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Durango entrance needs welcoming art

Remember the “dinosaur” sculpture that graced the entrance to Durango at the junction of Highways 160 and 550, right by the Doubletree Hotel? Its true name was Arc of History and was installed in 2014. It created controversy, was redecorated as a dinosaur and a dragon, and subsequently removed. Regardless of how you felt about that sculpture, we need a replacement.

We have a sign nearby, welcoming people to historic Durango. But something more is needed. I have enjoyed and honked for the guy who stands there occasionally and waves Ukrainian colors. However, he can’t be out there all the time and as noble as his act is, it is not the welcoming message we need.

We have wonderful public art in Durango, yet we have neglected this perhaps most important first impression visual site at the entrance to our town. Right now, our entranceway says: Welcome to Durango. We have traffic, too.

Durango’s public art includes everything from “Puck” of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to wolves, horses and some mountain lions that you might see while on LSD. Native Americans and a newspaper delivery boy adorn the front of The Durango Herald building. Young colts are in front of the train station, a cowboy in front of the Main Mall and numerous sculptures along the river trail, including a new one at the 32nd Street underpass entitled “Celestial Sailor.”

The Fort Lewis College campus has a variety of terrific sculptures as well. If there is a theme, it appears to be native animals and Native Americans of the area. Most of us are aware of the cyclists sculpture at Chapman Hill. It has become such an opportunity for community involvement in art with playful and creative decorative ideas. Something that affords the same opportunity for community involvement would be great, though it might not be a good idea at such a heavy traffic site.

We have also lost the original First National Bank, which had a superb collection of taxidermied animals. For my young children, it was the closest thing we had to a zoo in Durango, along with the fish hatchery.

I contacted Tommy Crosby, the economic opportunity coordinator for Durango’s Community Development Department. He responded promptly with the good news that there are plans to replace the site of the former Arc of History sculpture. A capital improvement project request has been submitted for the city’s 2023 budget that includes installing a replacement piece as well as the Common Threads art piece along the median. If approved, the Creative Economy Commission would put out a call to artists to seek their proposals for a replacement piece.

What says “welcome” and Durango’s legacy together? An historic Western sculpture perhaps? A mountain scene? River scene? Sunshine? Native American culture? Variety of activities? Friendly people?

Artists, start forming your ideas. And be bold.

While at FLC, I proposed a Telluride-like gondola from Main Avenue to campus to create more downtown presence. Though rejected because of cost, I still like that idea. As the men’s basketball coach/exercise physiology teacher, I had a sign in the gym aimed at opponents that stated: “Welcome to the Court in the Clouds where you are about to see and experience an application of the Oxyhemoglobin Dissociation Curve. Altitude 7000.’ ” We didn’t always win but our opponents went away confused.

What are your ideas? Mine is (are you sitting down?) a lighthouse. Yes, a black and white spirally painted lighthouse. Whimsical, caring and a thought-provoking, out-of- place, attention-getter. Visitors would remember their visit to Durango.

Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.