Art on the Corner in Grand Junction

A supersized ant eats an apple core taller than a human. A man shoots from a cannon. A glittering giant bison guards a bank. A sinuous nude graces the concrete. Sculpted surprises continue around every corner as one walks the streets of downtown Grand Junction through the public sculpture exhibit Art on the Corner.



(This story originally appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)


 

 

Art on the Corner started in 1984, the brainchild of Dave Davis and 10 other Grand Junction sculptors as a creative attempt to breathe life into the downtown area. “When oil shale pulled out, Grand Junction went broke overnight. Half of the buildings downtown were empty,” remembers Davis. “I was walking my dog down here, wondering what we could do to help.” When he got home, he called 10 sculptor friends and asked, “What extra sculptures do you have ready? Let’s put them out there!” Art on the Corner was born, and that first year they put up 32 public sculptures.

Grand Junction’s public sculpture project was one of the first of its kind in the country and has grown every year. It’s now the most-visited attraction in the city, even more popular than the Grand Mesa, the world’s biggest flat top mesa.

In addition to consistent support from the city and the local press, most importantly, the project has received constant support from the public in general. “This is a pretty conservative rural area,” Davis said, “but we’ve exhibited abstracts and nudes and weird stuff, with no problem.” He believes this reflects well on the inner soul of the local populace and their support of the arts. Davis mused, “We are a reflection of what we allow in our town.”

As the program continued to grow and as popular sculptures came and went, Davis and the other organizers recognized the need to keep the work in Grand Junction permanently. They started purchasing one or two sculptures every year. Big public sculpture also carries a big price tag, but the community steps forward every year.

One of the program’s early acquisitions remains one of its most popular, a giant chrome buffalo on Main Street. It was created by one of the original artists, the late bumper sculptor Louis Wille from Aspen, and people loved it. The buffalo cost $40,000 but the people of Grand Junction quickly rallied, contributing a few dollars here and there. “None of the donations were over $500 and one kid even brought his piggy bank and broke it open, carefully pushing each coin into the donation box,” said Davis, beaming at the memory.

Today, Art on the Corner features more than 100 sculptures in bronze, stone and steel. Most remain in the permanent collection, but the remainder are temporary installations for sale. It’s not just locals collecting the sculptures; people and institutions from throughout the country collect pieces. Occasionally, these purchases have launched sculptors into bigger careers. Some of Art on the Corner’s well-known Colorado sculptors include Clee Richeson, Bobbie Carlyle, Bill Vielehr and Kevin Robb.

The sculptors have benefited not only from sales, but from the tight-knit community that’s evolved among the hundreds of artists who have exhibited public art in Grand Junction. Many collaborations between the artists have developed over the years, both professional and personal. The tribe of Art on the Corner sculptors supports each other in their work, sometimes potentially at their own professional expense.

“Harlan Mosher and I were in a competition,” Davis said. “There were just two of us left and we were down to the maquettes. Then I wrecked my motorcycle out in the desert and was laid up bad. Harlan didn’t want to win by default so he came over and built my maquette for me. Then he beat me fair and square.” The winning piece, “Mesas, Monoliths & Monuments,” can be seen at the corner of Third and Main streets, a mainstay of Art on the Corner.

Art on the Corner not only received an Excellence in Public Art award from the International Making Cities Livable organization in 1998, it also inspired people in other towns to copy the program. Tate Chamberlin grew up in Grand Junction and worked on Art on the Corner as a young man. When he later moved to Montana, the idea stayed with him and he helped start a similar project there. Several others have done the same, a public art movement radiating out like sculpted spokes from Grand Junction to the world.

In the end, the power of the Art on the Corner, and all the people and projects that have been inspired by it, lies in the simple transformative power of art. As Davis believes, “The real result of Art on the Corner is to change the way people think about their town. And it allows so many people to see great artwork without paying a dime.” Free inspiration is something hard to beat.


(This story originally appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)

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