Cortez city staff have held numerous tours and open houses since they moved into the new City Hall, but at a special reception on Wednesday, the focus was on the art decorating the walls.
Several local artists donated their work to be displayed in the new building on Roger Smith Avenue, and Mayor Karen Sheek and others have publicly said they believe that art is one of City Hall’s greatest assets. Wednesday’s reception recognized the works of five professional artists and about 35 students from Montezuma-Cortez High School, who had a gallery to themselves in a hallway. The modest crowd of Cortez residents who attended were invited to wander the parts of the building normally closed to the public in order to view the works and meet some of the artists.
Most of the donated or purchased artworks in City Hall will remain on display for a while, although grant administrator Chris Burkett said the city hopes to bring in new artists periodically. But the reception was something of a farewell for the building’s first student-created gallery, which was moved later in the week so some of the artists could participate in a juried show. Teacher Darnell Bane said the high school’s art club plans to replace the gallery with new work every few months during the school year, but they probably wouldn’t be able to do so over summer break.
“In the summer time, we’re hoping to split it between current and former art teachers,” Bane said.
One of the professional artists whose work is on display is Barbara Grist, a former M-CHS teacher.
Danita Miles, president of the art club, took the lead in organizing the student gallery, and will likely be involved in future displays.
“I had fun putting up the art work, and just getting to see how talented all of the kids are,” Miles said.
She said it was the first time her work had ever been displayed in a public place. She chose a series of skull-themed drawings in pastel colors. Other student submissions including a wide range of styles and media, from photography to abstract paintings.
Professional artwork on display included photography by Grist and John Mumaw, and paintings by Jan Heyl, Keith Hutcheson and Karen Kristen. For the reception, organizers put up a short biography for each artist on the walls next to their work. The event was hosted by the M-CHS art department and the Cortez Mural and Art Committee.
Burkett, a part-time city employee, was responsible for commissioning most of the building’s art, but he said it turned out to be more of a full-time job than he expected. He said Cortez Public Library Director Eric Ikenouye will take over the job of city art commissions from now on.
Last month, a group of artists petitioned the Cortez City Council, asking for the government to pay for public art instead of borrowing it. Cortez painter Sonja Horoshko and other like-minded artists formed a group called the Arts and Culture Resource Advisory Council, which they hope will be able to advise the city on issues related to public art. Grist and Kristin are both members of the council, but Horoshko said she and other artists whose work had been purchased by the city, rather than donated or loaned out, were not invited.
“That was, perhaps, an oversight,” she said.