Monday, July 19, 2010

Over the River

Several months ago, I signed up to attend a public meeting with Christo, the world-famous artist whose large-scale outdoor installations ("The Gates" in New York, "The Umbrellas" in Japan and California, "Surrounded Islands" in Florida) brought he and his late partner/wife, Jean-Claude, much acclaim.
"Jean-Claude is with me always." 
--Christo, on the recent death of his lifelong artistic partner and wife, Jean-Claude (They were born on the same date: June 13, 1935.)
 (Photo Credit: Richard Lacayo)

A few months goes by and I receive an email reminder to get my butt downtown, pronto. So I hopped on my bike and arrived at the Seawell Grand Ballroom, sweaty but curious, about what brought Christo to Denver.

Turns out, his next big project - in the works for over a decade now - will likely take place in south-central Colorado. Called "Over the River", it will consist of 5.9 miles of silvery fabric suspended over the Arkansas River along a 40-mile stretch between Salida and Cañon City. The temporary exhibit is slated for two weeks in summer 2013. And yes, it will be high enough from the river (15-18 feet) that folks can float under it. Very cool.

The room was packed with other curious citizens and leaders in the Colorado arts/business community, including Don Marostica, the head of the Economic Development Office. (I'd worked with him before on a previous project - nice fellow and a real friend to the arts.)

Christo, a delicate gentleman with Bulgarian roots and a shock of white frizzy hair, could not have been more gracious and open. He gave a detailed slide presentation that offered full explanations on his personal life, how projects are created and financed, the full blueprint of the OTR project and details on the many, many, many meetings he must attend with governmental agencies to secure all the proper permits. (At one meeting, Christo, Jean-Claude and their team are seated across from tie-wearing representatives from 11 different U.S. agencies.)

Thankfully, standing microphones were set up for a Q&A session. Of course, I had to get my big mouth in there and began my question with this: "First of all, I just want to say how happy I am you are in Colorado." Much to my surprise, this set off a wild burst of applause and people thanked me later. (I only found it odd because two scheduled speakers had basically said the same thing; perhaps I was speaking for the 'little people'?) Christo's humbled response to my comment was a low bow with his hands pressed together, a very Dalai Lama move.

I can't remember that initial question but when I got greedy and returned for a second question, Christo laughed at me: "You again???" I simply wanted to know if, with all these large-scale global projects, it made him see the world differently - like one big canvas.

Also, was he setting his sights on the moon? He chuckled in his response: "Funny you should mention it. Jean-Claude was once asked that question and she said we would create a space project once other people are more established there." 

The public meeting lasted over two hours and I'm so glad I went. Not only will OTR will bring increased tourism to the region and global focus to Colorado but it's a real community-builder. Before even getting started on this project, Christo went to the small towns along the river and made his proposal to the residents, disclosing every detail. "Without the support of the local communities, the project would not exist," he said simply. "This should be a celebration, not an intrusion."

At the event's closing, Christo's local lawyer got up and explained how we can help. With the environmental impact statement now submitted, Christo and Team were asking us to speak out in support of OTR by attending public meetings and commenting online. They have made it very, very easy - just go here.

Despite being mobbed by fans after the event, I ended up riding the escalator with the charming artist. I told him I couldn't wait to float under OTR and I'd hoped we hadn't overwhelmed him. "Not at all," he said, "I appreciate the support and thank you for your questions."

With that, I hopped on my bike and rode home along Cherry Creek, thrilled all over again to be in Colorado where strange things sometimes happen - like internationally famous artists bowing to sweaty citizens.


Fang Bastardson said...

I don't get Christo, myself, but then you know I'm shallow that way. If it's Art, where are the boobies?

Mark Dowdy said...

How about that ATT ad that rips off Christo AND misappropriates yet another beautiful Nick Drake song?

ClizBiz said...

Yes, someone even asked him about that ad and the crowd reacted loudly in support of Christo. He just smiled and pointed to his lawyer who got up and said something about the disclaimer which is now at the bottom of every commercial. I hadn't even noticed the Nick Drake song - ugh. Wish I could boycott them.