As specialists in the commercial real estate industry, on a daily basis we get to work with clients who are influencing all aspects of the built environment here in Colorado – from developing large parcels of land to leasing workspaces to designing the hottest new hotels.  Believe us when we say we appreciate the tremendous impact the built environment has on shaping all aspects of life in a city.

In the course of our work, we’ve also come to appreciate that creating a vibrant city that will continue to attract residents, visitors and workers, thriving throughout economic cycles, requires another, often less tangible, element: placemaking. But what is placemaking, really? The Project for Public Spaces defines placemaking as, “a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.” Placemaking tasks all citizens with collaborating to reimagine public spaces and how they are used. This process creates stronger ties between people and the places they frequent and has the power to breathe new life into the public realm.

This transformative power is why the SideCar PR team was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with one of our newest clients, NINE dot ARTS, on a public art project with major placemaking implications. NINE dot ARTS serves as the curator of the Denver Theatre District’s Terra Firma art series, a multi-year program created to enliven the district’s 16-block area of downtown Denver through interactive, immersive and experimental art and culture events and experiences. For the next installation in the series, NINE dot ARTS selected internationally renowned artist Shantell Martin to create one of the most impactful public art installations Downtown Denver has seen in years.

During just four short days in October, Martin transformed the sidewalks in the Denver Theatre District in front of the Colorado Convention Center from plain concrete to a one-of-a-kind art installation. Her largest installation to date, Martin filled the space with her signature black and white line drawings. The effect of the installation on the surrounding built environment was immediately tangible.

A formerly dark passageway underneath the Convention Center that connects the light rail stop to the Theatre District was painted white, opening up the space and providing a contrast against Martin’s black drawings. Given the proximity to the Convention Center, the installation creates a unique sense of place for the many tourists passing through the area. Martin also installed street seating to provide a spot to for quiet reflection and contemplation of her work amidst the bustling city environment.

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From the moment the area was first primed with black and white paint, even before Martin’s arrival, people’s relationships to the space began to change. They paused out of curiosity where they previously would have passed through without a second thought. Conventioners passing by asked questions about what was going on. When Martin began painting, locals came out to watch her in action learn more about her creative process.

Now complete, the installation still invites passersby to linger, following the lines, imagining the stories of the faces wound within, and pondering the meaning of the phrases incorporated into the work such as, “why now”, “you can be”, and her signature question, “are you you?” The highly sharable nature of the work further creates a sense of place as residents and tourists alike share photos on social media and interact with each other while admiring the art.

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The installation will continue to serve as a placemaking feature and bring the community together in shared experience for years to come, as it has been sealed with a protective coating that will remain in place for up to three years.