Art, in unlikely places: Works adorn unassuming Havana Street

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Havana Street may be best known for its colorful mix of car dealerships, ethnic restaurants and exotic markets, but local business owners and city officials are hoping to find a place in that list for public art.

This month, directors of the Havana Business Improvement District awarded $1,000 to John Ferguson, a local artist and employee in the city of Aurora’s Neighborhood Services Department, as part of the inaugural “ART 2C on Havana” contest. Ferguson won the competition’s “People’s Choice” award for a sculpture titled “I Am Not What I Am” — a 7-foot-tall piece that’s currently on display at the Gardens On Havana shopping center.

According to Ferguson, the abstract sculpture takes its form from primitive human tools, even as its shape hints at the basic design of the human form. Its title, taken from a line delivered by the villain Iago in William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello,” hints at the deceptive nature of first appearances.

“As an artist, you like to get your work out,” said Ferguson, who started sculpting about six years ago and has shown his work in galleries across the Denver metro area. “Lately, I’m realizing that these public art programs are just so cool because not everybody goes out to galleries. It’s nice to see on your daily trip to the store, to be able check out some art … A little kid might see it and say, ‘I’d really like to do something like this.’”

Ferguson accepted his winnings during a ceremony held June 26 at the Summit Steakhouse. The formal announcement represented the end of a yearlong project that saw the installation of 10 sculptures in front of businesses along Havana Street, a voting process by business owners and the public, and the purchase of a new sculpture by the city of Aurora’s Art In Public Places department.

Artists installed pieces with the help of money provided by the Havana business district. Board members chose finalists for the people’s choice competition, and the public chose the top three via online surveys and cell phone voting. Finally, the city’s Arts In Public Places department purchased a piece from the Havana additions, a bronze sculpture titled “Tween” by James Haire to be a permanent part of the city’s collection.

The project was part of a wider push to revitalize one of the city’s oldest business districts, to add a new visual dimension to a strip that hosts some of the city’s most established restaurants, dealerships and markets. The Havana business district chipped in about $18,000 for the 2012 program, a total that included money for stipends, awards, artist talks and ceremonies, while the city’s Art in Public Places contributed about $40,000. The city’s contribution covered bases for the sculptures, as well as the purchase of “Tween,” which will eventually find a permanent spot at the Gardens On Havana shopping center on Havana Street and East Mississippi Avenue.

“It pulls the whole community together,” said Gayle Jetchick, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District, adding that finding sites to host artwork on their sites was far from challenging. “Finding 10 businesses was easy … We just had to pick places that would work. The artists helped a lot with that. The artists can say whether it’s a good place as far as interest.”

The project garnered enough enthusiasm from businesses and people that the Havana BID has already set out plans for the program’s second year. Until July 20, artists are invited to submit designs for public art projects for the “Art 2C” program in 2013, a program that will feature a new site, higher stipends for the top three entries and a grand prize worth $1,000.

The total budget will depend on the entries submitted, as well as the budget for the city’s public art program for the coming year. Still, Jetchick said the program’s first year yielded promising results that could keep public art vibrant on Havana Street for years to come.

“It’s a partnership and it really worked out great the first year,” Jetchick said, adding that the public art comes along with live concerts and other events designed to reinvent the Havana strip.

The program has also been valuable for its contributing artists, sculptors and craftspeople who can see the work of their peers in a different setting. For Ferguson, the competition has been a chance to see new artwork in the community where he’s worked for 13 years.

“It’s fun to see what other people are doing. I have made it around to most of the actual pieces,” Ferguson said. “I think that keeps pushing you forward to try to keep doing things better.”

 

 

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at [email protected] or 720-449-9707