saturday vignette: downtown grand junction

I recently spent a day in Grand Junction, Colorado, for a conference I was attending. Because of the short turnaround, I elected to fly out aboard one of the small, regional airlines. The plane sat eighteen. Fortunately, the actual flying experience was much better than the thought of it alone. Unfortunately, I had limited free time that day, but I did get to walk around downtown a bit. The downtown architecture was fairly ordinary, predominantly commercial buildings with very little noticeable residential.

The preserved, disembuildinged (I just made that up) entrance to a now gone bank was, um, hmmm? I don’t know what I would call that. What struck me most was the quality and variety of public art on display throughout the city center through their Art on the Corner program. It was a very interesting mix; realist, impressionist, abstract and what struck me as what I suppose I’ll call industrial whimsy-ist. Some of the works were just funny; from a bicycling dinosaur to a little gargoyle dragon (maybe?) sitting with his friends in a fountain along the main street. According to the city’s Commission on Arts & Culture, Grand Junction has five distinct public arts programs.

I’m a fan of public art and I often wonder to what extent the works a city chooses to display reflect the cultural vibe of the people or the place itself. I expect that on some level it has to, right? Grand Junction’s art project gives me a sense that the city put some real thought into their project and left enough room for fun. The art also referenced the local culture and history of the city. Helpful.

I could easily contrast this with the public art project in downtown Carmel, Indiana, which I saw when I visited that city a couple of months back. Carmel, a suburban city outside of Indianapolis, has put a lot of effort into revitalizing their downtown into an urban, walkable place that appeals to many people today. And they’ve done a good job of it too. But the public art in their arts district is odd; almost cartoonish to me. The city elected to showcase works by the artist J. Seward Johnson, Jr., who is best known for super realistic bronzes of ordinary people engaged in a variety of activities. I think sprinkling an arts district with a few pieces by a single artist is fine but Carmel obviously is of a different opinion. I have a hard time believing the residents of Carmel are as one-dimensional as their public art project, but then again, maybe they are. I sure hope not.

Now that I’ve experienced a little of what Grand Junction has to offer, I’m looking forward to my next visit. There’s a whole lot more to see.

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