Drivers on Federal Boulevard, the Sixth Avenue highway and other westside streets now have new art to ogle.
It’s a 40-foot totem pole featuring seven animal heads, depicted as mosaics on seven beveled cubes.
It’s called “La Veleta/The Weathervane.” It’s in Barnum Park, right near the intersection of Sixth and Federal. It’s by artist Jaime Molina, who you might know from his distinctive paintings all over town, and architecture firm Tres Birds. It’s also a subtle signpost for a less sexy project, some $2.9 million spent to improve sidewalks, medians and asphalt nearby on Federal Boulevard.
Mary Valdez, the city’s public art program coordinator, was out watching as a crew lifted the last animal-head block onto a towering metal pole sticking out of the ground. When Denver spends more than a million bucks on a big capital project like the one on Federal, she said, “We get 1 percent of that.”
So, she agreed, most big pieces of public art around the city signify big civic investments nearby.
Molina’s project received half of the $250,000 purse doled out from the Federal improvement project. The other half paid for Anthony Garcia’s paintings on the bridge infrastructure over Sixth, called “Crossroads/Encrucijada,” that you may have seen illuminated after dark.
Valdez said the art projects attached to Denver’s improvement projects help create a sense of place in the neighborhoods where they reside. But a lot of the work by Denver Public Art ends up downtown.
When Valdez started her job back in 2001, she began overseeing art projects at the Wellington Webb building and the Colorado Convention Center. Even today, she said, a lot of their work happens in the heart of the city.
“We’ve got a lot of money there because construction happens within in the downtown area,” she told Denverite.
But new bond projects closer to the city’s edges have helped push that work to new neighborhoods.
“We always hope that it radiates out from downtown,” Valdez said.
Beyond the installations on Federal, she said, Denver Public Art is currently working on projects near the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Hampden Avenue, the intersection of Parker Road and Mississippi Avenue, and the Kennedy Golf Course. She said she’d like to see more projects initiated in Denver’s far northeast and southwest corners, but she’ll need to wait for more Public Works projects before that can happen.
Valdez also said her division’s work has only ramped up in the 18 years since she started working for the city, and it’s showed no signs of stopping. Denver Public Art currently has more than 40 projects in the pipeline that have either secured funding or have begun planning and installation. She said there will be as many as 60 projects beginning work in the next five years.
And Denver’s programs don’t include developers’ hungry appetite for art. Many new apartment buildings around come complete with new murals. Molina said the active market has kept him so busy that he needed to delay work on The Weathervane to meet the demand.
“As an artist, you kind of have to juggle a lot of things,” he said. “It can be challenging but it’s the way I’ve found to make a living.”
The pace he needs to maintain means not all of his commissions can be “passion projects,” though the obelisk at Barnum Park did.
“This became kind of a passion project, in a way, because I’ve worked on it for so long,” he said.
His mosaic work took about 15 months to complete.
Staring up at the piece as it neared completion, he seemed pleased with his work.
“I wanted something with height,” he said.
Thanks to a couple million dollars spent on sidewalks, he got it.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect architecture firm Tres
Birds’ involvement with the sculpture.