Bronze-age re­vival: Colorado city en­joys wealth of art­work

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Maxim Kni­azkov

LOVE­LAND, Colo. — They haven’t got­ten gold or sil­ver, but they have a lot of bronze. To their own amaze­ment, res­i­dents of this small town north of Den­ver seem to have found a way to make this metal pre­cious.

The con­ver­sion works so well that it leaves this com­mu­nity, a for­mer ma­jor wheat-and-rail­way link at the front range of the Rock­ies, with an es­ti­mated $10 mil­lion of ex­tra in­come an­nu­ally — in re­turn for about $200,000 worth of in­vest­ment.

In ad­di­tion, the ven­ture has gen­er­ated more than 280 full-time jobs and is ex­pected to bring even more in years to come.

That’s what hap­pens, city of­fi­cials say, when one throws out a wel­com­ing mat not only to peo­ple, but also to sculp­tures.

They are ev­ery­where: in parks and pa­tios, in store­fronts and of­fice build­ings, inside and out­side li­braries and mu­se­ums, and even at the po­lice sta­tion. In steel, wrought iron, mar­ble, gran­ite and al­abaster, but mostly in bronze as the lo­cal arts com­mu­nity seems to fa­vor its somber and as­cetic glit­ter.

Thank­fully, none re­sem­bles the gaudy, cookie-cut­ter don­keys and ele­phants familiar to some ur­ban res­i­dents on the East Coast.

“Right now, we have about 270 of th­ese sculp­tures around town both inside and out­side build­ings,” says Susan P. Ison, the city’s di­rec­tor of cul­tural ser­vices. “But it’s def­i­nitely just the be­gin­ning.”

The sculp­tures so gen­er­ously scat­tered through­out Love­land are a byprod­uct of a thriv­ing arts in­dus­try that came about through a mar­riage of as­tute pub­lic pol­icy and bold busi­ness de­ci­sions.

It all started in the early 1970s when a strug­gling auto parts plant on the out­skirts of the city gave a help­ing hand to a penni- less sculp­tor.

The artist wanted his work to be cast in bronze, but he could not find an af­ford­able foundry nearby.

The plan was un­ex­pected and un­usual. There were doubts that the cast­ing skills of auto parts mak­ers were eas­ily trans­fer­able to fine art. But plant owner Bob Zim­mer­man saw an op­por­tu­nity and made a strate­gic de­ci­sion.

It marked the be­gin­ning of Art Cast­ings of Colorado, now one of the largest and pop­u­lar sculp­ture­mak­ing foundries of North Amer­ica, which now ex­ceeds 10 times its orig­i­nal size.

And it was the birth of an in­dus­try in a town whose only claim to fame up to that point was re­mail­ing Valen­tine’s Day greet­ing cards so that a stamp with the word “Love­land” would ap­pear on the en­ve­lope.

Once the cast­ing plant was set up and be­came fully op­er­a­tional, Mrs. Ison said, word spread quickly and sculp­tors from across the coun­try started mov­ing in to be close to it.

“We were used to have just agri­cul­ture and high-tech here,” she said. “Sculp­ture was a rel­a­tively new ad­di­tion. But now we al­ready have 10 ma­jor art gal­leries in town, up from one. That is not count­ing smaller in­di­vid­ual stu­dios.”

News about the op­por­tu­ni­ties has reached as far as the south­ern African na­tion of Zim­babwe, where the in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil have de­stroyed the en­vi­ron­ment nec­es­sary for free artis­tic ex­pres­sion.

Zim­bab­wean Cha­pungu artists, res­i­dents said, are now a fix­ture on the Love­land scene.

In the mid-1980s, the city gave its fledg­ing in­dus­try a de­ci­sive shot in the arm by cre­at­ing a rel­a­tively small but stable mu­nic­i­pally spon­sored art mar­ket.

It be­came the first city in Col- orado to pass an or­di­nance di­rect­ing 1 per­cent of ev­ery pub­lic cap­i­tal con­struc­tion project worth more than $50,000 to be al­lo­cated for ac­qui­si­tion of art.

As a re­sult, of­fi­cials said, the city now can count on about $200,000 ev­ery year to pur­chase sculp­tures and other works of art to dec­o­rate its streets and plazas as well as pub­lic build­ings.

In ad­di­tion, it founded an an­nual sculp­ture show to give the arts com­mu­nity a pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing tool.

The show, which de­buted in Au­gust 1984, drew dozens of par­tic­i­pants and made money from sales, fees and com­mis­sions in its first year.

“It’s a huge event now, which grows rapidly ev­ery year,” Mrs. Ison said.

But it may have fallen vic­tim to its own suc­cess. In or­der to keep the event man­age­able and wellor­ga­nized, the Love­land High Plains Arts Coun­cil, the of­fi­cial host of the show, capped the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants at 175 and in- tro­duced a rig­or­ous se­lec­tion process for ap­pli­cants.

The up­shot was a silent re­volt in the lo­cal ar ts com­mu­nity. Those win­nowed out by the jury set up a ri­val ex­hibit.

The “out­cast” show de­buted in 1992, also to im­me­di­ate suc­cess. And so the town of 65,000 now has its own ver­sion of a cul­ture war that gen­er­ates mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue not only through par­tic­i­pa­tion fees and art sales, but also through thou­sands of tourists who flock to ri­val events ev­ery Au­gust.

Taken to­gether, the two events amount to the largest out­door sculp­ture show and sale in North Amer­ica.

Most of the money col­lected through the pub­lic arts tax is spent to dec­o­rate Ben­son Park, a 13.5acre ex­panse of grass and trees that is now home to 116 sculp­tures. Bronze fig­ures of In­dian war­riors, pi­o­neer ex­plor­ers, 19th­cen­tury farm­ers, and an­i­mals and birds pop­u­lat­ing the Amer­i­can West cre­ate a daz­zling kalei­do­scope of char­ac­ters that give the park its unique feel.

Dale De Franco, a court re­porter from St. Petersburg, Fla., who was in Colorado to visit fam­ily, said she was fas­ci­nated by the whole con­cept.

“I like it very much. I wish we had some­thing like that in St. Petersburg,” she said.

It has not been with­out con­tro­versy, though.

In 2006, a Lutheran pas­tor protested the in­stal­la­tion of a nude sculp­ture next to his new church. “Tri­an­gle,” by Nor­we­gian artist Kirsten Kokkin, de­picted a man and a wo­man hold­ing up an­other wo­man.

Voices were raised in fa­vor and against the work, but the city de­fused the con­tro­versy. “We just moved it to a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion,” Mrs. Ison said, “and all qui­eted down.”

Maxim Kni­azkov / Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Times

Park­life: Love­land, Colo. uses fund­ing col­lected through a pub­lic-arts tax to dec­o­rate Ben­son Park, a 13.5-acre area that is home to 116 sculp­tures.

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