By way of background, Over the River, is a large-scale, environmentally interactive, temporary, artwork proposed by artist, Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude. The project will suspend eight silvery translucent fabric panels, totalling 5.9 miles, along a 42 mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Salida and Canon City, in what is known as Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Since its proposal, the project has met with a number of challenges: from the requisite Environmental Impact Statement (a 1,686 page tome), to BLM approval, to local objector group, Rags Over the Arkansas River, as well as area denizens concerned about the impact the installation, exhibition and de-installation will have on their daily lives: commute times, potential noise pollution, emergency services access, etc.
As you travel around Salida and the surrounding communities, by bike, car, or raft, it is impossible not to notice the stickers of support, ‘Friends of OTR,’ and dissent, ‘Just Say NO to CHRISTO,’ plastered on car bumpers and property entrances. There is no doubt that the community has some very strong opinions about the merit and viability of this project – and so I am going to voice mine, in favor of OTR. To be honest, the possibility of the OTR project, and of working on it, is one of the reasons I moved from San Francisco, CA to Salida, CO. In my life’s previous incarnation I worked installing temporary, large-scale interactive artworks both at festivals, like the Annual Burning Man Arts Festival, and in civic settings, like San Francisco, Oakland, Detroit, and it was among the most challenging and rewarding work I have ever done. I will not argue the validity of many of the concerns of the project’s objectors, I simply subscribe to the belief that art, perhaps like life, is not meant to be easy, and that the challenges presented by the project can be navigated, because ultimately, solutions are more interesting than problems. In fact, personal experience has shown me that a lot of times objection is born out of misunderstanding, misconception, and/or fear of the unknown. While Christo has been manifesting these kinds of artworks, internationally for decades, they certainly are not the norm in the art world. nor do they necessarily subscribe to societal mores, such as permanence or logic, and so it is understandable that one might be skeptical. I’m not saying that everyone will become a believer, simply that we should not let skepticism, doubt, or lack of confidence, guide, well, really any of our decisions.
That said, you can safely assume that I am pleased to hear that the BLM has approved the project. The number of individuals and agencies that have had to work together to get the project just this far is astounding, and, if you ask me, exciting. The project is fueling a lot of conversations and creating, already, a lot of interactions that would not otherwise take place; it is also raising a lot of questions. How much will OTR cost? An estimated $50 million; Who will pay for the project? The Christo Organization; When will construction start? In 2012; When will the project be exhibited? and for how long? August of 2014, for 2 weeks; What kind of economic output is the project estimated to generate? $121 million; How many visitors are expected during construction and display? 400,000; How many jobs will be created? Approximately 600; What is the next step? Permits from Chaffee and Fremont counties are required before construction can begin.
K. Hale Chamblee
Wes Hill & Associates