These are the Colorado public art proposals that didn’t make the cut

The Arvada Center’s new exhibition — “I Regret to Inform You” — has a quirky title and a courageous concept.

The exhibition “I Regret to Inform You” continues through Aug.. 25 at the Arvada Center. Photo by Wes Magyar, provided by Arvada Center.

The entire show is built around public art projects that were carefully proposed, diligently submitted, thoroughly considered — and then completely rejected.

It is a sprawling display made entirely of flops and flunkers, though it also manages to be highly entertaining, lightly informative and just a little heartbreaking.

That’s because it can be heartwrenching to see all of the work that artists put into getting work: coming up with ideas, developing concepts, creating models and prototypes, then waiting endlessly as juries go through various levels of decision-making and short-listing. Then, more often than not, losing out to another artist.

As this exhibition of doomed proposals by many of the region’s top talents demonstrates, it’s personal — or at least it can feel that way. These artists are honest about just how disheartening the process can be,

Highly regarded artmakers like Nikki Pike acknowledge that they have only a 10 percent success rate in getting jobs. (That is a nice spin on the fact that 90 percent of her work is in vain.)

Similarly, Patrick Marold — probably known best for his massive sculpture made of tilted timbers at Denver International Airport’s rail station — lands 4 percent of his projects. Yoshitomo Saito, who has been making art in Colorado for decades and is represented by top galleries, reports a success rate of 0 percent.

There is bravery in this act of acknowledging failure in such a public forum, but these artists — along with the curatorial staff in Arvada — are doing an important community service here. The public ought to understand what goes into public art, and the fact that each sculpture and mural that people encounter in plazas and parks has a complicated back story filled with more than a little drama.

The exhibition tells these tales concisely. Each proposal exhibited on the walls is accompanied by formatted text that explains the concept, the site where the piece might have been installed, and the artist’s response to being rejected.

Mary Williams proposed this giant drop of water at Chatfield Reservoir in Littleton. Photo by Ray Mark Rinaldi, Special to The Denver Post

There is a compelling audio guide that visitors can access via a QR code that gets into more details. There is also an easy-to-read diagram on one of the gallery walls that explains how public art projects proposed for government agencies are evaluated.

The graphics in the outing pull things together nicely, and because they stick mostly to the facts, they keep the whole exercise from turning into a pity party. There is a sense of disappointment in the air, but also the idea that this is just how the art business works.

A visitor also gains some sympathy for the selection committees, often made up of volunteers, and what they go through during the judging. These folks are the dream-killers, but they are also the enablers of the projects that make it through.

The exhibition “I Regret to Inform You” includes these maquettes for a piece proposed by Becky Wareing Steele for Prickly Plume Park in Denver’s Central Park Neighborhood. Photo by Ray Mark Rinaldi, Special to The Denver Post

The exhibition does give artists a second hearing on the works they dreamed up, and that is sometimes in their best interest and sometimes not. There are a few projects in the mix that, frankly, are better off never coming to fruition.

But there are also pieces that might have been amazing if they had gotten the green light.

Among them, Carlos Frésquez’s proposed mural for Denver’s La Raza Park at 38th and Osage streets. The artist — who actually has a high success rate with proposals — submitted an outdoor painting that depicted the city of Denver but in a circular shape inspired by the Aztec calendar. It would have been a stunner.

There is similar unrealized promise in a set of high-relief paintings that Susan Cooper proposed for a train station in Dallas; in Michael Clapper’s pair of sculptures honoring the Native American origins of the Southwest proposed for opposing sides of a bridge in Pueblo; and in Jaime Molina and Pedro Barrios proposed mural for the inside of a King Soopers store in Thornton.

These are all public places; it will be interesting over time to pass by the sites and see what projects beat them out.

The responses by the artists to their fates are kept to a minimum, though they are intriguing.

Carlos Frésquez’s unsuccessfully proposed this mural for Denver’s La Raza Park at 38th and Osage streets. Photo by Wes Magyar, provided by Arvada Center.

For example, Frésquez took his situation lightly, according to the exhibition’s wall text. “I have no problem with rejection; rejection is part of life. This or any rejection does not discourage me nor motivate me. It centers me; it grounds me.”

Cooper — whose rejection came early in her career and after she had done much research on Dallas and created intricate sample panels — was more discouraged. “I worked arduously on my presentation for six weeks. I was disappointed by the rejection, but not surprised — they chose a local artist known by the committee. They offered me $1,000 for the models. I was insulted by the offer, and I decided to keep them.”

But Cooper, who went on to develop a fruitful career, is like most of the artists in this show who used the moment as a learning experience. Or, as Molina and Barrios (who work together as the super successful collective The Worst Crew) put it in their joint comment: “You just keep moving forward and finding other opportunities.”

Still, it is valiant to participate in this exhibition. No one wants to be seen as a loser and, honestly, sometimes artists recycle ideas. Placing these proposals in this show seems to eliminate the possibility.

In that way, it is more about helping people to understand the art world and less about sour grapes. It is a gift that turns a bad moment into a generous contribution — and makes for a compelling exhibition.


“I Regret to Inform You: Rejected Public Art” continues through Aug. 25 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada. It’s free. Info: 720-898-7200 or

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Reven Marie Swanson’s rejected proposal for Denver Central Park Light Rail Station. Photo by Ray Mark Rinaldi, Special to The Denver Post

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