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'Art' Fights Nature in Colorado

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Colorado's Arkansas River is a masterpiece. Crafted by the Creator, it is a natural work of art that needs no improvement. That a ludicrous proposal to cover 42 miles of it with 120-foot-wide fabric has gotten as far as it has speaks to the marketing genius of showman-artist "Christo."

Bulgarian-born Christo Javacheff has succeeded in running a white fabric fence along 25 miles of Northern California. The so-called environmental artist has surrounded islands in Florida's Key Biscayne with pink polypropylene and erected 7,500 orange panels in New York City's Central Park. Each time he came up against local opposition. Each time he won.

May the angry foes of his plans for Southern Colorado change that score. Owned by the American public, the Arkansas River can't be altered without the Bureau of Land Management's OK. The sanctity of natural beauty and public property should be worth something.

An opposition group named Rags Over the Arkansas River has called Christo an "eco terrorist." That may be going a bit far. "Presumptuous egomaniac" would be more like it.

In a tour of the riverbank, Christo pointed to a boulder in the water and told a Wall Street Journal reporter: "This rock, we leave in the sun. You come out from under the fabric, and suddenly you'll see the clouds and the light -- it'll all break open, beautiful."

Since when did Christo get to decide which rocks in the Arkansas River are allowed to see the sun? (For an idea on how gruesome this project would look, check out Christo's own website at www.christonjeanneclaude.net/otr.html.) The BLM's draft environmental impact report worries that the construction -- involving cables and anchors dug into the river's banks -- might scare away bighorn sheep. The fabric could trap bats and birds of prey.

Public land is often beautiful, and there's is no shortage of business interests wanting to use it in destructive ways. As an example, environmentalists engage in endless battles to stop all-terrain vehicles from tearing up the land and terrifying wildlife. Art can be as big a threat as motorized machines.

During the 1970s, publisher Walter Annenberg tried to chop off a piece of Central Park for an arts center bearing his name. City officials put up a fuss, and he huffed off with his $40 million, vowing to put the center in another city.

(Birmingham, Ala., California's Orange County, Atlanta and Memphis, Tenn., are now building major city parks. Each will need its own park conservancy to protect these urban oases from commercial invasion.)

Christo's Colorado supporters include some tourism-related businesses and drilling contractors. The project, expected to draw over 300,000 visitors and $121 million in economic activity, could be good for their bottom line.

And of course members of the local art scene want some of the Christo fairy dust to fall on them. Christo starts most every Colorado trip with a reception in a sparkly Denver venue, where he sells his drawings for from $50,000 (for something little) to more than $1 million.

While "Over the River" would bring tourists and money to the area, it would create a measly 313 temporary jobs, according to the BLM draft report. Many locals are dreading the specter of both a three-year construction project and 300,000 tourists clogging their two-lane roads.

Christo says that he and his late wife chose this stretch of the Arkansas River because they liked the way it curved through narrow rocky walls and then widened into a grassy valley. Well, the people of southern Colorado like it, too.

"I couldn't care less about Christo's artistic vision," Dan Ainsworth, head of the Rags group, told the reporter. There's no reason why he, or anyone else, should.

 COPYRIGHT 2010 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.              

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