Why we should all support Christo’s Over the River

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Christo’s inspiring Over the River vision of art took a giant leap closer to fulfillment when the Bureau of Land Management recently released its Final Environmental Impact Statement supporting the project.

Over the River (OTR) promises to live on for generations to come as a magical experience for hundreds of thousands of people.

The proposed temporary work of art would include 5.9 miles of fabric panels placed in eight locations along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River. OTR would be installed for viewing during two weeks in August 2014. Construction could begin in spring of 2012.

The impact statement is the result of collaboration between many governmental agencies, including the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado State Parks, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State Land Board, Chaffee County, Fremont County and others.

The report was prepared by a third-party contractor and paid for by OTR. Now the project must be formally approved or rejected. A decision is anticipated in fall 2011.

Nearly all of Colorado’s elected officials support Over the River. So, too, do most local officials in Canon City and Salida, the towns that stand to be most affected by it.

Here’s what the Canon City Council said on July 21, 2010: “The notoriety and free positive publicity that Over the River will bring to our area could not be purchased by even the most ambitious budgets of all regional tourism industry concerns combined. In short, it is difficult to imagine a project that could be more advantageous to our community.”

The OTR project has also generated widespread and unanimous support from all of Colorado’s art museums and their leaders. This includes the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Denver Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and Sangre de Cristo Arts Center.

We are grateful that the BLM has weighed the myriad of issues, facts, opinions, as well as waded through more than 4,500 public comments submitted during 2010’s 60-day comment period. Indeed, weighed is the appropriate term as the impact statement weighed just under 11 pounds and stacked up 4.25 inches high.

As long-time, ardent supporters of OTR, we are excited about what this can mean to our region.

Over the River will first and foremost be a fabulous, memorable work of art. Art at its finest creates dialogue, even controversy — and OTR has certainly done both. Great art also creates joy, evokes strong emotion, and nourishes the soul. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s monumental works throughout the world have accomplished this, too. The artists have long been considered among the most important in their class for their innovative approach to public art.

Colorado should be honored that it was selected for this project. Over the River is for the enjoyment of the entire state of Colorado, and even the world. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have created legendary art that has been welcomed and celebrated in Paris, New York City, Berlin and Miami. These are world-class cities with sophisticated artistic sensibilities.

Over the River is estimated to generate an economic benefit of $111,308,500 for the area, according to the impact statement. The region will benefit from an estimated 284,000 visitors over a three-year period during the installation, viewing, and demobilization periods.

Over the River puts Southern Colorado on the map for something positive. As Colorado Springs residents, we feel that our city receives more than its fair share of derision from the national (and occasionally international) press. In Over the River, we have a unique opportunity to counter misperceptions of Southern Colorado as a cultural backwater. For once — and indeed this is a once in a lifetime opportunity — Colorado can be known for being visionary to the big picture of our cultural history.

Our cultural legacy need not stand in opposition to our natural environment. Art and the environment can enhance each other’s beauty for the betterment of all. After years of heated conversation, the chasm between supporters and detractors of OTR still seems more like a divide between continents, rather than between the sides of the Arkansas River. That’s unfortunate. There is already too much conflict and too little cooperation in our small part of a war-filled world.

Art and the natural landscape can work in harmony to enhance our lives. Perhaps we can all use Over the River to build a bridge between people who disagree. Wouldn’t that be a unique step forward?

Ron Brasch is a merger and acquisition specialist with First Business Brokers. Una Ng-Brasch works in the Education Department at Colorado College. The two are married and are members of numerous local boards serving the arts.