Denver International Airport Art Program
AIP Funding Requirements
Airports, like libraries, municipal centers, schools and city halls, are part of a community’s assets and it is appropriate, if not welcome, to include ornaments that enhance the beauty of the building and improve the experience of humans passing through them. Such efforts to beautify these public buildings should be commended. Whereas the city may choose the degree to which it adorns its facades, the inclusion of artworks in airports is not so easy. The acceptance of AIP funds requires the sponsor to adhere to a number of restrictions, including the need for the facility to remain self-sufficienct and a prohibition against revenue diversion.
The management of Denver International, aware of those requirements and high costs of maintaining some of the airport’s 36 pieces representing an investment of more than $14 million, requested permission to deaccession three public-art pieces:
• Singer’s Interior Garden,
• Anna Valentina Murch’s SkyDance,
• the tiled floor of the Jeppesen Terminal’s Great Hall (under the big white tent),
• by artists Jaune Quick-To-See-Smith and Ken Iwamasa.
The airport makes the case, that while the art has enhanced the ambiance of DIA, the costs of maintaining the Interior Garden, designed to look like ancient ruins with living tropical plants, is prohibitively expensive to maintain, in essence detracting from DIA’s self-sufficiency. These exhibitions also divert airport revenues from the airport to a City-sponsored program. Further, the exhibit takes up otherwise valuable space in a concourse they estimate is squeezed by about 50,000 square feet. That, too, would marginalize the airport’s ability to meet the revenue needed to operate the airfield.
Murch’s SkyDance hasn’t worked since the airport opened, and it’s just been sitting there for many, many years, despite some pretty good efforts to fix it according to Stacey Stegman, senior vice president of communications for DIA. The projection-based piece was designed to project images onto the ceiling of the main terminal’s tent ceilings. That was a technical challenge which could not be achieved.
The third art exhibition, the tiled floor of the Great Hall, is not appreciated by the travelers. Stegman said of the multimillion-dollar project to overhaul the space. “The lesson we learned is that perhaps public art isn’t ideal in a floor situation in the airport. Further, airport attempts to redesign the open space would further detract from an artistic appreciation of the design.
In contrast, the more static art exhibits do not require a substantial diversion of operating revenues. As to those enhancements, the DIA executives have no intention to displace them.
Art is a useful addition to airports so long as the exhibits do not require that the aviation revenues become patrons of the arts. Further, some cities include clauses in their leases requiring tenants to “contribute” to their Arts in the City (not airport) Programs.