January 15, 2021

Continuing the Conversation...Public Art: Urban Arts Fund

Tai Bickham


Continuing the conversation... is a series of interviews MCA Denver will hold with individuals and organizations in Colorado working on the issues discussed in each week’s free virtual programming for Citizenship: A Practice of Society.

This week we interviewed Michael Chavez, Public Art Program Manager for Denver's Arts & Venues public art program.

1. Can you share with us your name and your role with Denver’s Arts & Venues? 
I’m Michael Chavez, Public Art Program Manager for the city of Denver’s Public Art Program. It’s my job to direct the selection of public art through an inclusive and fair process by way of the 1% for public art ordinance (*DRMC 20-85) and to ensure the art is well-maintained.  It also includes oversight of the Urban Arts Fund mural program.

*Denver Public Art Ordinance: https://bit.ly/38IrwwK

2. Can you talk about the Urban Arts Fund program and its mission?
The Urban Arts Fund (UAF) was established in 2009 as a vandalism abatement and youth development program through which we grant funds to artists to create a mural in an area that has been perpetually vandalized. More than 300 murals have been installed and more than 800,000 square feet of walls have been protected from vandalism since 2009 through this program. It is a separate funding stream from our 1% projects.

Website: https://denverpublicart.org/urban-arts-fund/

3. Why do you think public art is important to a city/community?
For Denver, it demonstrates that the city values art, culture, and creativity enough to guarantee funding for it. The City of Denver has invested more than $40 million since the program was established in 1988. We believe everyone should have access to art experiences as part of their daily lives. If it’s done well, it stimulates imagination and becomes part of the community’s identity.

4. How is public art maintained and conserved? 
We conduct a condition survey of approximately half of our collection each year which determines our priorities. This data is used to advocate for funds from the City’s capital improvement budgets. We utilize dozens of local contractors in this effort which includes everything from removing graffiti to completely rebuilding an artwork.

5. How are artists selected for public art? 
We establish a unique selection panel for each new project. They select an artist from a pool of applicants. There are a few approval stages to get the artist under contract. Then we work with the artist to help them realize their concept. The selection phase can take 4-6 months. The actual creation of the art can take two years, or more. There are several factors that affect this one way or another. This is a very abridged explanation.

6. How is the community engaged in selecting public art and the planning process?
Community representatives are included in every new selection panel. From an equity perspective, we ensure that each panel is made up from at least 50% representatives from historically under-served communities. Depending on the project and what city agency is leading the new capital improvement, there may be a series of public meetings associated with it. For instance, if the city is planning on building a new recreation center, there would be a public input phase which would inform the building, and the themes which could be incorporated into the public art.

7. How do you see public art in relation to city/community development? 
What I love about public art, is that it can take many more forms than one might expect. It doesn’t always have to be PERMANENT. Temporary or “semi-permanent” artworks which aren’t meant to last forever offer the flexibility to try something without the pressure of making something “timeless.” These types of projects can be used to better understand a specific community and what they need and want for a period of time.  It also offers the artist the opportunity to experiment.

8. Can you share any resources to learn more about the development and/or benefits of public art in cities? 
The Public Art Resource Center through Americans for the Arts is a good place to start.


It contains this document, Why Public Art Matters (2018), https://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/Why%20Public%20Art%20Matters_FINAL_web.pdf

To learn more about Denver’s Public Art Program, visit www.denverpublicart.org, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.