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Art on the Streets creates a city masterpiece with accessible public canvases 

Community canvas

click to enlarge "Artemis," created by Kasia Polkowska and Kyle Cunniff. - MIKE PACH
  • Mike Pach
  • "Artemis," created by Kasia Polkowska and Kyle Cunniff.

Have you ever followed the yellow footprints along Tejon Street and discovered one of the tiny “Civic Treasures” sculptures tucked amongst the buildings? Did your jaw drop the first time you witnessed “Iscariot,” the mighty metal goddess floating alongside Colorado Avenue? If so, you can thank Art on the Streets and its ever-changing cast of participating artists for the experience. For more than 20 years, AOTS, which is a program of the Downtown Partnership’s nonprofit arm, Downtown Ventures, has worked to create an outdoor art gallery in downtown Colorado Springs, complete with unique sculptures, interactive exhibits and vibrant murals.

“Art on the Streets really has helped grow this community’s appreciation for exemplary, placemaking, true public art,” says Claire Swinford, director of urban engagement for the Downtown Partnership.

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The 2019-20 exhibit features 12 new works of art, six of them murals, which are new to the exhibit this year. Swinford says the expansion creates new opportunities for artists who may not have been able to contribute in the past.

“We’re trying to build a self-sustaining economic ecosystem for mural art in the community,” says Swinford.

While the organization accepts proposals from all over the world, there is still plenty of room for local artists. It’s a point of pride for Art on the Streets: It has helped support the artistic community and given several locals their start in public art. This year’s new artwork includes “Bananacat,” a vinyl mural by Cymon Padilla (The Perk, 14 S. Tejon St.) and “Maxentius in His Defeat of Various Fruit,” a stencil mural by Scotch! of Manitou Springs (209 S. Nevada Ave.).

Some of the pieces remain for only a short time, though some are part of the permanent collection. The aforementioned “Iscariot,” for example, is poised to stay in its current location on extended loan for another year and a half, unless Art on the Streets is able to secure enough funding to purchase the sculpture. The piece's purchase price stands at $96,000, which isn’t too bad for a 2-ton, reclaimed steel sculpture that required a crane to lift it three stories onto the roof of the city’s traffic management center.
One common misconception about Art on the Streets is that it is supported by local tax dollars. However, no part of the city’s budget is used to fund the exhibit, which makes it a rarity among Colorado cities. Instead, it is paid for exclusively by donors, grants, contracts for service and sponsorships. Although the budget is not big, the program strives to maximize every dollar to provide art to every member of the community and simultaneously add value to the city.

“The great thing about public art is that it’s always available and it’s accessible to everyone,” says Swinford. “It incentivizes people to come downtown and explore on foot, which in turn supports local businesses.”

With the desire to create more awareness about its mission and to continue serving the public, Art on the Streets decided to expand its outreach through programs like the Give! Campaign.

“We are hoping to empower more people to take ownership of the program,” says Swinford, noting that many existing patrons have taken great pride in their contribution to the collection. “This is a program that is sustained by people who recognize that Colorado Springs would not be the same without public art.”

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