John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The city says "no" to an artwork that says, loudly, "YES!"
That's what the citizens of Boulder have said to a giant piece of public art that's simply the word YES!, colored bright red and formatted in classic ALL-CAPS yelling style. The city chose the bold piece, designed by Miami-based R & R Studios, in a six month-long process that saw 367 artists vying for $150,000 in grant money. It would've adorned the outside of the main public library, where people walking in could guess at its meaning (long live English rock?) and folks looking out could wonder: !ƧƎY?
But this week, facing an onslaught of criticism, City Manager Jane Brautigam said the wheels of Boulder's bureaucracy had spun a little too quickly. At issue was an "interim public art policy" that many claimed had strangled public input. Said Brautigam in a statement:
"The selection committee properly followed the Interim Policy on Public Arts and did an excellent job identifying well-known artists to participate in this project," said Brautigam. "However, it is clear that the interim policy does not provide ample community input to ensure the selected art piece adequately reflects the Boulder community. We want to revisit how the city can create more robust public involvement in selecting public art projects before finalizing the selection."
That sounds like a totally reformatted Brautigam compared to the one who praised the shouty artwork in April:
"Yes! promises to be a memorable and delightful statement for the library," said City Manager Jane Brautigam. "Not only will this sculpture enliven the area around the newly renovated building, it will provide an amusing backdrop to gatherings, events, and play as the Civic Area is re-imagined. The iconic image of Yes! will be a must-see for visitors to Boulder, and a legacy to our growing collection of public art."
Between 100 and 150 people contacted the municipal government to denounce the piece, according to the Daily Camera, which has collected a few choice quotes from critics:
Retired teacher T Valladares said he was "appalled."
"Who wants to look at the back of a sign from inside a building that is designed to give a beautiful view of Boulder?" he said.
His wife, artist Maria Valladarez, said for that amount of money, the city could have gotten multiple works of art from local artists....
"There are pieces that many people can enjoy and that are still modern," she said. "It's supposed to be about pleasure and enjoyment. Even if the art in Boulder lags behind what is in New York, it should represent the people in Boulder."
The news site has also gathered a sampling of public reactions now that the project is on hold, summarized thusly: "Thrilled." "Wonderful." "Thank God."
For those who want to know more about this MAJOR AFFIRMATIVE, here's the full set of renderings from the Boulder Public Library. They're quite a 180-degree turn from some of the city's other public artworks, such as these shifty-looking coyotes and this lineup of cute robots:
Images from the Boulder Public Library