THIS LAND OVER TIME
Sometimes you start out a project knowing exactly what it will be. Sometimes you start with a general idea, but spend months refining it over and over. And then sometimes, a project pops up so organically and unexpectedly that you can’t help but run with it and let it evolve along the way.
That’s the story of the latest public art installation in Commons Park — This Land Over Time. A beautiful piece of public art, a story of community engagement, a multi-generational legacy, a lifelong friendship — and it all started with a simple class.
Meet Eric Dallimore. A sculpture artist by trade, he also teaches art classes all over the city through Think 360 Arts and runs the Leon Gallery in Uptown. This year, he took on a beautiful challenge: teaching a class about public art to the residents of Balfour Senior Living in Riverfront Park.
After learning about the history, process, and examples of public art, residents were tasked with finding a local grant and working within its guidelines to come up with a project, create a maquette, and develop an implementation plan. “I was surprised by how much they all knew about public art,” Eric says. “They recognized pieces from cities all over the world and were so engaged in the topic that we ended up extending the class for another couple of months.”
Enter Tobi Watson. A 4th generation Denverite, Tobi has been part of the Balfour community since the very beginning (literally — she was their very first resident!). Tobi was absolutely inspired by Eric’s class and couldn’t wait to put pen to paper. “I was all fired up!” she says. “I’m not an artist, but I went home that night and filled five pages of a sketchbook with ideas.”
Tobi’s sketches focused on the history of the land at Commons Park. Inspired by a core sample that was extracted from the ground during Denver’s biennial a couple of years ago, she started thinking about what that land had looked like over the years, from the days of the dinosaurs to the wild wild west to the modern transit and development that has shaped it today. “My apartment at Balfour looked out over the park,” she says, “and I fell in love with that spot. I wanted to sketch something that honored the land there and everything it had been over time.”
Those sketches jumpstarted the entire process that would eventually become the finished piece. “The whole journey was an unknown,” Tobi says. “It all started with an idea in the class and turned into a tangible, physical work of art that just kept evolving from there.”
Think 360 Arts helped bring in a muralist, Lisa Cameron Russell, to interpret Tobi’s sketches and convert them into full-sized sketched panels. Eric worked on building a structure that would display the panels in a strong, sustainable, and interactive way. And all the while, Tobi was working with organizations in the neighborhood to secure funding for the project and launch the grant application process.
When it came time to actually paint the panels, residents at Balfour had a little help from an unexpected source — a group of 10 fifth graders from Westerly Creek Elementary School. Together, they spent every afternoon for a week turning the sketched panels into vibrantly colorful pieces of art. “It was basically a giant paint by numbers,” Eric says, and its approachable nature bridged the gap between young and old. “It was a great opportunity for kids to learn that there was a whole world before them, and there will be a whole world after them. They’re really just a piece of the puzzle and they need to tap into that knowledge and history and learn from it.”
The lasting legacy
This Land Over Time is a temporary art installation, but its legacy and impact on the community is anything but. “You always think about how art relates to the world around us and ask yourself how we can pull it out of galleries and museums and into the real world,” Eric says, “and then you just meet people and it opens up a whole world of possibilities.”
This was truly a community-driven project. Its origin in a neighborhood art class; the people that rallied together to design, build, and fund it; the way it facilitates engagement in the park — it has been nothing short of inspirational. Kids and dogs run and play through the wooden beams, friends and family take shade under the colorful panels, and you’ll even catch yoga and Thai chi classes taking advantage of its peaceful influence. And, because it is right outside of Balfour’s doors, it has instilled a sense of pride and ownership within the community there that creates a deep connection to the land. Born of the community, designed by the community, and built for the community. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Perhaps on the most concrete level, it has created a lifelong friendship between Eric and Tobi that may not have existed otherwise. “If we had met under and other circumstances,” Eric said, “we may have been friendly, but I doubt we would have developed this kind of connection.” The two are still good friends and regularly meet up for dinner or drinks just to catch up and throw new ideas around. “It’s a bittersweet ending,” Eric says. “I keep thinking ‘What else can we build?’ just so that we can hang out more.”
This Land Over Time was featured at the America for the Arts conference this past summer and has been a catalyst for numerous other projects across the state. Funding for the project was provided by grants from Denver Arts & Venue’s PS You Are Here project and the Riverfront Park Community Foundation.
Eric Dallimore, The Leon Gallery // 1112 East 17 Avenue // leongallery.com, ericrobertdallimore.com
Balfour Senior Living // 1500 Little Raven Street // balfourcare.com/locations/denver
Images courtesy of Eric Dallimore and Jodye Whitesell.