Aspen is embarking on a new artistic journey with its first-ever public art installation as part of its new Public Arts Plan. The inaugural project, a temporary street mural near the Wheeler Opera House, will be unveiled during the opening weekend of the Aspen Ideas Festival. On June 25, from 10am to 4pm, community members and Aspen Ideas Festival attendees are invited to visit the site and help paint the mural from start to finish.
Public arts programs are said to have numerous benefits for communities. They’re known to contribute to the cultural fabric of a place, enhance public spaces, promote creativity, engage residents and visitors and inspire both current and future generations of artists.
Emily Ford, the communications manager at Aspen’s City Manager’s Office, shared that the genesis of Aspen’s Public Art Plan can be traced back to the collaborative efforts of the City of Aspen’s leadership and the community, with “the intention of mirroring Aspen’s unique cultural spirit and further enhancing the sense of unity and connectedness through public art.”
In March, in response to residents’ requests, Aspen City Council approved a contract with consultants to develop the program, which will feature city-owned art displays installed throughout town.
Funds are being allocated to support artistic and cultural initiatives, demonstrating a commitment to preserve the city’s artistic heritage. “By investing in public art, we are not only preserving our cultural heritage but also boosting the overall quality of life in Aspen,” Ford explained.
Installation artist Chris Erickson, who has been chosen to lead the project, grew up on the Front Range and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in painting from Fort Lewis College. He moved to the Roaring Fork Valley about 20 years ago, eventually settling in Carbondale because of “its vibrant art scene.”
Erickson previously worked with the Aspen Institute on an installation for the opening of the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies. Describing Bayer’s profound impact on design, architecture and art in Aspen, Erickson said, “Working with the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Ideas Festival, it’s hard to ignore the influence of Herbert Bayer. His imprint is on the town of Aspen.”
Austrian-born Bayer, who initially trained as a Bauhaus artist and architect, came to Aspen in 1946 and, after developing a close friendship with Aspen Institute’s founder Walter Paepcke, was enlisted by Paepcke to design the institute’s original campus.
Taking inspiration from Bayer’s work, Erickson incorporated elements from his paintings, allowing them to guide and shape the direction of the design.
The installation project, meant to promote pedestrian safety at busy Aspen intersections, is inspired by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Arts Initiative, which, according to their website, is “helping cities use art and community engagement to improve street safety and revitalize public space” through what they call “visual interventions.”
Erickson shared that Aspen appears to be taking its lead from Carbondale, which he called “the model in our Valley” for community-driven arts initiatives. He added, “Carbondale is a community that knows how to do art right. Much of that is because of the efforts of people like [former Carbondale Arts executive director] Amy Kimberly, who’s been an advocate and leader in establishing Carbondale as a preeminent arts town.”
Carbondale has established itself as a haven for artists through grassroots efforts, community and volunteer support. Erickson shared, “For years, people have looked at Carbondale’s art scene and tried to get some of that secret sauce.”
On June 27, in conjunction with the pavement art installation, the Aspen Ideas Festival is presenting “The Case for Art as Civic Glue,” a discussion on how institutions can harness the power of the arts to strengthen communities. The event at the Wheeler Opera House begins at 5:30pm.
Looking ahead, Ford said the City of Aspen is “moving beyond merely creating installations to fostering an ongoing dialogue around public art in Aspen.” Next up, the City will organize a public art event at the Pitkin County Library on August 9, with more community-focused events scheduled for this fall.
Erickson sees a bright future for the Aspen public arts plan, saying, “If you have the right people interested in empowering artists and giving them a platform and space to generate work, the possibilities are endless. When you have resources, and you add passion — that’s a winning formula.”
Mural painting is open to those 10-years-old and up. Sidewalk chalk will be provided to younger children for art activities. To learn more about Aspen’s public art projects and participate in shaping the future of public art in Aspen, go to www.aspencommunityvoice.com/aspen-s-public-art-plan