he was emailed about the process, but was not told when — or how — it would happen.

In the future, Rost says, RTD will aim to make communication between artists, developers and his agency clearer.

Emanuel Martinez's "Mestizaje."
Emanuel Martinez's "Mestizaje."
Emanuel Martinez

For now, "Mestizaje" is stored on RTD property, under the Colfax Viaduct. Rost recently covered it to make sure it wouldn’t be further damaged, though he says that was probably unnecessary since the sculpture was designed for outdoor display.

Martinez estimates that it will cost about $7,000 in labor and materials to repair the piece. The cost of repairs should fall on the developer, Rost says. Watson responds that she will need to inspect the damage before saying whether or not Shaw would pay for refurbishment.

In any case, "Mestizaje" will be reinstalled next spring, Rost says. RTD plans for the piece to remain at the transit station, near its original site.

Martinez definitely hopes the piece will stay in the neighborhood, noting that the work is a reflection of the community. Though the neighborhood has been gentrified, he says, “Mestizaje” still belongs there as a tribute to the community's roots.

“It did have maximum exposure there,” Martinez concludes. “It’s never been tagged. People have respected it. I just hope it can find another home like that.”

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