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DIA Spends $300,000 For Graffiti Art, No Coloradans Chosen

$$ Went Out Of State, Out Of Country
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CBS4's Brian Maass interviews DIA spokeswoman Jenny Schiavone. (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Brian Maass interviews DIA spokeswoman Jenny Schiavone. (credit: CBS)

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Investigator Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver International Airport is spending nearly $300,000 for what’s known as “street art,” or graffiti, but none of the money is going to Colorado graffiti artists.

Instead, DIA selected two artists from California and one from Brazil to receive the money, even paying for an immigration lawyer to help get the Brazilian artist to Denver.

“Our selection committee did not choose Colorado artists. They felt the three artists who did create this work in the end were the best of that pool of candidates and the cream of the crop,” said Jenny Schiavone, a spokesperson for DIA.

The fees paid to the artists come out of DIA revenue derived from parking, concessions, vendor rents and landing fees.

“It is public money,” Schiavone said.

But the exclusion of Colorado graffiti artists has left some locals wondering why they weren’t invited to compete for the work and didn’t make the cut.

“I would say, ‘Where is my share?’ ” asked Ratha Sok, a 22-year-old Denver native who paints murals and graffiti full time. ‘We need to hit a home run in our backyard first, and create impact and create change within ourselves and our own communities.”

Sok said he doesn’t really charge much for his work. He did one colorful mural for a Denver company in exchange for spray paint and some Nuggets tickets. He said he would likely have done the 100-foot long murals for DIA for $5,000 to $10,000, a fraction of the $300,000 DIA paid.

The airport paid Los Angeles graffiti artist David Choe $75,000 for the 100-foot long mural he created. Another $135,000 went to Sam Flores of San Francisco and Brazilian artist Rafael Pierri, also known as “Highraff,” received $75,000. DIA paid $9,050 for an immigration lawyer to assist with securing a visa for Pierri so he could travel to Denver. The three artists were collectively dubbed “The Terminal Kings.”

DIA says about half of its public art is created by Colorado artists, but for this project none made the cut. An art committee at DIA invited 36 artists to compete for the Terminal Kings project. Only two of the artists invited were from Colorado. The other 34 artists solicited for the project came primarily from the east and west coasts of the United States, and from 17 countries ranging from Poland to Scotland to Greece.

“We always want local artists involved, absolutely,” Schiavone said.

But in this case, DIA’s selection panel favored graffiti artists from beyond Colorado’s borders.

“The members of the artist selection panel found Pierri, Choe and Flores to be the best choice for the job,” Schiavone said.

“Denver has a lot of underdogs. There is a lot of amazing talent out there. The city needs to search further in the community to find true talent,” Sok said.

The graffiti murals created by Choe, Pierri and Flores will be used as construction barriers at the airport over the next five years to help conceal ongoing construction projects.

DIA said it is required to spend money on art due to Denver’s “1% For Art” requirement for public facilities. According to Schiavone, the ordinance requires that 1 percent of any capital improvement project greater than $1 million be set aside for the inclusion of public art at the facility.

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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