When Boulder Said No To The ‘YES’, The City Was Pushed To Experiment With Art

Listen Now
4min 49sec
<p>Corey Jones/CPR News</p>
<p>New York City artist Mary Mattingly stands inside her installation titled “Everything At Once” in Boulder on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.</p>
Photo: Boulder Public Art 1 | Mary Mattingly - CJones
New York City artist Mary Mattingly stands inside her installation titled "Everything At Once" in Boulder on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.

“We were both appalled, we just couldn’t believe that Boulder was stooping to doing something like that,” longtime resident T Valladarez said of the 2014 city plan for a “YES!” sculpture at the main library branch. At the time, it was a big moment for a city working to revamp its cultural programs.

Miami-based R & R Studios designed the now infamous block of capital red text made from aluminum. The city picked the proposal from more than 360 entries and planned to spend $150,000 on it — until Boulderites turned their noses up. Critics, like Valladarez and his wife, Maria, wrote to the Daily Camera newspaper. Many more called and wrote the city, which heard the outcry loud and clear.

“When that project was cancelled, it was a real awakening for us,” said Boulder’s office of arts and culture manager Matt Chasansky.

The city’s cultural staff got more feedback from the community and used it to start a program called Experiments in Public Art. It took most of the money from the original “YES!” idea to split up among nine temporary works — the latest of which is titled “Everything At Once,” by New York City artist Mary Mattingly.

“We found out there’s a very strong desire for sophisticated arts experiences, world class things — but that the narrative that’s told is very much about this place,” Chasansky said.

Photo: Boulder Public Art 2 | Boulder Cultural Office - CJones
Mandy Vink (left) coordinates public art for the city of Boulder and Matt Chasansky manages Boulder’s office of arts and culture.

While “so much public art is really buttoned up,” Chasansky said this program built in more freedom and interactivity. And it included four projects by local artists. The experimental series is intended to bring different types of projects to different areas, said Boulder’s public art coordinator Mandy Vink.

“It’s ranged from a food-based experience to projection narration, kinetics and robotics and massive puppets,” Vink said.

Mary Mattingly installed her piece in a parking lot along a creek and bike path outside the Boulder Creative Collective. She bought a decommissioned military trailer in Lamar, Colorado, from a company that resells military equipment. Mattingly built four walls out of wood from a closed public school in Wisconsin on top of the trailer.

You’ll find a small reflection pool filled with water inside. It’s surrounded by concrete blocks so you can sit, dip your feet in, and think. It’s a chance to contemplate leftover materials and how we use public money and spaces, Mattingly said.

“To me it speaks about a hollowing out of a lot of the public services we have, and kind of the opposite is happening with military infrastructure,” she said.

Mattingly acknowledges there are other sides to the issue. She’s well aware of Colorado’s military presence and that war benefits the United States too. “Thankfully we can be critics and we can question,” said the artist, who got $20,000 for the commission.

Experiments in Public Art concludes with two installations by artist Ethan Jackson in early 2018. Where the series goes from there is up in the air right now.

Boulder voters will decide on a capital improvement tax extension in November. It includes $400,000 for public art over four years. The cultural office doesn’t know yet how it’ll use that money.

In March, the city finalized a public art master plan, which will help guide future commissions. In the meantime, Chasansky and his team will go back to the public to ask what that public art should be.

“We’re hoping it’s a mix,” Chasansky says. “We definitely want to put some bronzes in parks, but we want to complement that in the right way.”

“Everything At Once” will be on display at the Boulder Creative Collective through Friday, Oct. 27, 2018.